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Jacobsen v. Illinois Community College District 525

November 21, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge George M. Marovich


Plaintiff Elizabeth Jacobsen ("Jacobsen") filed a three-count complaint against defendants Illinois Community College District 525 and Joliet Junior College ("JJC"). In Count I, Jacobsen alleges disparate treatment in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"). In Count II, Jacobsen alleges disparate treatment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"). In Count III, Jacobsen alleges breach of contract. Defendants have moved for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants in part and denies in part defendants' motion.

I. Background

Unless otherwise noted, the following facts are undisputed.*fn1

Defendant JJC is the oldest public community college in the United States. It is part of defendant Illinois Community College District 525, which is one of the 40 community college districts under the Illinois Board of Higher Education.

JJC's education programs are pre-baccalaureate. They include occupational education, adult education, literacy programs and work force development. JJC also offers programs for students planning to transfer to four-year colleges and universities. As of the fall of 2005, JJC's enrollment was 13,022. At that time, thirty-eight percent of its students were full-time and 62% were part-time. JJC students are taught by 186 full-time and 490 part-time faculty members. Among JJC's departments is the Computer Information Office Systems ("CIOS") department, which is made up of three divisions: Computer Information Systems (programming), Office Systems and Health Information Management.

Hiring in the CIOS Department

The CIOS department, in the spring of 2003, needed a new instructor. The opening was due to the retirement of Patricia Sterr, whom JJC employed as a tenured instructor in the CIOS Department. Due to Sterr's retirement and a five-or-six-year history of stable or increasing enrollment in the CIOS Department, JJC advertised for a full-time tenure-track instructor in the CIOS Department. The job posting stated that the position required a "[m]inimum of a Masters Degree in Computer Science, Information Systems, MBA or a related field." The posting also noted that years of experience "might" be substituted for education but that a Master's Degree was "required for continued employment."

It is undisputed that, at JJC, a Master's Degree was not a requirement for being hired into a tenure-track position but it was necessary for attaining tenure. For example, CIOS instructors David Buckley, Richard McNeil and Angela Sullivan commenced their tenure-track positions before they had obtained their respective Master's Degrees. Two male faculty members over the age of forty (Adoph Scheiwe and Wilson Stroud) commenced their employment with JJC with one-year temporary contracts. Stroud ultimately obtained tenure in his fourth year, after he completed his Master's Degree. In Schweie's case, JJC informed him in February of his first year that his contract would not be renewed. When a tenure-track position was posted for the following year, Schweie re-applied and was granted the tenure-track position for his second year.

The CIOS Department's practice for hiring faculty is to form a search committee made up of the Department's faculty members. Those faculty members interview candidates and rank them. The chair, Ram Raghuraman ("Raghuraman") of the CIOS Department makes a recommendation to JJC's Vice President of Academic Affairs, Denis Wright ("Dr. Wright"). Dr. Wright, who is authorized to accept, reject or modify the recommendations made by the various departments, makes a hiring recommendation to the Board of Trustees for its approval.

Selection of Jacobsen

Plaintiff Elizabeth Jacobsen was among the forty or fifty applicants for the CIOS position advertised in the spring of 2003. When Jacobsen applied for the position at JJC, she had completed at Governor's State University half of the work necessary for a Master's Degree. Among her experience, Jacobsen had taught computer programming courses as a part-time adjunct professor from 1991 to 2002. Jacobsen had taught at JJC, College of DuPage, and North Central College. She had also worked in computer consulting and training for businesses. When she applied for the full-time tenure track position at JJC, Jacobsen was fifty-four years old.

From the forty or fifty applicants for the advertised tenure-track position, the search committee selected five or six--including Jacobsen--to call in for interviews. Ultimately, two candidates--Jacobsen and a man--accepted the offer to interview and to make presentations before the search committee. Jacobsen presented to the search committee in June 2003. Adolph Scheiwe ("Scheiwe"), a committee member, thought Jacobsen was an acceptable candidate. Raghuraman thought Jacobsen's presentation was good. Raghuraman had a good opinion of Jacobsen with respect to her previous stint as a part-time adjunct at JJC.

After the interviews, Raghuraman and Wilson Stroud ("Stroud"), a search committee member, discussed the options. Stroud suggested making the position a temporary position and then re-opening the position the following year, when the department might have a better selection. Stroud said, "[I]t would be nice to get somebody in here like Angela [Sullivan]. We don't want to bring somebody on board [who is] here for the health benefits." Raghuraman did not respond, and, during the conversation, Stroud and Raghuraman did not discuss age.

Once the search committee had completed its work, Raghuraman met with Dr. Wright. Raghuraman told Dr. Wright that the committee was not pleased with the candidates. Dr. Wright and Raghuraman agreed that Jacobsen was not the caliber of candidate they wanted to hire for a tenure-track position. Raghuraman was concerned that if they did not hire someone, the position could be transferred to another department, making it harder for them to hire someone for a tenure-track position the following year. Wright and Raghuraman preferred Jacobsen to the male candidate who the committee had interviewed. They decided to offer Jacobsen a one-year temporary position and re-open the search the following year.

The parties agree that when Dr. Wright offered Jacobsen a position, he asked her whether she would have her Master's Degree completed within three years and told her that tenure was contingent upon the completion of her Master's Degree. The parties dispute the rest of the conversation. According to defendants, Dr. Wright offered plaintiff a one-year temporary position and told her that if she finished her Master's Degree within the year, she would be the leading candidate when the position re-opened for the following year. Plaintiff put forth evidence that she was not told during that conversation that she was being hired for a temporary position.

In any case, Dr. Wright wrote to the Director of Human Resources a memo in which he stated that he was planning to recommend Jacobsen to the Board of Directors for a one-year, temporary position. Dr. Wright noted in the memo that he intended to hire her for a tenure-track position the following year if she completed her Master's Degree and received a satisfactory evaluation. On July 8, 2003, the Board of Trustees approved Jacobsen for a "one-year appointment."

JJC sent Jacobsen a contract signed by J.D. Ross, the President of Illinois Community College District No. 525, and asked her to sign and return the contract. Jacobsen signed the contract. The ...

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