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Wendi Waddy, et al v. the Board of Education of the City of Chicago

December 6, 2012

WENDI WADDY, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
THE BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE CITY OF CHICAGO, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Blanche M. Manning

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiff Mary Stack is one of several former teachers at Chicago's Deneen Elementary School who were removed from their positions after Deneen was designated a "turnaround" school, which is a school that chronically underperforms academically. All of the plaintiffs have alleged that they were terminated based on their race (African-American) and/or age and thus were subjected to illegal discrimination. Ms. Stack is the only plaintiff who was a tenured teacher. She also alleges that, as such, she was entitled to procedural due process that she did not receive. The Board of Education seeks to dismiss Ms. Stack's procedural due process claim. For the reasons that follow, the motion to dismiss is denied.

BACKGROUND

The following facts from the complaint are accepted as true for purposes of the motion to dismiss. See Marshall-Mosby v. Corporate Receivables, Inc., 205 F.3d 323, 326 (7th Cir. 2000). Deneen Elementary School is a neighborhood school on Chicago's south side serving students from kindergarten through eighth grade. On February 24, 2010, the Chicago Board of Education designated Deneen as a "turnaround" school based upon its academic underperformance. In a turnaround, a school's entire faculty and staff are removed with the hope that the radical change improves students' performance. Under the turnaround plan (which the Board of Education hired defendant AUSL to carry out), the faculty and staff of Deneen were removed and the school closed on June 30, 2010. The reconstituted Deneen reopened the following day, on July 1, 2010.

The plaintiffs were all staff members at Deneen who were removed as part of the turnaround. Although removed teachers may seek to be rehired, none of the plaintiffs were rehired. Instead, according to the plaintiffs, AUSL and the Board of Education replaced them with inexperienced individuals with less seniority and qualifications.

Among the staff members removed was plaintiff Mary Stack. Ms. Stack was a tenured teacher with 30 years' experience who earned performance evaluations of "Superior" and "Excellent." Ms. Stack alleges that as a tenured teacher, she had a property right in continued employment and, under the Due Process Clause, was entitled to "some process through which she could challenge that decision, provide information relevant to that decision, or to show that she could perform the job duties of open or vacant positions." Third Amended Complaint [123-1] ¶ 203. She further alleges that the "Board in fact hired new probationary teachers into positions that Plaintiff Stack was lawfully qualified to teach and could perform the job duties of." Id. ¶ 206.

In Count X of the Third Amended Complaint, Ms. Stack brings a claim against the Board of Education alleging that her constitutional rights have been infringed in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Specifically, she alleges that the Board of Education's failure to conduct a hearing "before or at the time the time of her dismissal" violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In her charge of discrimination cross-filed with the Illinois Department of Human Rights and the EEOC, she asserted that her termination occurred on February 24, 2012, the date on which the Board of Education voted to reconstitute Deneen. However, the reconstitution plan approved by the Board of Education on that date (attached as exhibit A to the Third Amended Complaint [123-1]) states that reconstitution would occur on July 1, 2012. In addition, she alleges that she continued to work as a teacher at Deneen until the end of the 2009-10 school year, at which time she was "honorably discharged." Third Amended Complaint [123-1] ¶¶ 11, 73. In light of Ms. Stack's allegation that she continued to work at Deneen until honorably discharged at the time of the reconstitution, she has not plausibly suggested a termination date of February 24, 2010, but, rather, a termination date of June 30, 2010, the final day before reconstitution at the end of the 2009-10 school year.

The Board of Education has filed a motion to dismiss Count X. In support, the Board of Education argues that Count X should be dismissed because Ms. Stack has not plausibly suggested that her status as a tenured teacher gave her a property interest in her continued employment.

ANALYSIS

I. Standard of Review

A complaint need only contain a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). The Seventh Circuit explained that this "[r]ule reflects a liberal notice pleading regime, which is intended to focus litigation on the merits of a claim rather than on technicalities that might keep plaintiffs out of court." Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 580 (7th Cir. 2009) (internal quotations omitted).

However, a complaint must contain "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face" and also must state sufficient facts to raise a plaintiff's right to relief above the speculative level. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 547 (2007). In Ashcroft v. Iqbal, the Supreme Court stated that a claim has facial plausibility "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

II. Due Process Claim (Count X)

The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits a state from depriving any person of "life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." U.S. Const. amend. XIV, ยง 1. "Thus, a procedural due process claim involves a two-part analysis: First, a court looks at whether the defendants deprived the plaintiff of a protected liberty or property interest, and if so, then the court must assess what process ...


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