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Goral v. Illinois State Board of Education

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Third Division

December 18, 2013

BRADLEY GORAL, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
ILLINOIS STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION, THE BOARD OF EDUCATION OF NEW TRIER TOWNSHIP HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT 203, and LAWRENCE COHEN, Defendants-Appellees.

Held [*]

The trial court’s order upholding the defendant board of education’s decision terminating plaintiff’s employment as a teacher based on his response to directives arising from a parent’s complaint about plaintiff’s response to one of his student’s questions in class was affirmed where a fitness-for-duty examination ordered by the school district did not violate the Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Confidentiality Act, the hearing officer did not violate the School Code by failing to timely schedule the dismissal hearing, plaintiff waived the claim that a new charge was raised during the dismissal hearing based on emails he sent after the school district’s notice to remedy by raising the issue for the first time in the trial court, and waiver aside, the emails at issue were merely a continuation of plaintiff’s alleged insubordination.

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County, Nos. 12-CH-26508, 12-CH-30283; the Hon. Mary L. Mikva, Judge, presiding.

Lisa Madigan, Attorney General, of Chicago (Ann C. Maskaleris, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel), for appellee Illinois State Board of Education.

Franczek Radelet P.C., of Chicago (Shelli L. Anderson and Jacqueline F. Wernz, of counsel), for other appellees.

JUSTICE MASON delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Hyman and Justice Neville concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

MASON JUSTICE

¶ 1 Plaintiff-appellant, Bradley Goral, appeals from an order of the circuit court affirming a decision by defendant-appellee Board of Education of New Trier Township School District 203 (Board) terminating his employment as a teacher at New Trier Township High School District 203 (District). Goral contends that in connection with a fitness-for-duty examination, the District violated the Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Confidentiality Act (740 ILCS 110/1 et seq. (West 2010)) (Act). Goral further argues that the hearing officer violated the Illinois School Code (105 ILCS 5/24-2 (West 2010)) (Code), by failing to timely schedule his dismissal hearing and raising a new charge against him during the administrative hearing and that, in any event, the hearing officer's determination on the new charge is contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

¶ 2 In this appeal, Goral does not challenge the Board's conduct in issuing him a notice to remedy (based on conduct further described below) or requiring him to attend a psychiatric fitness-for-duty exam. It is also undisputed that Goral failed to (1) attend the exam and (2) notify the District that he would not attend, thus causing the District to incur a $1, 000 cancellation fee. Goral contends that the Board's violation of the Act warranted his refusal to comply with its directives.

¶ 3 The parties provide an extensive recitation of the facts leading up to Goral's termination. We recite only so much of the facts as is necessary to provide a framework for discussion of the issues raised in this appeal.

¶ 4 Goral was hired as a chemistry teacher in the District in 1983. In April 2011 an administrator received a complaint from a parent about difficulty a student was having with Goral responding to the student's questions in class. After the science department chair sent Goral a memo summarizing the parent's concerns and asking for Goral's input, Goral initially responded that the complaint was "gibberish and nonsense" and that the parent's comments (which were, at the request of the parent and student, anonymous) were "libelous" and "criminal." Goral demanded an apology from the department chair and that the District pursue criminal charges against the parent. Goral later demanded the identity of the student and parent indicating that he wanted to file a lawsuit.

¶ 5 Over the next several months, the tenor of Goral's communications and interactions with District administrative personnel escalated. Goral filed a grievance against the District's assistant superintendent and his department chair accusing them of harassing him and of engaging in "patently criminal" conduct. The Board ultimately rejected Goral's appeal from an adverse determination on his grievance.

¶ 6 While his grievance was pending, Goral refused to cooperate with directives from Linda Yonke, the District superintendent, to schedule observations of his classroom and pre- and postobservation conferences. Again, the tenor of Goral's communications–reflected in email exchanges–was accusatory and, increasingly, threatening.

ΒΆ 7 Ultimately, on June 24, 2011, after Goral refused to meet with her regarding the ongoing dispute (instead responding in an email with the subject line, "Commands of June, " that his only obligation was to rebuke Yonke, who believed her directives were the "commands of God"), Yonke suspended Goral for five days without pay and informed Goral that she was recommending that the Board issue Goral a notice to remedy. Yonke warned Goral that his violation of the directives in the notice to remedy "could result in further disciplinary action, including termination." Goral responded in an email in which he referred to Yonke as a "broken record" and asserted that he was not required to submit to her ...


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