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Natalie Nash v. Board of Education of Dolton West School District 148

August 24, 2011

NATALIE NASH, PLAINTIFF,
v.
BOARD OF EDUCATION OF DOLTON WEST SCHOOL DISTRICT 148, AND JAYNE PURCELL, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS AN AGENT OF THE DEFENDANT BOARD,*FN1 DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Ronald A. Guzman United States District Judge

Judge Ronald A. Guzman

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff has sued the Board of Education of Dolton West School District 148 ("Board") and Superintendent Jayne Purcell for their alleged violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and state law. Defendants have filed a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure ("Rule") 56 motion for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants in part and strikes as moot in part the motion.

Facts

From 2004-2008, the Board had seven members, only one of whom was white. (Defs.' LR 56.1(a) Stmt., Ex. F, Mickles Dep. at 69-70; Pl.'s Resp. Defs.' LR 56.1(a) Stmt. ¶ 6.) The Superintendent during the 2004-05 and 2005-06 school years was Dr. Fitzgerald, who is white. (Defs.' LR 56.1(a) Stmt., Ex. F, Mickles Dep. at 26, 44; id., Ex. C, Nash Dep. at 52.) The Superintendent for the 2006-07 and 2007-08 school years was Dr. Roberson, who is African American. (Id., Ex. F, Mickles Dep. at 44-45, 49-52; id., Ex. C, Nash Dep. at 52.) In August 2008, defendant Purcell, who is white, became Superintendent. (Pl.'s Resp. Defs.' LR 56.1(a) Stmt. ¶ 4.)

Between 2004 and 2007, plaintiff, who is African American, did community and media relations work for the Board pursuant to four one-year contracts. (Pl.'s Resp. Defs.' LR 56.1(a) Stmt. ¶¶ 16, 20, 23, 25.) Plaintiff negotiated the contracts with then-Assistant Superintendent Dr. Mickles, who is African American. (Id. ¶¶ 5, 16, 18, 20, 23, 25.) Mickles did not seek or obtain Board approval for any of these contracts because, viewing the record in plaintiff's favor, at that time, the Board did not have a policy that required her to do so. (Id. ¶ 28; Defs.' LR 56.1(a) Stmt., Ex. F, Mickles Dep. at 38-41.)

In the summer of 2008, plaintiff and Mickles negotiated a contract for plaintiff to work for the Board for the 2008-09 school year. (Pl.'s Resp. Defs.' LR 56.1(a) Stmt. ¶ 29.) A few weeks later, Purcell replaced Roberson as Superintendent. (Defs.' LR 56.1(a) Stmt., Ex. F, Mickles Dep. at 57-59.) Mickles did not know about the impending staff change when she signed the 2008 contract with plaintiff. (Id.)

At the end of August 2008, the Board adopted a policy that required administrators to obtain its approval for any contract in excess of $10,000.00. (Id. at 61-62, 120-21.) When Mickles presented plaintiff's 2008 contract to the Board's Finance Committee on September 11, 2008, Board President Jackson said she did not think plaintiff was obtaining appropriate media coverage for the district. (Pl.'s Resp. Defs.' LR 56.1(a) Stmt. ¶¶ 35-36.) On September 23, 2008, the Board told Purcell to meet with plaintiff to modify the contract. (Id. ¶ 37.)

On October 15, 2008, Purcell met with plaintiff and, though she denies it, plaintiff says she instructed plaintiff to begin work for the 2008-09 school year. (Pl.'s Stmt. Add'l Facts ¶ 18; Def.'s Resp. Pl.'s Add'l Facts ¶ 18.) There is no dispute, however, that plaintiff did no work before October 15, 2008 (Pl.'s Resp. Def.'s LR 56.1(a) Stmt. ¶ 41.)

After the meeting, Purcell told the Board that plaintiff "is refusing to work on any part of the agreement . . . until she receives pay for the first two months of her contract, August and September." (Def.'s LR 56.1(a) Stmt., Ex. I, Mem. to Bd. Members from Purcell of 10/16/08.) The Board refused to make those payments and rejected the contract. (Pl.'s Resp. Defs.' LR 56.1(a) Stmt. ¶¶ 41-42.)

Discussion

To prevail on a summary judgment motion, the movant must show that "there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). At this stage, we do not weigh evidence or determine the truth or the matters asserted. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). We view all evidence and draw all inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Michas v. Health Cost Controls of Ill., Inc., 209 F.3d 687, 692 (7th Cir. 2000). Summary judgment is appropriate when the record as a whole establishes that no reasonable jury could find for the non-moving party. Id.

Federal Claims

In Counts I and III, plaintiff asserts that the Board and Purcell discriminated against her in violation of ยง 1981. Plaintiff can defeat defendants' motion on this claim by using either the direct or the indirect method of proof. Burnell v. Gates Rubber Co., No. 10-3490, 2011WL 3132470, at *3 (7th Cir. July 27, 2011). The former requires plaintiff to offer direct evidence of defendants' discriminatory intent or circumstantial evidence from which an inference of intent can be drawn, e.g., proof that defendants gave systematically better treatment to similarly situated non-African-American employees, made biased comments to or about African-American employees or offer incredible reasons for taking the contested action. ...


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