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Nuzzi v. Bourbonnais Elementary School Dist.

December 17, 2008

DEBORAH NUZZI, PLAINTIFF,
v.
BOURBONNAIS ELEMENTARY SCHOOL DISTRICT AND ROB RODEWALD, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael P. McCUSKEY Chief U.S. District Judge

OPINION

This case is before the court for ruling on the Motion for Summary Judgment (#83) filed by Defendant Rob Rodewald and the Motion for Summary Judgment (#85) filed by Defendant Bourbonnais Elementary School District (District). This court has carefully reviewed the arguments of the parties and the documents provided by the parties. Following this careful and thorough review, Defendants' Motions for Summary Judgment (#83, #85) are GRANTED.

FACTS*fn1

Plaintiff, Deborah Nuzzi, began her employment with the District in July 2004. She was hired as the principal of Robert Frost Elementary School, a school for preschool and kindergarten students. Her salary was $66,000 for the 2004-2005 school year and was increased to $70,500 for the 2005-2006 school year. Plaintiff's salary was based upon a 101/2 month contract. At the time she was hired, and during her employment, Defendant Rob Rodewald was a member of the District's School Board. Rodewald's wife was employed as a teacher at Robert Frost Elementary School and worked with Plaintiff. Prior to the end of the 2004-2005 school year, Plaintiff's family and Rodewald's family had gone out together in social settings.

Plaintiff and Rodewald served on the District's Communication Committee. As part of their involvement, they had pre-committee meetings which took place in Plaintiff's office at Robert Frost Elementary School. The purpose of the meetings was to set the agenda. Plaintiff testified that she felt that Rodewald would stare at her and sit too close to her at the pre-committee meetings. Plaintiff testified that Rodewald looked at her for extended periods of time which she thought was "atypical for [a] professional man." Plaintiff testified that she believed that "his gazes were not always at my face but were more the length of my body even seated." Plaintiff testified that Rodewald was approximately 20 inches away from her when she felt he was too close to her. Plaintiff testified that she started staying behind her desk during the pre-committee meetings. Plaintiff also testified that, when Rodewald came to the school to visit his wife and for other District-related functions, she felt that he would stare at her. Plaintiff estimated that, from the late fall of 2005 until January 24, 2006, there were probably 10 to 12 occasions when she sensed that Rodewald was looking or gazing at her in a manner that made her uncomfortable. Plaintiff testified that Rodewald touched her on one occasion. Following a School Board meeting in the late fall of 2005, Rodewald came up behind her and patted her on the shoulder several times to tell her that he wanted to speak with her out in the parking lot. Plaintiff testified that she found this touching of her shoulder to be rude and inappropriate for a professional. She testified that she found the touching offensive because she did not believe Rodewald would have done that to a male colleague.

In the late fall of 2005, Plaintiff's husband, Tom Nuzzi, applied for a position as superintendent of the District. According to Plaintiff, Rodewald had strongly urged him to apply for the position. Plaintiff's husband was interviewed and was a finalist for the position. On January 24, 2006, Plaintiff attended a School Board meeting. At the meeting, it was announced that the District was hiring Dr. Myron Palumbo to replace the outgoing superintendent, James DeZwaan. Plaintiff testified that she knew prior to the meeting that her husband was not chosen for the position. She also testified that she had not spoken to Rodewald about the Board's decision. After the meeting, Plaintiff left and walked out of the building with Cathy Allers, the assistant superintendent, and Abby Saldivar, a 7th grade math teacher. As she was leaving, Rodewald called out "Deb" and ran after her. When Rodewald was six to seven feet away from her, Plaintiff told him that she had another engagement and he said, "oh, Deb." Plaintiff and the other two women walked out of the building and proceeded to their cars. Rodewald did not exit the building to follow Plaintiff. Plaintiff testified that the encounter with Rodewald lasted between 45 and 60 seconds. Plaintiff testified that Allers and Saldivar commented that Rodewald's behavior was "strange" and Plaintiff stated that she was "quite embarrassed." Plaintiff testified that she told her husband and parents about it. She testified that she went to work the next day and her work performance was not affected. She did take the time to tell her secretary, Diane Hurst, about the incident.

Plaintiff testified that she and Rodewald attended a Communications Committee meeting on January 26, 2006. Plaintiff testified that she stayed after the meeting was over and helped clean up. Plaintiff testified that, when she walked out of the door of the room, she saw Rodewald approach her from behind the door. Plaintiff testified that Rodewald moved toward her so that he was only 12 or 15 inches away. Plaintiff testified that "he said something to the effect of, you know, you know, how are we?" Plaintiff testified that she said, "what?" and "he motioned with his hands and said, you and me . . . how are we doing?" Plaintiff testified that Rodewald raised his hand and she "thought he was either going to touch my shoulder, try and hug me, pat me on the back." Plaintiff testified that she "sidestepped" and started walking and Rodewald did not touch her. Plaintiff testified that Rodewald began to walk with her and said, "you know, I don't know how you're feeling since, you know, Tom didn't get the superintendency." Plaintiff testified that she told him that she was actually fairly relieved. Plaintiff testified that they walked to their cars, which were parked next to each other, and she left. Plaintiff testified that this encounter with Rodewald lasted four minutes.

Plaintiff testified that Rodewald never touched her in a sexual manner, never made any sexually explicit statements to her and never propositioned her for sex or asked her out on a date. Plaintiff testified that she did not make a report of sexual harassment prior to April 7, 2006. She testified that she did discuss Rodewald's conduct with the school social worker, Rosemary Freehill, and her secretary.

On April 7, 2006, DeZwaan called Plaintiff in for a meeting and raised some concerns he had about her performance which, he testified, he wanted to deal with before he retired and left his position as superintendent of the District. At that meeting, Plaintiff told DeZwaan that she believed she had been sexually harassed by Rodewald. On or about May 15, 2006, Plaintiff also provided DeZwaan with a written complaint of sexual harassment. On the complaint form, Plaintiff stated that the harassment occurred on January 24 and January 26, 2006. In the course of his investigation, DeZwaan contacted Saldivar, who had been identified as a witness. At that time, Saldivar had no clue what DeZwaan was talking about and Saldivar could not help him. Subsequently, Saldivar sent DeZwaan an e-mail and said that she did recall a board member kind of chasing down Plaintiff as they exited the building and that Plaintiff told him that she had somewhere else to be.

On May 31, 2006, Plaintiff met with Bernadette Henriott, Director of Student Support Services, for about 45 minutes. Henriott was a complaint manager for sexual harassment complaints. Based upon the information Plaintiff relayed, Henriott did not believe that Rodewald's actions constituted sexual harassment. Henriott testified that she reported her finding to DeZwaan. DeZwaan concluded that, even accepting all of Plaintiff's allegations as true, Rodewald's actions could not reasonably be considered to be offensive or harassing. On June 19, 2006, DeZwaan sent Plaintiff a letter. The letter stated:

At this point in time I find no evidence of definitive, overt sexual harassment stemming from Mr. Rodewald's interactions with you. It is clear, however, that you were caused to feel uncomfortable when in Mr. Rodewald's presence on certain occasions, thus I have taken specific steps in an effort to assure your safety and security as a continuing employee of the Bourbonnais Elementary School District. On the afternoon of Friday, May 12, 2006, I met with Mr. Rodewald in the presence of School Board president, Mr. Mark Regal. When we met I explained your complaint and advised Mr. Rodewald to take the matter seriously. At the meeting I issued a directive to Mr. Rodewald regarding any behaviors that might in any way be construed as sexual harassment. I further advised that he should remove himself from the District communications committee, advised that he should no longer go to the Robert Frost School, even though recognizing that he wife was employed there, and suggested that only the most professional and socially acceptable conversation should occur with you in the future, only when necessary, and only in the context of other responsible onlookers. Finally, he was advised that he should not discuss this matter with you or attempt to gain understanding from you with regard to the reported harassing behaviors.

DeZwaan ended the letter by advising Plaintiff to contact the incoming superintendent or Henriott if she had future interactions with Rodewald that she considered to be of a harassing nature.

Plaintiff's employment contract with the District was renewed for the 2006-2007 school year and Plaintiff was offered a salary increase to $73,320. In August 2006, Plaintiff advised the District that she had taken a position as a principal at the St. George School District, where her husband was superintendent. Her salary at the St. George School District was $78,000. This salary was based upon a 12 month contract. The District hired Daniel Chamernick to act as ...


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