The opinion of the court was delivered by: MATHEW KENNELLY, District Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Kathleen Hausknecht, a former teacher in Naperville School District
203, has filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the District claiming
that Sally Pentecost, the principal at the school where Hausknecht
taught, repeatedly gave her negative evaluations which ultimately led to
her termination in retaliation for reporting the suspected abuse of a
thirteen-year-old student. Hausknecht claims this violated her right to
free speech under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
Hausknecht also brings a state law claim pursuant to the Illinois Abused
and Neglected Child Reporting Act, 352 ILCS 5/4, 5/9 based on the same
set of facts. The District has moved for summary judgment, contending
that Hausknecht cannot establish the District's liability for the alleged
violation; that Hausknecht did not engage in constitutionally protected
speech; and that even if she did, she has failed to establish a causal
connection between her speech and the District's decision not to renew
her contract. For the foregoing reasons, the Court grants the District's
motion for summary judgment. Background
Kathleen Hausknecht was hired as a teacher for Naperville Community
Unit School District 203 for the 1999-2000 school year at Madison Junior
High School. Under the Illinois School Code, teachers attain the status
of "Continued Contractual Service" or tenure after serving a probationary
period of four consecutive school terms. 105 ILCS 5/24-11. The District
uses a written evaluation plan for all teachers which consists of several
observation periods followed by a written observation report and
post-observation conference. Each teacher is also given a midyear and
year-end performance evaluation.
In December 1999, Hausknecht was observed by Sally Pentecost, who
currently serves as principal of the school but at the time was assistant
principal. Pentecost gave Hausknecht constructive criticism regarding her
lesson planning and delivery. Hausknecht's performance evaluations were
given by then principal, Predonna Roberts, who rated Hausknecht's
performance as "satisfactory" at the mid-year mark, and "excellent" at
the end of the school year. In her second year at the school, Hausknecht
was again observed by assistant principal Pentecost in September 2000.
Pentecost again raised issues regarding Hausknecht's lesson planning and
In October 2000, Hausknecht became aware of a situation involving a
13-year-old female student, referred to in the complaint as Jane Doe.
Based on e-mail exchanges and conversations at school, Hausknecht began
to suspect that Doe was being physically abused by her mother. Hausknecht
gave Doe a camera to obtain evidence of her abuse and encouraged her to
make a report to the school counselor, Deborah Olsen. The policy of the
school was that any teacher suspecting that a student is being abused
should advise the student's counselor, who was then required to file a report with the Illinois Department of Children
and Family Services. Doe reported her abuse claim to Olsen on October 16,
2000, but Olsen was hesitant to file a report with DCFS due to a
perceived lack of evidence substantiating the student's concerns. And
according to Hauskenecht, Pentecost, who had become principal shortly
after Doe reported her abuse claim to Olsen, did not want Olsen to report
the matter because Doe's mother was a teacher in the adjoining school
district. Plaintiff's Complaint ¶ 8.
On October 18, 2000, Hausknecht was observed by Pentecost, who again
expressed the same criticisms that she had previously raised regarding
Hausknecht's lesson planning and delivery.
On October 20, 2000, Jane Doe's parents brought to the school copies of
the e-mails that had been exchanged between Hausknecht and Jane Doe and
complained to the principal and the School District about this contact
outside of school. Hausknecht was instructed to cease any further e-mails
with the student, and she agreed to do so.
In December 2000, Pentecost, who by this time was principal of the
school, gave Hausknecht a "satisfactory" rating for her mid-year
evaluation. Pentecost also observed Hausknecht twice in January 2001 and
again criticized her on her lesson planning and delivery. Despite these
criticisms, however, Pentecost gave Hausknecht another "satisfactory"
rating for her year-end review, and Hausknecht was retained for the
When Hausknecht returned for her third year of teaching, Erin Anderson
had been hired as assistant principal. Anderson (who evidently was not at
Madison School when the Jane Doe incident occurred) observed Hausknecht
in the fall of 2001 and was also displeased with her lesson planning and
delivery. As a result, Anderson gave Hausknecht a rating of
"unsatisfactory" in her mid-year report. The report noted that "although she had a
genuine care and concern for students . . ., she continued to struggle
in the area of planning and preparation." Defendant's Exhibit 11. The
report also noted that the school's administration was "committed to
assisting Mrs. Hausknecht where possible" and "hope[d] to see significant
improvement in the areas mentioned." Id.
Hausknecht was observed again on February 11, 2002 by Charles Fuller
and on February 27, 2002 by Pentecost. Both administrators found
Hausknecht's lesson planning to be deficient. In March 2002, Hausknecht
received another "unsatisfactory" rating, and she was advised that she
would not be recommended for continued employment with the School
District. The year-end report noted that "while some attempts were made
by Mrs. Hausknecht to address concerns, those efforts were inconsistent
and met with varying levels of success." Defendant's Exhibit 16.
In March 2002, the Board of Education of the District voted not to
rehire Hausknecht for the 2002-2003 school year. In April 2003,
Hausknecht filed this suit, claiming that she was terminated in
retaliation for exercising her First Amendment rights with respect to the
child abuse report and her obligations under the Illinois Abused and
Neglected Child Reporting Act.
Summary judgment is proper when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to
interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if
any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that
the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law."
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The Court evaluates admissible evidence in the record
in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Bennett v. Roberts,
295 F.3d 687, 694 (7th Cir. 2002). But "[t]he nonmovant will successfully
oppose summary judgment only when it presents `definite, competent evidence to rebut the motion.'" Vukadinovich v. Bd.
of Sch. Tr. of N. Newton Sch, Corp., 278 F.3d 693, 699 (7th Cir. 2002)
(citation omitted). "The mere denial of a particular fact without
specific references to affidavits, parts of the record, and other