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Collins v. Board of Education of North Chicago Community Unit School District 187

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

May 13, 2013



ROBERT M. DOW, Jr., District Judge.

Plaintiff Crandall Collins filed this lawsuit, alleging that Defendants Board of Education for the North Chicago Community Unit School District 187, North Chicago Community Unit School District 187, Missouri Myers, Sharon Epps, and Henrietta Graham violated his constitutional rights when the Board failed to hire him for a vacant position within the District. The Court previously dismissed North Chicago Community Unit School District 187 as a defendant[1] and also dismissed certain counts of Plaintiff's complaint. Plaintiff has since filed a second amended complaint, alleging a single count (First Amendment violation). Defendants have moved for summary judgment [110] on Plaintiff's First Amendment claim. For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants Defendants' motion for summary judgment [110].

I. Background

Plaintiff Crandall Collins ("Plaintiff" or "Collins") applied for the position of human resources director with the North Chicago Community Unit School District 187 (the "School District") twice, once in 2004 and once in 2009.[2] In 2004, after interviewing Collins, the North Chicago Community Unit School Board (the "School Board" or "Board") selected a different candidate to fill the position.

In the spring of 2009, the Board held elections to fill four Board seats. At the time of this election, Defendants Missouri Myers and Henrietta Graham held two seats not up for reelection. Defendant Sharon Epps, then a member of the Board, ran for re-election to fill one of the four seats. Lanelle Collins, Plaintiff's wife, ran on a ticket with two others (Kenneth Robinson and Jill Janezich) to fill the three remaining seats. Lanelle Collins, Robinson, and Janezich were all elected to the Board, and Defendant Epps was reelected. Sherry Murray ran in the election but did not win. However, she was later appointed to a vacant seat on the Board. On May 4, 2009, the newly elected Board Members were sworn in. After the election and the swearing in of Board Members, the District Board was comprised of Kenneth Robinson, Lanelle Collins, Sherry Murray, Jill Janezich, Henrietta Graham, Sharon Epps, and Missouri Myers. On many issues, the Board was divided into two competing camps, comprised of Myers, Graham, and Epps on the one hand and Robinson, Murray, Janezich, and Lanelle Collins on the other. Board minutes reflect this division but also reflect numerous unanimous votes by the Board as well as votes that were not split along the noted division.

Plaintiff campaigned for his wife's slate of candidates by passing out campaign literature and volunteering on Election Day. Crandall Collins' political activity was discussed during Executive Session Board meetings on September 10, 2009 and September 29, 2009, but only in the context of whether Collins actually campaigned for Janezich and, if so, whether that presented a conflict of interest which would prevent Janezich from participating in the vote for H.R. Director. Furthermore, Epps' knowledge of Collins' political activity was limited to observing a dispute that he was involved in between Jill Janezich and Gloria Harper and William King (Epps's supporters) on Election Day. Collins was present to assist Janezich. Epps did not learn that the individual whom she observed (Plaintiff) was the husband of a seated Board Member until after the Election. Collins did not interact with Myers, Epps or Graham in any capacity before his wife was elected to the School Board, although Epps and Myers observed the dispute on Election Day. Collins was not aware of any personal arguments or disputes between Myers, Epps, Graham, and his wife.

On July 17, 2009, the position of Director of Human Resources for North Chicago School District 187 was posted. The job description for Human Resources Director required that the individual holding the position have a Type 75 certificate, which is a certificate that is required of certain types of administrators in Illinois. Following the posting, the District received a number of applications. Between July 19, 2009, and August 14, 2009, Angela Banbury, Plaintiff, Christopher Glover, Patricia Reynolds, Angela Smith, and Nicholas Maldonado submitted their applications for the Human Resources Director position in District 187. At the time of each of these candidates' application, the Human Resources Director position at District 187 required a Type 75 certification.

On August 20, 2009, the North Chicago Board of Education School Board met for a regular Board meeting, at which the Board acted to revise the Human Resources Director job description by removing the Type 75 requirement. According to the minutes from that meeting, Board Member Sherry Murray made the motion to revise with Board Member Jill Janezich seconding that motion. The motion carried by a vote of 4-2 with Board President Kenneth Robinson, Sherry Murray, Jill Janezich and Lanelle Collins, Plaintiff's wife, all in favor of the removal of that requirement, and Board Members Sharon Epps and Henrietta Graham voting against the removal. Janezich testified in her deposition that she did not even know what a Type 75 was, but that all she knew was "that we were going to stick together. I was grabbed in the hallway on the way to open session that we were doing to stick together and this is how I was going to vote." The military representative, Chief Anna Douglas, also voted against the removal. However, the military representative vote is not counted even though that representative is allowed to cast a vote and give input during meetings. Board Member Missouri Myers was absent from the August 20, 2009 meeting and therefore did not vote on the proposal.

The discussion during the Executive Session portion of the August 20, 2009 meeting included arguments for and against the removal. Kenneth Robinson, Sherry Murray, and Lanelle Collins believed that the Type 75 was not required by the Illinois State Board of Education and therefore did not need to be a job requirement for the H.R. Director. Board Members Sharon Epps, Henrietta Graham, and Chief Anna Douglas testified that they believed that the Type 75 certificate, which certified the individual as being able to hold the position of Principal or School Administrator, was necessary for an H. R. Director who was responsible for matters associated with hiring and firing teachers and helping to place staff in the best possible positions. Missouri Myers was not present for the meeting and therefore did not vote on the issue; however, she indicated afterward to President Robinson that she wanted the Type 75 requirement to remain in place. After the August 20, 2009 vote to modify the H.R. Director job description by removing the Type 75 requirement, Board Member Lanelle Collins recused herself from the Executive Session portion of subsequent Board meetings at which the H.R. Director position was being discussed.

According to Dr. Lauri Hakanen, the Superintendent of District 187 during the relevant time period, a number of administrators under his direction initially screened the applications to determine a set of candidates who would be qualified for the job and who would be interviewed by the Board. On September 10, 2009, a special Board meeting was conducted at which three candidates were interviewed for the H.R. Director position. The candidates interviewed were Nicholas Maldonado, Crandall Collins and Angela Smith. Maldonado had a Type 75 certification, but Collins and Smith did not. At the time of his application and interview, Collins did not have any experience with the following: school district experience in human resources; union negotiating experience; experience in the certification of school teachers; and experience with the No Child Left Behind Act. However, he had several years of private sector human resources experience at Abbott Laboratories and Allstate.

On September 16, 2009, the Board conducted a second set of interviews with additional candidates. Board members Janezich, Epps, Myers, and Graham were present for the second set of interviews, while Board members Robinson and Murray were unable to make the September 16, 2009 meeting.[3] The candidates interviewed included Christopher Glover, Patricia Reynolds, and Angela Banbury. Of those candidates, Christopher Glover had been a principal and also held an out of state certificate. Patricia Reynolds held a Type 75 certificate in Illinois and had prior school district experience, and Angela Banbury had no administrative certificate or Type 75 certification.

Jill Janezich expressed her opinion that Crandall Collins was the best interviewee from September 10 and that Patricia Reynolds was the best candidate interviewed on September 16. During her deposition, Janezich stated that she liked Patricia Reynolds because she "filled the whole page." Similarly, Dr. Lauri Hakanen, who also was present for the September 16, 2009 interviews, thought Patricia Reynolds was the best Type 75 candidate and that Collins was the best non-Type 75 candidate. However, Dr. Hakanen believed that the Type 75 certification was an important requirement for an H.R. Director and he also expressed his opinion that the Type 75 requirement should not have been removed from the H.R. Director job description. Although Dr. Hakanen recognized that Crandall Collins was a strong candidate based on his private sector experience as an H.R. representative, he had reservations about the appearance of nepotism within the District, especially in light of a recent case brought by a former board member whose wife and daughter were District employees. During his deposition, Dr. Hakanen stated that he thought Reynolds was the best overall candidate. Sharon Epps, Missouri Myers, and Henrietta Graham also testified that they thought that Reynolds was the best overall candidate.

Dr. Hakanen was asked to recommend a candidate. He prepared a memorandum about the candidates interviewed for the Board.[4] In his memorandum, Dr. Hakanen indicated that he believed that avoiding the appearance of nepotism hiring and firing may have to be taken into consideration by the Board Members in their voting on the husband of a sitting Board Member, so he included a statement to that effect in his September 28, 2009 Memorandum. Dr. Hakanen stated that Patricia Reynolds was the "clear choice" of the candidates interviewed during the September 16 meeting, given her school-district-experienced and Type 75 certification. He also stated that Collins was determined to have the best "non-75 interview."

On September 29, 2009, a special meeting of the School Board took place. One of the agenda items was a vote on the hiring of an H.R. Director, provided a consensus candidate could be brought forward. At the meeting, the candidates for the H.R. Director position were again discussed. Board President Kenneth Robinson attempted to determine whether there was a consensus candidate whose application could then be voted on in open session. Discussion of the candidates as well as Dr. Hakanen's memorandum was part of the Executive Session discussion. Kenneth Robinson stated ...

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