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Vincent Williams v. City of Chicago Board of Education

July 24, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Ronald A. Guzman


Vincent Williams brought suit alleging employment discrimination based on his age, race, and sex against the City of Chicago Board of Education ("Board"). The Board moves for summary judgment, which, for the reasons stated below, the Court grants.

I. Facts

This Court has jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1343; 42 U.S.C. §§ 1988, 2000e-5(f)(3), § 12117. (Pl.'s Resp. Def's. Statement Facts, Dkt. #57, ¶ 3.) Venue is proper because a substantial portion of the acts complained of allegedly occurred in the Northern District of Illinois. (Id. ¶ 4.)

Plaintiff Vincent Williams is African American and was born in 1958. (Id. ¶ 1.) At the time of the events at issue, he was a day-to-day substitute teacher for the Board. (Id. ¶ 5.) A day-to-day substitute teacher is one who is employed on a day-to-day basis to fill temporary vacancies, as needed, throughout the Chicago Public School ("CPS") system. (Id. ¶ 6.) Day-to-day substitutes are not guaranteed daily assignments. (Id.) In order to receive a substitute assignment, the teacher normally calls the Substitute Center at the Board's Central Office the day before he would like to teach in order to indicate his availability for work. (Id. ¶ 7.) On December 7 and December 11, 2009, Plaintiff substitute taught at Pershing West Middle School ("Pershing West"). (Id. ¶ 8.) Cheryl Watkins was the principal of Pershing West during the 2009-2010 school year. She is African American. (Id. ¶ 9.) Her Assistant Principal was Tamara King, who is also African American. (Id.)

At some point on December 7, 2009, while Plaintiff was teaching at Pershing West, King learned that Plaintiff had left the classroom unattended that day more than once. (Id.) King went to Plaintiff's room to investigate and saw Plaintiff sitting at a desk reading a book or magazine. (Id. ¶ 10.) King told Plaintiff that if there was an emergency and he needed to leave the room, he should call the main office so someone could cover his classroom. (Id. ¶ 11.) Plaintiff then told King that he had left the room because he needed some water. (Id.) Plaintiff admitted both to King and at a subsequent investigatory hearing that he left the room three times during that class period and to reading a book or magazine during instructional time. (Id.)

Four days later, someone from the Board's Substitute Center called Plaintiff indicating that he could teach on December 11, 2009, at one of two schools: Overton or Pershing West. (Id. ¶ 14.) Plaintiff chose Pershing West, and was instructed to substitute teach in an art class. (Id. ¶¶ 15-16.) King told Plaintiff that he needed to pick up the students and take them to art class. (Id.) When it came time for art class, King noticed that Plaintiff had not picked up the students as directed, so she had to check on Plaintiff and instruct him to follow the schedule.*fn1 (Id.)

After Plaintiff taught the art class, he dropped the students off at the lunch room. (Id. ¶ 17) He then went to the main office and told King that he wanted to leave early for the day because he felt he was being mistreated but did not want to discuss the matter.*fn2 Plaintiff claims that King said, "I am going to have to cancel art because of your f--- ass." (Id. ¶ 17.) Specifically, in the account he wrote of this alleged December 11, 2009, incident later that evening and submitted as part of a December 11, 2009, Grievance Authorization form, Plaintiff admitted he heard only the "f" sound and did not know what "f" word King used. (Id. ¶ 18). Plaintiff notes, however, that in a February addendum to the Grievance Authorization form, he states that King said "fat fag ass." Moreover, in his Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that King called him a "fat fag ass." (Id. ¶ 19.) The December 11, 2009 Grievance Authorization form does not mention Plaintiff's age, sex or race.

As noted, Plaintiff attached to the December 11, 2009, Grievance Authorization form a statement several pages long complaining about how he was treated by King at Pershing West. (Id. ¶ 20.) In this statement, Plaintiff admitted that he left students unattended in the classroom on three occasions on December 7, 2009, and that he was reading a book during instructional time. (Id., Def's Ex. F, at 3-4.) In December 2009, Plaintiff sent a copy of the Grievance Authorization Form and statement to Cheryl Colston, who is African American and is the director of the Board's Office of Employee Relations. (Id. ¶ 21.)

Watkins, Pershing West's principal, was not in school on the days that Plaintiff substitute taught there. (Id. ¶ 22.) On December 16, 2009, King sent an email to Watkins to inform her of the events that had taken place at Pershing West with respect to Plaintiff. (Id. ¶ 23.) King informed Watkins that she had asked the clerk to contact the Substitute Center to request that Williams not be assigned to substitute teach at Pershing West. (Id.) When King sent the December 16, 2009 email to Watkins, neither she nor Watkins knew that Plaintiff had completed the Grievance Authorization Form and sent it to Colston. (Id. ¶ 24) Plaintiff submitted an addendum to his Grievance Authorization Form to his union on or about February 12, 2010. (Id.

¶ 25, Def's Ex. G.) He attached another statement several pages long to this form. In this statement, he admitted that he had left students unattended and that he had read a book during instructional time. (Id.)

In the addendum, Plaintiff also asserted for the first time that King was carrying a white Taser when she visited him in his classroom on December 7, 2009, and displayed it in a threatening manner. (Id. ¶ 26.) Later, in his hearing before the IELRB and at his deposition, Plaintiff identified the item that King had as a gun. (Id.) The only mention that Plaintiff makes of his protected status in the addendum is that he is a "blackman" setting an example for the children in the CPS system and that he was the only "blackman" teaching at Pershing West on December 7 and 11, 2009. (Id.) At the hearing, Plaintiff states that he did not report in the December 12, 2009 Grievance Form that King was purportedly carrying a weapon because he did not remember it until two months later. (Id. ¶ 27.)

On April 23, 2010, Plaintiff's union filed a grievance regarding the December 2009 incidents at Pershing West. (Id. ¶ 28.) Watkins held a grievance hearing on May 4, 2010, in her office at Pershing West at which Watkins, King, Plaintiff, and his union representative were all present. (Id. ¶ 29.) The grievance hearing was the first time that Watkins had met Plaintiff. (Id.)

At the hearing, Plaintiff told Watkins and King that while he was waiting for the bus to take him to Pershing West on December 11, 2009, a police van drove up to him and a male voice coming from the van said "She's going to be direct. Don't go." (Id. ¶ 30.) Plaintiff interpreted this to mean that King was going to be direct with him. (Id.) Plaintiff also told Watkins and King that after he boarded a bus and exited at the stop nearest the school, a man in the same van drove up to Plaintiff, shook his head "no" and pointed in the direction away from the school. (Id. ¶ 31.) Plaintiff also stated that he thought it was strange that the doors to Pershing West "just opened" when he approached without his having to ring the bell. (Id.) Plaintiff testified in his deposition that he implied at the grievance hearing that King had had the police follow him to Pershing West on December 11, 2009. (Id.)

On May 5, 2010, Watkins wrote a letter to the union denying Plaintiff's grievance. (Id. ¶ 32.) On May 11, 2012, Watkins e-mailed the Substitute Center in order to make certain that Plaintiff was not sent to Pershing West again and to make sure that the Center was aware of the disturbing statements Plaintiff made during the grievance hearing. (Id. ¶ 33.) In that e-mail, Watkins forwarded King's e-mail of December 16, 2009, in which she summarized Plaintiff's poor performance during the two days he had taught there. (Id.)

On or about May 11, 2010, Angela Simpson, the head of the Board's Substitute Center, received the e-mail Watkins sent. (Id. ¶ 34.) Prior to receiving the e-mail, Simpson had been unaware of the problems with Plaintiff's performance. (Id.) Simpson's supervisor instructed her to forward the e-mail to the Board's Office of Labor and Employee Relations for an investigatory conference to determine whether Plaintiff had violated the Board's Employee Discipline Code. (Id.) On or about July 15, 2010, Simpson had someone from the Substitute Center forward the e-mail. (Id.) Watkins' concerns were of the type the Substitute Center would routinely forward to the Office of Labor Relations. (Id. ¶ 35.) Prior to her referring the complaint about Plaintiff to the Office of Labor and Employee Relations, Simpson was not aware that Plaintiff had filed any grievances. (Id. ¶ 36.)

Thomas Krieger, the Assistant Director of the Board's Office of Employee Relations, oversees the Board's disciplinary processes. (Id. ¶ 37.) On July 19, 2010, he scheduled an investigatory conference for Plaintiff and certain other substitute teachers who had pending disciplinary issues. (Id.) Krieger did not know that Plaintiff had previously filed a grievance authorization form. An investigatory conference was held at the Board on August 6, 2010. (Id. ¶ 38.) The allegations of misconduct included Plaintiff's leaving his classroom unattended, reading during instructional time, ...

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