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Barbarotta v. Chicago Board of Education

October 21, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer


Plaintiff Dr. Lucio Barbarotta, an Italian-born American, was employed as a school language teacher by Defendant Chicago Board of Education ("the Board") at John F. Kennedy High School ("Kennedy"). Defendant Dr. Franchion Blumenberg was the principal at Kennedy for three years while Plaintiff taught there, until Plaintiff's positions as a Spanish and Italian language teacher were eliminated and then reinstated with additional requirements that Plaintiff did not meet. Plaintiff alleges that he was discriminated against on the basis of his national origin and retaliated against for his complaints about the discrimination. Defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that Plaintiff has failed to establish that his positions were eliminated for any unlawful reasons. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion is granted.


The facts are drawn principally from the Defendants' Local Rule 56.1 Statement of Uncontested Facts (hereinafter "Defs.' 56.1"). Plaintiff has not filed a response to the Defendants' statement pursuant to Local Rule 56.1(b)(3)(B), but has instead filed only a statement of additional facts pursuant to Local Rule 56.1(b)(3)(C) (hereinafter "Pl.'s 56.1"). Accordingly, the facts set forth in Defendants' statement are deemed admitted,except where material in Plaintiff's statement of additional facts contradicts Defendants' statement. See Local Rule 56.1(b)(3)(C); see also Bordelon v. Chi. Sch. Reform Bd. of Trustees, 233 F.3d 524, 527 (7th Cir. 2000) ("[W]e have consistently and repeatedly upheld a district court's discretion to require strict compliance with its local rules governing summary judgment.").

Plaintiff was born in Italy and is now a United States citizen. (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 1.) He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in the Secondary Education of Spanish and Italian as well as a Master of Arts in Applied Linguistics and Spanish Literature from the University of Illinois, and a Doctorate in Foreign Languages and Literature from the University of Pisa. (Id. ¶¶ 1, 2.) In 1994 or 1995, Plaintiff was hired at Kennedy as a Spanish and Italian language teacher. (Id. ¶ 3; Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 3.) At the time he was hired, Plaintiff held Illinois certificates to teach both Spanish and Italian. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 2.)

In 1999, Plaintiff was teaching Spanish and Italian classes at Kennedy, and receiving positive performance evaluations. (Id. ¶¶ 4, 9.) In 1998 and 1999, Principal Arthur Mrumlinski evaluated Barbarotta as "excellent," the second highest out of four categories.*fn1 (Id. ¶ 9.) Blumenberg, who succeeded Mrumlinski as principal in November 1999, evaluated Plaintiff for the first time in 2000 and rated his teaching even higher, as "superior." (Id. ¶¶ 7, 10.) The evaluations by both principals nevertheless noted some concerns about record-keeping, tardiness, and parent contact. (Exs. E, F, & G to Defs.' 56.1.)

At the beginning of the 1999-2000 school year, Mrumlinski closed the first-year Italian classes due to low enrollment. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 5; Ex. D to Defs.' 56.1.) According to Barbarotta, the Italian classes were ultimately reinstated because he--along with parents, students, and members of the Italian-American community--protested their cancellation.*fn2 (Charge of Discrimination, Ex. Y to Defs.' 56.1.) In November of that year, Defendant Blumenberg took over as principal at Kennedy and appointed Barbarotta chairperson of the language department in order to "use his intellect in a positive way." (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 7; Blumenberg Dep. 28:18, Ex. A to Defs.' 56.1.) Soon after naming him to the position, however, Blumenberg began to have concerns about Plaintiff's conversations and relationships with parents and other teachers. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 11.) Specifically, some teachers complained that he belittled them, was crude and curt in his dealings with them, and refused to share educational resources with them. (Blumenberg Dep. 29:9-16, Ex. A to Defs.' 56.1.) Ultimately, these concerns led Blumenberg to replace Plaintiff as Language Department Chair after about one year. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 12.) It is undisputed that the department chair did not enjoy any tangible benefits-such as an increase in salary or tenure rights--by virtue of the position. (Id. ¶ 13.)

Plaintiff alleges that at a Local School Council Meeting attended by students and parents in February 2001, Blumenberg disclosed that Plaintiff was the subject of a Department of Child and Family Services ("DCFS") investigation; Blumenberg denies having made such a statement, and the record contains no further reference to either her statement or the existence of an investigation against Barbarotta.*fn3 (Defs.' Resp. to Pl.'s 56.1 (hereinafter "Defs.' Resp.") ¶ 12.) Nor has Plaintiff identified a nexus between the alleged statement concerning a DCFS investigation and his national origin. Plaintiff also claims that the following month, in March 2001, Blumenberg closed the Italian I class at Kennedy to replace it with a Mandarin Chinese class, but ultimately reinstated the class after members of the community opposed the change.*fn4 (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 8, 9.) Blumenberg maintains that the class was never closed; she admits that she "brought up the possibility" of replacing Italian with Chinese, but dropped the idea after parents and staff opposed it. (Defs.' Resp. ¶¶ 8, 9.)

The following year, on March 26, 2002, Blumenberg issued an E-1 notice-a form that remains in a teacher's file and reports the potential lowering of the teacher's evaluation-to Plaintiff, warning him that his evaluation would be lowered if he did not incorporate Blumenberg's suggestions about improving his demeanor and interpersonal relationships. (Defs.' 56.1¶ 14.) By June 14, 2002, Blumenberg concluded that Plaintiff had not improved, noting that he "creates hostility in the work environment" and "refuses to abide by [the] Discipline Code for [Chicago Public School] employees." (Teacher Evaluation Review, Ex. J to Defs.' 56.1.) Blumenberg downgraded his evaluation from "superior" to "excellent." (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 15.) Plaintiff filed a contract grievance alleging that the procedure followed by Blumenberg in downgrading him was insufficient, but the Office of the Chief Executive Officer of the Chicago Public Schools denied the grievance because Blumenberg informed Barbarotta of steps he could take to avoid the downgrade when she provided him with the E-1 notice. (Id. ¶ 16; Mar. 4, 2003 Grievance, Ex. K to Defs.' 56.1.)

Despite the downgrade, Blumenberg planned for Barbarotta to teach four Italian classes and two Spanish classes during the 2002-2003 school year. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 17.) That summer, however, an administrator at the Board's Department of Human Resources informed Blumenberg that Plaintiff's teaching certificates in both Spanish and Italian had expired on June 30, 2002, and that he could not be recertified in time to teach in September 2002. (Id. ¶ 18.) Plaintiff asserts that he in fact paid the necessary fees to the Illinois State Board of Education ("ISBE") on June 26, 2002 to renew his Italian and Spanish teaching certificates that were set to expire on June 30. (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 14.) Plaintiff also maintains that it is the "policy and practice" of the ISBE to renew the certificates automatically upon payment of the fee, although he cites no authority that supports this claim. (Id.) Defendants dispute that renewal is automatic and point out that the state statute that authorizes certificate renewals requires some review of continuing professional development activities. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 22; 105 ILCS 5/21-14 (c)-(e).) In any event, it is undisputed that Blumenberg learned in July 2002 that Barbarotta's certifications had expired and that he would not be recertified in time for classes to start; Blumenberg attempted to contact Barbarotta during the summer, but Barbarotta spent the summer in Europe and was unreachable by phone. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶¶ 20, 30.)

Based on Barbarotta's certificates having expired, Blumenberg directed her assistant principal to advertise an opening for an Italian teacher; when it appeared that no qualified replacement could be found, Blumenberg decided not to offer the planned Italian classes. (Id. ¶¶ 23-24.) Around this time, Blumenberg*fn5 also eliminated three Spanish teaching positions and reopened them with the requirement that the teachers must have an additional endorsement in another "core" subject.*fn6 (Id. ¶ 25.) Plaintiff did receive a temporary certificate on August 30, 2002, which enabled him to teach Spanish for six weeks,*fn7 but his Italian certificate was not renewed until December 5, 2002.*fn8 (Id. ¶ 28.) The Board's Department of Human Resources determined that Plaintiff had the least seniority among Spanish teachers who did not possess any additional endorsements, and so placed him into the pool of teachers to be reassigned. (Id. ¶ 26.) Plaintiff contends that one of the Spanish teachers who remained at Kennedy, Jose Lopez, did not possess a second teaching certificate, but Defendants point out that Lopez's certificate was a Type 29 Transitional Bilingual Teaching certificate, which qualified him to teach subjects in Spanish. (Id. ¶ 27.) By contrast, Plaintiff's August 30 certificate was a Type 9 Standard Secondary Teaching certificate, which only qualified him to teach Spanish itself.*fn9 (Defs.' Resp. ¶¶ 14, 16.)

Barbarotta made a number of formal and informal complaints regarding the termination of his teaching position at Kennedy. First, he filed a grievance over the elimination of his position on September 13, 2002, but the Office of the Chief Executive Officer of the Chicago Public Schools denied that grievance on the ground that it was not a permitted subject of bargaining under Illinois law. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 30; Mar. 13, 2003 Grievance, Ex. Q to Defs.' 56.1.) Barbarotta also went to see Sylvia Acierto, the Board's World Language Program Director. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 31.) Barbarotta claims that Acierto told him the closing of his position was improper (Pl.'s Aff. ¶ 16, Attach. to Pl.'s 56.1), but Acierto denies saying that. (Acierto Decl. ¶ 3, Ex. W to Defs.' 56.1.) Finally, at some undisclosed point after his positions were terminated, Barbarotta filed a claim of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). (EEOC Determination, Attach. to Pl.'s 56.1.)

Pursuant to the Board's policy for reassigned teachers, Barbarotta was provided with resume and interview training and assistance in finding another job. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 28.) The Board set up fifteen interviews for Barbarotta during the time he was in the reassigned teacher pool, and he ultimately was hired at Fenger High School in August 2003.*fn10 (Id. ¶ 35.)

The court notes that Plaintiff alleges in an affidavit that Blumenberg "made many derogatory remarks about my Italian heritage, my Italian education, and the Italian Program at Kennedy High School. . . . in the presence of faculty, students, and parents." (Barbarotta Aff. ΒΆ 19, Attach. to Pl.'s 56.1.) Plaintiff did not make these allegations ...

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