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Abuzir v. Board of Education of the City of Chicago

July 6, 2007


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


Plaintiff Yusuf Abuzir ("Abuzir" or "Plaintiff') sued the Board of Education of the City of Chicago (the "Board") for discriminatory termination on the basis of his national origin and age, harassment on the basis of national origin, and retaliatory discharge on the basis of his complaints about discrimination in the environment in which he worked.

The Board moves for summary judgment on Counts I and IV for discrimination on the basis of national origin and age, and on Counts II and III for retaliatory discharge. For the reasons set forth below, the Board's motion for summary judgment is granted as to Count I alleging discrimination on the basis of national origin pursuant to Title VII. The Board's Motion for Summary Judgment is also granted as to Counts II, III, and IV alleging retaliation on the basis of national origin pursuant to Title VII, discrimination on the basis of age pursuant to the ADEA, and retaliation under Illinois law, respectively. The Board did not move for summary judgment against Abuzir's claim for harassment on the basis of his national origin, and therefore, Abuzir's claim that he was harassed on the basis of his national origin stands.


Until his termination in 2004, Abuzir had been a certified teacher in the Chicago Public Schools since 1996. Def. 56.1 Resp. at ¶ 55.*fn1 He earned his associate's degree in science from Birzeit College in Jordan, his B.A. from Chicago State University in 1995, and his masters' degree in education from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 1998. Id. Abuzir worked at Henderson school as a fifth and seventh grade teacher until he transferred to Bunche school for the 2002-2003 school year, where he was hired as a seventh grade math teacher. Pltf. 56.1 Resp. at ¶ 8; Def. 56.1 Resp. at ¶ 56. The principal of Hendersen, Richard Richardson ("Richardson"), noted weaknesses in classroom discipline and organization in Abuzir's annual evaluations from 1997 through 2000. Pltf. Resp. 56.1 at ¶ 8. However, Richardson's overall rating was "excellent." Id. There was no 2001 rating and Abuzir's 2002 evaluation has no strengths or weaknesses noted. Id.

In August 2000, the Board placed Bunche school on probation due to poor academic performance. Pltf. 56.1 Resp. at ¶ 2. In August 2001, the Board removed Bunche principal Patrick Kenny following a public hearing and replaced him with Annie Greenlee ("Greenlee"). Pltf. 56.1 Resp. at ¶ 3-4. As Bunche's principal, Greenlee had primary responsibility for supervising all aspects of the school. Pltf. 56.1 Resp. at ¶ 5. In June 2002, Greenlee and Assistant Principal Sharon Jenkins ("Jenkins") interviewed Abuzir. Pltf. 56.1 Resp. at ¶ 6. Greenlee decided to hire Abuzir; and at the time of her decision to hire, Greenlee knew that Abuzir was a "Palestinian Arab American." Pltf. 56.1 Resp. at ¶¶ 6-7.

Because Bunche was on academic probation, Greenlee testified that she informed her staff at the start of the 2002-2003 school year that she would be visiting classrooms to determine which teachers needed help. Pltf. 56.1 Resp. at ¶ 11. She also testified that she noticed problems with Abuzir's classroom management within the first month that he taught at Bunche. Pltf. 56.1 Resp. at ¶ 12. Although Greenlee monitored and disciplined other teachers with performance problems other than Abuzir, personnel documents from the same time period either no longer exist or fail to corroborate Greenlee's testimony. Pltf. 56.1 Resp. at ¶¶ 13-14. Jenkins observed Abuzir in the classroom between ten and twenty times, although she could not remember whether she observed him formally or informally. Jenkins believed Abuzir's classroom was "chaotic" but also she found it to be comparable to other classrooms at Bunche that she observed.

In September 2002, Abuzir complained to Greenlee about discipline in the school. Def. 56.1 Resp. at ¶ 58. In October or November 2002, Abuzir called Carlos Azcoitia ("Azcoitia"), the Board's Deputy Chief Education Officer, to complain about the safety and discipline problems at Bunche, the poor ratings he received from Greenlee, and the students' learning environment. Pltf. 56.1 Resp. at ¶ 21, Def. Ex. 9, Abuzir Dep. at 79-80. Abuzir made a call to Azcoitia's number on October 25, 2002 and several calls in December 2002. Pltf. 56.1 Resp. at ¶ 21; Def. Ex. 20, Azcoitia Dep. at 29, 50.

Although Azcoitia has no direct recollection of the call, his normal response to a complaint such as Abuzir's would be to inform the Area Instruction Officer ("AIO") and direct him to investigate the complaint. Def. Ex.20, Azcoitia Dep. at 33-34, 41-42. Between 2002 and 2006, Emil De Julio ("De Julio") was the AIO over the geographic region of the city in which Bunche was located. Pltf. 56.1 ¶ 17. De Julio was Greenlee's direct supervisor. Id. Two to three days after Abuzir called Azcoitia, De Julio visited Abuzir's classroom accompanied by Greenlee, at which time Abuzir told De Julio about the lack of discipline and security at Bunche. Def. Ex. 9, Abuzir Dep. at 81-86. During this visit, De Julio noted that the students were not engaged in learning. Def. 56.1 at ¶ 18. The parties dispute whether Azcoitia discussed Abuzir's complaint with De Julio and dispute whether De Julio visited Bunche to investigate the complaint. Pltf. 56.1 Resp. at ¶ 17 and ¶ 22.

From late October 2002 through June 2003, Greenlee visited Abuzir's classroom on numerous occasions to observe his teaching, authored several observation forms about Abuzir's teaching, and issued several notices to Abuzir about his unsatisfactory behavior in the classroom, his failure to discipline students, and his behavior toward Greenlee personally that she considered to be disrespectful. Def. 56.1 Resp. at ¶¶ 62-70. Greenlee's first negative evaluation is dated October 31, 2002 within which she noted among numerous observations on a "classroom visitation form" that Abuzir "speaks w/an accent." Def. Ex. 22. In November 2002, Greenlee told Abuzir that he should retire. Def. 56.1 Resp. at ¶ 61Abuzir claims that Greenlee told him that he should teach his students how to respect the American flag. Def. Resp. 56.1 at ¶ 81.*fn2 Abuzir claims that Greenlee told him that he should teach at an Arabic-speaking school. Def. 56.1 Resp. at ¶ 72. Greenlee denies making this statement. Def. 56.1 Resp. at 72.

In late 2002 or early 2003, Greenlee received a report from a school consultant that Abuzir made racially derogatory comments toward students. Pltf. 56.1 Resp. at ¶ 30; Def. Ex. 5 at p. 94. As a result, Greenlee initiated an investigation and the Board hired an investigator to conduct that investigation. Id. The investigator's typed report recounts five student interviews. Id. One of the five students interviewed stated that Abuzir used a racial slur. Id. However, the investigator's incident report and field notes recount interviews of twelve students and seven out of twelve confirmed the charges. Id. The Board's investigator sustained the charge. Id. Greenlee scheduled a pre-disciplinary hearing, and the Board issued a three-day suspension and a formal warning to Abuzir to cease conduct unbecoming a teacher. Pltf. 56.1 Resp. at ¶ 31.

In April 2003, Greenlee gave Abuzir an "E-3" notice of unsatisfactory performance as a teacher. Pltf. Resp. at ¶ 34. After an E-3 notice has been issued, the Board appoints a mentoring teacher to help the noticed teacher improve. Id. If the teacher does not improve, the principal may recommend the teacher's termination. Id. Cornelius Walker was chosen by Greenlee from a list of mentors approved by the teacher's union and was appointed to mentor Abuzir. Pltf. 56.1 Resp. at ¶ 35. Greenlee prepared a remediation plan. Id. Greenlee and Abuzir dispute whether the plan was a draft on which Abuzir could comment, or whether the plan was forced upon him. Id. Walker met with Abuzir, observed his teaching, and made suggestions. Id. Walker's notes, among several observations, reflect that Abuzir was resistant to suggestions, unwilling to take responsibility for his teaching obligations, and was unwilling to show his students respect or command respect from them.

56.1 Resp. at ¶ 38. Abuzir disputes that Walker's documentation accurately reflects the amount of time Walker spent observing, reviewing, and mentoring Abuzir.

Greenlee considered giving other teachers E-3 notices as well, but that she felt she could only do one E-3 process at a time. Pltf. 56.1 Resp. at ¶ 36. The documentation and reviews reagarding other teachers, including Denise Hall and Philip Peffley, rated them as "satisfactory" but also criticized their discipline and classroom management skills. Id.

Greenlee continued to observe Abuzir's teaching and author visitations forms during the 2003-2004 school year. Def. 56.1 Resp. at ¶¶ 73-78. During this time, Greenlee offered Abuzir suggestions for improvement but Abuzir refused her suggestions. Pltf. 56.1 Resp. at ¶ 40.

In September 2003, Greenlee wrote up Abuzir for making a joke about having a bomb in a bag as he entered the school. Pltf. 56.1 Resp. at ΒΆ 32, Def. Ex. 5, Greenlee Dep. at 149-59. Greenlee did not hear the comment; someone at the school told her about the comment. Id., Def. Ex. 18, Jenkins Dep. at 56. The staff members who overheard the comment wrote statements approximately two weeks after the incident. Def. Ex. 5, Greenlee Dep. at 149-59. As a result of the report, the Board held a hearing and Abuzir received a ten-day suspension. Pltf. ...

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