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Crawford v. Wilmette Public School District 39

June 12, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Virginia M. Kendall


Plaintiff Shelly J. Crawford ("Crawford" or "Plaintiff") sued Wilmette Public School District 39 ("WPS" or "Defendant") for unlawful discrimination and retaliation against her on the basis of her disability in violation of the Americans with Disability Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12111 et seq. and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Specifically, Plaintiff alleged that WPS failed to accommodate her disability, and discharged her on the basis of her disability. Additionally, Plaintiff alleged that WPS retaliated against her by refusing to give her contract work as a substitute teacher after she filed her charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC").

On January 25, 2007, this Court granted WPS's Motion for Summary Judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56, finding that there was no genuine issue of material fact that Plaintiff knowingly and voluntarily released any claims against WPS. Plaintiff now moves, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(e), for partial reconsideration of this Court's January 25, 2007 Order, arguing that the release contained in Plaintiff's resignation agreement did not apply to Plaintiff's retaliation claim because that claim arose after the agreement was signed. Upon review, the Court agrees that the release contained in her resignation agreement, which was executed before her retaliation claim had even accrued, cannot operate as a waiver of that retaliation claim. However, WPS is nevertheless entitled to summary judgment for the independent reason that Crawford has failed to identify any similarly situated employees who did not file an EEOC charge and were not denied opportunities to work as a substitute teacher. Accordingly, for the reasons stated herein, Plaintiff's Motion for Reconsideration is denied.


Crawford is a certified teacher with a college education and some post-graduate work towards a master's degree in education. (Def. SOF at ¶2.)*fn1 She suffers from multiple sclerosis, which condition requires her to use a motorized scooter for mobility. Id. Crawford began working for WPS in the 1994-95 school year as a substitute teacher. (Pltf. Resp. SOF at ¶ 4.) During the 1995-96 school year, Crawford worked as a special education paraprofessional and then, during the 1996-98 school years, she returned to substitute teaching. Id. Crawford worked as an English as a Second Language paraprofessional at Ramona School (elementary education) during the 1998-2002 school years. Id. She then worked as a building paraprofessional for the Ramona School during the 2002-03 school year. Id.

During the summer of 2003, WPS offered Crawford a position as a seventh-grade special education paraprofessional at the Wilmette Junior High School (the "Junior High"). (Def. SOF at ¶ 5.) Crawford worked in that position until -- after having been advised that she would be terminated for disciplinary reasons if she did not resign -- Crawford signed a resignation agreement that made her resignation effective as of April 26, 2004. (Pltf. Resp. SOF at ¶ 6; Def. Resp. SOF at ¶ 23.) The resignation agreement between Crawford and WPS, dated May 20, 2004, includes a release provision that provides, in pertinent part:

[Crawford] . . . and the Union . . . hereby release, discharge, and forever free the School District and the Board . . . of and from any and all claims, debts, dues, demands, liens, obligations, fees (including attorneys' fees), actions, or causes of action, of every kind or nature, at law or in equity, which the Employee or the Union may now have or claim to have or which may hereinafter accrue, whether known or unknown, anticipated or unanticipated, against the School District and the Board . . . by reason of any act done or omitted to be done connected with the past or present relationship between the parties arising out of [Crawford's] employment with the Board, except as contemplated by this Agreement. This release specifically includes, but is not limited to, rights or claims arising under the Illinois School Code, the Illinois Human Rights Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, as amended, the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, and Section 504 of The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and any other applicable federal, state, or local statute, ordinance, or regulation or any collective bargaining agreement. (Exh. V to Def. SOF at ¶ 6.)

In the months leading up to her resignation, Crawford attended several meetings with various WPS representatives to discuss issues with Crawford's performance. At one such meeting, on March 25, 2004, the Director of the Human Resources Department, Alice Reardon ("Reardon") and the assistant principal at the Junior High, Steven Smith ("Smith") advised Crawford that she could not continue in her position if her performance remained unsatisfactory, but that she could return to substitute teaching. (Def. Resp. SOF at ¶ 36.) Nevertheless, Smith placed Crawford on the "do not call" list for substitute teachers at the Junior High School as well as the McKenzie School. Id.

Crawford substitute taught on September 14, 2004 and again on October 28, 2004. Id. at ¶ 38. Crawford filed an EEOC charge of discrimination against WPS on January 4, 2005. Id. at ¶ 38. Crawford did not substitute teach for the remainder of the 2004-05 school year. Id. Certain substitute teachers substitute taught over 100 times during the 2004-05 school year and 284 substitute positions remained open during that year because there was "no sub available." Id. at ¶ 39. Plaintiff substituted over twenty times during the 2005-06 school year. (Pltf. Resp. SOF at ¶ 79.)


"A court may grant a Rule 59(e) motion to alter or amend the judgment if the movant presents newly discovered evidence that was not available at the time of trial or if the movant points to evidence in the record that clearly establishes a manifest error of law or fact." County of McHenry v. Ins. Co. of the West, 438 F.3d 813, 819 (7th Cir. 2006) (citing In re Prince, 85 F.3d 314, 324 (7th Cir. 1996)). A Rule 59(e) motion enables a district court to "correct its own errors and thus avoid unnecessary appellate procedures." Divane v. Krull Elec. Co., 194 F.3d 845, 848 (7th Cir. 1999) (quoting Moro v. Shell Oil Co., 91 F.3d 872, 876 (7th Cir. 1996)).

I. The Release Provision in the Resignation Agreement Does Not Bar Plaintiff's Retaliation Claim Against WPS

"A release is a contract whereby a party abandons a claim to the person against whom the claim exists." Fuller Family Holdings, LLC v. The Northern Trust Co., 371 Ill. App. 3d 605, 614 (Ill. App. Ct. 2007) (citing Thornwood, Inc. V. Jenner & Block, 344 Ill. App. 3d 15, 21 (Ill. App. Ct. 2003)). "As such, the interpretation of a release is governed by contract law." Id. (citing Farm Credit Bank v. Whitlock, 144 Ill.2d 440, 447 (1991)). "It is clear that a contractual release cannot be construed to include claims not within the contemplation of the parties, and it will not be extended to cover claims that may arise in the future." Feltmeier v. Feltmeier,207 Ill.2d 263, 286 (2003) (citing Carona v. Illinois Central Gulf R.R. Co., 203 Ill. App. 3d 947, 951 (Ill. App. Ct. 1990)). Indeed, "[w]here a releasing party was unaware of other claims, Illinois law restricts the release to the particular claims that are explicitly covered by the agreement." Fuller Family Holdings, 371 Ill. App. 3d at 614 (citing Farm Credit Bank, 144 Ill.2d at 447). "Releases are strictly construed against the benefitting party and must spell out the intention of the parties with great particularity." Id. (citing Scott & Fetzer Co. v. Montgomery Ward & Co., 112 Ill.2d 378, 395 (1986)).

Crawford argues that this Court's Order granting WPS's Motion for Summary Judgment was based on a misapprehension of WPS's arguments as well as a clear error of law. Specifically, Crawford argues that the release of claims in her May 20, 2004 resignation agreement cannot operate to bar her retaliation claim because that claim"relates to her later relationship with Defendant as a substitute teacher during the 2004-2005 and 2005-2006 school years [which relationship] did not exist . . . when Crawford signed the resignation agreement." (Mem. in Support of Mtn. for Reconsideration at p. 3). WPS offers the tenuous argument that because "substitute teaching was part of [Crawford's] ...

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