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Hallmon v. School Dist. 89, Cook County, IL

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

November 20, 2012

Toya HALLMON, Plaintiff,
SCHOOL DISTRICT 89, COOK COUNTY, IL, and Susan Flanagan, Defendants.

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Scot A. Hinshaw, Vedder Price P.C., Shawnte Miaundra Raines, Sanchez, Daniels & Hoffman, Chicago, IL, for Plaintiff.

Emanuel C. Welch, Shawnte Miaundra Raines, Sanchez Daniels & Hoffman LLP, Chicago, IL, for Defendants.


GARY FEINERMAN, District Judge.

Toya Hallmon, a former public school substitute teacher, brought this suit

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against Defendants School District 89 and Susan Flanagan, the District's interim superintendent, alleging that they: (1) discriminated against her on the basis of race (she is African-American); (2) subjected her to a racially hostile work environment; and (3) terminated her in retaliation for complaining of race discrimination, all in violation of 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. The court dismissed the Title VII claims as time-barred. Doc. 36. Defendants have moved for summary judgment on the §§ 1981 and 1983 claims. Doc. 49. The motion is granted as to the race discrimination claim and denied as to the hostile work environment and retaliation claims.


Hallmon began working for the District as a substitute teacher in 2004 or 2005. Doc. 55 at ¶ 5. Flanagan, who is white, has held several managerial positions with the District and became its Interim School Superintendent in Spring 2010. Id. at ¶ 10; Doc. 59 at p. 24, ¶ 1. In August or September 2010, Flanagan informed Hallmon that she was being fired. Doc. 59 at p. 30, ¶ 21. During the course of her employment, Hallmon was involved in several incidents with various District employees. The parties dispute the facts of most of the incidents; because Hallmon is the non-movant, the facts will be stated as favorably to her as the record and Local Rule 56.1 allow. See Hanners v. Trent, 674 F.3d 683, 691 (7th Cir.2012).

In 2005, Hallmon was assaulted by students at one of the District's schools. Doc. 55 at ¶ 36; Doc. 59 at p. 25, ¶ 4. Hallmon reported the assault to Flanagan, who told Hallmon that she should write a report of the incident for the District, but that if she wanted the police involved, she should go to the police station and file a report herself. Doc. 59 at p. 25, ¶ 4. By contrast, the police were called to the school after an earlier incident in which a white teacher was assaulted; the evidence does not reveal if Flanagan was involved— Hallmon uses the passive phrase " the police were called" rather than saying who called them, ibid. — or if the two incidents were otherwise similar. Doc. 55 at ¶ 37. Hallmon concedes that she does not know who called the police in response to the earlier incident. Ibid. However, Hallmon was told by a District employee that the District's policy in such situations was to call Flanagan for instructions; this suggests to Hallmon that Flanagan would have been involved in the decision to call the police after the assault on the white teacher. Id. at ¶ 38.

During her employment with the District, Hallmon heard teachers at the District's " white schools" use the word " nigger" in teachers' lounges and in classrooms. Doc. 59 at pp. 27-28, ¶ 9. " White schools" is the parties' term for schools that have predominantly white student bodies. Doc. 55 at ¶ 24. The parties do not indicate whether the " white schools" had predominantly white permanent teachers. They do agree that over three-quarters of the District's substitute teachers were African-American, and Hallmon stated that she had never seen a substitute teacher who was not African-American, even at the " white schools." Id. at ¶¶ 14, 18. Hallmon rarely taught at the " white schools." Id. at ¶ 25.

With the exceptions described below, Hallmon does not maintain that anyone ever used the term " nigger" to refer to her or in conversation with her. Id. at ¶ 26. Hallmon does say that teachers at the " white schools" did not respect, support, or acknowledge her, causing her to feel like an outcast. Id. at ¶ 17. The white teachers gave her the cold shoulder, closed their doors and did not answer when she

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knocked, and made her feel isolated at lunchtime. Id. at ¶ 20. Another African-American substitute teacher, Odessa Wynn, had similar complaints. Id. at ¶ 29.

In February 2006, Stacy Annis, a fourth-grade teacher at Lincoln School, one of the schools where Hallmon worked as a substitute teacher, called Hallmon a " dumb nigger." Id. at ¶ 13; Doc. 59 at p. 25, ¶ 5. (It is appropriate at this juncture to reiterate that the facts on summary judgment must be recited in the light most favorable to the non-movant, Hallmon; by reciting those facts, the court does not endorse them.) Following the incident, Hallmon went to the next two classrooms to which she was assigned and finished her three substitute teaching assignments for the day. Doc. 55 at ¶ 46. Hallmon reported the incident to Lincoln's assistant principal, Sharece Rouse-Spivey, who like Hallmon is African-American. Id. at ¶ 11; Doc. 59 at pp. 25-26, ¶ 6. (District policy provides that complaints of discrimination can be made to any administrator, principal, or vice principal. Doc. 59 at p. 25, ¶ 3.) Spivey told Hallmon that she did not believe that Annis had used the term " nigger" and that Hallmon should submit a written report of the incident. Id. at pp. 25-26, ¶ 6. Hallmon submitted to Spivey a report that accused Annis of using that term, and Spivey told Hallmon to write a new report that did not make that accusation. Ibid. District policy called for Spivey to report complaints of race discrimination or harassment, yet she did not investigate Hallmon's complaint or report it to anyone. Id. at p. 26, ¶ 7. Hallmon also claims that Annis " physically accosted" her during the 2006 incident, though she does not explain what she means by the quoted phrase and does not say whether she reported the physical nature of the incident to anyone. Id. at p. 28, ¶ 14. Annis had her own complaints about Hallmon's behavior; like Hallmon, Annis was told to submit a written report. Doc. 55 at ¶ 50.

Hallmon also reported the incident with Annis to Karen Pettis, who was principal of another of the District's schools, Emerson School. Doc. 59 at p. 26, ¶ 8. Hallmon told Pettis as well that she had been harassed while substitute teaching at the " white schools." Ibid. Rather than taking action on the complaints, Pettis suggested that Hallmon work at Emerson, which had a predominantly African-American student body. Ibid.; Doc. 56-1 at 20. On the basis of Pettis's advice, Hallmon asked to be placed at Emerson. Doc. 59 at pp. 28-29, ¶ 15.

Hallmon taught summer school in 2009, having been recommended for that job after receiving a " teacher of the year" award. Id. at p. 30, ¶ 19. The parties do not say who gives those awards, how many are given out, or what their significance is, and nor do they discuss the significance of being recommended to teach summer school.

In August or October 2009, Hallmon and Flanagan attended a substitute teacher workshop. Doc. 55 at ¶ 15; Doc. 59 at p. 27, ¶ 10. Hallmon expressed concern about the treatment of substitutes in the District's schools, saying that they were not respected, had been subjected to a pay cut, were not told their duties, and had not received the same help that permanent white teachers receive. Doc. 55 at ¶ 15; Doc. 59 at p. 27, ¶ 10. Flanagan was aware of Hallmon's complaints. Doc. 59 at p. 27, ¶ 11.

In October 2009, Hallmon was written up for allegedly behaving unprofessionally in front of her kindergarten students and for refusing to follow the lesson plan that she had been assigned to teach. Doc. 55 at ¶¶ 51-52. Hallmon denies those charges, and a reasonable jury could believe her, so the court will disregard the merits of the charges themselves. However, Hallmon does not dispute that Flanagan

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believed the report that Hallmon had acted inappropriately and that this was one of the reasons Flanagan gave for firing Hallmon.

In January 2010, Hallmon had another run-in with Annis while substitute teaching at Lincoln School. Id. at ¶ 54. Annis told Hallmon that there would be a pizza party for the students later that day and that Hallmon should bring her class; Hallmon responded that the party was not in the substitute plans that she had received. Id. at ¶ 55. Hallmon brought her students to the party late and was stopped by Annis when attempting to leave the cafeteria. Id. at ¶ 56. Annis called Hallmon " nigger," " monkey," " ape," and " baboon." Doc. 59 at pp. 27-28, ¶ 12. Hallmon complained to Lincoln's assistant principal, Kathryn Hayes, and to Flanagan, Pettis, and a member of the District's board, but ...

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