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Kodl v. Board of Education

August 1, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Amy J. St. Eve, District Court Judge


Plaintiff Karen Kodl ("Kodl" or "Plaintiff") brought an action against Defendant Board of Education, School District 45, Villa Park (the "School District" or "Defendant") alleging sex discrimination and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and age discrimination and retaliation under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. Before the Court is Defendant's motion for summary judgment. For the following reasons, the Court grants Defendant's motion.


I. The Parties

The School District is located in Villa Park, Illinois. (R. 38-1; Def.'s Stmt. of Mat. Facts ("Def's SMF") at ¶ 2.) It includes six elementary schools and two middle schools. (Id.) William Schewe is the Superintendent of the School District. (Id.) Carol Hogfelt is the Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources for the School District. (Id.) Susan Schwicardi is the Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum. (Id. at ¶ 62.) Anthony Palmisano is the Principal of Jackson Middle School and has held that position since 2001. (Id. at ¶ 3.) During the relevant time period, the Physical Education ("P.E.") teachers at Jackson Middle School, other than Plaintiff, included: Linda Rajca, Jeff Stone, Jed Ramsey, Mike Finke, Tisha Alvarez, and Ron Bent. (Id. at ¶ 8.) Eric Willis is a mathematics teacher who also taught P.E. classes. (Id. at ¶ 10.) As of March 24, 2006, the ages of these individuals were as follows: Dr. Schewe was sixty; Ms. Hogfelt was fifty-nine; Ms. Schwicardi was fifty-seven; Mr. Palmisano was thirty-six; Ms. Rajca was fifty-four; Mr. Stone was fifty-nine; Mr. Ramsey was thirty-three; Mr. Finke was thirty-three; Ms. Alvarez was thirty-one; Mr. Bent was thirty-five; and Mr. Willis was thirty-seven. (Id. at ¶¶ 2, 3, 8, 9, 62.) In 2003 and 2004, Mr. Willis was part of a group of seventh-grade teachers known as the "Maroon Team." (R. 47-1; Pl.'s Stmt. of Mat. Facts ("Pl.'s SMF") at ¶ 12.) The teachers on the Maroon Team were friends and had a close relationship. (Id.) Besides Mr. Willis, members of the Maroon Team included Peggy Cella, Martha Hayes and Jeff Schaefer. (Id.)

The School District hired Plaintiff as a full-time P.E. teacher in 1987. (R. 38-1; Def.'s SMF at ¶ 4.) She worked at Jackson Middle School from 1987 to 2004. (Id.) Plaintiff held supplemental pay positions each year that she taught at Jackson. (R. 47-1; Pl.'s SMF at ¶ 38.) She is currently employed at Schafer Elementary School. (R. 38-1; Def.'s SMF at ¶ 4.) As of March 24, 2006, Plaintiff was forty-eight years of age. (Id.) At all relevant times, Plaintiff was a member of the Villa Park Education Association (the "Union"), and was familiar with the Union's collective bargaining agreements and their grievance procedures. (Id. at ¶ 5.) Additionally, Plaintiff received and was familiar with the School District's policies prohibiting discrimination, harassment and retaliation in the workplace. (Id. at ¶ 6.)

II. Team Leadership Position*fn2

Mr. Stone held the supplemental pay position of P.E. Team Leader until his retirement in 2002. (Id. at ¶ 14.) In 2002, Mr. Palmisano proposed dividing the P.E. Team Leader position into two separate positions: "Team Leader" and "Athletic Director." (Id. at ¶ 16.) Ms. Hogfelt approved splitting the position. (Id. at ¶ 18.) In 2002, Mr. Finke applied for the position of Athletic Director, Ms. Rajca applied for the position of Team Leader, and Plaintiff applied for both positions. (Id. at ¶ 19.) Defendant awarded Plaintiff the position of Team Leader, but she rejected the offer. (Id. at ¶¶ 19, 20.) Plaintiff filed a grievance based on her belief that the division of the Team Leader position violated the Collective Bargaining Agreement. (Id. at ¶ 20.) Plaintiff subsequently instructed the Union to withdraw her grievance. (Id. at ¶ 23.)

III. Ms. Rajca's 2003 Complaint About Mr. Willis

On or about December 10, 2003, Ms. Rajca submitted a written complaint about Mr. Willis to Mr. Palmisano. (Id. at ¶ 32.) Ms. Rajca prepared the complaint in anticipation of a meeting that Mr. Palmisano requested. (Id.) Ms. Rajca's complaint stated that she was "complaining about Eric Willis and years of incidents that have manipulated, harassed and intimidated women in district 45." (R. 40-1; Ex. T at D0746.) In her complaint, Ms. Rajca described three examples of Mr. Willis' purported conduct: (1) he and Mr. Ramsey wanted to use the gym for the boys' basketball teams during the girls' volleyball intramurals; (2) he had students relay "snotty" messages to Ms. Kodl; and (3) he requested a meeting with Ms. Rajca and Ms. Kodl and was "very unprofessional and very demeaning." (Id. at D0746-48.) Mr. Palmisano and Ms. Hogfelt immediately investigated Ms. Rajca's complaint. (R. 38-1; Def.'s SMF at ¶ 34.) Mr. Palmisano met with Mr. Willis and informed him of the complaint. (Id. at ¶ 35.) Additionally, Mr. Palmisano and Ms. Hogfelt interviewed every witness Ms. Rajca and others identified as having relevant knowledge, including Plaintiff, during the course of the investigation. (Id.) Plaintiff asked Ms. Hogfelt not to reference her name in connection with Ms. Rajca's complaint. (Id. at ¶ 37.) Once they had completed the investigation, Mr. Palmisano and Ms. Hogfelt concluded that Ms. Rajca's complaints about Mr. Willis did not constitute sexual harassment or harassment in general, and, at worst, were petty misunderstandings. (Id. at ¶ 41.) Further, they could not substantiate allegations of harassment made by former teachers, which they uncovered during the investigation. (Id.) Defendant asserts, and Plaintiff disputes, that the School District issued Mr. Willis a verbal warning against engaging in inappropriate conduct. (Id.)

IV. Mr. Willis' Conduct During Girls' Volleyball Games

Plaintiff asserts that Mr. Willis harassed her when she coached volleyball matches, and that she reported such conduct to Mr. Palmisano at the end of February 2004. (R. 47-1; Pl.'s SMF at ¶ 23.) Mr. Palmisano denies that Plaintiff reported Mr. Willis' purported harassment to him at that time. (R. 52-1; Def.'s Resp. to Pl.'s SMF at ¶ 23.)

V. Plaintiff's and Ms. Rajca's Accusations that Ms. Alvarez Stole the Petty Cash

In early March 2004, Ms. Rajca informed Mr. Palmisano of her belief that Ms. Alvarez had stolen petty cash from the girls' locker room. (R. 38-1; Def.'s SMF at ¶ 44.) Plaintiff joined Ms. Rajca in accusing Ms. Alvarez of stealing the petty cash. (Id.) Ms. Alvarez denied stealing the money. (Id. at ¶ 47.) Mr. Palmisano was unable to reach a conclusion as to whether money was missing from the girls' P.E. Department, or whether Ms. Alvarez stole any money. (Id.) Further, Mr. Palmisano repeatedly told Plaintiff and Ms. Rajca that there was no proof of any missing money. (Id.)

VI. Plaintiff's March 2004 Meetings with Mr. Palmisano

In March 2004, Plaintiff met with Mr. Palmisano to discuss her goals for the 2003-2004 school year. (Id. at ¶ 49.) Plaintiff asserts that at this meeting, Mr. Palmisano "blindsided" her by telling her that she was the problem in the P.E. Department, and that she had "better change or watch out." (Id.) During a meeting with Plaintiff, Mr. Palmisano denied making such statements. (Id. at ¶ 50.) Mr. Palmisano also raised the issue of other teachers and staff members expressing concerns about Plaintiff. (Id. at ¶¶ 50-52.)

VII. Plaintiff's Attempt to Tape-Record Mr. Willis

On or about April 6, 2004, Mr. Willis sent Mr. Palmisano an e-mail indicating that Plaintiff and Ms. Rajca had attempted to secretly tape-record him. (Id. at ¶ 56.) Interview notes from April 7, 2004 reflect that during a meeting Plaintiff had with Mr. Palmisano regarding his classroom observations and her bi-annual performance evaluation, Plaintiff admitted that she tried unsuccessfully to tape-record Mr. Willis. (Id. at ¶¶ 57, 58.) Plaintiff received a written reprimand in conjunction with this incident. (Id. at ¶ 60.) Additionally, Ms. Rajca received a written reprimand for failing to report the attempted tape-recording. (R. 47-1; Pl.'s SMF at ¶ 26.) Plaintiff argues, and Defendant denies, that Ms. Alvarez was involved in the tape-recording incident. (Id.) Ms. Alvarez did not receive a written reprimand in connection with this incident.


VIII. April 2004 Teacher Complaints about Plaintiff and Ms. Rajca

In response to a request from Mr. Ramsey, on April 23, 2004, a meeting took place with Ms. Hogfelt, Mr. Palmisano, Ms. Schwicardi, Mr. Ramsey, and five other teachers who voluntarily came to support Mr. Ramsey -- Mr. Willis, Sue Shupenia, Mr. Schaefer, Ms. Alvarez, and Ms. Hayes. (R. 38-1; Def.'s SMF at ¶¶ 62, 63.) During the meeting, the six teachers complained about Plaintiff and Ms. Rajca, and unanimously requested that they be "split up." (Id. at ¶ 63.)

IX. Plaintiff's 2004 Performance Evaluation

On April 30, 2004, Mr. Palmisano gave Plaintiff her performance evaluation, and provided her with an overall rating of "satisfactory." (Id. at ¶ 64.) According to Mr. Palmisano, this evaluation was not "negative." (Id.) Plaintiff's evaluation included the following statements: "[t]he area of most concern is that of professionalism. You have not conducted yourself in a professional manner in several instances." (Id. at ¶ 65.) The 2004 evaluation set forth examples of Plaintiff's purportedly unprofessional conduct: (1) interactions with secretaries and other staff members, which made them uncomfortable; (2) attempted tape-recording of a co-worker; and (3) having cried when on a phone call with Mr. Palmisano regarding not being invited to play in a volleyball game. (Id.) Prior to 2004, Plaintiff received performance ratings of "excellent." (R. 47-1; Pl.'s SMF at ¶ 30.)

X. Plaintiff's Transfer to Schafer Elementary School

At the end of April 2004, the School District decided to transfer Plaintiff from Jackson Middle School to Schafer Elementary School. (R. 38-1; Def.'s SMF at ¶ 68.) Dr. Schewe, Ms. Hogfelt, Ms. Schwicardi, and Mr. Palmisano participated in the decision-making process that culminated in Plaintiff's transfer. (Id.) (R. 50-1; Ex. A at 184.) Mr. Palmisano stated that he did not participate in making the final decision to transfer Plaintiff. (R. 50-1; Ex. A at 184.) On May 7, 2004, Ms. Hogfelt issued a memorandum advising Plaintiff that her transfer to Schafer Elementary School would be effective on August 23, 2004. (R. 38-1; Def.'s SMF at ¶ 69) (R. 50-1; Ex. FF at 000153.) The memorandum states, among other things, that "[t]his transfer is the result of your demonstrated failure to relate in a positive manner with other teachers at Jackson Middle School." (R. 50-1; Ex. FF at 000153.) Defendant filled Plaintiff's former position at Jackson with a twenty-eight year old man. (R. 38-1; Def.'s SMF at ¶ 71.)

On May 27, 2004, after she had received notification of the involuntary transfer, Plaintiff filed five grievances, including one asserting age and sex discrimination claims. (Id. at ¶ 72) (R. 47-1; Pl.'s SMF at ¶ 34.) Mr. Palmisano, in his capacity as a school administrator, was the primary subject of Plaintiff's grievances. (R. 47-1; Pl.'s SMF at ¶ 34.) Because Union representatives concluded that Plaintiff's grievances were without merit, they refused to pursue them. (R. 38-1; Def.'s SMF at ¶ 72.) Plaintiff ...

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