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Elizabeth T. Powers and Nicholas v. Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois

February 8, 2011

ELIZABETH T. POWERS AND NICHOLAS POWERS, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael P. McCUSKEY Chief U.S. District Judge

E-FILED

Tuesday, 08 February, 2011 01:38:01 PM Clerk, U.S. District Court, ILCD

OPINION

This case is before the court for ruling on the Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (#39) filed by Plaintiffs, Elizabeth T. Powers (Elizabeth) and Nicholas J. Powers (Nicholas). Defendant Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois (University) has filed a Response (#41) and Plaintiffs have filed a Reply (#42). Following this court's careful review of the arguments of the parties and the documents filed by the parties, Plaintiffs' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (#39) is DENIED. This case remains scheduled for a final pretrial conference on February 25, 2011 at 11:15 a.m. and a jury trial on March 14, 2011 at 9:00 a.m.

FACTS*fn1

Elizabeth and Nicholas are married to each other. Elizabeth is employed by the University as an associate professor with tenure in the Institute of Government and Public Affairs (IGPA). Nicholas has worked for the University as a research associate in the IGPA. Elizabeth's contract with the University is a nine-month appointment and she receives compensation only for August 15 through May 15 each year.

In 2004, the Illinois legislature appropriated $300,000 for the University to conduct a study and analyze state reimbursement levels to community providers of mental health and developmental disability services. The legislation provided that the "study must conclude and be submitted to the House Human Services Appropriations Committee and the Senate Appropriations I Committee by March 31, 2005." In November 2004, Elizabeth agreed to serve as project director of the study. Elizabeth had planned to take a sabbatical during the 2004-2005 academic year but agreed to postpone the sabbatical to the next academic year in order to conduct the study. Nicholas worked on the study as well and was paid $70,000 for work performed from October 16, 2004 to July 15, 2005.

Based upon the submissions of the parties, it appears that a preliminary report was prepared by March 31, 2005, but additional work was necessary for a final version of the report. Elizabeth and Nicholas continued working on the study during the 2005-2006 academic year. It is undisputed that it was not expected that funding for the study by the state would continue after July 31, 2005. On July 1, 2005, Robert Rich took over as the director of the IGPA. A dispute arose between Rich and Plaintiffs regarding payment for the completion of the study. In a letter to Elizabeth dated April 11, 2006, Rich stated:

[I]t has been more than a year since the preliminary report was published and, as I am sure you know, both the enabling legislation and the scope of work for the project called for a final report to be delivered to the House Human Services Appropriations Committee and the Senate Appropriations I Committee by March 31, 2005. The lateness of the final report is reflecting poorly on the University,

IGPA, and you.

I am sure you are aware that, in addition to the $300,000 in state funds made available for this project, IGPA has invested its own resources, including additional salary support for Nick Powers.

Rich concluded the letter by stating the it was his belief that Elizabeth was "failing to meet the terms of [her] obligation to the General Assembly and to the University." Elizabeth provided a lengthy response and, among other things, insisted that she and Nicholas had been assured they would be paid for their additional work on the study. By June 2, 2006, the matter still had not been resolved. Rich wrote a letter to Elizabeth that day and stated that IGPA was prepared to offer Nicholas $13,611.11 for three and one half months of work he devoted to the project and would pay Elizabeth $22,000.

On June 5, 2006, Elizabeth and Nicholas each filed a charge of discrimination with the Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In her charge, Elizabeth claimed that she was the victim of sex discrimination. She claimed that she was subject to "unequal wage" because the compensation for her "trailing spouse" was not equal to the compensation given to a male IGPA faculty member. She also claimed that she had not been compensated for her work on the study and was not paid for work she performed during the summer of 2005 and the 2005-2006 academic year during her sabbatical period. In his charge, Nicholas also claimed that he was the victim of sex discrimination. He claimed that he was employed as a trailing spouse and was "subject to unequal pay continuing through May 2, 2006, in that [he was] denied pay rightfully earned for work [he] completed on a study for the Illinois General Assembly." He claimed that the University did "pay female trailing spouse/partner hires for work performed."

On June 8, 2006, Larry Mann, Executive Assistant Vice President for Academic Affairs at the University, wrote a letter to Elizabeth stating "we need to bring closure to this negotiation." Mann also stated, "[i]f you are unwilling to complete the study under the terms specified in the June 2, 2006, letter, this study will be assigned to someone else to complete." On June 14, 2006, Plaintiffs wrote a letter to Rich and stated that they agreed "on the broad outline of terms" set out in the June 2 letter but insisted that retirement contributions needed to be made to Nicholas' account with ...


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