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Kirley v. Board of Education of Maine Township High School District 207

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

December 20, 2013

JANNON KIRLEY, Plaintiff,
v.
BOARD OF EDUCATION OF MAINE TOWNSHIP HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT 207 and MAINE TOWNSHIP HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT 207, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

JAMES F. HOLDERMAN, District Judge.

Plaintiff Jannon Kirley ("Kirley") alleges in her four-count complaint that her former employers, defendants Maine Township High School District 207 and Board of Education of Maine Township High School District 207 (together "District 207"), are liable for: (1) gender discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII") (Count I); (2) age discrimination and retaliation in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA") (Count II); (3) retaliation for Kirley's exercise of her First Amendment right to free speech in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983") (Count III); and (4) retaliation in violation of the Illinois Whistleblower's Act ("IWA") (Count IV).

Before the court is District 207's "Motion to Dismiss Counts II, III, and IV of Plaintiff's Complaint." (Dkt. No. 11.) For the reasons set forth below, District 207's motion is granted in part and denied in part. Count II is dismissed to the extent Kirley alleges a claim for age discrimination; Count II remains pending with respect to Kirley's claim for retaliation under the ADEA; Count III remains pending; Kirley's request for monetary damages with respect to Count IV is stricken, but Count IV remains pending in all other respects. Further dates are set forth in the Conclusion section of this opinion.

BACKGROUND

For purposes of the pending motion, the court accepts all well-pleaded factual allegations in the Complaint as true, viewing them in the light most favorable to Kirley. Lavalais v. Vill. of Melrose Park, 734 F.3d 629, 632 (7th Cir. 2013). The court also may properly consider "documents that are critical to the complaint and referred to in it" when reviewing a motion to dismiss. Phillips v. Prudential Ins. Co. of Am., 714 F.3d 1017, 1020 (7th Cir. 2013) (quoting Geinosky v. City of Chicago, 675 F.3d 743, 745 n.1 (7th Cir. 2012)). The court therefore accepts District 207's Exhibits A, B, C, D, E, F, and G and Kirley's Exhibits 1 and 2 as appropriate for the court's consideration, as referenced below.

District 207 is a public school district located in Park Ridge, Illinois, consisting of three high schools: Maine South High School ("Maine South"), Main West High School ("Main West"), and Maine East High School ("Main East"). (Dkt. No. 1 ("Compl.") ¶ 3.) Kirley was hired by District 207 in 2000, and served as a physical education and health teacher, as well as a swimming and water polo coach, at Maine South for more than a decade. ( Id. ¶¶ 4, 13, 44.) Kirley became tenured in 2004, and she received positive performance reviews in March 2006, January 2008, and March 2010. ( Id. ¶¶ 12, 15-20.)

1. Events Occurring from January 20, 2010 through May 28, 2010

On January 20, 2010, Kirley attended a public District 207 School Board meeting at Maine East, where a large number of people, including parents and other community members, were present to discuss staff and program reductions being proposed by the Superintendent of District 207, Dr. Ken Wallace ("Dr. Wallace"), and his staff. ( Id. ¶ 21.) While at the January 20, 2010, School Board meeting, Kirley told a School Board member that she had learned negative information about Dr. Wallace. ( Id. ¶ 22.) At the time of Kirley's comment, Dr. Wallace was standing nearby, and Kirley believed that he could hear what she said to the School Board member. ( Id. ¶ 23.) The next day, on January 21, 2010, while Kirley was leaving Maine South after students and staff had been dismissed for the day, she observed a car driven by Dr. Wallace almost hit her. ( Id. ¶ 24.) Kirley reported this incident to the Park Ridge Police Department, indicating that she believed Dr. Wallace had acted intentionally. ( Id. ¶ 25.) On March 10, 2010, the Assistant Superintendent of District 207, Greg Dietz ("Dietz"), wrote a letter to Kirley, asking Kirley to meet with an investigator hired by District 207 to conduct an independent investigation into the January 21, 2010 incident. ( Id. ¶ 27; see also Dkt.

No. 16-3, Pl.'s Ex. 1 ("3/10/10 Letter").) On May 28, 2010, District 207's Board of Education wrote a letter to Kirley indicating that the independent investigator found no merit to Kirley's allegations. (Compl. ¶ 28; see also Dkt. No. 12-1, Defs.' Ex. A ("5/28/10 Letter of Admonishment").) The 5/28/10 Letter of Admonishment further stated as follows, in relevant part:

Based on the Board's review of the results of the investigation, you are hereby admonished and directed as follows:
1. If you believe your safety, or the safety of any of our staff, students or other persons on our premises is compromised in any respect whatsoever, a report must be immediately made to the appropriate person(s) in the District so that timely measures may be taken to protect the safety of everyone on our premises and so that a timely investigation may be conducted. Generally such reports should be made to your supervisor, and/or Department head, and/or the principal, and/or the appropriate Dean, or other person in authority.
2. You must not use work time to pursue personal agendas. This of course would include using school time for which you are paid by the District to collect or disseminate negative information about other employees of the District.
3. You must be forthright and accurate in presenting complaints and responding to those investigating matters on behalf of the Board or the District.

(5/28/10 Letter of Admonishment at 1-2; see also Compl. ¶ 28.) Prior to May 28, 2010, Kirley had not received any formal or informal discipline since being hired by District 207 in 2000. (Compl. ¶ 29.)

2. Events Occurring from May 28, 2010 through May 6, 2011

Approximately ten months later, in March 2011, Kirley informed Maine South Physical Education Department Chair, Donald Lee ("Lee"), Maine South Principal, Shawn Messmer ("Principal Messmer"), and other Main South employees that she believed the process for selecting one of the male students for a position as a "Junior Leader" was not being followed. ( Id. ¶ 30.) Specifically, Kirley complained that male physical education teachers were usurping Kirley's role in deciding whether to recommend the male student for the position. ( Id. ) Kirley complained that her gender played a part in the process not being followed. ( Id. ) On March 9, 2011, a meeting was held at which the student's eligibility for being a Junior Leader was discussed. ( Id. ¶ 31.) At the March 9, 2011 meeting, attended by Lee and several other physical education teachers, one or more of the participants yelled at Kirley, and one of the physical education teachers cursed at Kirley. ( Id. ) Although Principal Messmer determined that a teacher had cursed at Kirley during the March 9, 2011 meeting, that teacher was not disciplined. ( Id. ¶ 33.) Similarly, after Kirley reported to Lee on March 17, 2011 that a male physical education teacher cursed at Kirley in a separate incident, the male physical education teacher was not disciplined. ( Id. ¶¶ 32-33.)

On March 25, 2011, Kirley sent an email to Lee outlining various concerns about how she and other employees were treated within the department. ( Id. ¶ 34; see also Dkt. No. 12-2, Defs.' Ex. B ("3/25/11 Email").) One of the nine "concerns over the years" that Kirley noted in her 3/25/11 Email was, "This year you asked me how old I was. Last year you asked me when I was going to retire." (3/25/11 Email (enumerated) ¶ 8.) Kirley stated that she found these questions to be "offensive." ( Id.; see also Compl. ¶ 35.)

On April 3, 2011, Kirley sent an email to Lee outlining her concerns about "the events of March 9th, 2011 and the events surrounding the Junior Leader selection process, " as well as the way the March 9, 2011 yelling and cursing incident had been handled. (Dkt. No. 12-3, Defs.' Ex. C ("4/3/11 Email") at 1; see also Compl. ¶ 34.) Kirley's 4/3/11 Email also included a list of fifteen different "situations you have or should have knowledge of as the Department Chairperson"-described in more detail in Part 1.B.i, infra -including: (1) Kirley's allegation that a male who helped coach the Maine South football team brought in a pair of women's thong underwear for another female physical education teacher; and (2) Kirley's allegation that a Main South staff member made inappropriate comments about young female cheerleaders in Kirley's presence, stating that "he liked to go watch this certain team play because their cheerleaders (high school) had nice butts." (4/3/11 Email (enumerated) ¶¶ 10, 11 (2d); see also Compl. ¶ 35.)

On April 28, 2011, Principal Messmer sent a letter to Kirley regarding the "serious accusations" that Kirley had made "over the past few years, " including the allegations set forth in Kirley's 3/25/11 Email and 4/3/11 Email. (Dkt. No. 12-4, Defs.' Ex. D ("4/28/11 Letter") at 1; see also Compl. ¶ 38.) Principal Messmer stated that, after a thorough investigation, he had been unable to substantiate any of the allegations made in Kirley's 3/25/11 Email and 4/3/11 Email, and he concluded that Kirley "[had] not been forthright and accurate in presenting complaints to the District." (4/28/11 Letter at 4.) Principal Messmer informed Kirley that, "as a result of [her] false and reckless complaints, " Principal Messmer had concluded that Kirley "violated the directive given to [her] by the Board of Education in the [5/28/10 Letter of Admonishment]." ( Id. at 1; see 5/28/10 Letter of Admonishment at (enumerated) ¶ 3 ("You must be forthright and accurate in presenting complaints and responding to those investigating matters on behalf of the Board or the District.").) Principal Messmer recommended that disciplinary action be taken against Kirley including, "[a]t minimum, " a "Notice to Remedy" from the Board of Education. ( Id. at 4.) Principal Messmer also stated,

You are hereby directed not to communicate with any students or staff (other than [Maine Teachers' Association] officials), in any fashion, about events related to your allegations and the subsequent investigation. Your failure to comply with this directive would be considered an act of insubordination and could result in disciplinary action against you.

( Id.; see also Compl. ¶ 28.)

On May 4, 2011, Assistant Superintendent Dietz issued a letter to Kirley informing Kirley that she was being suspended "without pay for a period of one (1) work day" due to "the issues outlined in [Principal Messmer's 4/28/11 Letter]." (Dkt. No. 12-5, Defs.' Ex. E ("5/4/11 Letter") at 1.)[1] Dietz also informed Kirley he was "recommending that the Board of Education adopt a Notice to Remedy for unprofessional conduct and insubordination for violating the directive given to you on May 28, 2010." ( Id. at 2.) Dietz's 5/4/11 Letter included seven "directives, " including the following:

• Do not use work time to pursue personal agendas or personal business.
• Do not communicate with colleagues, parents or students about this disciplinary action or the incidents underlying the disciplinary action except for the purpose of preparing a response to the disciplinary recommendation. In the event such communication is necessary, it must be handled in a collegial, non-threatening manner, and Mr. Messmer or the District's attorney must be notified of the individuals you intend to communicate with in advance of such communication.

(5/4/11 Letter at 2; see also Compl. ¶ 40.)

On May 6, 2011, District 207's Board of Education issued Kirley an official Notice to Remedy "as a result of your insubordination and unprofessional behavior as described in Mr. Dietz's May 4, 2011 letter to you." (Dkt. No. 12-6, Defs.' Ex. F ("5/6/11 Notice to Remedy"); see also Compl. ¶ 40.) The 5/6/11 Notice to Remedy further stated "[a] repetition of this sort of conduct, or your failure to comply with the directives stated in Mr. Dietz's letter, will most likely result in ...


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