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Dass v. Chicago Public Schools

November 12, 2010


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



Plaintiff Veronica Dass brings this action against Defendants Chicago Public Schools ("CPS"), the Chicago Board of Education (the "Board"), and Paula Jeske ("Jeske") (collectively "Defendants"), alleging that CPS and the Board discriminated against her on the basis of her national origin and retaliated against her in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. (Counts I and II), Jeske discriminated against her in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (Count III), and CPS and the Board discriminated against her in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. (Count IV). Dass also brings state-law claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress ("IIED") against Jeske (Count V), and breach of contract and promissory estoppel against CPS and the Board (Counts VI and VII). Defendants move for summary judgment on all claims. For the reasons stated below, Defendants' motion for summary judgment is GRANTED as to Counts I-IV.


Plaintiff Veronica Dass was born in Hyderabad, India, where she began her career in teaching before moving to the United States and becoming a naturalized citizen. Since Dass was first hired by the Board of Education in 1991, she has held various teaching positions in the Chicago Public Schools System, mostly in the primary grades (i.e., kindergarten through third grade). In 2002, Dass was hired by Aleen Donaldson, who was the principal at Pablo Casals Elementary School ("Casals"). After Dass regularly filled in for a Casals teacher who was on extended medical leave, Donaldson hired her without subjecting her to any formal interview process. Dass is certified by the State of Illinois to teach any grade between kindergarten and eighth grade. She is also certified as "highly qualified" to teach various subjects to students in those grades, including math, reading, language arts, and science.

Dass's Performance Under Donaldson (2002-2005)

From the time she hired Dass in 2002 until her retirement in June 2005, Donaldson had the opportunity to observe Dass's performance. Donaldson's observations led her to rate Dass's overall performance as "excellent" on her annual teacher evaluations for the 2002-03, 2003-04, and 2004-05 school years.*fn1 (Defendant's Rule 56.1 Statement of Material Facts ("DSOF")- Tab I, Aleen Donaldson Dep. 95:9-96:21, Exs. 2, 4, 49, Sept. 24, 2009.) In 2002-03, Dass taught second grade. On her annual evaluation for that year, Donaldson described Dass's strengths as "excellent applications of learning theories practiced in the classroom." (Id. at Ex. 2.) Beneath the section of the evaluation form devoted to weaknesses, Donaldson wrote, "improving in positive self concept and acceptance of teaching role." (Id.) At her deposition, Donaldson explained that this comment meant that Dass needed to take control and ownership over her classroom. (Id. at 43:16-44:7.) For the 2003-04 school year, during which Dass taught third grade, Donaldson's assessment of Dass's strengths included her "excellent knowledge of the curriculum and application at the grade level" and "[g]ood management and support of school-related projects and activities." (Id. at Ex. 49.) She made no notes in the "weaknesses" section.

(Id.) The same year, Donaldson singled Dass out for praise at a staff meeting because of her students' exemplary scores on the Iowa standardized test. (Plaintiff's Rule 56.1 Statement of Material Facts ("PSOF")- Ex. 1, Dass Decl. ¶ 4, Dec. 13, 2009; DSOF- Tab K, Bennie Bonaminio Dep. 85:19-86:9, Sept. 8, 2009.) In 2004-05, Dass continued to teach third grade. Donaldson's annual review of Dass's performance that year described her as "knowledgeable, constant in management and classroom structure." (Id. at Ex. 4.) For weaknesses, Donaldson wrote only that Dass "must achieve a more independent style of team identity." (Id.)

At her deposition, Donaldson testified that Dass "was never really a strong disciplinarian," and explained that she lacked a strict or consistent disciplinary procedure. (Id. at 102:1-3; 39:18-40:1.) As evidence of Dass's struggle with discipline, Donaldson testified that she had to provide Dass with assistance when she was teaching second grade in 2002-03. (Id. at 45:4-24, 61:20-63:12.) Specifically, Donaldson provided Dass with extra training in "direct instruction" and later paired her with a stronger teacher for continued support. (Id.) Donaldson maintains that it's possible to be a strong teacher, but not a strong disciplinarian, and credits Dass with "excellent knowledge of the curriculum," good management, and positive marks for supporting school-related activities. (Id. at 102:14-23.)

Donaldson never recommended Dass for tenure, and just before she retired at the conclusion of the 2004-05 school year, Donaldson non-renewed Dass for the 2005-06 school year. Dass lost her teaching position, but reapplied to Casals. Following Donaldson's retirement, Casals had an interim principal for several weeks at the start of the 2005-06 school year, and Paula Jeske became Casals's principal in September 2005. Although Donaldson did not restore Dass's position before she retired, Dass was rehired (presumably by the interim principal) to teach at Casals, and she was assigned to teach fifth grade for the 2005-06 school year.

Dass's Performance Under Jeske (2005-2006)

Jeske made three formal observations of Dass during the 2005-06 school year-on January 10, April 28, and May 16, 2006. (DSOF ¶ 13, 18, 25). After her first observation on January 10, Jeske's review of Dass's performance was generally positive; out of the 30 applicable categories on Jeske's classroom visitation form, Jeske checked the "strength" column in all but three. (Id. at Tab N.) In her written comments, Jeske indicated that Dass is "very cooperative, frequently offers to help others," and "makes many positive comments to students." (Id.) On the negative side, Jeske indicated that Dass needed "to improve classroom management so lessons are actively participated in by students" and similarly indicated that Dass was "in need of great improvement" in establishing and maintaining reasonable rules of classroom conduct consistent with the school's discipline code. (Id.) Although Jeske testified that Dass's teaching methods were outdated, Dass disputes this characterization. (Compare DSOF ¶ 14 with PSOFEx. 1, Dass Decl. ¶ 5.)

Jeske conducted her second formal observation during Dass's language arts class on April 28, 2006. (DSOF- Tab O.) Jeske's review of Dass's performance after this observation was far more negative than her first review. (Compare DSOF- Tab N with DSOF-Tab O.) In addition to marking a number of weaknesses, Jeske commented that Dass's "English lesson on sentences is fragment[ed]" and "many, many students off task, kids speak out at will." (Id.; Tab D, Paula Jeske Dep. 182:4-18, Aug. 3, 2009.) She noted additionally that "kids were shooting rubber bands, dancing, talking, out of seats, drawing, brushing hair." (DSOF- Tab O.) On May 3, 2006, Jeske met with Dass, gave her a copy of the observation form from April 28, and discussed it with her. Dass claims that, during this meeting, Jeske suggested that she should start looking for another job "on the North side where most of the Indian kids go." (DSOF ¶ 20.) Jeske denies that she made this comment. (Id. at ¶ 21.)

On May 16, 2006, Jeske conducted her final observation of Dass's classroom for the school year. Jeske stated in her notes that, of the 22 students present, only seven were following along with Dass. (DSOF ¶ 25.) Jeske noted specifically that three boys were up from their seats throwing paper balls, one boy and one girl were hitting each other, one boy was fanning himself with a book, two boys were making paper animals, one boy was sitting backwards in his chair, and one girl was doing her hair. (Id.) Jeske observed that Dass did not reprimand any of them; rather, after ten minutes of working on the overhead projector, Dass said "somebody is talking in the back," then returned to writing on the overhead projector. (Id.)

Aside from Jeske, other staff members observed Dass's difficulties managing her classroom. Throughout the 2005-06 school year, Dass received assistance from Renee Mackin, the school's lead literacy teacher, who would model lessons for Dass and provide her with extra support. (DSOF ¶ 15). Mackin began by spending about an hour each week in Dass's classroom and eventually increased her presence to approximately five hours per week as the state's standardized testing date approached. (Id.-Tab E, Renee Mackin Dep. 62:8-63:19, Sept. 3 2009.)During the time she spent in Dass's classroom, Mackin noticed that Dass seriously struggled with classroom discipline and discussed her concerns about Dass's performance with Jeske. (DSOF ¶ 15.) Mackin also testified that she had to spend a disproportionate amount of her time in Dass's classroom; during the period that she spent approximately five hours per week in Dass's classroom, she was spending only one hour per week in each of the 15 other classrooms for which she was responsible. (Id. at 63:16-19; 65:11-23).

At least three times per week, Dass called Jose Candelario, one of the school's security officers, to her classroom. Candelario helped Dass with fights, tables and objects being thrown, abusive language directed toward her, and students walking out of class. Candelario testified that he would respond to Dass's requests for help by escorting unruly students either to the principal's office or to the classrooms of two other teachers who had agreed to take in Dass's students temporarily when she was unable to control them. (DSOF ΒΆ 17.) According to Candelario, Dass consistently had problems with the same ...

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