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Coleman v. Hinsdale Township High School Dist. 86

August 26, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Robert W. Gettleman


Plaintiff Christopher Coleman*fn1 has brought a first amended complaint against defendants Hinsdale Township High School District 86, and three of its teachers, Cherie Kerzee-Stames, Richard Townsend and Brian Thelen alleging equal protection and 42 U.S.C. § 1981 retaliation claims against Townsend (Counts I and II), Kerzee-Stames (Counts III and IV), and Thelen (Counts V and VI), a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 equal protection claim against the District (Count VII) and a claim of racial discrimination under 42 U.S.C. § 2000d ("Title VI") against the District (Count VIII). Defendants have moved for summary judgment on all counts. As explained below, that motion is granted.


Plaintiff, an African-American, is a former student at Hinsdale South High School ("HSHS") who, by all accounts, was an excellent student. Defendants Kerzee-Stames, Townsend and Thelen are all former teachers of plaintiff while he attended HSHS.

Plaintiff's complaint and L.R. 56.1 statement of facts present a litany of complaints against his former teachers, most of which can only be described as petty.*fn2 Some of the more "serious" of his complaints against each teacher are described below.

With respect to Townsend, who taught plaintiff biology in the Fall of 2005, plaintiff claims that Townsend "treated [plaintiff] in a hostile manner." Townsend often taunted plaintiff for being slow in completing classroom assignments, and plaintiff further claims that Townsend was "unfriendly" to him while being "friendly and more engaging conversation" with other students. He admits, however, that Townsend was friendly with the other African-American students in the class, and also made negative comments about caucasian students who were slow to complete in-class assignments. Plaintiff's main complaint about Townsend is that despite having earned an A as a final grade, Townsend initially reported plaintiff's grade as a B on the final report card. After plaintiff complained, however, the error was corrected.

In Fall 2006 plaintiff enrolled in Kerzee-Stames' advanced placement European history class. Plaintiff claims that Kerzee-Stames treated him unfairly by providing copies of the class syllabus, homework assignments and handouts to white students but not to him. He admitted, however, that there was often a shortage of handouts and that all of the students in the back of the rows, where he was seated, were left out. When plaintiff received a C on his progress report from Kerzee-Stames, his mother complained to the principal. Plaintiff asserts that KerzeeStames retaliated against him by and "physically restrained him by grabbing and/or poking his arm." In his deposition, however, he admitted that Kerzee-Stames "tapped his arm" to get his attention.

Plaintiff's greatest complaints relate to Thelen, who was plaintiff's Honors English teacher in Fall 2006. Once again plaintiff claims in general that Thelen treated him in a hostile manner but did not subject other students to such treatment. On November 1, 2006, plaintiff had his gall bladder removed, resulting in an extended absence from school. He claims that Thelen refused to give him the homework assignments, resulting in a drop in his grade from an A to a D on an interim progress report. Thelen, of course, disputes this, indicating that he simply refused to allow plaintiff to do the in-class assignments at home, but allowed plaintiff time to do the assignments once he returned to class.

After plaintiff returned from that absence, he claims that Thelen played an "April fools joke" on him by sending plaintiff to get a working projector from the library when the classroom projector worked, subjecting plaintiff to humiliation in front of the class. Plaintiff's most serious complaint is that Thelen reported plaintiff for plagiarism after plaintiff failed to credit Thomas Payne for quote that plaintiff used in a paper about Frankenstein. In his mark-up of the paper, Thelen noted that the words used should have been credited to Payne, but also indicated that the paper was otherwise well done. As required by HSHS policy Thelen gave plaintiff a zero on the paper and prepared and turned in a Disciplinary Referral for plaintiff's failure to properly credit Payne. Thelen indicated on that referral, however, that it was "for documentation purposes only. No disciplinary action should be taken in regard to this . . .."


Summary judgment is appropriate if the evidence demonstrate that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The burden is on the moving party to identify portions of the pleadings, answers to interrogatories, and affidavits that demonstrate an absence of material fact. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. The burden then shifts to the non-moving party to "set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.: Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). When reviewing a motion for summary judgment, the court must read the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). The court's role "is not to evaluate the weight of the evidence or to determine the truth of the matter, but instead to determine whether there is a genuine issue of triable fact." Doe v. R.R. Donnelly & Sons, Co., 42 F.3d 439, 443 (7th Cir. 1994).

Plaintiff asserts equal protection claims against the three teachers and the District. To establish liability under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, plaintiff must demonstrate that defendants' actions toward him had a discriminatory effect and were motivated by a discriminatory purpose. Bryant v. Board of Education, District 228, 2008 WL 1702162 at *3 (N.D. Ill. 2008) (citing Chavez v. Illinois State Police, 251 F.3d 612, 635-36 (7th Cir. 2001). To prove discriminatory effect, plaintiff must show that: (1) he is a member of a protected class; (2) he is otherwise similarly situated to members of an unprotected class; and (3) defendants treated him differently from members of the unprotected class. Id. To be similarly situated, the member of the unprotected class must be directly comparable in all material respects to plaintiff. Id.

To prove the discriminatory purpose element plaintiff must show that the decisionmaker selected or reaffirmed a particular course of conduct at least in part "`because' not merely `in spite of' its adverse affects upon an individual group." Id. (quoting Personnel Adm'r of Mass. v. Feeney, 442 U.S. 256, 279 (1979).

In the instant case, plaintiff's equal protection claims against defendant Thelen, Townsend and Kerzee-Stames cannot survive because he has not identified any similarly situated non-African-American student at HSHS who was treated differently than he was. To be sure, plaintiff claims that no other students were treated like he was, but plaintiff is not similarly situated to every student in HSHS, or even to every student in his ...

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