Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. No. 98-C-1256--J.P. Stadtmueller, Chief Judge.
Before Coffey, Manion, and Evans, Circuit Judges.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Evans, Circuit Judge.
Gema Salvadori, who is originally from the Philippines, was a science teacher in the Franklin (Wisconsin) School District from the 1990-91 school year through the 1997-98 school year when the District decided not to renew her employment contract. The board took this step, it says, because Salvadori failed as a teacher. Salvadori saw things differently. She claimed the board (and the other defendants, who we'll get to) acted because of ethnic animus, retaliated against her for complaining about discriminatory practices, and denied her due process to boot. The district court (Chief Judge J.P. Stadtmueller) granted summary judgment for the defendants, and Salvadori appeals.
Before turning to the facts, we note that, although we view the facts in the light most favorable to Salvadori, her failure to comply with one of the district court's local rules resulted in a more defendant-friendly version of the facts than one might expect. This is so because once the defendants moved for summary judgment, Salvadori was required by Eastern District of Wisconsin Civil Local Rule 56.2 to submit a specific response to the defendants' proposed findings of fact that clearly delineated only those findings to which she asserted the existence of a genuine issue of material fact. The local rule required Salvadori's response to refer to the contested findings by paragraph number and to cite evidentiary materials supporting her claim that a genuine issue of material fact existed. See Civ. L.R. 56.2(b)(1).
Salvadori failed to comply with this rule. Her response to the union defendants' proposed findings of fact consisted of a cursory answer to each proposed fact: "admitted," "disputed," "admitted in part and disputed in part," or an objection based on something such as relevance or lack of personal knowledge. None of her responses cited to evidentiary material.
In responding to the School District's proposed findings of fact, Salvadori cited to the record in only 15 of her 306 responses. Even the evidence cited by those 15 responses did not actually contradict the School District's proposed findings of fact. For example, Salvadori "disputed" paragraph 32 of the School District's proposed findings of fact, which stated, "[Assistant Principal] Ms. [Julia] Lyon criticized Ms. Salvadori for insensitively referring to this child as 'the kid with no teeth' in front of the class." Salvadori's response to this proposed finding stated, "Plaintiff disputes any inference that she was not meeting her essential functions as a teacher." It then cites to Salvadori's proposed additional findings of fact, which in turn cites to a deposition in which Lyon stated that as of May 1995, Salvadori was generally meeting her duties and responsibilities as a middle school science teacher. Obviously, all this rigmarole does not contradict the School District's specific proposed finding that Salvadori referred to a student as "the kid with no teeth." Additionally, of Salvadori's 15 responses that cite to any kind of evidentiary material, 10 repeat verbatim or paraphrase the statement "Plaintiff disputes any inference that she was not meeting her essential functions as a teacher," then cite to the same evidence noted above.
The local rule empowers the district court to conclude that there is no genuine material issue as to any proposed finding of fact to which no response is set out. See Civ. L.R. 56.2(e). Because Salvadori did not satisfy the local rule, the district court concluded that the defendants' proposed findings of fact were undisputed. See Waldridge v. American Hoechst Corp., 24 F.3d 918, 921-22 (7th Cir. 1994). Therefore, we proceed under the assumption that Salvadori conceded, to a fairly significant degree, the defendants' version of the facts. With that understanding, we move on.
In 1990 Salvadori began teaching at the Franklin School District's Forest Park Middle School. It was her first fulltime teaching position. The District has a position description for teachers outlining performance expectations. Among other things, the expectations are that teachers will (1) avoid demeaning criticism of students, (2) maintain a positive rapport with students, teachers, parents, and administrators, and (3) react positively to constructive criticism. During her first year, the School District received several complaints about Salvadori in these areas.
In January 1991 the parents of one of Salvadori's students asked to have their daughter transferred out of her class because the student received low grades and Salvadori's communication with them about the situation was, in the parents' view, rather poor. During the second semester, several other parents asked to have their children transferred out of Salvadori's class because of low grades. *fn1 Another parent complained because Salvadori punished the entire class for the misconduct of a single student. Additionally, the School District transferred a student out of Salvadori's class because Salvadori berated the girl in front of the entire class for bringing her parents in to see the principal to complain about Salvadori. Salvadori also told the class that this student would no longer be in class because the student thought that all of her problems were Salvadori's fault.
At the end of the 1990-91 school year, Salvadori received a performance evaluation from Julia Lyon, one of the assistant principals at Forest Park. Lyon identified classroom management and rapport with students as two areas in which Salvadori needed improvement.
During the 1991-92 school year, Salvadori made negative comments about some of her students that Principal Denise Bowens felt were detrimental to their learning and inappropriate for the emotional and developmental needs of middle-school-aged children. On one occasion Bowens met with a student who was crying because Salvadori called him "stupid." At the end of the school year Bowens completed Salvadori's evaluation, in which she raised concerns about Salvadori's classroom management, rapport with students, and responsiveness to supervision and suggestions for improvement. In her performance evaluation for the 1992-93 school year Bowens was critical of Salvadori's communication skills and her apparent distrust of the school's administration.
During the 1994-95 and 1995-1996 school years, the School District continued to receive parent complaints about the manner in which Salvadori graded and returned homework, her communications skills, and her interaction with students. In December 1995 Associate Principal Tom Reinke and Principal Larry Madsen met with Salvadori to discuss these complaints. Their efforts were hampered by Salvadori's refusal to acknowledge the validity of the complaints. Consequently, she refused to make changes in her teaching style, classroom management, or communication methods.
At the end of the 1995-96 school year, the District placed Salvadori on a "plan of assistance," which was designed to improve her performance and not intended to be disciplinary. Salvadori was not the only teacher placed on such a plan--several other Caucasian teachers were also placed on plans of assistance. Salvadori's plan identified five areas for performance improvement: (1) classroom organization, (2) lesson plans, (3) classroom management, (4) acceptance of constructive criticism, and (5) communication skills. Salvadori disagreed with each of the deficiencies identified in the plan and filed a grievance challenging its validity. In response to the grievance, the School District modified her plan of assistance to focus on communication skills and classroom management as key areas in which Salvadori needed to improve. Salvadori did not cooperate ...