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Bennett v. Roberts

July 02, 2002

VALERIE BENNETT, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
MARY ROBERTS, MARSHAL ASPINALL, TIMOTHY COSTELLO, ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 96 C 6917--John W. Darrah, Judge.

Before Bauer, Posner and Ripple, Circuit Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ripple, Circuit Judge.

ARGUED NOVEMBER 5, 2001

Valerie Bennett filed this action against the seven members *fn1 of the Board of Education of Naperville Community Unit School District 203, in their individual and official capacities ("the Board"). She alleged that the school district had engaged in racially discriminatory hiring practices. The district court entered summary judgment for the Board on the ground that Ms. Bennett had failed to prove her allegations. For the reasons set forth in the following opinion, we affirm the judgment of the district court.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Facts

In the fall of 1994, Ms. Bennett, an African-American, sought employment as a teacher with Naperville Community Unit School District 203 ("the School District"). Comprised of twenty-one grade, junior high and high schools, the School District serves the community of Naperville, Illinois *fn2 --a far western suburb of the city of Chicago.

Because it is well-regarded among educators, the School District receives annually several thousand applications from prospective teachers. To manage the sizable number of job inquiries that it receives, the School District has implemented a standard procedure for processing and retrieving employment applications. Upon receiving an inquiry about a vacant teaching position, the School District requests that the prospective teacher complete and return two forms--an application and an information data sheet ("Data Sheet"). Although these documents seek information concerning the applicant's work experience, educational background and teaching preferences, neither form requests information about the race of the prospective teacher.

Once these materials are returned, the School District enters the information from the Data Sheet into a central database, and the applicant then becomes an active candidate for employment. An individual will not be considered for employment if he fails to return his Data Sheet. Each fall, an active candidate receives from the School District a new Data Sheet. That document must be completed and returned in order to retain one's status as an active candidate; failure to resubmit the Data Sheet places an applicant on inactive status and leads ultimately to expungement from the employment database.

With regard to teaching vacancies, a school's principal establishes the specific hiring criteria for the open position. The principal relays this information, as well as a notice of the vacancy, to the School District's personnel office. That office then distributes postings concerning the position. The personnel office also provides the principal with a printout, drawn from the database, identifying active applicants that match the hiring criteria for the position. After considering the list, as well as any applications sent directly to him, the principal conducts interviews of those individuals that he believes are most qualified for the position. On occasion, staff members from the school conduct a second, but subsidiary, interview of the applicant. Although the principal may consider the recommendations of the staff, he ultimately determines which applicant is best suited for the position. Finally, the Assistant Superintendent for Personnel reviews the applicant's credentials and, based largely on the recommendation of this official, the Board of Education approves the hiring. Once approved, the new teacher undergoes a mandatory criminal background check conducted by the Illinois State Police Department ("ISPD"). The ISPD's criminal background form requires the teacher to identify his race.

In the fall of 1994, Ms. Bennett submitted an application, a completed Data Sheet and a current résumé to the School District. The application materials detailed Ms. Bennett's work experience and qualifications. Certified by the State of Illinois to teach kindergarten through ninth grade, Ms. Bennett possessed several years of teaching experience with a marked emphasis in special education. In obtaining her master's degree from the University of Houston, she had attained high grades. Ms. Bennett contends that the application materials she received from the School District contained an additional document--the ISPD's criminal background form. According to Ms. Bennett, she completed this form--including the portion asking her to identify her race--and returned it to the School District.

Soon after Ms. Bennett submitted her materials, she received an interview with the School District for a part-time teaching position. Carol McGuff, a principal with the School District, interviewed Ms. Bennett for a teaching vacancy in the Chapter One Mathematics program, an initiative for students performing poorly, or at risk of performing poorly, at their grade level. According to McGuff, after conducting the interview, she concluded that Ms. Bennett lacked the requisite qualifications for the position. Despite this initial impression, the principal permitted three members of her school's faculty, all of whom were white, to conduct a second interview of Ms. Bennett. *fn3 Two of the staff members concluded that Ms. Bennett did not possess the skills applicable to the position; the third person was unable to remember the encounter. McGuff did not recommend Ms. Bennett for the position. The School District later hired another applicant to fill the vacancy. That person not only possessed four years of teaching experience but also trained student teachers at National Lewis University in development of math curriculum and lesson planning. The successful applicant also had served as an active member and lecturer of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

In September 1994, Jack Hinterlong, a principal with the School District, interviewed Ms. Bennett for another vacancy, a fifth-grade teaching position. According to the principal, he sought a candidate who, among other things, possessed a background in social studies. After interviewing Ms. Bennett, Hinterlong decided that she did not meet the criteria for the position. The School District filled the vacancy with an individual who possessed thirteen-years teaching experience, the bulk of which was at the fifth-grade level.

Ms. Bennett applied for several other teaching positions within the School District. She sent letters directly to the principals at whose schools the vacancies existed. Although Ms. Bennett did not receive any further interviews, she resubmitted her Data Sheet to the School District during November 1994. In the fall of 1995, however, she failed to return her Data Sheet.

B. District Court Proceedings

In this action, Ms. Bennett alleged that the Board had engaged in racially discriminatory hiring practices in violation of Title VII, § 1981, § 1983 and the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. Although the complaint contained numerous contentions, it repeatedly alleged that the Board employed all-white screening committees that precluded African-American applicants from obtaining positions with the School District. In addition, Ms. Bennett asserted that she was more than qualified for the positions for which she had applied but had not received interviews.

At the close of discovery, the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. *fn4 The Board contended that Ms. Bennett had failed to prove either disparate treatment or disparate impact under Title VII. In particular, the Board emphasized that the applicants it had hired for the September positions possessed superior qualifications to those of Ms. Bennett. Because her disparate treatment claims were without merit, the Board argued, Ms. Bennett also could not satisfy the requirements of § 1981. Turning to the disparate impact claims, the Board contended that Ms. Bennett not only had failed to prove the existence of an employment practice that adversely impacted minorities but also had proffered unreliable statistical data in support of her position. Finally, the Board submitted that the § 1983 claims were infirm because Ms. Bennett offered no evidence that the Board had adopted a policy or custom that resulted in the deprivation of her constitutional rights.

In response, Ms. Bennett submitted that the Board construed too narrowly the class of jobs for which she had been eligible but had not been hired. Although Ms. Bennett only tangentially referred to these jobs in her Rule 56.1 statement of undisputed material facts, she contended that she was qualified for these positions. Because the Board had not articulated a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for failing to hire her for this class of jobs, she argued that it could not prevail on these claims. With regard to her allegations under ยง 1983, Ms. Bennett argued that the Board adopted an unconstitutional policy of declining to hire minority applicants. Finally, having moved for summary judgment on her ...


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