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Dr. Kenneth Jackson v. Board of Education of Rockford Public

September 18, 2012

DR. KENNETH JACKSON
v.
BOARD OF EDUCATION OF ROCKFORD PUBLIC SCHOOLS, ET AL.



Name of Assigned Judge Philip G. Reinhard Sitting Judge if Other or Magistrate Judge than Assigned Judge

CASE TITLE

DOCKET ENTRY TEXT:

For the reasons stated below, defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted. Judgment is entered in favor of defendants and against plaintiff. This case is terminated.

O[ For further details see text below.] Electronic Notices.

STATEMENT - OPINION

Plaintiff, Dr. Kenneth Jackson, an African-American man over the age of forty, brings this action against defendants, Board of Education of Rockford Public Schools District No. 205 ("Board") and Linda Hernandez, individually and as an agent for the Board. Jurisdiction is proper under 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

In July 2006, plaintiff was recruited for the job of principal of Jefferson High School by Dr. Dennis Thompson, the superintendent of the Rockford School District at that time. The Board hired plaintiff for that position. Plaintiff served as principal during the 2006-07 and 2007-08 school years. Between these two school years, in August 2007, Thompson left his position as superintendent and the Board appointed defendant, Linda Hernandez, as the interim superintendent. On or about April 9, 2008, the Board voted not to renew plaintiff's contract for the upcoming school year. Plaintiff claims race, age, and sex discrimination and retaliation. Defendants move for summary judgment.

The adverse employment actions underlying plaintiff's claims are the non-renewal of his contract as principal of Jefferson in April 2008, his being placed on paid administrative leave during the 2007-08 school year while an investigation was undertaken into the complaint of the teachers' union that he had ordered hundreds of failing grades to be changed to passing grades and ordered diplomas to be issued to students who had not passed the Constitution test or certain required courses during the preceding school year, and his temporary assignment to a truant officer position during the 2007-08 school year.

"No one may teach or supervise in the public schools nor receive for teaching or supervising any part of any public school fund, who does not hold a certificate of qualification granted by the State Board of Education or by the State Teachers Certification Board and a regional superintendent of schools." 105 ILCS 5/21-1 (2008). "A provisional certificate may be issued to a person who meets the requirements for a regular . . . administrative certificate in another State. . . . A certificate earned under this plan is valid for a period of 2 years and shall not be renewed; however, the individual to whom this certificate is issued shall have passed or shall pass the examinations set forth by the State Board of Education within 9 months of the date of the issuance of the provisional certificate. Failure to pass the tests . . . shall result in the cancellation of the provisional certificate." 105 ILCS 5/21-10 (B) (2008).

(2008). He received a provisional certificate under 105 ILCS 5/21-10 (B) (2008) but it was cancelled on August 27, 2007 for failure to pass the required tests (the Basic Skills Test and the Principal Test) within 9 months of its issuance. Before this cancellation, plaintiff had applied on August 17, 2007 for an administrative certificate with superintendent endorsement. On September 11, 2007, plaintiff was placed on paid administrative leave in conjunction with the grade changing investigation. On September 18, 2007, plaintiff was removed from his position as principal and placed in a truant officer position. On October 16, 2007, plaintiff obtained a provisional administrative certificate with superintendent endorsement and was returned to his position as principal at Jefferson. Hernandez advised plaintiff at this time that he would be required to submit proof he had passed the necessary tests (Basic Skills Test and Superintendent or Principal Test) prior to the time the Board made its staffing decisions for the 2008-09 school year or the Board would plan on getting a new principal for Jefferson for 2008-09. Plaintiff filed an EEOC charge alleging race, gender, and age discrimination and retaliation on December 13, 2007. Plaintiff failed the Basic Skills Test in early 2008. On April 9, 2008, the Board voted not to renew plaintiff's contract. Plaintiff's provisional certificate was terminated by the State Board of Education on June 30, 2008.

Defendants argue the fact plaintiff never obtained a certificate of qualification and did not pass the tests required to maintain his provisional certificate require summary judgment in defendants' favor. Plaintiff concedes he did not have the certification required by Illinois law for him to serve as a principal but claims other administrators, who were not members of his protected classes, lacked proper certification as well but were allowed to continue in their positions and were not terminated or otherwise subjected to adverse action on account of their failure to meet the requirements of the state law.

Under Illinois law, a basic condition of the Board's duty to employ and pay plaintiff was that plaintiff be certified for his position. Lewis-Connelly v. Bd of Educ. of Deerfield Public Schools, 660 N.E.2d 283, 286 (Ill. App. 1996). The sections of the School Code cited above (105 ILCS 5/21-1 and 5/21-10 (B)) must be considered a part of the employment contract between the Board and plaintiff. Id. at 287. In the absence of a currently valid certificate, "an essential condition of the contract was no longer satisfied [and] the contract was no longer binding on the Board." Id. As a purely contractual matter, the Board was justified in transferring plaintiff to a non-certified position when his original provisional certificate lapsed and in not renewing his contract when renewal time came because he did not have a certificate valid for the next school year.

Plaintiff seeks to establish a prima facie case of discrimination and retaliation under the indirect method. To do this he must show he is 1) a member of a protected class (or engaged in protected activity); 2) was meeting his employer's legitimate job performance expectations; 3) suffered an adverse employment action; and 4) similarly situated individuals who were not in the protected class (or did not engage in protected activity) were treated more favorably. See Coleman v. Donahoe, 667 F.3d 835, 845 (7th Cir. 2012). Once the prima facie case is established, the burden shifts to the employer to articulate a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for its action. Id. When it does so, the burden shifts back to plaintiff to present evidence that the stated reason is a pretext. Id. When, as here, failure to meet legitimate expectations is cited as the justification for the adverse employment action "the performance element of the prima facie case cannot be separated from the question whether the employer proffered a non-pretextual explanation for its challenged conduct." Duncan v. Fleetwood Motor Homes of Indiana, Inc., 518 F.3d 486, 491 (7th Cir.2008). In other words, were the cited "legitimate expectations" actually legitimate or were they themselves the pretext. The standard for granting summary judgment is whether viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, there is no genuine issue of material fact that must be decided by a jury. Id.

On the face of it, not maintaining a state-required certification for a job would appear to be a failure to meet legitimate job performance expectations. Illinois law requires a regular administrative certificate be obtained by grant of the "State Board of Education or by the State Teachers Certification Board and a regional superintendent of schools." It provides for a provisional certificate for a limited period of time with certain requirements to maintain it and to ultimately obtain a regular certificate. Plaintiff did not meet the requirements to maintain his original provisional certificate with general administrative endorsement (this endorsement allows serving as a principal) and it lapsed. When he obtained a second provisional certificate with superintendent endorsement, he was reinstated as principal ...


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