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Theresa A. Johnson v. Zion School District No. 6

December 28, 2012

THERESA A. JOHNSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ZION SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 6, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Harry D. Leinenweber

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss portions of Plaintiff's Complaint. For the reasons stated herein, the Motion is granted in part and denied in part.

I. BACKGROUND

The following facts are taken as stated in Plaintiff's Complaint and response. While several allegations are unclear, as best as the Court can make out, pro se Plaintiff Theresa A. Johnson (hereinafter, "Johnson" or "Plaintiff") applied to teach as a substitute teacher at Defendant Zion School District No. 6 (hereinafter, "Zion" or "Defendant") in August 2011. Plaintiff said she had previously made Defendant aware, through a 2005 application, that she was unable to climb stairs. Two days after applying, she requested "in writing for long-term [work] only because it accommodated my Disability." Pl.'s Resp. at 4. The Court is uncertain as to whether this means she modified her application to request only long-term substitute teaching positions or whether she was modifying her application to request only a full-time, non-substitute teaching position. That same month, Zion "deactivated" her application. Id. at 5. Plaintiff discovered this when she went into Zion's Human Resources Department in February 2012. At that time, the Human Resources Department called four elementary schools in the district to ascertain whether they were single-story schools that could accommodate Plaintiff's disability. During that interaction, Plaintiff saw in her personnel folder a complaint letter that another teacher filed sometime in 2007 or 2008. (The substance of the complaint was that Plaintiff "injured or taught an 'evil' subject to students." Pl.'s Resp. at 7.) Plaintiff says the teacher's complaint is false and Defendants refuse to remove it from her file. She believes the complaint kept her from being hired in 2011. Plaintiff notes that Defendant has the same law firm that represented a neighboring school district in an earlier disability lawsuit by her (Johnson v. Waukegan School Dist. 60, 10 CV 2183) and that Zion is retaliating against her for that lawsuit against another school district.

Plaintiff's Complaint is literally of the fill-in-the-blank, form variety. It alleges age and disability discrimination. Specifically, it alleges that Defendant (1) failed to hire Plaintiff; (2) terminated the Plaintiff's employment; (3) failed to promote the Plaintiff to a long-term position; (4) failed to reasonably accommodate Plaintiff's disabilities; (5) retaliated against the Plaintiff because Plaintiff did something to assert rights protected by the ADEA and ADA; and (6) committed a personnel file violation (slander and libel). She goes on to allege that the Defendant hired uncertified teachers before her, a certified substitute teacher and hired younger applicants. Finally, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant discriminates against the disabled because its substitute teacher manual contains the following provision:

HEALTH REQUIREMENTS. All substitute teachers working with children in schools in Illinois must have a recent physical and negative TB X-ray or skin test on file. The state also requires freedom from communicable disease and physical and mental fitness to teach.

Pl.'s Resp. at 2, Pl.'s Supplemental Filing, at 2 (ECF No. 30, PageID 84).

Defendants move to dismiss portions of Plaintiff's Complaint on the grounds that it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

When evaluating dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court takes all well-pleaded allegations of the complaint as true and views them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Appert v. Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, Inc., 673 F.3d 609, 622 (7th Cir. 2012). To satisfy the notice-pleading standard of Rule 8, a complaint must provide a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, and is sufficient to provide the defendant with fair notice of the claim and its basis." Id. 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. Id. Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim is context-specific, requiring the reviewing court to draw on its experience and common sense. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 663-664 (2009).

III. ANALYSIS

A. Defamation

The Court is unfamiliar with any cause of action known as "personnel file violation" and so interprets this complaint as one for defamation. As Defendant points out, to state a claim for defamation, the Plaintiff must allege that (1) Defendant made a false statement about her, (2) there was an unprivileged publication of the defamatory statement to a third party by Defendant, and (3) the Plaintiff was damaged. Morton Grove Pharms., Inc. v. Nat'l Pediculosis Ass'n, 494 F.Supp.2d 934, 939 (N.D. Ill. 2007).

Plaintiff has pled herself out of court on this count. By her own filings, she admits that the Defendant did not make this defamatory statement, an unnamed teacher did. Plaintiff also fails to allege the Defendant ever published this statement to a third party. Because the Court cannot fathom how keeping someone's complaint in a personnel file could constitute defamation, amendment in regards to this claim would be futile. Hukic v. Aurora Loan Servs., 588 F.3d 420, 432 (7th Cir. 2009) (noting District Courts have broad discretion to deny leave to amend where there is undue delay, bad faith, dilatory motive, ...


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