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Perez v. Board of Education of the City of Chicago

August 9, 2010

SONIA PEREZ, PLAINTIFF,
v.
BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE CITY OF CHICAGO, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joan Humprey Lefkow United States District Judge

OPINION AND ORDER

Judge Joan H. Lefkow

Sonia Perez filed suit against the Board of Education of the City of Chicago ("Board") alleging race and national origin discrimination in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and a violation of the Illinois Whistleblower Act ("Whistleblower Act"), 740 Ill. Comp. Stat. 174/20. Before the court is the Board's motion for summary judgment on both counts. For the following reasons, the Board's motion [#39] is granted.

LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment obviates the need for a trial where there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). To determine whether any genuine fact exists, the court must pierce the pleadings and assess the proof as presented in depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions, and affidavits that are part of the record. Id. While the court must construe all facts in a light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor, Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed. 2d 202 (1986), where a claim or defense is factually unsupported, it should be disposed of on summary judgment. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323--24, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed. 2d 265 (1986). The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of proving there is no genuine issue of material fact. Id. at 323. In response, the non-moving party cannot rest on bare pleadings alone but must use the evidentiary tools listed above to designate specific material facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 324; Insolia v. Philip Morris Inc., 216 F.3d 596, 598 (7th Cir. 2000).

BACKGROUND

I. Perez's Performance as Case Manager/Counselor

Perez began her employment with the Chicago Public Schools ("CPS") in 1994. In 1998, she was assigned to Gary Elementary School ("Gary School") as a special education teacher and, in 1999, became a bilingual classroom teacher. In 2001, the principal at Gary School asked Perez to become a Case Manager/Counselor, for which she received an additional stipend. As Case Manager/Counselor, Perez was responsible for all special education matters, including ensuring that Gary School remained in compliance with Individual Education Plan ("IEP") requirements, defined by the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1401 et seq., and preparing and completing IEPs for all students with disabilities. IEPs must be uniquely tailored to each student according to his or her special education needs.

On July 23, 2007, Alberto Juarez became principal at Gary School and took over responsibility for overseeing the special education program there. Perez was then in her seventh year as Case Manager/Counselor. During the summer Juarez became principal, he and Catherine Polenisiak, who taught gifted math at Gary School and also held a special education certification, reviewed Perez's IEPs and found numerous errors. Juarez and Polenisiak had "several" conversations about these IEP irregularities that summer. Def. Board of Education's Rule 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. Of Undisputed Material Facts ¶ 17, hereinafter "DSF ¶ ___." Most of Perez's IEPs for the upcoming year appeared to be carbon copies of one another with different dates attached, some were missing parent signatures and/or dates, and the meeting minutes were incorrect. Perez apparently instructed school staff not to date certain IEP documents and signed her own name on the same IEPs in different capacities, including Case Manager/Counselor, District Representative, Special Education Teacher, Regular Education Teacher, Evaluation Representative, Bilingual Specialist, and Interpreter/Translator. Polenisiak testified that these identified IEP issues required Juarez and another Gary School staff member to spend over a week contacting parents to inform them of their child's IEP content and obtain required signatures and approvals.

On April 4, 2008, Juarez received written notice from CPS's Office of Specialized Services ("OSS") that Gary School was out of compliance with its IEPs. Juarez informed Perez and asked her to respond by providing him with tracking reports, three-year evaluations, IEPs, and her schedule for April and May. Perez, however, did not submit these materials to Juarez by the requested time, despite admitting that she was aware of "concerns with compliance" that same month. Pl.'s Ex. A 16:1--6, hereinafter "Pl.'s Dep." Additionally, Juarez received other complaints about IEPs under Perez around December 2007, including that teachers and parents were not invited to IEP meetings and had been instructed to sign IEP documents without being given appropriate explanations. In May 2008, Perez still had many IEPs that remained out of compliance since annual review meetings with parents and service providers that were supposed to be completed between October 2007 and April 2008 still had not occurred. To remedy this, Perez held around eighty IEP meetings in May 2008, when a typical month consisted of between twenty and twenty-five.

Perez had other performance problems as Case Manager/Counselor as well. First, Perez had interpersonal communication problems with co-workers at Gary School. For example, Juarez appointed two colleagues to assist Perez with completing her work, but there was a "fall out" and Perez had "issues" with both of them as of May 2008. DSF ¶ 29. Yvette Collins-Story, Director of CPS's Citywide Services Office, also testified that she received complaints from Gary School's former principal about Perez's inability to get along with clinicians responsible for student IEP assessments.

Perez also had issues with time management. Perez felt that she had insufficient time to perform her duties and testified that "a lot" of them were not completed as a result. DSF ¶ 33. From August 2007 through May 2008, however, Perez worked past 4:00 p.m. on only three days, although she claims she took work home with her. Further, Perez clocked out before 3:40 p.m. on all but one day in March 2008 because she left work early to carpool with her husband. Juarez testified that Perez was "not the type of person who would go above and beyond" to work later than the regular school day. DSF ¶ 41. Juarez also testified that Perez's eventual replacement, Johanna Jacobson, worked longer days as Case Manager/Counselor and was able to complete the duties assigned.

Additionally, Perez ran into difficulties managing the Illinois Standards Achievement Test ("ISAT"). Perez was in charge of the overall ISAT process as Case Manager/Counselor, and teachers administered the tests to students over the course of four days. Perez's responsibilities included preparing student lists for classrooms, reviewing student eligibility, and taking inventory and organizing ISAT materials sent to Gary School, such as test booklets and supplies. On March 9, 2008, Perez claimed that she was dedicating 100% of her time to ISAT testing, but admits that she had problems fulfilling her testing responsibilities. For example, Perez left the testing area at 1:40 p.m. on one testing day without approval and without completing ISAT materials, which resulted in the school's having to delay testing for third and ...


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