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Mighty v. Glenview Community Consolidated School District No. 34

February 2, 2006

LORI S. MIGHTY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
GLENVIEW COMMUNITY CONSOLIDATED SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 34, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Charles P. Kocoras, Chief District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter comes before the court on the motion of Defendant Glenview Community Consolidated School District No. 34 ("Glenview") for summary judgment on Plaintiff Lori Mighty's claim of racial discrimination and the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment on Mighty's claim of unlawful retaliation. For the reasons set forth below, Glenview's motions are granted and Mighty's is denied.

BACKGROUND

Glenview is a school district in the northern suburbs of Chicago; the district serves children from kindergarten through eighth grade. One of the schools within the district is Springman Middle School. Mighty taught Spanish to seventh and eighth graders at Springman from January 1999 until August 2002. During this time, Mighty was the only African-American certified staff member at Springman. She was not tenured, as teachers at Springman do not become eligible for tenure for at least four years.

Students at Springman were often taught a subject by a particular teacher for more than one grade level. For example, a student could receive math instruction from the same teacher for both seventh and eighth grade. This process was called looping. Although looping was encouraged and fostered at Springman, it did not always occur for reasons including scheduling and parent requests. Few teachers looped with every student they taught.

Mighty's troubles began during the 1999-2000 school year when she experienced difficulty with one of her students. The student used two racial slurs both inside and outside her classroom. On the second occasion, Mighty issued a detention slip to him, which he tore up in front of her. When Mighty informed the administration about these events, he was given a one-day in-school suspension. His parents objected to the punishment, and Charles Terry, the school's principal, met with his mother to discuss the situation. Terry later suggested to Mighty and others that behavior of both the parent and the child could have been racially motivated. Mighty was told that all discipline requests relating to that student would have to go through Rosemary Lorenzo, one of the assistant principals. In May 2000, the student was moved to a different Spanish class.

In December 1999, Heather Hopkins, another assistant principal, formally reviewed Mighty's performance and rated it "Satisfactory." The evaluation noted that Mighty's intense demeanor in the classroom could be intimidating and that she needed to engage parents early when she had a problem with their children in class. A second review given in April 2000 again noted the former issue, though with slightly different terminology. She was rehired for the following school year and given a raise.

Going into the 2000-2001 school year, the administration received letters from several parents requesting that their children not be placed in Mighty's classes. Some suggested that they or their students experienced difficulty in reaching Mighty or cited unresolved issues with her regarding student performance. Terry informed Mighty of these letters and their contents and required her to post times when she was available to provide extra help to her students. She was also required to email and phone correspondence with parents and to copy members of the administration on any written messages.

During the 2000-2001 school year, Springman used classrooms in a temporary building adjacent to the permanent school to alleviate overcrowding problems. Mighty was assigned during this school year to classrooms in both the temporary and the permanent building, necessitating her to walk between them during the school day. Other teachers were also assigned to multiple classrooms, some of which were more distant from each other than Mighty's assigned classrooms. Mighty was the only teacher with rooms in both buildings.

At one point during the 2000-2001 school year, Mighty left the school campus without notifying the administration of her absence. She was contacted at home and returned to school. At a meeting that ensued, Mighty asserts that she was forbidden from leaving school grounds during the school day; Lorenzo states that she was told not to leave school grounds without first informing the office.

The parties do not highlight any specific confrontations or difficulties occurring in the 2001-2002 school year, and Mighty was reappointed with a pay raise for the following school year in April 2002. Around the same time, however, she was issued an unsatisfactory evaluation and a Professional Growth Plan for the 2002-2003 school year that once again focused attention on her relationship with her students and their parents. It provided that, during the following school year, Mighty would be required to read and discuss with an evaluator professional literature regarding parent communication and student interaction. She would be assigned a mentor and a social worker; the latter would meet with students in Mighty's absence to discuss their perceptions of her classroom. Finally, she would be required to attend various specified meetings and workshops. The plan's implementation was cut short by Mighty's resignation in August 2002. Although the record is not clear on when she obtained new employment, Mighty now teaches at another school where she is apparently quite happy.

Mighty initially pursued relief through the EEOC and received a right-to-sue letter in May 2004. This suit, alleging racial discrimination and unlawful retaliation in violation of Title VII, followed. Upon completing discovery, Glenview moved for summary judgment on the entirety of Mighty's complaint and Mighty cross-moved for summary judgment on her retaliation claims.

LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate only if there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 56(c); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986). In seeking a grant of summary judgment the moving party must identify "those portions of 'the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any' which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 56(c)). This initial burden may be satisfied by presenting specific evidence on a particular issue or by pointing out "an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325. Once the movant has met this burden, the non-moving party cannot simply rest on the allegations in the pleadings, but "must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 56(e). A "genuine issue" in the context of a motion for summary judgment is not simply a "metaphysical doubt as to the material facts," Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986); rather, "[a] genuine issue exists when the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could find for the non-movant," ...


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