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Mateu-Anderegg v. School Dist. of Whitefish Bay

August 26, 2002


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. No. 00-CV-0837--Charles N. Clevert, Judge.

Before Ripple, Diane P. Wood, and Evans, Circuit Judges.

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

ARGUED MAY 29, 2002

Coral Mateu-Anderegg has sued the Whitefish Bay School District under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., claiming that she was not retained to teach in the district because of discrimination based on sex and national origin. The district court granted the School District's motion for summary judgment, dismissing the case. Mateu-Anderegg's appeal of that decision is now before us. We start with the facts.

Mateu-Anderegg was born in Spain in 1963; she came to the United States in 1986, when she married an American. At that time she was 23 years old. She obtained certification from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction to teach Spanish in kindergarten through grade 12, and during the 1992 through 1994 school years she taught full time in the Cedarburg, Wisconsin, school district.

In 1994 the Whitefish Bay School District hired her to teach part time, which she continued to do through 1997. During the latter year she also taught in the Shorewood School District, where she was offered a full-time position for the next year. Despite the offer from Shorewood, she remained at Whitefish Bay through the 1997-98 school year, teaching more classes, but still not doing so full time. Since 1996 she has also been a lecturer at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Neil C. Codell became the principal of Whitefish Bay High School in 1997. He told Mateu-Anderegg that he would be interviewing her and other candidates for a full-time position teaching Spanish for the school year beginning in the fall of 1998. During her interview with Codell, he told her about his wife, who he said "is the best teacher in the world." But he also said she made the "right decision" to stay home with their children who are "the number 1 priority," and who were roughly the same age as Mateu-Anderegg's children. Codell recommended hiring Mateu-Anderegg for the 1998-99 school year. And as it turned out, he did not interview anyone else for the position.

Just before the beginning of the 1998-99 term, Mateu-Anderegg's husband collapsed while he was jogging. He was in a coma for 2 days and underwent open heart surgery. He was hospitalized for about 2 weeks. During his illness, Mateu-Anderegg was given a leave of absence, and so she did not begin teaching until several weeks into the school year. When Mateu-Anderegg called Codell to say she was ready to return to work, he advised her to take more time off to care for her husband and to take off as much time as she needed.

She returned to work, and sometime later, Codell told her that the students were complaining about an examination she had given and that some students were asking to drop her class. Codell found fault with the way the examination was written and said that it did not appear that she knew how to relate to the students. She also claims that Codell blamed the problem on her failure to take more time off. Codell instructed Mateu-Anderegg to rewrite the exam. She continued to have problems with students, particularly a rather rowdy class which met the last period of the day. Mateu-Anderegg issued disciplinary detentions to some of these students and they, in turn, went to Codell and guidance counselors to complain. Mateu-Anderegg was very unhappy about the way the counselors and Codell handled the situation, basically questioning her teaching ability.

Mateu-Anderegg's job performance was formally evaluated four times throughout the 1998-99 school year by Codell and also by a vice-principal. The evaluations reveal some concerns about Mateu-Anderegg's teaching style and indicate that she needed to provide better instructions to students and more explanations of classroom activities and assignments; they also indicate that she needed to encourage more student involvement in the classroom and to use varied strategies of instruction. Codell and Mateu-Anderegg discussed several areas of concern, one of which was referred to as her "mono dimensional" teaching style. Codell seemed to think that she spent too much time in front of the class reading from a textbook; he also thought she spoke in Spanish too much and that the students could not understand her. During this session, Mateu-Anderegg contends that Codell expressed surprise that, after having lived in the United States for a dozen years, she had not learned to relate better to American students.

Students and parents complained to Codell about Mateu-Anderegg's teaching, saying she had poor classroom management, difficulty communicating with students, an inconsistent grading system, and that she imposed excessive discipline, even to students who were not otherwise discipline problems. Students also professed not to know the reasons for disciplinary detentions imposed on them.

Codell often met with Mateu-Anderegg to discuss the complaints. During these meetings, Mateu-Anderegg believed that he was very angry with her and did not give her a chance to explain her actions.

In December 1998 Codell informed Mateu-Anderegg that he was considering not renewing her teaching contract. He testified in a deposition that he was concerned about her classroom performance and her inability to relate to the students. In January 1999 Codell met with Mateu-Anderegg and other members of the foreign langauge department. A plan was formulated to address disciplinary matters in Mateu-Anderegg's classes. Later that day, Mateu-Anderegg met with Codell in his office, at which time he recommended that she turn over her last-period class to another teacher, Jim Weissner. She says that Codell stated that her class load was too much for her, given everything that had happened to her husband, and that she should give up the class to go home and spend more time with her children.

In February 1999 Mateu-Anderegg received preliminary notice that her contract would not be renewed. She requested a private conference with the school board, and she asked for a written statement of the reasons for the non-renewal. Early in March she received a notice of a hearing, but she withdrew her request that it be held, stating that she did not agree with the reasons given for non-renewal of her contract. Of note is the fact that she did not raise any concern about discrimination at this time. By letter dated March 15, she was informed that the reasons for non-renewal were her ineffective and limited teaching style, inconsistent and inappropriate discipline of students, poor relationship with other staff members, and failure to fully comply with the expectations and responsibilities of a teacher in the Whitefish Bay public schools. The ...

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