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Kathaleen Cooley v. Board of Education of the City of Chicago

January 25, 2011

KATHALEEN COOLEY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE CITY OF CHICAGO, ET AL., ETC., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Milton I. Shadur Senior United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Kathleen Cooley ("Cooley") has sued her former employer, the Board of Education of the City of Chicago ("Board"), and Principal Carlos Azcoitia ("Azcoitia") at the school in which she worked, advancing claims of (1) discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII," 42 U.S.C. §§2000e to 2000e-17) on Board's part, (2) interference and retaliation in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA," 29 U.S.C. §§2601 to 2654) on the part of both Board and Azcoitia and (3) deprivation of equal protection in violation of 42 U.S.C. §1983 ("Section 1983") on the part of both Board and Azcoitia. Those federal claims have been coupled with an Illinois state law claim against Azcoitia under the supplemental jurisdiction provisions of 29 U.S.C. §1367, charging Azcoitia with tortious interference with contract.

Board and Azcoitia have jointly moved for partial summary judgment under Fed. R. Civ. P. ("Rule") 56 on Cooley's FMLA claims against Board and Azcoitia, her Section 1983 claim against Board and her tortious interference claim against Azcoitia.*fn1 For the reasons stated here, that Rule 56 motion is granted in part and denied in part.

Summary Judgment Standard

Every Rule 56 movant bears the burden of establishing*fn2 the absence of any genuine issue of material fact (Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986)). For that purpose courts consider the evidentiary record in the light most favorable to nonmovants and draw all reasonable inferences in their favor (Lesch v. Crown Cork & Seal Co., 282 F.3d 467, 471 (7th Cir. 2002)). But a non-movant must produce more than "a mere scintilla of evidence" to support the position that a genuine issue of material fact exists (Wheeler v. Lawson, 539 F.3d 629, 634 (7th Cir. 2008)) and "must come forward with specific facts demonstrating that there is a genuine issue for trial" (id.).

Ultimately summary judgment is warranted only if a reasonable jury could not return a verdict for the non-movant (Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). What follows is a summary of the relevant facts,*fn3 viewed of course in the light most favorable to non-movant Cooley.

Factual Background

Cooley was employed as a probationary counselor at Community Links High School ("Community Links"), a Chicago Public School, during the 2005-06 school year (D. St. ¶¶1,9). Azcoitia was the principal at Community Links and was Cooley's supervisor during that school year (id. ¶10).

Cooley learned she was pregnant in October 2005 (C. St. ¶13). Upon returning from winter break in January 2006,*fn4 she informed Azcoitia and other co-workers of her pregnancy (id. ¶13). Then on February 21 Cooley spoke to Azcoitia for the first time about her plan to use maternity leave through the first 1-1/2 months of the next school year (C. St. ¶14).

According to Cooley, Azcoitia looked shocked by that proposal (id.). Thereafter Azcoitia made it harder for Cooley to do her job by withholding administrative support with student discipline and by failing to provide her with necessary feedback and information (id. ¶18).

On March 3 Azcoitia told Cooley he was worried he might have to cut a position the following year, and when asked he said if he had to do so he would eliminate a teaching position and not a counseling position (C. St. ¶19). On March 8, however, Azcoitia asked Cooley when her maternity leave would end and told her he was probably going to have to cut her position for budgetary reasons (id. ¶21).

On March 17 Azcoitia submitted his decision to non-renew Cooley's employment for the following school year (D. St. ¶12). On April 26 Board approved that non-renewal (id. ¶13). Before the end of the then-current school year, though, Cooley received a positive performance rating from Azcoitia (id. ¶26).

On May 4 Cooley requested a leave of absence from May 30 to the end of the school year, June 16, to deal with complications from her pregnancy (id. ΒΆ17). Board's Bureau of Employee Health Services granted Cooley's request for leave on May 12. On October 6 Cooley filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment ...


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