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Curtis A. Smith v. Illinois Association of School Boards

March 28, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Herndon, Chief Judge:


I. Introduction and Background

Now before the Court are defendants' motions for summary judgment (Docs. 82 & 98). Defendants maintain that they are entitled to summary judgment because there is no evidence, direct or circumstantial, that age was used as a criteria in screening the candidates for the Superintendent position; that plaintiff was not similarly situated to the six candidates who were chosen over him and that there is no evidence of retaliation. Plaintiff opposes the motions (Docs. 110 & 111). Based on the applicable case law and the following, the Court denies the motions.

In his complaint, plaintiff alleges defendant Illinois Association of School Boards ("IASB") is an employment agency which was seeking applicants on behalf of defendant Highland Community Unit District No. 5 ("Highland") for the position of superintendent. Plaintiff contacted defendant IASB about potentially applying for that position. Larry Dirks, an employee of defendant IASB, told plaintiff that Highland was looking for someone younger for the Superintendent position. Plaintiff nonetheless submitted an application for the Highland position to defendant IASB. Defendant IASB did not forward plaintiff's name to defendant Highland. Defendant Highland eventually hired someone younger than plaintiff for the position.

Plaintiff expressed disapproval to a supervisor at IASB. After his complaint, plaintiff continued applying for positions through IASB but alleges he was omitted from consideration because of his opposition to these practices. On April 25, 2008, plaintiff filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging defendant IASB discriminated against him because of his age. He later filed an amended Charge adding a complaint against defendant Highland.

Thereafter, plaintiff filed suit against both IASB and Highland on April 2, 2010 (Doc. 2). The Complaint alleges that defendants IASB and Highland discriminated against him based on his age and that defendant IASB retaliated against him for opposing unlawful practices under the ADEA (Doc. 31). On February 10, 2011, plaintiff filed an amended complaint that changed the allegations to conform with discovery (Doc. 74).

II. Facts*fn1

Since 1990, plaintiff Curtis Smith has been employed as a professor of educational leadership with Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville. Smith has a Bachelor's degree in Mathematics in 1968 from Ohio State. He taught math for five years in the Columbus City Schools. From 1989 to 1990, he served as a consultant for the Ohio State Superintendents Association primarily in strategic planning but also in financial analysis. From 2002 through 2007, Smith served as the chair of the financial oversight panel for the Livingston School District. In 1980, he served as superintendent in a school district of 1,000 students and then served as a superintendent in a school district of 4,500 students through 1989. From 1993 to 1997, he served on the Edwardsville School Board and from 2002 to 2007 he chaired a financial oversight panel for a financially distressed downstate district.

Defendant IASB is an association of local school boards in Illinois that offers a service that recruits and selects superintendent candidates and places a majority of the superintendents in Illinois when a district hires a search firm. Its search and selection process includes conducting a needs assessment, collecting candidate information, assembling a list of recommended candidates and providing the school board with guidance in conducting interviews. The search format follows a standardized format.

Defendant Highland consists of one high school and six grade schools. In 2007, it contained 3,166 students, seven principals, five assistant principals, 214 teachers and 108 support personnel. At this time, the Highland School Board consisted of its president, Mark Hosto, a 14 year member whose occupations are truck driver, farmer, Lisa Hunsche, a 6 year member, occupation insurance agent, Jonathan Basden, a 1/2 year member, occupation Asst. V.P., Federal Reserve Bank, Greg Basler, a 1.2 year member, occupation CEO, Chris English, a member for less than a month, occupation Engineer, Rene Friedel, a 3 year member who is a community volunteer and Joyce Zerban, a 1/2 year member that is a retired teacher.

In 2007, Highland retained IASB to assist in the search for a new superintendent.*fn2 The IASB consultants that performed the search for Highland were Larry Dirks, Dave Love and Doug Blair. Blair is a former school superintendent and has been doing superintendent searches since 1978. He has chaired approximately 500 searches and served on search committees in an additional 200-300 searches. Dirks, the lead consultant on the Highland search. He has been the lead consultant on 15 searches and has served on the search committee for 63 searches. Love has been the lead consultant on around 50 superintendent searches and on the screening committee of about 100 others.

To determine the selection criteria applicable to the Highland search, IASB gave Highland school board members a list of 23 qualifications to rate on a 1-5 scale in order of importance. IASB complied the results and identified the board's top ten criteria. IASB relied on the board members' criteria to evaluate the candidates. The top ten qualifications listed in the board members' surveys match the ten criteria in the Highland brochure. The criterion in the survey most closely related to current or recent experience was item 22, "Successful administrative experience in a comparable district." The board approved the criteria without a reference to recent experience and hired IASB to analyze and come up with a list of six candidates closely matching those criteria. IASB publicized the brochure in September 2007.

In 2007, at the age of 62, Smith applied for a superintendent vacancy with Highland through IASB. Smith e-mailed Blair to express his interest in the position and Blair directed him to Dirks. On October 17, 2007, Smith called Dirks and made an appointment to see Dirks at the IASB office in Springfield, Illinois. During these meeting, Smith and Dirks discussed his qualifications and what Highland was seeking. After this meeting, Smith and Dirks stopped by Blair's office and spoke to him for several minutes.

On October 30, 2007, Dirks, Blair and Love met to review the applications. The application packets included, among other things, an IASB form, "Personal Information Sheet;" transcripts; and resumes. They reviewed the 32 candidate information packets and ranked each candidate on their own before discussing the candidates as a group. IASB and Dirks, Blair and Love have stated different versions of the criteria used to screen the candidates. Dirks kept handwritten notes showing how he scored an applicant. The consultants tallied up the rankings and the group came to a ...

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