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Chelgren v. South Holland School District No. 150

June 24, 2009


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

Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer


Plaintiff Terry Chelgren, a white woman, brings this action for race discrimination against her employer, South Holland School District 150, under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and Title VII. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant discriminated against her by demoting her and hiring a less-qualified African-American applicant to fill the position of Media Specialist/ Librarian at the McKinley Elementary School, where Plaintiff works. Defendant has moved for summary judgment.


I. Plaintiff Chelgren's Professional Background and Experience

Defendant South Holland School District 150 (the "District") is a municipal corporation organized under the laws of Illinois. The District operates the McKinley Elementary School, Greenwood Elementary School, and McKinley Junior High School. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 2.) Chelgren, who is white, is currently employed as a full-time library aide at McKinley Elementary School. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 7.) She holds a bachelor's degree in education from Northern Illinois University and is certified to teach children from kindergarten through twelfth grade.*fn1 (Pl. ¶77; Def. 56.1 ¶ 8.) In addition, Chelgren has a standard special teaching certificate valid for kindergarten through twelfth grade and endorsements as a "Trainable Mentally Handicapped and Learning Behavior Specialist I" and an endorsement in "Self-Contained General Education." (Def. 56.1 ¶ 9.)

Chelgren began her employment at McKinley Elementary School in 1994 as a Library Aide.

From 1994 through 1996, she worked two days per week and shared the position with another aide, who worked the other three days each week. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 7.) Neither party has described Chelgren's duties as a Library Aide during this period. During the 1996-1997 school year, Chelgren's job title changed to "Learning Center I Supervisor"; she held this part-time position until the 2005-2006 school year. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 7; Chelgren Employment Contract, Def. Ex. Y.) Chelgren claims that this change in title in fact constituted a promotion from the position of Library Aide to Librarian. (Def. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 77.) As Learning Center I Supervisor, Chelgren's duties included ordering and processing books, maintaining accurate records, and maintaining an inventory of the library's collection. (Chelgren Dep. 21:24-22:21, Smith Dep. 13:3-17.) Chelgren considered these duties equivalent to those of an elementary school librarian, not a library aide. (Id.) Chelgren's salary was based on the full-time teacher's pay scale, not the aide's pay scale; that is, she received two-fifths of a teacher's pay for the two days she worked each week.

For its part, Defendant contends that the full-time position of Librarian did not exist until the 2006-2007 academic year, and that until that time, Chelgren worked as a part-time aide. While Chelgren did have supervisory authority over at least two other Library Aides, it is unclear from the record whether her duties otherwise changed after her change in title. (Pl. 56.1 ¶ 78; Def. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 78.) Chelgren continued to work only two days per week and was not a member of the teacher's union, though she was subject to the union's collective bargaining agreement. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 15.) Both Dr. Jerry Jordan, the Superintendent of School District 150, and Michelle Coleman, the Assistant Principal at McKinley Elementary School, testified that, despite the change in title, they considered Chelgren a Library Aide at the time the Media Specialist/ Librarian position was created. (Jordan Dep. 16:13-16; Coleman 28:9-12.)

II. The Requirements of the Media Specialist/ Librarian Position

Defendant receives federal funding and therefore must comply with the No Child Left Behind Act ("NCLBA"). In 2006, in an effort to conform with NCLBA standards, Defendant created the full-time position of Media Specialist/ Librarian. (Pl. 56.1 ¶ 21; Harris Dep. 133:24-134:8.) The qualifications for the position of "Media Specialist" under the NCLBA are implemented through the Illinois School Code and various provisions of the Illinois Administrative Code. See generally 105 ILCS 5/2-3.25n; 23 Ill. Adm. Code 1.720. For the position of Media Specialist, Illinois law sets forth the following standards for certification and endorsement:

(a)(5) Persons first employed on or after September 1, 1978, as media professionals or library information specialists serving any of grades 5 through 8 are required to have completed 18 semester hours in the field that address administration, organization (cataloging and classification), reference, and selection of materials, provided that the individual completes all the required coursework on or before June 30, 2006, or has applied for the endorsement on or before June 30, 2006, and completes any coursework identified on a related deficiency statement no later than one year after the date of that statement. New requirements for an endorsement in this field apply to persons who have not qualified on the basis of 18 semester hours; see also 23 Ill. Adm. Code 25.100 and Section 1.755 of this Part. The provisions of subsection (a)(2) of this Section notwithstanding, no individual who has completed only nine semester hours in the field may serve in this capacity unless assigned pursuant to 23 Ill. Adm. Code 25.464.

23 Ill. Adm. Code § 1.720 (2008). A teacher who failed to complete the required coursework under § 1.720 by June 30, 2006, must meet the requirements set forth in 23 Ill. Adm. Code § 1.750 (2008), which provides, in relevant part:

Preparation of Person Providing Media Services . . .

b) Media Specialist: responsible for both library and audio-visual services to students, teachers and other school personnel.

Standard Special Certificate with Library Science - Media (instructional materials) Teaching Endorsement. Work in field: 32 semester hours in media (instructional materials, library science, audio-visual) including professional preparation (at four-year college and/or graduate levels) in administration, organization (cataloging and classification), reference and selection of materials for both elementary and secondary levels, production and communications.

Should the school be unable to find a fully qualified Media Specialist, 23 Ill. Adm. Code 25.464 allows for provisional hiring, so long as the provisional hire eventually completes certain requirements:

25.464 Short-Term Authorization for Positions Otherwise Unfilled Subject to the provisions of this Section, an entity that is required to employ certified teachers may receive short-term approval to employ an individual who does not hold the qualifications required for a vacant teaching position, other than a special education teaching position, when the employing entity has been unable to recruit a fully qualified candidate for that position. Short-term authorization as described in this Section shall be available not only with respect to individuals who lack full qualifications in a subject area, but also with respect to individuals who have not completed the six semester hours of coursework specified at 23 Ill. Adm. Code 1.720 for teachers of middle grades 23 Ill. Adm. Code 25.464 While these provisions help illuminate what it means to be a fully-qualified Media Specialist in the Illinois public schools, the requirements Defendant had in mind when it created the position are less clear. No written description of the position or its prerequisites existed at the time of the interview and, according to Assistant Principal Coleman's testimony, applicants were not informed of the specific duties of the position until interviewed. (Pl. 56.1 ¶ 83; Coleman Dep. 44:15-17.) Harris and Coleman did testify that the District school board had specifically requested a "certified media specialist," that is, someone certified in the library sciences as defined by the NCLBA, for the position. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 23; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 84.)

The process for hiring new personnel in South Holland School District 150 begins with the screening of individual candidates by the principal and assistant principal, both of whom were African-American when Chelgren applied for the Media Specialist/ Librarian position. (Graham Dep. 19:19-20:3.) The principal and the superintendent then recommend candidates to the District's school board, which was also entirely African-American at the time. (Def. 56.1 ¶¶ 20, 35.) Although the school board makes the final hiring decision, the board almost invariably follows the principal's and superintendent's recommendation. Nina Graham, a senior member of the school board, acknowledged that the board "normally" follows the recommendation of the administration; she could not identify a single instance where Board had not adopted the recommendation of a principal or superintendent. (Pl. 56.1 ¶ 85; Graham Dep. at 20:9-13.)

III. Defendant Did Not Hire Chelgren for the Position of Media Specialist/ Librarian

On April 24, 2006, Chelgren wrote to Priscilla Palmer, then the Superintendent of School District 150, expressing her interest in the position of "Learning Center I/ Library Teacher." (Letter from Chelgren to Palmer, Pl. Ex. N.) In the letter, Chelgren used the same job title-"Learning Center I/ Library Teacher"- to describe the position she already occupied. (Id.) Because the other part-time worker who shared Chelgren's job was retiring in June 2006, Chelgren understood that there would be a full-time position consolidating her co-worker's three-day-per-week schedule with her own two-day schedule. (Id.) By contrast, Defendant maintains that the position of "Media Specialist/ Librarian" was a "newly created full time ...

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