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ROBERTS v. NAPERVILLE COMMUNITY UNIT SCHL. DIST. 233

November 1, 2004.

PREDONNA ROBERTS, Plaintiff,
v.
NAPERVILLE COMMUNITY UNIT SCHOOL DISTRICT 233, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: WILLIAM J. HIBBLER, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Predonna Roberts believed that the Naperville Community Unit School District unfairly fired her from her position as the principal of Madison Junior High School. Roberts sued the District, alleging that it fired her because of her race and gender in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, in retaliation for her opposition to racial discrimination in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, and without giving her due process in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The District moves for summary judgment.

I. Factual Background

  Both parties move to strike portions of the other's statement of facts. And both parties throughout their statements of fact frequently fail to direct the court to the appropriate portion of the record or to the deposition testimony of a witness with personal knowledge of the subject matter or the parties cite to material that simply is not relevant, all of which are improper. See Greer v. Board of Educ. of City of Chicago, Ill., 267 F.3d 723, 727 (7th Cir. 2001); Eisenstadt v. Centel Corp., 113 F.3d 738, 742 (7th Cir. 1997); Winskunas v. Birnbaum, 23 F.3d 1264, 1268 (7th Cir. 1994); Fed. Deposit Ins. Corp. v. Meyer, 781 F.2d 1260, 1267 (7th Cir. 1986). Defendants' facts are riddled with statements of fact that rely upon matters outside the personal knowledge of the deponent or that simply are not relevant. For example, Defendant attempts to show that Roberts did not know the names of her staff members by citing to the deposition testimony of Patrice Olinger and Jacqueline Plourde. (Def. 56.1(a) Statement ¶¶ 64-65). Olinger testified that "People talked about her not knowing their name." Plourde testified that Roberts did not know Marie Higgins' name because Higgins "told us" and that she "believe[d]" that Ellen Rathunde also told her that Roberts did not know her name. None of these statements is based on the witness' personal knowledge. In another statement, Defendant points to facts suggesting that Kathryn Houk, a teacher at Madison, felt that Roberts was not a good principal. (Def. 56.1(a) Statement ¶¶ 78, 81, 85). But Houk was not a decisionmaker, nor does Defendant point to any evidence that Houk communicated her concern to Bryan, the primary decisionmaker for the Defendant. Defendant does not suggest that Houk, because of her teaching experience, is an expert competent to testify on the characteristics of a good principal. Houk's opinion is simply a naked opinion, lacking any relevance to the issues at hand. To the extent that Defendant's statement of facts relies upon irrelevant testimony or upon testimony that is not based on the personal knowledge of the witness, those statements will be disregarded.

  Plaintiff's statement of facts, on the other hand, frequently fails to point the Court to the specific part of the record where the disputed fact can be found. For example, Paragraphs 55, 68, 70, 80, 87, 91, 98, 102, and 122 of Roberts' 56.1(b)(3)(b) Statement and Paragraphs 133, 136, 138, and 161 of her 56.1(b)(3)(a) Statement fail to direct the Court to any specific portion of the record to support the statement. These paragraphs therefore are stricken. Roberts also repeatedly denies facts from the Defendant, but points to evidence that in no way refutes the contested fact. For example, Roberts consistently points to the fact that no grievances were filed against her to dispute Defendant's proffered facts regarding complaints about Roberts' performance. But grievances are but one of many ways faculty may have complained about Roberts. Paragraphs 51, 55, 61, 86, 87, 98, and 99 of Roberts' 56.1(b)(3)(A) Statement are also stricken (and the corresponding paragraphs of Defendant's 56.1(a) Statement are therefore admitted). Except as otherwise noted here, the Plaintiff's and Defendant's motions to strike are denied.

  Prior to the start of the 1999-2000 school year, the District interviewed several candidates to assume the vacant principal position at Madison Junior High School. (Bryan Dep. at 6-7). The District put together an interview committee consisting of parents, teachers, and administrators (including the outgoing principal, Jerry Virgo, and the Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources, Dr. Michael Kiser). (Bryan Dep. at 6-7). Dr. Kiser and Russ Bryan, the Associate Superintendent responsible for supervising Madison, eventually recommended to the School Board that it hire Roberts for the position at Madison. (Def. 56.1(a) Statement ¶ 26). The Board accepted the recommendation and the District hired Roberts, an African American female, as the principal of Madison Junior High School for the 1999-2000 school year. (Def. 56.1(a) Statement ¶¶ 1, 7, 28).

  In October 1999, Roberts held a meeting with Madison's school counselors to discuss the school's approach to dealing with at-risk students. (Roberts Dep. at 69-74). According to Roberts, the counselors disagreed with her suggested plan and shortly thereafter "started a campaign" against her. (Roberts Dep. at 71-74). Roberts suspected that Sally Pentecost, the assistant principal and also an applicant for the principal position filled by Roberts, was upset that she was not hired as principal and encouraged the counselors loyal to her to sow the seeds of dissension within the school. (Roberts Dep. at 68; Davenport Dep. at 33; Olinger Dep. at 17-18). Shortly after the October meeting with the counselors, problems began to surface at Madison. First, Madison teacher Carol Vermaat*fn1 complained to Russ Bryan that Roberts had yelled at her in a hallway and social worker Jennifer Madson complained that Roberts had confronted her in the presence of other Madison faculty. (Bryan Dep. at 22-24). Bryan felt these complaints were unusual because never before had he received a complaint from a teacher about an administrator (Def. 56.1(a) Statement ¶ 40). Shortly after Vermaat and Madson complained to Bryan about Roberts, Bryan received an anonymous letter complaining about Roberts. (Def. 56.1(a) Statement ¶ 42). The anonymous author complained that Roberts: 1) was not knowledgeable about the staff or school procedures;*fn2 2) was not available to the staff; 3) blamed others when problems arose; 4) was in "control mode"; 5) did not accept input from staff; and 6) yelled at employees. (Def. 56.1(a) Statement ¶ 43). Bryan showed Roberts the letter and explained that he did not "know where it was coming from" but that Roberts "need[ed] to be aware that somebody has these feelings." (Bryan Dep. at 35).

  Because of the letter and the complaints that Bryan received, he began to visit Madison in November 1999 to observe the atmosphere at Madison. (Def. Ex. J at 142). Bryan also met with the school social worker and guidance counselors, who reported that there was a low level of trust between Roberts and the staff. (Bryan Dep. at 41). At the same time, Roberts expressed to Bryan that she believed that the counselors loyal to Pentecost continued the campaign against her by keeping "issues" that they had with her alive. (Bryan Dep. at 38-39). And although Bryan talked with Roberts about the staff members' concerns and the ways in which she could improve the climate at Madison and her relationships with staff, he never investigated Roberts' suspicion that staff members rebelled against her purposefully and in support of Pentecost's unspoken "claim" to the principal's position. (Bryan Dep. at 38-41; Def. 56.1(a) Statement ¶ 52). Throughout December, Madison's union representatives (Vermaat and Jacqueline Plourde who represented the 66 certified personnel at Madison) continued to bring concerns to Bryan similar to those voiced in the anonymous letter. (Def. Ex. J at 142). Bryan met with Roberts four times in December 1999 to discuss ways in which she could improve her relationships with her staff. (Def. 56.1(a) Statement ¶ 52). Later in December, Bryan expressed concern to the school board about Roberts' performance, noting her interaction with the staff. (Def. 56.1(a) Statement ¶ 53).

  On January 18, 2000, Bryan met with Roberts for her mid-year review. (Def. 56.1(a) Statement ¶ 56). The day after the review, Bryan sent Roberts a written memorandum discussing her performance. (Def. Ex. J. at 145). That memorandum reads, in full: At your mid-year conference on January 18, I reviewed my concerns over the current issues of low staff morale and the low level of trust that has developed between you and the staff at Madison. I have discussed the need for you to focus your attention on using interpersonal skills, which are necessary to establish positive working relationships with staff. I believe that the trust and morale issues are a direct result of not establishing a collaborative relationship with staff. Your attention to this matter will hopefully lead to a new level of trust, respect, and staff confidence in your leadership style.

 
At this point in the year the issues are continuing to increase in magnitude rather than improve. I believe that many staff are withdrawing into their classrooms as a method of coping with their perceived inability to share information about the atmosphere in the building. I have encouraged staff members to meet with you to share their concerns. If this dialog occurs, I believe it can be helpful in creating a collaborative relationship with staff.
As discussed, I will continue to closely monitor progress in the areas of staff morale, trust, respect and positive working relationships. If significant progress toward improvement in these areas has not been made by March 1, 2000, I will not be able to recommend you for continued employment as principal at Madison Junior High School.
I appreciate your shared concern over the issues that have developed over the first half of this year. I truly believe you are committed to working to resolve the problems. It is my sincere hope that you will be able to establish the necessary staff relationships to lead Madison in a positive direction.
  Roberts responded to Bryan's memorandum a few weeks later, expressing her concern that Bryan's memorandum focused only on the negative areas of her performance and excluded any discussion of areas in which Bryan praised her job performance. (Roberts Aff., Ex. B). Roberts repeated to Bryan her feeling that certain staff loyal to Pentecost launched a "smear campaign" against her and pleaded for support from the District to help quell the unrest. (Roberts Aff., Ex. B). At some point during her tenure as principal, Roberts also asked the Board to provide a statement to the staff in support of her leadership, but they did not. (Roberts Dep. at 208). Neither the Board nor Bryan ever convened a meeting to announce their support for Roberts as principal, though Bryan continued to meet with Roberts on a weekly basis through March 2000. (Def. Ex. J. at 80, 145). But Roberts' problems continued to grow. Bryan was frequently called to the school to deal with complaints regarding Roberts. (Bryan Dep. at 72). Vermaat and Plourde, Madison's union representatives, both continued to complain to Bryan about Roberts. (Bryan Dep. at 72). Patrice Olinger, a teacher at Madison, wrote letters to the school board complaining about Roberts, but failed to mention any specific events that formed the basis of her complaints. (Olinger Dep. at 55-56, 59-60).

  On March 10, 2000, Bryan composed a memorandum to Roberts regarding her employment recommendation for the 2000-2001 school year. (Def. Ex. J. at 79). Bryan informed Roberts that, although she had made an effort to improve her relationships with school personnel, he did not "feel satisfactory progress ha[d] been made in order for me to recommend reemployment as the principal at Madison Junior High School for the 2000-2001 school year." (Def. Ex. J. at 79). Bryan informed Roberts that: 1) she had not developed effective leadership strategies and that staff members were uncomfortable approaching her to discuss problems; 2) staff morale was low; and 3) staff members did not respect her as a leader. (Def. Ex. J. at 79). Bryan further stated his belief that the issues he had identified could not be improved to the level necessary to lead the staff in the future and that he would recommend to the board that she be dismissed as principal of Madison. (Def. Ex. J. at 79). At this point, Bryan had met with Roberts or Madison staff members 35 times in an effort to improve the climate at Madison. (Def. Ex. J. at 143).

  On March 16, 2000, Roberts met with school board member Osie Davenport, Bryan, and Superintendent Donald Weber. (Def. 56.1(a) Statement ¶ 100). At the meeting, Bryan discussed the concerns about Roberts and her relationship with the staff at Madison. (Def. 56.1(a) Statement ¶¶ 102, 107). Roberts expressed her concern to Davenport, Bryan, and Weber that many of the criticisms that had been directed at her by the staff had been done because she was African American. (Davenport Dep. at 51). Roberts also suggested the District support some team-building training and look into hiring a conflict resolution consultant. (Roberts Dep. at 180-81). Roberts requested that Bryan and Weber reconsider the decision not to renew her contract and give her an additional year to resolve the problems at Madison. (Roberts Dep. at 125). Davenport recognized that the Board had put Roberts in a difficult position because of the faculty who were loyal to Pentecost. (Davenport Dep. at 39-40, 102-103). At the end of the meeting, Weber and Bryan agreed to withdraw the recommendation to dismiss Roberts at the end of the current school year. (Def. Ex. J. at 143).

  Shortly after the Board met, Bryan asked Roberts to draft a plan for the 2000-2001 school year that would address the areas of improvement he noted in his March 10 memorandum. (Def. Ex. J. at 143). Roberts drafted a plan identifying specific tasks for herself, Bryan, and the District to improve her leadership skills, the relationships between principal and staff, and staff morale. (Roberts Dep. at Exs. D & E). And again, Roberts requested that Bryan provide a written and verbal statement of support to help quell the tensions at Madison. (Roberts Dep, Exs. D & E). In addition to Roberts' plan, Bryan prepared a summary report of the problems at Madison for the Board on April 3, 2000, in which he noted that Roberts' problems "centered around ineffective leadership strategies for establishing relationships" and "ineffective communication." (Bryan Dep. at 27).

  On June 6, 2000, Bryan submitted his final review of Roberts' 1999-2000 performance. (Def. 56.1(a) Statement ¶ 115). The review contained 11 "accountability" areas in which Bryan assessed Roberts' performance on a scale of 1-6 with 6 being the highest rating. (Def. 56.1(a) Statement ¶ 116; Roberts Dep. at Ex. C). In every area but "Accountability 7," Bryan assessed Roberts' performance at a 3. (Def. 56.1(a) Statement ¶ 119). But in "Accountability 7," where Roberts was assessed based upon her ability to "[d]evelop and maintain open lines of communication with students, staff and other district personnel," Bryan gave Roberts a score of 1 and wrote that:
Although [Roberts] was involved in a number of activities designed to develop and maintain an open line of communication with staff, I expressed concern throughout the year about the need to improve working relationships through effective communication. This concern was noted in memos dated January 19, 2000 and March 10, 2000. This accountability must be a focus for the 2000-2001 school year and significant improvement in [Roberts'] relationship ...

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