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Schandelmeier-Bartels v. Chicago Park Dist.

November 7, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge David H. Coar


Cathleen Schandelmeier-Bartels ("Plaintiff") is suing her former employer, the Chicago Park District ("Park District"), and Andrea Adams ("Adams") (collectively referenced as "Defendants"), for reverse race discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a),42 U.S.C. § 1981 ("Section 1981"), and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983"). Plaintiff also asserts three retaliation causes of action, under Title VII, Section 1981, and the First Amendment, and a cause of action for the Illinois common law tort of retaliatory discharge. Before this court now is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment for each remaining count of Plaintiffs' Second Amended Complaint. For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion is DENIED in part and GRANTED in part.


Summary judgment is appropriate if "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). A genuine issue of material fact exists only if there is sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The movant bears the burden of establishing that no genuine issue of material fact exists. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If the movant meets this burden, the non-movant must set forth specific facts (a "scintilla of evidence" is insufficient) demonstrating that there is a genuine issue for trial. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e); Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252; see also Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. When reviewing a motion for summary judgment, the court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. See Schuster v. Lucent Tech., Inc., 327 F.3d 569, 573 (7th Cir. 2003). This standard of review is applied to employment discrimination cases with "added rigor." Sarsha v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 3 F.3d 1035, 1038 (7th Cir. 1993).


The facts as presented by the parties lay before this Court in a tangled web. As the Seventh Circuit has noted before, summary judgment briefs that present multiple versions of the facts arouse special attention at the outset. Pourghoraishi v. Flying J, Inc., 449 F.3d 751, 753 -754 (7th Cir. 2006) (citations omitted). Because the Court's task upon review of a summary judgment motion is to determine whether there is any material dispute of fact that requires a trial, multiple versions of the facts increase the chances that at least one of those conflicting facts will be material to the outcome of the case. Pourghoraishi, 449 F.3d at 754. The Court reviews the relevant facts stated in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, and will note where appropriate conflicting facts presented by Defendants.

Defendant Park District is a public agency organized and existing under the laws of the State of Illinois for the purpose of controlling and supervising the operations of all parks, boulevards, and public ways under its jurisdiction. Plaintiff is a Caucasian woman. She was hired as the Cultural Program Director for the South Shore Cultural Center ("the Center") in February of 2006. Her employment ended on August 1, 2006. As Program Director, Plaintiff was responsible for running the Center's afterschool and summer camp programs. Rule 56.1 Statement of Facts ("SOF") ¶ 2. Plaintiff reported directly to Defendant Andrea Adams, who reported directly to Alonzo Williams, who in turn reported to Megan McDonald. Adams and Williams are African-American, and McDonald is White. SOF ¶ 3-4.

Two incidents during Plaintiff's employment warrant special attention. First, Defendants assert that Plaintiff wrote an offensive play shortly after she was hired. The play was entitled "Vaudeville." It featured offensive stereotypes of African-Americans as "pickaninnies" and "sambo[s]," and was to be performed by the mostly African-American children of the afterschool program. SOF ¶ 6-7. According to Defendants, the play is evidence of Plaintiff'sracial insensitivity. Plaintiff contends to the contrary that she wrote the play only at the instigation of her African-American colleague, who had taken an ethnic studies course and wanted to make the children aware of the racist stereotypes historically deployed against African-Americans. SOF ¶ 6. Neither party contends that the "Vaudeville" incident was directly related to Plaintiff's termination.

Second, Plaintiff witnessed what she believed to be an incident of child abuse on July 31, 2006. SOF ¶ 27. She claims to have heard the cries of a summer camper ("J.J.") and to have seen that camper's aunt raising a belt as if to strike the child. SOF ¶ 68. Both J.J. and his aunt are African-American. All District employees are mandatory reporters of suspected child abuse.

SOF ¶ 28. After witnessing the incident, Plaintiff relayed what she had seen to Hollee Mangrum-Willis, an African-American Park District employee. Mangrum-Willis allegedly responded by saying, "It's a Black thing, Cathleen. We beat our children." SOF ¶ 71. Defendants deny that Mangrum-Willis made those statements. Later that day, Plaintiff told Defendant Adams what she had seen. According to Plaintiff, Defendant Adams said she would leave the response up to Plaintiff, and added:

I have to let you know that in our culture this is the way we discipline our children. Before Hillary Clinton wrote, "It takes a village," that was the philosophy that our culture followed and I have permission to grab any child here I have unspoken permission. You see these junior counselors? Well they have grown up with me, and I know their parents. And if they step out of line, I have permission to grab anyone of them and put them back in line.

SOF ¶ 75. Plaintiff understood "grab" to mean "physically intervene," and "our culture" to mean African-American culture. Id. Defendants deny that Adams made the statements above.

Later that evening, Adams called her supervisor Alonzo Williams and Human Resources Director Mary Ann Rowland, and relayed to them what Plaintiff had told her. SOF ¶ 76-77. Adams told Rowland that Plaintiff was aware that she had the right to call the Department of Child and Family Services ("DCFS"). Id. At her deposition, Rowland did not recall the July 31 conversation she had with Adams, and instead recalled that her first conversation with anyone regarding the incident with J.J. occurred on August 2, 2006. Rowland Dep. 61:9-18, Feb. 15, 2008.

Plaintiff called DCFS late that evening, and was advised to call the Chicago Police Department. SOF ¶ 79. Plaintiff called the police the following morning, August 1, 2006, around 9:30 a.m. SOF ¶ 81. At around 11:15 a.m., Plaintiff was called into Defendant Adams' office to discuss the events surrounding the alleged child abuse and Plaintiff's report to DCFS and the police. Plaintiff alleges that Adams spoke angrily to Plaintiff, in substance attacking her (1) for reporting an incident of child abuse that may not have actually occurred (because Plaintiff did not witness the moment of impact and Adams believed the belt J.J.'s aunt raised could have simply been a threat rather than an actual strike), (2) for creating a police record for J.J.'s aunt based on an alleged incident of child abuse that may not have occurred, and (3) for her cultural insensitivity. SOF ¶ 82. With regard to the last, Adams allegedly said, "This is the way we discipline our children in this culture." When Plaintiff said, "My friends who are Black don't beat their children," Adams responded, "Your friends who are Black tell you that they don't beat their children and then they go home and they beat their children." Id. Adams was "really angry" when she said, "Now [J.J.'s aunt] is going to have a ...

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