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SANDOVAL v. CALUMET PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT #132

July 14, 2004.

MARIA ELSA SANDOVAL, Plaintiff,
v.
CALUMET PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT #132, JEROME ROBERTS, and HUGH JACKSON, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: MARVIN ASPEN, Chief Judge, District

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

After she was terminated from her position as a Spanish-English language translator and teacher's aide, Plaintiff Maria Elsa Sandoval filed suit against Calumet Public School District #132 (the "district"), her former employer, Jerome Roberts, the district's former superintendent, and Hugh Jackson, the former principal of Burr Oaks School, (collectively, the "defendants."). In her complaint, brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, she alleges that the defendants violated her First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. She also brings a claim of retaliatory discharge under Illinois law. The defendants brought the present motion for summary judgment, which, for the reasons set forth below, we now grant in part and deny in part.*fn1

Before considering the motion for summary judgment, however, we must consider a related motion, brought by the defendants, to strike portions of the evidence submitted by Sandoval in response to the summary judgment motion. Specifically, the defendants request that we strike most of Sandoval's own declaration. In the motion to strike, the defendants request that we parse through Sandoval's declaration paragraph by paragraph, ruling on the admissibility of each allegation contained therein. An examination of the declaration, however, reveals that it is largely duplicative of the other evidence presented by both sides, including Sandoval's own deposition testimony. In short, given the entirety of the record before us, Sandoval's declaration does not sway our decision on the summary judgment motion in either direction. We thus decline to rule on the motion to strike at this stage and simply analyze the materials before us without reference to the declaration. Our decision not to consider the declaration should not be used later as a basis for arguing that Sandoval is precluded from testifying at trial as to the matters contained in her declaration at trial. With these considerations in mind, we turn to the merits of the summary judgment motion.

  BACKGROUND

  Unless otherwise indicated, the following facts are culled from the parties' Local Rule 56.1 Statements of Material Facts. Plaintiff Maria Elsa Sandoval was hired by Calumet Public School District #132 as a district translator and teacher's aide in February of 1992. Her job was to help teachers in the classroom with children who had limited English proficiency (referred to as "LEP" children). During her tenure, Sandoval became concerned that the district was not in compliance with Illinois law regarding the establishment of bilingual education programs for LEP children.*fn2 During the 1997-1998 and 1998-1999 school years, she raised those concerns with then Principal Rhonda Towner. (Def.'s L.R. 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 9-10.) Despite her complaints, Sandoval received outstanding employee evaluations for the 1997-1998 and 1998-1999 school years. (Pl.'s Ex. M.)

  I. 1999-2000 School Year Sandoval contacted the Illinois State Board of Education (the "ISBE") for the first time in the Fall of 1999 to voice her complaints about the district's bilingual education programs. (Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s L.R. 56.1 Statement ¶ 31.) Posing as a parent, she complained that there were no bilingual teachers at Burr Oak School or Calumet School and that students were being held back due to their limited English proficiency. (Def.'s L.R. 56.1 Statement ¶ 34.) She did not tell anyone at the district that she had contacted the ISBE. (Def.'s L.R. 56.1 Statement ¶ 37.)

  Sandoval also began speaking with parents during the 1999-2000 school year regarding the alleged deficiencies in the district's bilingual education program. She counseled at least one parent to contact the ISBE regarding the treatment of bilingual students in the district. (Def.'s L.R. 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 38-39.) She also approached the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund ("MALDEF") to discuss the possibility of filing a lawsuit against the district.*fn3 (Def.'s L.R. 56.1 Statement ¶ 41.) She did not tell anyone at the district that it was her idea to visit MALDEF, and it is unclear whether anyone at the district knew of her involvement with the lawsuit. (Def.'s L.R. 56.1 Statement ¶ 43.)

  Sandoval only received a satisfactory evaluation for the 1999-2000 school year. (Def.'s L.R. 56.1 Statement ¶ 44.) In that evaluation, the school principal rated the quantity and quality of her work as "outstanding" and noted that she had "a warm and caring relationship with bilingual children." (Pl.'s Ex. M.) However, she gave Sandoval a lower rating of "satisfactory" in the "attitude and cooperation" and "attendance and punctuality" categories of the evaluation. Id. The principal also noted that Sandoval was frequently absent, although her tardiness had improved. Id. II. 2000-2001 School Year

  Defendant Hugh Jackson was hired as the principal for Burr Oak School at the beginning of the 2000-2001 school year. (Def.'s L.R. 56.1 Statement ¶ 45.) Sandoval was assigned to work at the Burr Oak School that year. In the Fall of 2000, during a meeting at which Jackson was present, Sandoval was questioned about having discussed the weaknesses of the district's bilingual program with parents and about having recommended that they either contact the ISBE or lawyers about their concerns. She was told not to speak to parents at all during or after school hours and that, if she was caught speaking to parents again, she would be fired. (Def.'s L.R. 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 55-56, 60.)

  Sandoval also submitted a memorandum, dated December 6, 2000 addressed to the "Members of the School Board District #132" from "staff members of the bilingual program."*fn4 The memorandum purports to "inform over an emergency meeting which was held on Monday, November 20, 2000. The meeting was to discuss concerns over problems with Hispanic parents all stemming from actions taken by Mrs. Sandoval." It reported that Sandoval was causing disruptions at work by recommending that parents file grievances or lawsuits against the district and telling parents that the district was not in compliance with state requirements regarding bilingual education. (Pl.'s Ex. S.) It is not apparent from the record whether the defendants knew about this memorandum. In the Spring of 2001, Sandoval contacted the ISBE again to complain that a teacher had asked her to participate in grading students. (Def.'s L.R. 56.1 Statement ¶ 65.) The ISBE representative informed her that, under Illinois law, teacher's aides are not allowed to assign grades. (Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s L.R. 56.1 Statement ¶ 65.) In 2001, Sandoval also complained to the ISBE about being placed on lunchroom duty because she felt that she had "insufficient time with underserved LEP children." (Def.'s L.R. 56.1 Statement ¶ 67; Pl.'s L.R. 56.1 Statement ¶ 19.)

  Sandoval received a satisfactory evaluation from Jackson for the 2000-2001 school year. (Def.'s L.R. 56.1 Statement ¶ 68.) Jackson assigned Sandoval a rating of "satisfactory" in each of the four subject categories listed on the evaluation. (Def.'s Ex. M.) In the quantity of work category, he wrote: "I must observe more times to see the `extra mile' effort." Id. In the "Other Comments" section, he wrote: "There was a lot of controversy this year concerning the bilingual program. I felt that it took away from the effectiveness of the program." Id.

  III. 2001-2002 School Year

  Defendant Jerome Roberts was hired as Superintendent of Calumet Public School District # 132 in August of 2001. During that year, Sandoval continued to complain to Principal Jackson about the Burr Oaks School's bilingual education program. (Def.'s L.R. 56.1 Statement ¶ 73.) In the fall, Jackson called Sandoval into his office and asked her if she had contacted the state about her concerns. She said that she had not. In fact, she had. Jackson responded that "everyone" believed that she had called the state. (Def.'s L.R. 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 76-77.)

  In January of 2002, Jackson asked Sandoval to "prepare a schedule detailing how she was spending her time in instructing students and how she intended to spend her time in the future instructing and working with students, but not to develop [a] curriculum as a teacher would." (Def.'s L.R. 56.1 Statement ¶ 81.) Sandoval characterized Jackson's request as an order to prepare lesson plans. Around the same time, Jackson asked Sandoval to prepare grades for all of the bilingual students at Burr Oaks School. (Def.'s L.R. 56.1 Statement ¶ 86.) Sandoval contacted the ISBE on at least two occasions to inquire about whether, as a teacher's aide, she had the authority to prepare lesson plans and assign grades. (Def.'s L.R. 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 86-87.) She was told that teacher's aides could do neither. She accordingly refused Jackson's requests that she prepare the lesson plans or assist in assigning grades. (Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s L.R. 56.1 Statement ¶ 81.) Sandoval told Jackson and several other faculty members that she had contacted ISBE to complain about these requests. (Def.'s L.R. 56.1 Statement ¶ 88.)

  Sandoval also contacted ISBE during the 2001-2002 school year to complain about the Burr Oaks School keeping LEP children from attending physical education and recess so that they could complete their lessons. It is disputed whether anyone at Burr Oaks, including the defendants, knew about this particular call to the ISBE. (Def.'s L.R. 56.1 Statement ¶ 93; Pl.'s Resp. ¶ 93.)

  Jackson prepared Sandoval's 2001-2002 annual review. The review itself is sparse. (Pl.'s Ex. M.) Jackson rated Sandoval in several categories using a scale of one to five, five being the highest rating possible. With regard to the first category, entitled "Quality of Work," Jackson gave Sandoval a rating of one and wrote: "Work does not meet these job requirements." In the second category, "dependability," Jackson gave Sandoval a rating of two and wrote: "I cannot depend on you to carry out assignments to completion." He again assigned her a rating of one with regard to the third category, "Ability to work with others," and wrote: "You have not demonstrated an ability to work with others in the performance of your job." He also assigned Sandoval a rating of one with regard to "Adaptability," commenting that: "The variety of assignments that you have been given within the scope of your job duties has not been carried out satisfactorily." With regard to "job knowledge," he gave her a rating of two and wrote: "It is not clear to me that you have a clear understanding of your job." In the "job initiative" category, he assigned Sandoval a rating of two and made ...


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