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Darchak v. Board of Education of the City of Chicago

June 25, 2008

ANNA DARCHAK, PLAINTIFF,
v.
BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE CITY OF CHICAGO, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Robert W. Gettleman

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Anna Darchak has filed a four-count second amended complaint against defendant Board of Education of the City of Chicago ("Board"), alleging: disability discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. (Count I); national origin discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., (Count II); retaliatory discharge (Count III); and retaliation for exercise of her First Amendment rights in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count IV). Defendant has filed a motion for summary judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. For the reasons discussed below, the court grants defendant's motion.

FACTS*fn1

Plaintiff's History with CPS

Plaintiff, who was born in Poland and speaks both Polish and English, moved to the United States in 1991. She began working for the Chicago Public Schools ("CPS") in 1994,*fn2 teaching in the Bilingual and English as a Second Language ("ESL") programs at Taft High School. In 2002, plaintiff resigned and began working in the Newcomers/Refugee program and the Bilingual Parent Resource Center for the CPS Office of Language and Culture ("OLCE"). At that point, plaintiff lost her tenure status with CPS and became an educational support employee.

In the fall of 2004, while still an OLCE employee, plaintiff began providing ESL support to both Polish and Spanish English Language Learners ("ELLs") at several schools, including Princeton Alternative Center ("Princeton"), an elementary school. At that time, Princeton had an enrollment of 300 students. 77% of those students were Hispanic, 6% were Polish, and 18% were African-American. As of February 2005, plaintiff worked at Princeton five days a week as an ESL and a Polish bilingual teacher.

In April 2005, plaintiff submitted an application to Rosalva Acevedo, principal of Princeton, for a teaching position for the 2005-06 school year. Acevedo, who knew that plaintiff was of Polish national origin, hired her as a teacher effective September 7, 2005. According to Acevedo, she felt that plaintiff's Polish language skills would be a useful addition to Princeton's teaching staff. At that time, plaintiff's status was "Reinstatement of Non-Renewed Probationary Appointed Teacher ('PAT")."*fn3 Plaintiff, whose salary was funded through a supplementary OLCE grant, understood that she had been hired because of an anticipated increase in Polish ELL students at Princeton. Plaintiff, though, was certified to teach ESL, which allowed her to teach all ELL students regardless of their native language.

Plaintiff began teaching ESL and providing tutorial support at Princeton in September 2005. On November 1, 2005, Acevedo gave plaintiff a Cautionary Notice for "insubordination," which stated that plaintiff had not been following Princeton's required ESL teaching schedule. That notice stated that it "[did] not constitute any form of disciplinary action," but plaintiff refused to sign the form. According to plaintiff, Acevedo said during their meeting, "I brought you here to this school and you stupid Polack pushed the teachers against me." Later that day, plaintiff sent an email to Yvonne Womack, Acevedo's supervisor, asking to speak with her privately about the "dishonest atmosphere at Princeton." Plaintiff and Womack met shortly thereafter, and on November 8, 2005, plaintiff sent Womack a letter stating that Acevedo was violating the students' rights and treating her in a hostile manner. Plaintiff sent Womack a similar letter on November 22, 2005.

According to plaintiff, at some point during November 2005, Acevedo called plaintiff a "stupid Polack" and told her that Hispanic students were better than Polish students. Plaintiff did not tell anyone other than her husband about Acevedo's alleged comments, and she did not report them to Womack, Medina, the CPS Labor Relations Hearing Office, or anyone else at defendant. On November 8, 2005, plaintiff sent a letter to Manuel Medina, head of OLCE, listing her complaints regarding Acevedo. That letter did not contain any mention of Acevedo's alleged statements regarding Polish students or plaintiff's national origin.

In March 2006, Princeton's assistant principal resigned, leaving empty the teaching position in Room 206. Room 206, a combined class of sixth, seventh, and eighth graders, contained a high percentage of ELL students. After confirming that plaintiff possessed the requisite credentials, Acevedo asked plaintiff to teach Room 206 on a temporary basis. Acevedo assigned Roberto Arrona, a bilingual teacher's aide, to provide Spanish language support to plaintiff in Room 206. Arrona had previously provided similar support to Molly Chatman, who had taught Room 206 on a substitute basis and did not speak Spanish or possess an ESL endorsement. Plaintiff told Acevedo that requiring her to teach Room 206 was a violation of the No Child Left Behind Act because plaintiff was not qualified to teach a Spanish bilingual classroom. On March 3, 2006, plaintiff sent an email to both Medina and Womack repeating the same concerns. According to defendant, Room 206 was not a Spanish bilingual classroom. OLCE bilingual compliance auditor Xochit Rosales found that: Room 206 was not a Spanish bilingual classroom; plaintiff was qualified to teach Room 206; and plaintiff could not have reasonably believed that Room 206 was a Spanish bilingual classroom. On April 18, 2006, plaintiff also filed a union grievance concerning her assignment to Room 206.*fn4

Plaintiff taught Room 206 from March 3, 2006, to April 7, 2006. During that period, plaintiff completed 54 student disciplinary forms, stating that the students were "bullies" and gang members. Plaintiff sent several emails to Womack and Medina complaining about her assignment to Room 206. On March 10, 2006, Acevedo gave plaintiff a second Cautionary Notice, which stated that plaintiff had been discourteous and negligent in the supervision of her students. Specifically, it stated that plaintiff had referred to the class as "immigrants" and threatened to tell Acevedo that a student had pushed her. Once again, plaintiff refused to sign the Cautionary Notice.

On March 27, 2006, Acevedo issued plaintiff a negative performance evaluation, which plaintiff refused to sign. The evaluation stated that plaintiff had problems with following rules, dealing with students and parents, and cooperating with members of the school community.

Plaintiff's Medical History

Plaintiff alleges that she became ill after receiving the Cautionary Notice on November 1, 2005, and went to her physician, Dr. Christine Schwartz-Peterson, at some point during that month. According to plaintiff, her doctor prescribed an antibiotic and an anti-anxiety medication. Plaintiff, however, has provided no documentation of her visit to the doctor or the anti-anxiety prescription. Plaintiff did not see her doctor again until March 2006.

Plaintiff was absent five days during the first two weeks of her assignment to Room 206. She was also absent on March 10, 2006, and March 18, 2006, claiming on an "Employee Cause of Absence" form that she had a sinus infection. Plaintiff's doctor gave her a note on March 21, 2006, that stated that plaintiff was being treated for a sinus infection. According to plaintiff, Dr. Schwartz-Peterson also told her in March 2006 that she was depressed, and that if her symptoms worsened, she should go to United Mental Health. Plaintiff did not contact United Mental Health until April 2006.

Plaintiff's last day at Princeton was April 7, 2006. On April 17, 2006, plaintiff requested sick leave from the CPS Department of Human Resources. Acevedo received notice in April 2006 that plaintiff had applied for sick leave. Plaintiff signed a request for leave on June 22, 2006, in which she ...


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