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Schandelmeier- Bartels v. Chicago Park District

September 2, 2009

CATHLEEN SCHANDELMEIER- BARTELS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CHICAGO PARK DISTRICT DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Cathleen Schandelmeier-Bartels ("Plaintiff" or "Schandelmeier") sued the Chicago Park District ("Defendant" or "Park District"), her former employer, 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, and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff, who is Caucasian, complained that she was fired by her former employer, the Park District, because of her race. After this Court granted summary judgment in part for Defendant, the parties proceeded to trial on the issue of whether Plaintiff was terminated because of her race in violation of Title VII. Following a three-day trial in March of 2009, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Plaintiff and awarded her compensatory damages in the amount of $200,000. Defendant now renews its motion for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Rule 50 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. In the alternative, Defendant moves for a new trial. For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion for judgment as a matter of law is GRANTED.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff served as the Cultural Program Director for the South Shore Cultural Center for the Chicago Park District from February of 2006 until August 1, 2006. Plaintiff, who is Caucasian, was initially hired and ultimately terminated by Megan McDonald ("McDonald"), who is also Caucasian. While employed by the Park District, Plaintiff reported directly to Andrea Adams ("Adams"), who reported to Alonzo Williams ("Williams"). Williams, in turn, reported to McDonald. Both Adams and Williams are African-American.

Plaintiff's responsibilities at the South Shore Cultural Center involved running the Center's afterschool and summer camp programs. During the course of her employment by the Park District, Plaintiff struggled with several organizational aspects of her job, and she was accordingly reproached for her performance deficiencies. Plaintiff's organizational missteps included failing to complete her timesheets, failing to establish a consistent schedule of activities, and failing to complete incident reports accurately. In addition, when providing lunches to summer campers, Plaintiff failed to adhere to the guidelines established by the Department of Agriculture, which govern the distribution of summer lunches. As a result of her failure to follow these guidelines, Plaintiff was written up six times during the two months preceding her termination.

During June of 2006, Plaintiff's supervisor, Adams, issued three memoranda detailing Plaintiff's various performance issues and suggesting ways for Plaintiff to improve her performance. In early July of 2006, the month before Plaintiff was terminated, Beverly Napier ("Napier"), the manager the Park District's Food Service Program, alerted McDonald that the park for which Plaintiff was responsible had "a lot of trouble with the food service program." Plaintiff admits that, in the same month, Mary Ann Rowland ("Rowland"), the Director of Human Resources, who is Caucasian, "strongly suggested" to Plaintiff that she transfer or seek another position within the Park District.

Finally, on July 24, 2006, McDonald drafted an e-mail to Rowland that set in motion the process for terminating Plaintiff's employment. McDonald's e-mail requested information from the Human Resources Department on the procedures necessary to release Plaintiff. At trial, McDonald testified that this e-mail reflected her decision to terminate Plaintiff and that she had reached this decision after consulting with three employees in addition to Adams: Williams, Rowland, and Napier. These employees based their assessments of Plaintiff's performance on several sources of information, including observations of Plaintiff and physical examples of Plaintiff's work, such as incomplete incident reports and write-ups regarding deficiencies in the food service program. Plaintiff neither alleged that Williams, Rowland, or Napier exhibited discriminatory animus toward her, nor challenged their opinions of her deficient performance. Rowland testified at trial that she in fact received McDonald's e-mail on July 24, 2006. Rowland confirmed that the proper procedures had been followed, and one week later, on the morning of August 1, 2006, Rowland prepared and signed a letter terminating Plaintiff's employment.

On July 31, 2006, the afternoon before she was notified of her termination, Plaintiff observed what she believed to be an incident of child abuse involving a summer camper ("J.J.") and his aunt, both African-American. J.J.'s aunt had been summoned to the camp to pick up J.J. after the camp had expelled him because of his behavioral problems. Plaintiff testified that she left J.J. and his aunt to retrieve J.J.'s incident reports from her office, and when she returned, she heard the "wacking" sound of an object striking flesh, followed by the cries of the child coming from the employee restroom. She then entered the restroom and saw J.J.'s aunt with a belt in her hand, poised to strike the child. As a Park District employee, Plaintiff was a mandatory reporter of child abuse, and accordingly, she reported the incident to both the Department of Child and Family Services and the Chicago Police Department. However, Plaintiff neither notified Adams that she had contacted the authorities nor submitted an incident report describing what had happened.

Later in the day on July 31, 2006, Plaintiff reported the suspected incident of child abuse to Adams. According to Plaintiff, Adams replied by suggesting that what happened was a "cultural thing," implying that African-American parents, as a matter of cultural practice, discipline their children physically. Plaintiff testified that her conversation with Adams resumed the next morning. By this point, Adams had been informed by J.J.'s aunt that Plaintiff had contacted the authorities the previous evening and that the aunt had been visited by the authorities. After summoning Plaintiff to her office, Adams allegedly chastised her for reporting an incident of child abuse that may not have actually occurred, and ultimately, for her cultural insensitivity. Plaintiff alleges that Adams again stated that "this is the way we discipline children in our culture."

After meeting with Plaintiff, Adams drafted a memorandum to McDonalds and Williams ("the 'last straw' memo") that documented several instances of Plaintiff's deficient performance, in addition to the suspected child abuse incident that had just occurred. The memo referred to the suspected child abuse incident as the "last straw" and concluded by stating that "something has to give." Around 6:00 p.m. that day, Williams delivered the termination letter that Rowland had prepared to Plaintiff. Plaintiff was later replaced by a Caucasian woman.

Following her termination, Plaintiff sued the Park District 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, and 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming that she was fired by Defendant because of her race. After this Court granted summary judgment for the Defendant in part, the parties proceeded to trial in March of 2009. On March 5, 2009, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Plaintiff, finding that she was terminated by Defendant because of her race and awarding her compensatory damages in the amount of $200,000. Defendant now renews its motion for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Rule 50 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, claiming that Plaintiff did not provide sufficient evidence to allow the jury to find that she was fired because of her race. In the alternative, Defendant moves for a new trial.

DISCUSSION

1. Defendant's Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law

Defendant first argues that Plaintiff failed to present evidence sufficient to prove that she was terminated because of her race, and Defendant is therefore entitled to judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50. Judgment as a matter of law is appropriate when "a party has been fully heard on an issue during a jury trial and the court finds that a reasonable jury would not have a legally sufficient evidentiary basis to find for the party on that issue . . ." Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(a)(1).When deciding a motion for judgment as a matter of law, the court considers "whether any rational jury could have found for" the nonmoving party. Med. Protective Co. v. Kim, 507 F.3d 1076, 1085 (7th Cir 2007).Conducting this analysis, the court "must draw all inferences in favor of the nonmoving party," Tart v. Ill. Power Co., 366 F.3d 461, 472, and "may not make credibility determinations or reweigh the evidence." Id.In addition, the court "must disregard all evidence favorable to the moving party that the jury is ...


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