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Diadenko v. Folino

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

December 19, 2013

Elena DIADENKO, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Mary Ann FOLINO and The Board of Education of the City of Chicago, Defendants-Appellees.

Argued Sept. 10, 2013.

Page 752

Peter S. Stamatis, Attorney, Law Offices of Peter S. Stamatis, P.C., Chicago, IL, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Lee A. Lowder, Attorney, Chicago Board of Education Law Department, Chicago, IL, for Defendants-Appellees.

Before KANNE, WILLIAMS, and TINDER, Circuit Judges.

WILLIAMS, Circuit Judge.

Soon after Elena Diadenko began working at Schurz High School in 2009, she became aware of various practices relating to Individualized Education Plans for the school's special education department that, in her view, were problematic. After voicing her concerns to school administrators, Diadenko wrote Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley and his office forwarded her letter to the Board of Education for the City of Chicago (the " Board" ). A Chicago Public School investigator eventually looked into Diadenko's allegations, but in the interim Diadenko was twice suspended for violating school policies. Diadenko believes she was suspended because she reached out to the Mayor to express her concerns about the special education department at Schurz.

Diadenko and three other plaintiffs filed suit under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 against Schurz's principal, Mary Ann Folino, and the Board, alleging violations of their rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments and under Illinois law. Diadenko specifically alleged that she was retaliated against for speaking out about the special education department and for refusing to engage in illegal activity occurring within the school. The court granted Defendants' motion for summary judgment and Diadenko appeals.

The district court did not err in granting Defendants' motion because Diadenko failed to present evidence that Folino was aware of her letter to the Mayor before taking disciplinary action against her. Without evidence of knowledge on Folino's part, we cannot find that the letter motivated her decision to discipline Diadenko, which is a key requirement of a First

Page 753

Amendment retaliation claim. Diadenko's challenge to the award of summary judgment on her state law claim also fails because she did not properly present the facts upon which she bases her argument on appeal. Therefore, we affirm the district court's rulings.

I. BACKGROUND

We take Diadenko's factual submissions as true for purposes of summary judgment. See Kidwell v. Eisenhauer, 679 F.3d 957, 964 (7th Cir.2012). In September 2009, Diadenko began working as a special education teacher at Schurz High School, a Chicago Public School. She became aware of problems within the special education department on her first day, when she learned that Schurz had recently failed a state audit. The school failed in part because its Individualized Education Plans (" IEPs" ), or written statements detailing the school's plan for each student with a disability, were incorrectly completed. Despite being in the department for only a short time, Diadenko quickly concluded that the special education department as a whole was doing " everything wrong." Specifically, Diadenko took issue with the fact that parents were not given notice to attend the IEP meetings and teachers were signing IEPs even though they did not attend the meetings in which the decisions were made. Diadenko first raised her concerns with Schurz's Assistant Principal, Debra Neiman. She told Neiman she felt that Schurz's special education case manager was to blame for the department's issues because she was underqualified and did not put in the hours necessary to do her job well. Diadenko next voiced her concerns with Principal Mary Ann Folino. Folino told Diadenko not to worry about the case manager's hours. Dissatisfied with Folino's response, Diadenko quickly took her complaints outside the school walls and informed the Illinois State Board of Education of the purported problems within Schurz's special education department.

Diadenko received a Golden Apple Award for excellence in teaching in 2004, but her efforts were not so well-received at Schurz. Tensions began to build between Diadenko and Schurz administrators early on, and the discord was only just beginning. At a department meeting, Diadenko disagreed with Neiman's directive for teachers to include in all IEPs that students were responsible for their own calculators. Their exchange became heated and Neiman told Diadenko to speak with her after the meeting. On October 21, 2009, Folino issued a Cautionary Notice to Diadenko, reprimanding her for disrupting the department meeting with Neiman and missing another mandatory meeting. In defense of her absence, Diadenko explained that she was busy at the time communicating with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (" DCFS" ) about a student. Folino then reminded Diadenko that she was required to inform Schurz administrators whenever she reported a student to DCFS. Days later, Diadenko again landed in hot water when she disclosed confidential information about students in emails to unauthorized Schurz staff members and sent an email to the entire special education department criticizing Folino's management style. On October 30, 2009, Folino gave Diadenko a Notice of Pre-Disciplinary Hearing to address these incidents and, after the hearing, suspended Diadenko for three days. Diadenko appealed her suspension to the Board, but it upheld the suspension in January.

On November 28, 2009, Diadenko wrote a letter to Mayor Daley detailing the problems within Schurz's special education ...


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