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Ward v. Board of Trustees of Chicago State University

May 22, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: George W. Lindberg Senior U.S. District Judge

Judge George W. Lindberg


Plaintiff Katheryn Ward ("plaintiff" or "Ward") filed a two-count Second Amended Complaint ("complaint"). Count I of the complaint is directed toward individual defendants Elnora Daniel*fn1 ("Daniel"), Beverly Anderson ("Anderson") and Farhad Simyar ("Simyar") (collectively "individual defendants") and alleges retaliation in violation 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("§ 1983"). Count II of the complaint is directed toward the Board of Trustees of Chicago State University ("Board") and alleges age discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. §621 et seq. Defendants now jointly move for summary judgment in their favor as to both counts in the complaint. For the reasons set forth more fully below, defendants' motion is granted and summary judgment is entered in their favor and against plaintiff as to Counts I and II of the complaint.

I. Factual Background

The facts in this case are undisputed unless specifically noted below. Ward was born on January 6, 1941. In 1983, she received a masters degree in international business from Roosevelt University in Chicago, Illinois. That same year, Ward began working at Chicago State University ("CSU") as an instructor of marketing. Two years later, CSU promoted Ward to the position of associate professor of marketing and management. In 1990, Ward became an assistant professor of marketing. She remained in that position until 1993, when she left CSU because she was not tenured as a professor.

Between 1993 and 2001, Ward worked for a private marketing research company, a Chicago Alderman and Kennedy-King College. Then, in August or September 2001, Ward returned to CSU as the assistant to the dean in the College of Business. Ward remained in that position until her termination in September 2005. As assistant to the dean, among other things, Ward assisted in the day-to-day operations of the College of Business and served as the first point of contact to resolve student issues. At the time of her termination, Ward was 62-years-old and held a single masters degree in international business. Ward did not have a doctorate degree.

At all times relevant to this case, Daniel was the president of CSU. The president is the only employee of CSU with the authority to terminate other employees. In July 2004, CSU hired Anderson to serve as the provost and vice president of academic affairs. As provost, Anderson assumed Daniel's duties when she was absent from CSU and made recommendations to Daniel regarding tenure and employee discipline. Anderson also focused her attention on improving the College of Business and scheduled a faculty and staff retreat in September 2004 to identify problems within the college and to aid the staff in brainstorming for solutions. One recommendation that emerged from the retreat was to eliminate the assistant to the dean position and revert back to a traditional college structure with an assistant dean who had a doctorate degree.

Prior to hiring Ward in 2001, the College of Business' administrative hierarchy included a dean and assistant dean. When CSU hired Ward in 2001, she received the title of assistant to the dean because she did not have a doctorate degree. From 2001 until Ward's termination in 2005, the College of Business did not have an assistant dean and utilized an administrative hierarchy of dean and assistant to the dean.

In July 2005, CSU hired Simyar as the dean of the College of Business. Simyar was over the age of sixty when he joined CSU. A couple of months after Simyar joined CSU, during the first week of September 2005, Ward and a limited number of her co-workers in the College of Business received an e-mail entitled "Sexual Molests Chinese Students" [sic]. The e-mail (hereinafter "disputed e-mail") appeared to contain sexually explicit pictures of Simyar and a female and stated "Dr. Simyar used his position to sexually molest Chinese students every chance he got while he was in tenure in China. Please forward the attached pictures to the Board of Trustees for the appropriate disciplinary action."

Ward did not know the disputed e-mail's sender and received the disputed e-mail at her CSU e-mail address, not into a personal e-mail account. Ward's e-mail address and contact information at the university were available to the sender via CSU's website and other CSU publications. A few days after Ward received the disputed e-mail, she forwarded it to other CSU employees, including Simyar's secretary. Shortly thereafter, CSU terminated Ward's employment effective September 15, 2005. CSU asserts that it terminated Ward as part of a restructuring within the College of Business and in an attempt to return to the dean and assistant dean administrative hierarchy within that college. Ward claims that she was fired because of her age and in retaliation for forwarding the disputed e-mail to other CSU employees. On June 7, 2006, almost nine months after her termination from CSU and after she initiated the instant lawsuit, Ward filed a charge of age discrimination with the EEOC. Ward received a right to sue letter from the EEOC on July 26, 2006.

II. Analysis

To prevail on their motion for summary judgment, defendants must show that the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with any admissible affidavits do not create a genuine issue of material fact and that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). In considering this motion, the court must construe all facts in the light most favorable to Ward and must review all reasonable inferences in her favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986).

A. Ward's Age Discrimination Claim

To establish her age discrimination case under the ADEA, Ward must show that the Board discriminated against her because of her age. See 29 U.S.C. § 623(a)(1). Ward does not present any direct proof to support her discrimination claim. Therefore, the court will analyze her claim under the indirect method recognized in McDonnell Douglas Corp. V. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). Under the indirect method, Ward "must establish a prima facie case of discrimination by showing that (1) she is a member of a protected class, (2) she was performing her job satisfactorily, (3) she suffered a materially adverse employment action, and (4) her job duties were absorbed by employees who are not members of her protected class." Johan v. Little Lady Foods, Inc., 434 F.3d 943, 946 (7th Cir. 2006). If Ward can establish a prima facie case, then ...

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