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Combs v. East Peoria Community High School District 309

February 17, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joe Billy Mcdade United States District Judge


Before the Court is the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendant, East Peoria Community High School District 309, on August 12, 2009 [Doc. 4]. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED WITHOUT PREJUDICE IN PART.


Plaintiff, William C. Combs, filed a Complaint on June 12, 2009 alleging that he was discriminated against by his employer in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). 29 U.S.C. §§ 621, et seq. Defendant has filed a Motion for Summary Judgment stating that Plaintiff's claims are time-barred. In light of the nature of Defendant's arguments, the following facts are drawn from the Complaint.

Combs, who was a social science teacher, began teaching in 1998. He was subject to a Collective Bargaining Agreement between Defendant and the East Peoria Community High School Education Association. On September 5, 2006, the Association and Defendant entered into a "Memorandum of Understanding" (hereinafter referred to as "Retirement Incentive Plan") that spelled out the terms of a retirement incentive applicable during the 2006 to 2012 school years. Plaintiff alleges that he had a conversation with Cliff Cobert, the Superintendent, regarding the Retirement Incentive Plan, in which Cobert made certain representations that compelled Plaintiff to retire.

Plaintiff tendered three letters of resignation dated April 11, 2006, August 1, 2006, and October 1, 2006 and which are identical except for a recitation of benefits Plaintiff expected to receive upon his retirement. Each of the letters indicated that the resignation would be effective December, 2007. The School Board only accepted the third letter of resignation. On November 6, 2007, however, Plaintiff authored a letter rescinding his resignation. Plaintiff apparently drafted the rescission letter because he believed that Superintendent Cobert made material misrepresentations as to the benefits he would receive during retirement. Plaintiff also apparently believed that the Retirement Incentive Plan, as negotiated by his Union and Defendant discriminated against him on account of his age.*fn1 Plaintiff's attempt to rescind his resignation was rejected, Superintendent Cobert drafted a letter on November 20, 2007 indicating that the School Board had already approved his resignation, that Plaintiff had already received the benefits provided under the Retirement Incentive Plan, and that the Board had already hired a replacement.

The adverse job action that Plaintiff complains of is the failure of the School Board to accept the withdrawal of his resignation letter.

Plaintiff filed a Charge of Discrimination on September 3, 2008 alleging that the latest discriminatory act was November 20, 2007. A Right to Sue letter was dated May 29, 2009 and Plaintiff filed his Complaint in this Court on June 12, 2009.


Summary judgment should be granted where "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). The moving party has the responsibility of informing the Court as to portions of the record that demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The movant may meet this burden by demonstrating "that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." Id. at 325.

Once the movant has met its burden, to survive summary judgment the "non-movant must show through specific evidence that a triable issue of fact remains on issues on which [s]he bears the burden of proof at trial." Warsco v. Preferred Tech. Group, 258 F.3d 557, 563 (7th Cir. 2001); See also Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322-24. "The non-movant may not rest upon mere allegations in the pleadings or upon conclusory statements in affidavits; it must go beyond the pleadings and support its contentions with proper documentary evidence." Chemsource, Inc. v. Hub Group, Inc., 106 F.3d 1358, 1361 (7th Cir. 1997).

This Court must nonetheless "view the record and all inferences drawn from it in the light most favorable to the [non-moving party]." Holland v. Jefferson Nat. Life Ins. Co., 883 F.2d 1307, 1312 (7th Cir. 1989). In doing so, this Court is not "required to draw every conceivable inference from the record -- only those inferences that are reasonable." Bank Leumi Le-Isreal, B.M. v. Lee, 928 F.2d 232, 236 (7th Cir. 1991). Therefore, if the record before the court "could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party," then no genuine issue of material fact exists and, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. McClendon v. Indiana Sugars, Inc., 108 F.3d 789, 796 (7th Cir. 1997) (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986)). However, in ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court may not weigh the evidence or resolve issues of fact; disputed facts must be left for resolution at trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249-50 (1986).

Defendant's only argument is that Plaintiff's claims are time-barred. "An individual must have filed timely charges of discrimination with the EEOC [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] in order to file a claim of discrimination" in federal court. See Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. North Gibson School Corp., 266 F.3d 607, 616 (7th Cir. 2001). Because Illinois is a deferral state for purposes of establishing the statutory period within which an employee must file an administrative charge of age discrimination, Plaintiff's charge had to be filed with the EEOC within 300 days of the "alleged" unlawful practice. See 29 U.S.C. § 626(d)(1)(B); Flannery v. Recording Industry Ass'n of America, 354 F.3d 632, 637 (7th Cir. 2004). Since Plaintiff's charge was filed with the EEOC on September 3, 2008, the 300 day period began on November 8, 2007; and a federal suit would be precluded unless Plaintiff could demonstrate that a discriminatory act under the ADEA occurred subsequent to that date. All such acts of unlawful discrimination that occurred prior to November 8, 2007, are therefore time-barred. Defendant argues that the critical date is October 11, 2006,*fn2 when Plaintiff tendered his resignation for the third and last time. Plaintiff argues that the critical date is November 20, 2007, when the School Board refused to accept the withdrawal of his resignation letter. For purposes of this motion, it is necessary to determine what would constitute the alleged unlawful practice violative of the ADEA, when it occurred, and when Plaintiff became aware of his injury.

In relevant part, the ADEA provides that it is unlawful for an employer to refuse to hire, to discharge, or to "discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's age." 29 U.S.C. § 623(a)(1). Thus, recognizable employment actions include hiring, firing, failing to promote, or other actions that cause significant changes in responsibilities or benefits. Chaudhry v. Nucor Steel-Indiana, 546 F.3d 832, 838 (7th Cir. 2008). The limitations period begins to run "when the defendant has taken the action that injures the plaintiff and when the plaintiff knows she has been injured, not when she determines that the injury was unlawful." Sharp v. United Airlines, Inc., 236 F.3d 368, 372 (7th Cir. 2001). In this case, the Complaint (and the attached documents) makes clear that the discriminatory act that Plaintiff is really complaining of is the application of the September, 2006 Retirement Incentive Plan and its retirement benefits provisions which Plaintiff believes discriminates against elderly employees such as himself. Plaintiff further is complaining that statements made by Superintendent Cobert compelled him to retire and accept the benefits which he now believes discriminated against him on account of his age. ...

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