United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
November 1, 2004.
PREDONNA ROBERTS, Plaintiff,
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
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 with the staff
must occur. The information collected and summarized
by Mr. Tom Cavenagh, [sic] further indicates a
similar need. It is my hope that the relationship and
communication issues can be resolved before the start
of the 2000-2001 school year.
(Roberts Dep. at Ex. C).
Near the end of the 1999-2000 school year, the Board acted on
Roberts' suggestion from the March 2000 meeting and hired Thomas
Cavenagh, the director of the Dispute Resolution Center at North
Central College in Naperville, to play a neutral, mediative role,
to assess the situation at Madison, to recommend a program to
resolve the conflicts, and to work with Roberts and the staff to
improve the climate at Madison. (Def. 56.1(a) Statement ¶¶
120-122). Cavenagh met with Bryan and Roberts to discuss his
approach and the mediative process. (Cavenagh Dep. at 14-15).
Cavenagh then spent the next three weeks at the school meeting
with Bryan, Roberts, and each and every paid staff member
(including janitorial staff, kitchen staff, secretarial staff,
administrative staff, faculty, and parent representatives) at
Madison. (Cavenagh Dep. at 15-16). Cavenagh observed at the
outset that there was significant tension at Madison and that a
significant number of personnel, from all areas of the school,
had difficulties working with Roberts. (Cavenagh Dep. at 17-20).
In particular, Cavenagh observed that "virtually all" faculty
believed that Roberts was not responsive to their needs and that
when they asked about her nonresponsiveness she blamed someone
other than herself. (Cavenagh Dep. at 23-24). Cavenagh also noticed faculty
complaints about Roberts' professionalism. (Cavenagh Dep. at 23).
Cavenagh believed that the tension at Madison made it difficult
for the staff to excel at their jobs. (Cavenagh Dep. at 41). At
the same time, Cavenagh acknowledged that the transition to a new
principal, particularly since Pentecost had also applied for the
position, made for a difficult situation at Madison. (Cavenagh
Dep. at 40).
Around June 5, 2000, Cavenagh prepared a memorandum that
identified five issues that needed to be resolved at Madison and
also identified a variety of strategies to address those issues.
(Cavenagh Dep. at 61; Def. Ex. J. at 107-110). Among other
things, Cavenagh expressed his opinion that the District had an
"ongoing" need to evaluate the administration at Madison and that
the Associate Superintendent (Bryan) should design and implement
a formal evaluation process that allowed staff to contribute
feedback in the evaluation of Roberts and Madison's assistant
principals. (Def. Ex. J. at 110).
Early the following school year, Roberts' problems boiled over.
In November 2000, Madison prepared a school newsletter for public
distribution. (Bryan Dep. at 53; Roberts Dep. at 85-86). But
Roberts' secretary included in the newsletter the Social Security
numbers of every staff member at Madison. (Bryan Dep. at 53-54;
Roberts Dep. at 85-86). The newsletter's were delivered to the
post office for mailing prior to Roberts proofing them, but
Roberts retrieved before the post office mailed them. (Roberts
Dep. at 85-87). Needless to say, the faculty were upset that
their personal information nearly made it into the public domain,
and Roberts and Bryan convened an impromptu school meeting to
explain the error. At a school meeting, Roberts attempted to
explain how the mistake occurred, informing them that a secretary
had composed the newsletter and distributed it for mailing before it was proofed. (Roberts Dep. at 88-90). Bryan
later informed her that he was disappointed that she had not
taken responsibility for the newsletter. (Roberts Dep. at 88-90).
The teachers remained upset, and a week later, Bryan wrote
Roberts a memorandum expressing his concern about her loss of
respect with the staff members at Madison because of the
newsletter incident. (Def. Ex. J. at 112). Bryan explained that
Roberts had "demonstrated to [her] staff a pattern of errors due
to lack of attention to details [and] . . . a pattern of not
accepting responsibility for errors when brought to your
attention." (Def. Ex. J. at 112). Bryan informed Roberts that her
explanation of the error "further eroded the staff's confidence,
trust and respect in you as their principal." (Def. Ex. J. at
113). As a result of her handling of the incident, Bryan advised
Roberts that he would distribute a survey to all Madison staff to
assess their opinion of Roberts as principal. (Def. Ex. J. at
Bryan modeled the survey after one created by Cavenagh earlier
in the spring. (Cavenagh Dep. at 76, Exs. 11-12). In Cavenagh's
survey, the faculty members are asked generally whether they
agree or disagree about qualities that are important for a
principal to be effective. (Cavenagh Dep. at Ex. 12). In Bryan's
survey, the faculty members are asked to evaluate Roberts'
effectiveness or skill in the general categories listed in the
survey created by Cavenagh. (Cavenagh Dep. at Ex. 11). Roberts
did believe that any of the questions in the survey were biased
towards African Americans or females. (Roberts. Dep. at 197). The
results showed that the faculty at Madison had an extremely
unfavorable opinion of Roberts. (Def. Ex. J. at 116-126). Out of
33 questions, only three times did the staff give Roberts an
average rating that was neutral or slightly favorable. (Def. Ex.
J. at 116). Thus in 30 questions, the staff gave Roberts an
average rating that was unfavorable. (Def. Ex. J. at 116). In
fact, for 10 of the 33 questions, two-thirds or more of the staff
gave Roberts a negative rating. (Def. Ex. J. at 116). Furthermore,
approximately one-third of the staff added written negative
comments about Roberts at the conclusion of the survey. (Def. Ex.
J. at 117-126).
After the survey was completed, Bryan wrote to Weber and
explained that the tension at Madison was higher than a year ago.
(Def. Ex. J. at 114). Bryan also explained that the level of
staff confidence in Roberts' ability was low. (Def. Ex. J. at
114). Shortly thereafter, Bryan discussed the results of the
survey with Roberts and informed her that he believed she would
be unable to reverse the staff's opinion of her. (Roberts Dep. at
137). Bryan recommended that the Board terminate Roberts.
(Davenport Dep. at 46-47). The Board, however, rejected that
recommendation and Bryan then recommended that the District
transfer Roberts to an administrative position at the central
office. (Bryan Dep. at 68-69). Sally Pentecost was appointed
interim principal. (Bryan Dep. at 69-70). On January 1, 2001,
Roberts was transferred to the position of Administrator of
Special Projects, placing her in charge of the District's grants.
(Davenport Dep. at 44-45, Roberts Dep. at Ex. I). In March 2001,
the Board voted not to rehire Roberts for the 2001-2002 school
year. (Def. 56.1(a) Statement ¶ 176).
Summary judgment is appropriate when the record shows "that
there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the
moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317,
322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). All facts and
inferences are viewed in the light most favorable to the
non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,
477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). The party
opposing summary judgment, however, must go beyond the pleadings
and set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250. And neither "the mere existence of
some alleged factual dispute between the parties," Anderson,
477 U.S. at 247, nor the existence of "some metaphysical doubt as
to the material facts," Matsushita Elec. Indus., Co. v. Zenith
Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538
(1986), is sufficient to defeat such a motion. Further a
plaintiff cannot manufacture a conflict by submitting an
affidavit that contradicts an earlier deposition. Piscione v.
Ernst & Young, L.L.P., 171 F.3d 527, 532 (7th Cir. 1999). Nor
can a plaintiff defeat a motion for summary judgment in the
context of employment discrimination with conjecture or
speculation regarding the employer's motives. Abioye v.
Sundstrand Corp., 164 F.3d 364 (7th Cir. 1998).
A. Discrimination Claims
Roberts alleges that the District discriminated against her in
violation of Title VII because of her race and gender when it
transferred her to another administrative position and when it
later failed to renew her contract, effectively terminating her.
A plaintiff may defeat a summary judgment motion in an employment
discrimination case by using either the direct method or the
indirect method. Cerutti v. BASF Corp., 349 F.3d 1055, 1060
(7th Cir. 2003). In order to proceed under the direct method,
Roberts must have put forth evidence either direct or
circumstantial sufficient to raise an inference that the
employer's decision to take an adverse job action against her was
motivated by an impermissible purpose. Cerutti,
349 F.3d at 1060; Adams v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 324 F.3d 935, 939 (7th
Cir. 2003); Rogers v. City of Chicago, 320 F.3d 748, 753-54
(7th Cir. 2003). Here, Roberts submits no evidence and makes no
argument sufficient to proceed under the direct method, and so
must proceed under the more familiar burden-shifting approach set
forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792,
93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973). Under the burden-shifting test, a plaintiff must first
establish a prima facie case of discrimination by demonstrating
that: (1) she was a member of a protected class; (2) she suffered
an adverse employment action; (3) she was meeting the employer's
legitimate expectations; and (4) that the employer treated
similarly situated employees who are not in the protected class
more favorably. Gordon v. United Airlines, Inc., 246 F.3d 878,
885-86 (7th Cir. 2001). Once a plaintiff has established a prima
facie case, the burden shifts to the employer to come forward
with a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for its actions.
Id. at 886. If the employer meet this burden, the burden
returns to the plaintiff who must show the employer's proffered
reasons to be pretextual. Id.
Roberts' race and gender discrimination claims fail because she
cannot prove that she was meeting her employer's legitimate
expectations. Shortly into her first year as principal at
Madison, the associate superintendent received an anonymous
letter from a member of the staff complaining about Roberts. In
response, Bryan came to the school to observe the interaction
between Roberts and her staff and he noticed the tension at the
school. At the end of her first semester as principal, Bryan
explained that the tension was increasing, not decreasing and
warned her that if the climate at Madison did not improve he
would not be able to recommend her for continued employment.
Throughout Roberts' employment at Madison, the District received
complaints from faculty and staff about Roberts' performance. The
district hired a conflict resolution specialist who also observed
that "virtually all" of the faculty at Madison believed Roberts
was not responsive to their needs and that the climate at the
school made it difficult for the teachers to do their jobs.
Despite these troubles, the District did give Roberts a chance to
improve the climate at Madison and renewed her employment for a
second year. But during her second year, Roberts lost the respect
of the staff when a school newsletter included the staff's social
security numbers. A survey of the staff shortly after this incident revealed that they overwhelmingly felt unfavorably
towards Roberts and on nearly every question rated Roberts
unfavorably. In other words, Roberts failed to meet the
District's expectation that she effectively lead and communicate
with her staff.
Roberts offers little to rebut Defendant's evidence that she
failed to develop effective leadership skills or to demonstrate
that she was meeting the District's performance expectations.
Instead, Roberts first quibbles with the evidence submitted by
the Defendant. It is true that much of what Defendant points to
deposition testimony of Houk, Olinger, and Plourde, for example
contains statements outside the scope of these witnesses personal
knowledge. It is also true that Defendant often refers to facts
that are contested such as whether Roberts knew all of the
staff members' names. But the Court has ignored this evidence.
The record, however, is replete with facts to demonstrate that
the climate at Madison was tense and that the teachers at Madison
overwhelmingly disapproved of Roberts' as a principal. Roberts
offers no evidence to place these facts in dispute and cannot
defeat Defendant's summary judgment motion with a self-serving
conclusion that, despite the numerous complaints about her
leadership that are in the record, she did meet the District's
expectations. Wyninger v. New Venture Gear, Inc., 361 F.3d 965,
980 (7th Cir. 2004).
Roberts next points to evidence that students at Madison
continued to excel, which, she argues, shows that she was meeting
the District's legitimate expectations. But the students' level
of performance speaks to but one of many expectations the
District may have had for her. Legitimate performance
expectations are "bona fide expectations, for it is no business
of a court in a discrimination case to decide whether an employer
demands `too much' of [its] workers. Coco v. Elmwood Care,
Inc., 128 F.3d 1177, 1179 (7th Cir. 1997). Here the District not
only expected Roberts to maintain student performance, but also expected
Roberts to effectively lead the faculty and staff at Madison and
to create a climate where the faculty and staff excelled. The
undisputed facts demonstrate that Roberts failed to meet this
Furthermore, even if Roberts could demonstrate that she was
meeting her employer's legitimate expectations, she could not
show that its reason for discharging her was pretextual.
Oftentimes, consideration of legitimate expectations is tied
together with an analysis of whether the employer's reasons for
its actions were pretextual, and in some ways that is the case
here. See, e.g., Mateu-Anderegg v. School Dist. of Whitefish
Bay, 304 F.3d 618, 626 (7th Cir. 2002). Roberts argues among
other things that she was not given sufficient support by the
District, and thus her performance was unfairly assessed. It is
evident from the record that the District handled Roberts' tenure
as the principal at Madison poorly. The District knew that two
assistant principals at Madison coveted the vacant principal's
position, but selected Roberts to fill that position. At the
outset of her employment, Roberts complained to the District that
some of the teachers appeared to launch a vendetta against her.
Roberts repeated this complaint several times throughout her
tenure at Madison. But the District never responded. When Bryan
came to visit Madison, he focused on Roberts' conduct and never
once appeared concerned with the possibility that the complaints
from the faculty and staff might be a product of childishness
rather than of Roberts' inability to function as a principal. In
short, the District turned a blind eye to the possibility that
the assistant principals might have chaffed feelings at being
passed over in favor of an outsider, Roberts, and it did little
or nothing to defuse the hostile situation faced by Roberts.
But the fact that the District made poor business decisions
does not by itself demonstrate that its reasons for its actions
were pretextual. Unless Roberts submitted evidence to show that
the District applied its expectations in discriminatory terms, she
cannot establish that its reasons for firing her were pretextual.
See Mateu-Anderegg, 304 F.3d at 626; Coco, 128 F.3d at 1179.
Roberts points only to deposition testimony of one school board
member, Osie Davenport, to suggest that other principals were
treated more favorably and thus the District applied its
expectations in a discriminatory manner. But Davenport's
testimony is so vague and devoid of detail that it fails to
describe the situations these principals found themselves in. In
other words, Davenport's testimony does not point to another
principal who, faced with overwhelming negative reactions from
the staff he led, was given special services or support by the
District to improve his relationships with staff. In the end, the
question for the Court is not whether the District was mistaken
about the reasons why the faculty at Madison consistently
complained about Roberts for two years, but whether the District
honestly believed that the faculty had legitimate complaints
about Roberts that were sufficiently significant to prevent
Roberts from doing her job. Little v. Illinois Dept. of
Revenue, 369 F.3d 1007, 1012 (7th Cir. 2004).
Roberts submitted no evidence that the District did not
honestly believe the teachers' complaints about her leadership.
Roberts speculates that because she was the first female, African
American principal in the District, because the District had only
a small African American population, and because no formal
grievances were filed against her that the District's reasons for
terminating her must be pretextual. But neither the fact that
Roberts was the first African American principal in the District,
nor the racial composition of the school sheds any light on the
honesty of the Defendant's motives. And the mere fact that no
faculty filed formal grievances against her does not undermine
the Defendant's decision to terminate her because of the volume
of informal complaints lodged against her. Roberts must do more
than offer her speculation regarding the Defendant's motives. Abioye, 164 F.3d at 368. Roberts'
discrimination claims fail because she cannot show that she was
meeting her employer's legitimate expectations and because she
cannot show that her employer's proffered reason for terminating
her was pretextual.
B. Retaliation Claim
Roberts' second claim is that the district retaliated against
her because she complained during the March 16, 2000 meeting with
Bryan, Weber, and Davenport that she was being subjected to
differential treatment because of her race and gender. As with
discrimination claims, a plaintiff pursuing a retaliation claim
can proceed under the direct or indirect method. Under the direct
method, Roberts must demonstrate that: (1) she engaged in a
statutorily protected activity; (2) she suffered an adverse
employment action; and (3) a causal connection between the two.
Stone v. City of Indianapolis, 281 F.3d 640, 644 (7th Cir.
2002). The Seventh Circuit has adopted a burden-shifting method,
similar to that set forth in McDonnell-Douglas, for plaintiffs
who choose to proceed under the indirect method. Under this
method, Roberts must first establish that: (1) she engaged in a
statutorily protected activity; (2) she was meeting her
employer's legitimate expectations; (3) she suffered an adverse
employment action; and (4) she was treated less favorably than
similarly situated employees who did not engage in statutorily
protected activity. Sitar v. Indiana Dept. of Transp.,
344 F.3d 720, 728. (7th Cir. 2003). Once a plaintiff has established a
prima facie case under the indirect method, the defendant has
the opportunity to come forward with a legitimate reason for its
action, and if it does, the burden then returns to plaintiff to
show this reason to be pretextual. Id. Roberts cannot prevail
under the indirect method because, as noted in the discussion of
her discrimination claims, she cannot establish that she was
meeting her employer's legitimate expectations or that the
District's reasons for its actions were pretextual. Instead, Roberts argues that her discharge took place on the
heels of her statutorily protected activity, and thus a causal
nexus under the direct method has been established.*fn3 On
March 16, 2000, Roberts complained to Bryan, Weber, and Davenport
that she believed her race played a part in the negative feelings
demonstrated by the teachers to that point. At the outset of this
meeting, Bryan and Weber had been prepared to recommend that the
Board elect not to renew Roberts' contract for the upcoming
school year. But as a result of the meeting, Weber and Bryan
agreed to withdraw this recommendation, and in fact Roberts was
given another chance to rectify the problems between herself and
the staff at Madison. Rather than retaliate against Roberts, the
District instead provided her a second-year's contract. It was
not until the problems persisted throughout Roberts' second year
that the District elected to decline to renew Roberts' contract
for the 2001-2002 school year. Indeed, more than a year passed
between Roberts' statutorily protected activity and the Board's
decision to terminate her employment. The Court concludes that
Roberts has failed to submit any evidence, direct or
circumstantial, to demonstrate that there was a causal nexus
between her March 16, 2000 complaints and her March 2001
termination and her retaliation claim fails.
C. Due Process Claim
Roberts' final claim is that the District deprived her of due
process when it discharged her without notice of the charges
against her or a fair and prompt hearing. In its motion for
summary judgment, the Defendant mistakes Roberts' due process
claim as a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 equal protection claim. Roberts moves to strike the District's motion for summary
judgment on Count III of her complaint. In response to Roberts'
motion to strike, the District points out the grounds for its
summary judgment motion as to Count III of Roberts' complaint.
Because the undisputed facts show that Roberts cannot state a due
process claim, the District's motion for summary judgment as to
Count III is also granted.
In order to assert a violation of the due process clause in the
context of an employment decision, a plaintiff must show that she
had a property interest and that the deprivation of continued
employment occurred without due process of law. Burrell v. City
of Mattoon, 378 F.3d 642, 647 (7th Cir. 2004). "`A protected
property interest in employment can arise from a state statute,
regulation, municipal ordinance, or an express or implied
contract those `rules or understandings that secure certain
benefits and that support claims of entitlement to those
benefits.'" Crull v. Sunderman, 384 F.3d 453, 460 (7th Cir.
2004) (quoting Johnson v. City of Fort Wayne, 91 F.3d 922, 943
(7th Cir. 1996)) (internal quotation omitted).
Here there is no state statute, regulation, or school code that
provides Roberts with any expectation that her job as principal
should continue beyond the length of any contract. Further,
Roberts points to no evidence to suggest that any conduct on the
part of the District created a legitimate claim of entitlement to
an extension of her contract beyond the 2000-2001 school year.
Indeed, quite to the contrary, every message that Roberts
received from the District during the 2000-2001 school year
informed her that she was not performing her job to the
District's satisfaction and that it was unlikely that it would
renew her contract. Because Roberts can not demonstrate a
legitimate claim to continued employment, her due process claim
III. Conclusion It seems likely that the Defendant handled Roberts' tenure as
school principal poorly. The conflict resolution specialist it
hired recognized the District put Roberts into a difficult
position because of the feelings of the assistant principal who
had also applied for Roberts' principal position. Even the
District's own school board member recognized that Roberts had
been placed in a difficult position. And yet the District did
little to defuse the tense situation. Instead, the District
appears to have allowed childishness and pettiness prevail over
the students' well-being, which is unfortunate. But as
unfortunate as the District's poor business decisions may have
been, they do not amount to discrimination and Defendant's motion
for summary judgment is GRANTED.
IT IS SO ORDERED.