United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
November 4, 2004.
LORI S. MIGHTY, Plaintiff,
GLENVIEW COMMUNITY CONSOLIDATED SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 34, Defendant.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: CHARLES KOCORAS, District Judge
This matter comes before the court on the motion of Defendant
Glenview Community Consolidated School District No. 34 ("the
District") to dismiss the complaint of Plaintiff Lori Mighty
pursuant to Fed.R. Civ. Proc. 12(b)(6). For the reasons set
forth below, the motion is denied.
The complaint contains the following allegations, all of which
we must presume to be true for purposes of this motion. Mighty,
an African-American woman, taught Spanish to seventh- and
eighth-grade students at Springman Middle School, a school within
the District, from January 1999 until June 2002. The conduct of
which Mighty complains originated in two incidents in late 1999,
when she disciplined a white student for using racial slurs in her presence. The student's
parents objected to the discipline, and the school administration
informed Mighty that she could no longer discipline that student.
During the 1999-2000 school year, Mighty's recommendations for
discipline of other students were routinely ignored by the
administration. She also received phone calls and email messages
from parents, which prompted the administration to require her to
attend several meetings to address complaints from her students'
At some point thereafter, Mighty "expressed her opinion" that
the complaints were racially motivated. Although her pleading
does not specify when or to whom this opinion was expressed, it
apparently resulted in several changes in Mighty's employment
environment in the 2001-2002 school year. During that year,
Mighty was not allowed to teach in the eighth grade the students
who had been in her seventh-grade Spanish classes the year before
(a process called "looping"). Mighty was given no permanent home
classroom but was required to move back and forth between the
main school building and a mobile classroom throughout the school
day. She was forbidden to leave the campus during her free
period. She was required to attend quarterly meetings with school
and union personnel. Her schedule was posted in a newsletter and
in a classroom. Parents could withdraw their children from her
class at any time during the school year. When Mighty wished to
discuss a student's achievement with his or her parents, the administration would not allow her to
meet with them until a white teacher also requested a meeting
with the parents.
For most of her employment at Springman, formal reviews of
Mighty's work had been favorable. In March 2002, she received an
unfavorable performance evaluation. She was told that she had to
sign the evaluation within 48 hours of receiving it or her
employment would be terminated. She was also informed that she
would be required to attend a workshop and read remedial
materials before the 2002-2003 school year began. Finally, she
was told that in the following school year, social workers would
visit her classes to monitor her performance, and she would be
required to have professional mentors.
In June 2002, Mighty resigned and obtained a different teaching
job in another district. At approximately the same time, she
filed a charge of race discrimination and retaliation with the
EEOC. The agency engaged in unsuccessful conciliation attempts,
and Mighty received notice of her right to sue in May 2004. She
filed the instant complaint that July.
The District now moves to dismiss the complaint pursuant to
Fed.R. Civ. Proc. 12(b)(6), contending that Mighty has not
stated a claim upon which relief can be granted. LEGAL STANDARD
The purpose of a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) is
to test the sufficiency of the complaint, not its merits. Gibson
v. City of Chicago, 910 F.2d 1510, 1520 (7th Cir. 1990).
Nonetheless, in order to withstand a motion to dismiss, a
complaint must allege facts that set forth the essential elements
of the cause of action. Doherty v. City of Chicago,
75 F.3d 318, 326 (7th Cir. 1996). In ruling on a motion to dismiss, the
court must construe the complaint's allegations in the light most
favorable to the plaintiff and all well-pleaded facts and
allegations in the plaintiff's complaint must be taken as true.
Bontkowski v. First Nat'l Bank of Cicero, 998 F.2d 459, 461
(7th Cir. 1993). The allegations of a complaint should not be
dismissed for failure to state a claim "unless it appears beyond
a doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support
of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Conley v.
Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957). With these principles in
mind, we examine the motions at hand.
Mighty's claim is based in Title VII, alleging discrimination
and retaliation. Both causes of action require that a plaintiff
plead and ultimately prove as part of the prima facie case that
his or her employer took some kind of adverse action against the
plaintiff. See, e.g., Hudson v. Chicago Transit Auth.,
375 F.3d 552, 559 (7th Cir. 2004) (retaliation); Little v. Illinois Dept. of Revenue,
369 F.3d 1007, 1011 (7th Cir. 2004) (discrimination). While of course
there are other elements that comprise a Title VII claim, the
District has challenged the sufficiency of Mighty's allegations
only with respect to the adverse action component, and we
similarly limit our consideration.
To qualify as an adverse employment action, an employer's
conduct must materially affect the terms, conditions, or
privileges of the plaintiff's employment.
42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). Adverse employment actions need not take clear-cut
forms such as reductions in pay or benefits or demotion. See
Hilt-Dyson v. City of Chicago, 282 F.3d 456, 465-66 (7th Cir.
2002). They can be subtle, and materiality often depends on the
circumstances of a particular job. See Oest v. Illinois Dept.
of Corrections, 240 F.3d 605, 612-13 (7th Cir. 2001); Ribando
v. United Airlines, Inc., 200 F.3d 507, 510 (7th Cir. 1999);
Bryson v. Chicago State Univ., 96 F.3d 912, 916 (7th Cir.
1996). Both qualitative and quantitative changes in the specifics
of the plaintiff's situation can be considered in making a
determination of materiality. See Haugerud v. Amery Sch.
Dist., 259 F.3d 678, 691 (7th Cir. 2001). In other words,
particularly at the pleading stage, where we do not have a clear
context in which to place the specifics of the plaintiff's
individual situation, a generous definition of "adverse
employment action" is appropriate. See Johnson v. Cambridge
Industries, Inc., 325 F.3d 892, 901 (7th Cir. 2003). Here, Mighty asserts a variety of actions taken by the District
that allegedly worked to her disadvantage. First, she was
forbidden to discipline a particular student and then her
disciplinary recommendations as to other students were ignored.
In addition, she was required to attend meetings to address
parental complaints and to learn to get along with parents. These
allegations apparently underlie her discrimination claim, in
addition to other more amorphous claims of lack of support by the
District in the face of parental complaints. The authority to
discipline students who disrupt classes or violate school rules
is an important part of fostering an environment that is
conducive to learning. The ability to maintain order within the
classroom is a crucial aspect of a teacher's job. Construing the
allegations of the complaint in the light most favorable to
Mighty, this claimed undermining of Mighty's authority before
students could constitute a material change in the terms or
conditions of her employment.
The remainder of the events to which the complaint draws
attention all followed Mighty's expression of her opinion that
the actions of the parents and the District were racially
motivated. Consequently, we read them in the context of the
standards governing claims of unlawful retaliation.
Mighty asserts that, after she complained about the alleged
racial basis of the treatment she was receiving, her classroom
and team assignments were changed to prevent her from looping with the seventh graders she had
previously taught. Depending on the particulars of employment at
Springman, this could be seen as a denial of career
opportunities, which, in certain circumstances, can constitute an
adverse employment action. See Patt v. Family Health Systems,
Inc., 280 F.3d 749, 753 (7th Cir. 2002). Mighty's lack of a
permanent home classroom required her to go back and forth
between buildings during the school day, and she was forbidden
from leaving the campus, singling her out before the student body
and her fellow faculty members. Furthermore, Mighty received an
unsatisfactory performance evaluation that was accompanied by a
threat of possible termination. Although that did not come to
pass, the evaluation was to be followed with mandatory workshop
attendance, remedial reading, social worker site visits to her
classes and mandatory mentoring from other teachers. By itself, a
negative performance evaluation is not actionable, but coupled
with other things, it can be. See Grube v. Lau Industries,
Inc., 257 F.3d 723, 729 (7th Cir. 2001). Here, Mighty has
alleged more than the simple fact of the negative evaluation.
Whether in her particular circumstances what she has alleged will
ultimately prove to be enough to establish an adverse action is
not a question that we need to ask at this stage of the
Most importantly, parents were allegedly allowed to remove
their children from her classroom, and her ability to schedule
conferences with parents was severely curtailed. In the context of a retaliation claim, even small
inconveniences can be sufficient as evidence of an adverse
action. See, e.g., McKenzie v. Illinois Dept. of Transp.,
92 F.3d 473, 483-84 (7th Cir. 1996) (finding inconvenience of
discontinued hand delivery of forms sufficient to show an adverse
action). Moreover, a multitude of small slights added up can
spell a campaign of harassment that will provide an adequate
basis for a claim of retaliation. See generally Bart v.
Telford, 677 F.2d 622, 625 (7th Cir. 1982). Adverse action in
this context can be shown by anything that would dissuade a
reasonable employee from seeking statutory protection when faced
with a situation similar to the plaintiff's. See Johnson v.
Milwaukee Sch. of Engineering, 258 F. Supp. 2d 896, 906-07 (E.D.
Wis. 2003). Construing Mighty's allegations as indicating a
singling out that compromised her status as an authority figure,
it is not difficult to imagine other teachers thinking twice
before complaining of discriminatory behavior for fear of similar
treatment. This is sufficient to withstand a 12(b)(6) challenge.
Based on the foregoing analysis, the District's motion to
dismiss the complaint is denied.
© 1992-2004 VersusLaw Inc.