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Marilyn Jennings v. Waukegan Public School District 60

September 22, 2011


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


Marilyn Jennings has brought a three-count first amended complaint against her former employer, Waukegan Public Schools, alleging discrimination based on race and retaliation pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Count one alleges that defendant discriminated through racially disparate treatment and the creation of a racially hostile environment. Counts two and three allege defendant retaliated against plaintiff by subjecting her to disparate treatment, a hostile environment and, ultimately, termination because plaintiff complained about defendant's discriminatory treatment. Defendant has moved for summary judgment under Fed. R. Civ. P. 56, arguing that plaintiff failed to establish a prima facie case of discrimination or retaliation and failed to rebut defendant's asserted non-discriminatory reasons for plaintiff's treatment and termination. Defendant has also moved to strike portions of plaintiff's LR. 56.1(b)(3) Statement of Facts and Plaintiff's Response to Defendant's 56.1(a)(3) Statement of Facts. For the reasons stated below, defendant's motion for summary judgment is granted, and defendant's motion to strike is denied as moot.


Plaintiff is an African-American woman who was employed by defendant Waukegan Public Schools as an elementary school teacher for four years. Plaintiff was assigned to teach third grade at North Elementary School for the 2009-2010 school year, after teaching at two other elementary schools in the Waukegan public school system.

On October 7, 2009, plaintiff attended a staff meeting with around 60 members of the North Elementary School staff. At the meeting, plaintiff asked a question regarding intervention services her students were receiving. This question led to an exchange with a special education resource teacher who became so upset while talking with plaintiff that she fled the room.

The next day, the school's principal, Angel Figueroa, convened a meeting with plaintiff, the building's teachers' union representative, and assistant principal Jonathan Widger to discuss what had occurred at the staff meeting. During the meeting, Figueroa handed plaintiff a letter reporting that several teachers had complained to Figueroa about plaintiff's disrespectful behavior at the meeting. Figueroa's letter directed plaintiff to avoid confrontational, accusatory interactions with co-workers and to work to improve her relationship with them. After delivering the letter, Figueroa admonished plaintiff for her behavior at the meeting and told her that the letter would go in her personnel file.

Plaintiff and Figueroa met again on January 11, 2010, for a pre-evaluation conference. These conferences are usually brief, routine meetings to apprise the evaluator of what the teacher will be presenting to the students during the observation portion of the teacher's evaluation. At this pre-evaluation conference, Figueroa began talking with plaintiff about complaints he had received from the teachers, staff, and parents regarding what they perceived as plaintiff's rude behavior. Figueroa told plaintiff he had concerns about her interpersonal communication skills and her professionalism. Plaintiff, perceiving the conference to have become a disciplinary hearing, requested union representation. The meeting quickly turned combative, with plaintiff making what Figueroa perceived to be an accusation of racism. After the meeting lasted about an hour, plaintiff said she was too stressed to teach and left the room. She called for a substitute teacher and left school for the day. She proceeded to defendant's administrative offices and met with the school district's Executive Director of Human Resources, Jason Feldman and her union president, Kathy Schwartz. Plaintiff told Schwartz and Feldman about the difficulties she was having with Principal Figueroa. At this time, she told Feldman and Schwartz that the problem was a personality conflict rather than race discrimination. Later that day, she told Schwartz she was being discriminated against because of her race.

Plaintiff called in sick on January 13, 2010, the day she was scheduled for her formal observation. Figueroa prepared plaintiff's evaluation in absentia. In the evaluation, Figueroa marked plaintiff's performance as unsatisfactory in most aspects. The narrative section of the evaluation stressed plaintiff's poor treatment of and negative attitude toward those with whom she disagreed and called for immediate improvement in her ability to maintain collegial relationship with her colleagues.

Plaintiff received the evaluation on January 15. She telephoned Feldman to complain that she was being discriminated against because other teachers were not evaluated in absentia. She also spoke to Schwartz, saying she wanted to file a grievance against Figueroa. Plaintiff filed her first discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") on January 25, 2010. Neither Feldman nor plaintiff informed Figueroa about the discrimination charge with the EEOC.

Plaintiff, Figueroa, Schwartz, Feldman, and Joan Guilianelli, a union representative, met on January 30, 2010. In the meeting, the parties agreed that plaintiff would be evaluated again and could choose to have her union representative present during the pre-evaluation conference. Figueroa agreed to provide a document defining the areas where he thought plaintiff's performance was deficient and giving suggestions for improvement. Figueroa provided that document to plaintiff on February 3, 2010.

Also on February 3, 2010, Jennifer Chang, a third grade teacher at North Elementary School, complained to Figueroa about plaintiff's hostility after an encounter Chang had with plaintiff at school. Figueroa forwarded the email he had received from Chang to plaintiff and encouraged plaintiff to work on her relationships with co-workers. Plaintiff responded by forwarding the email to Feldman, accusing Figueroa of harassment and asking Feldman to stop Figueroa from sending her correspondence without getting her side of the story. Figueroa sent plaintiff emails on four other occasions in February through early March containing either complaints about plaintiff from parents or disciplinary reminders from Figueroa himself. Plaintiff responded to the last of these by threatening to seek a restraining order.

Meanwhile, Figueroa received an email from another teacher on February 12, 2010, reporting that the teacher had witnessed a student being made to stand in Plaintiff's classroom for 45 minutes without a desk. Figueroa reported the incident to the Department of Children and Family Services without investigation.

Plaintiff's second pre-evaluation conference was scheduled for February 19, 2010. On February 18, plaintiff responded to Figueroa's email confirming the time of the conference by writing that she would only attend if accompanied by Schwartz or Guilianelli. She also wrote that the February 3 letter setting out her teaching deficiencies was insufficient because it did not tell her how she could improve. Plaintiff claimed that because the letter was insufficient, she could not schedule an observation.

On February 19, Plaintiff met with Figueroa, Widger, and the building's union representative for the pre-evaluation conference. After being informed that neither Schwartz nor Guilianelli would be attending, plaintiff refused to participate further and returned to her classroom. Widger went to her classroom and requested she come back to the meeting. Plaintiff refused. The next day, Figueroa sent ...

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