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SAMPLE v. REND LAKE COLLEGE

October 5, 2005.

HEATHER SAMPLE, Plaintiff,
v.
REND LAKE COLLEGE, et al., Defendants.



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

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

This matter comes before the Court on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 29). After Defendants' Motion was filed, this Court granted Plaintiff Heather Sample ("Sample") leave to file an amended complaint. Sample filed her amended complaint on June 17, 2005 (Doc. 31) and Defendants responded by filing their Supplemental Brief in Support of their Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 33). This brief included arguments in support of summary judgment on the new claims raised in Sample's amended complaint. Plaintiff responded to Defendants' Motion (Doc. 38) and Defendants, in turn, replied. (Doc. 52). For the reasons discussed below, Defendants' Motion will be GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

I. Summary Judgment Standard

  Summary judgment is appropriate where "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 judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56©; see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Spath v. Hayes Wheels Int'l-Ind., Inc., 211 F.3d 392, 396 (7th Cir. 2000). The reviewing court must construe the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of that party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986); Spath, 211 F.3d at 396. This standard is applied with special scrutiny in cases, such as employment discrimination cases, that often turn on issues of intent and credibility. Michas v. Health Cost Controls of Ill., Inc., 209 F.3d 687, 692 (7th Cir. 2000). Where the moving party fails to meet its strict burden of proof, a court cannot enter summary judgment for the moving party even if the opposing party fails to present relevant evidence in response to the motion. Cooper v. Lane, 969 F.2d 368, 371 (7th Cir. 1992).

  In responding to a summary judgment motion, the nonmoving party may not simply rest upon the allegations contained in the pleadings but must present specific facts to show that a genuine issue of material fact exists. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-26; Johnson v. City of Fort Wayne, 91 F.3d 922, 931 (7th Cir. 1996). A genuine issue of material fact is not demonstrated by the mere existence of "some alleged factual dispute between the parties," Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247, or by "some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts," Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986); Michas, 209 F.3d at 692. Rather, a genuine issue of material fact exists only if "a fair-minded jury could return a verdict for the [nonmoving party] on the evidence presented." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252; accord Michas, 209 F.3d at 692.

  II. Background

  Construing the evidence in the light most favorable to Sample, and drawing all reasonable inferences in her favor, the admissible evidence establishes the following facts.

  Sample's employment with Rend Lake College ("the College") began on December 16, 1998, and ended with her termination on August 22, 2003 (Pl. Dep.15). Sample was pregnant at the time of her termination, and whether this pregnancy and the possibility of her taking maternity leave motivated her termination is the subject of this dispute. Sample began her employment as a Child Care Resource and Referral Financial Assistant until sometime in late January or early February of 2001, she received a promotion and became the co-manager of the College's retail store (Pl. Dep. 16). A series of 1-year contracts governed Sample's employment; the last contract covered from July 1, 2002 to June 30, 2003 (Pl. Dep. 17). No written contract governed her employment in August of 2003 (Pl. Dep. 17). In addition, Sample received no assurances, written or verbal, that she would continue to be employed after the effective date of her contract, and her final contract contained language indicating that it did not imply continued employment after the effective its effective contract (Pl. Dep. 21, Pl. Dep. Ex. 3).

  The parties do not dispute that Sample had a satisfactory employment history before August, 2003. The problems arose, however, from the passage of a new dress code for employees of the College. On August 12, 2003, Sample attended a meeting of the President's Council, conducted by the President of Rend Lake College, Mark Kern ("Kern"), where the College's proposed dress code policy was discussed. (Pl. Dep. 39). Among other things, the new policy specifically prohibited employees from wearing shorts (Pl. Dep. 40). Those in attendance at the meeting received copies of the proposed dress code and were invited to ask questions about the policy (Pl. Dep. 40). At this meeting Kern did not specifically instruct the attendees to comply with the proposed policy immediately, he simply assumed that as the attendees were either supervisors or employees having budgetary responsibilities, they would conform to the administration's wishes "whether it was a policy or not." (Kern Dep. 13). Though Sample was aware that the proposed policy was to be voted on that evening by the Board of Trustees of Rend Lake College ("the Board"), she did not attend the meeting of the Board that evening, where the Board approved the policy (Pl. Dep. 41).

  On August 13, 2003, Sample came to work wearing maternity shorts (Pl. Dep. 50). At approximately 8:00 a.m. that morning, the manager of the textbook store, Dorothy Feira ("Feira"), observed Sample wearing shorts, informed her she was not in compliance with dress policy and offered to watch her side of the store while she (Sample) went home to change (Feira Dep. 25-26). According to Feira, Sample became upset at this point and stated, "If they don't like it, they can send me home and I'll use my sick days until this kid is born." (Feira Dep. 26). Sample denies making this statement, but admits she did discuss the issue of sick leave with Feira. In any event, Sample did not go home to change. Later that morning Kern learned that Sample was wearing shorts to work in violation of the new policy, and sent Robert Carlock, Vice President of Finance and Administration ("Carlock"), and Mary Roe, Vice President of Student Services ("Roe), to meet with Sample and investigate the situation (Kern Dep. 25). At this meeting, which took place at approximately 12:30 p.m., Carlock informed Sample that she was violating the College's policy by wearing shorts and told her to go home and change (Carlock Dep. 30). At this time, Sample requested an exemption from the dress code policy from Carlock because of her pregnancy and he immediately denied her request. Sample understood that Carlock wanted her to leave as soon as possible, but she felt she could not leave until her co-manager, Bobbi Shadowens ("Shadowens"), returned from lunch (Pl. Dep. 120-21). In any event, Sample did not leave the store until approximately 2:00 or 2:30 p.m, when Carlock saw her leaving the school — still wearing shorts — and brought her to his office (Pl. Dep. 62-63, Carlock Dep. 32). Carlock suspended Sample for two days for her dress code violation and told her to come back to work the following Monday wearing appropriate attire (Pl. Dep. 63, Carlock Dep. 34-35). After Carlock suspended Sample, Carlock spoke with Feira and she relayed her version of her conversation with Sample regarding Sample's intention to use her sick days if the dress code policy were to be applied to her (Feira dep. 28). Sometime later that day or the next, Carlock met with Kern and discussed the subject of Sample's suspension (Kern Dep. 34). Carlock informed Kern of Sample's suspension, his conversation with her, and Feira's version of her conversation with Sample regarding Sample's supposed intention not to comply with the dress code by using her sick days (Kern Dep. 34-35). Kern, particularly interested in Sample's statements to Feira, requested that Carlock get those statements from Feira in writing, which Carlock produced in the form of a memo written by her (Kern Dep. 36).

  On August 18, 2003, Sample returned to work dressed in compliance with the dress code (Kern Dep. 42-43). That afternoon, Sample met with Kern, Carlock and Roe in Kern's office to discuss Sample's actions on August 13th. The conversation focused specifically on her violation of the dress code and her conversation with Feira regarding sick days (Pl. Dep. 68-69). Kern told Sample that this was "the grossest form of insubordination that he had seen in his thirty-four years at the College." (Pl. Dep. 70). At the close of this meeting Kern suspended Sample and informed her that he planned to recommend her termination to the Board, which would decide whether to approve this recommendation at a special Board meeting later in the week (Pl. Dep. 70, 75-76). Kern recommended Sample's termination because she failed to comply with the new dress code, failed to change when Feira offered to let her go home, her sick leave remarks to Feira and her refusal to leave and change after Carlock told her to do so. At the Board meeting, held on August 22, 2003, the Board met (all members were present via telephone) and considered Kern's recommendation that she be terminated (Kern Dep. 52-53). Sample read a written statement to the Board and Kern presented his recommendation for termination; the Board declined to direct any questions toward Sample (Pl. Dep. 77, Kern Dep. 52-53). Before the meeting Kern advised the Board not to engage in a dialog with Sample because of a fear of future litigation. After meeting in closed session, the Board voted to approve Kern's recommendation that Sample be terminated (Pl. Dep. 78). After the Board meeting Sample grieved her termination in accordance with the College's grievance policy (Pl. Dep. 92).

  Shadowens took over Sample's responsibilities after her termination and continued to manage the retail store until she took FMLA leave for her pregnancy in mid-October (Pl. Dep. 100). While Shadowens was on maternity leave, a non-pregnant female employee, Kathy Craig ("Craig") managed the store. Shadowens resumed her position as co-manager after she returned from maternity leave until she voluntarily took a higher paying position within the College. After her transfer, Craig took over Shadowens' responsibilities (Shadowens Decl. ¶ 3, 5, 6).

  III. Analysis

  Plaintiff alleges Defendants are liable for (1) pregnancy discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq, (2) interference with her rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq., (3) retaliation for exercise of her rights under the FMLA, (4) breach of contract and (5) violations of ...


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