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Rein v. Quincy Public School District# 172

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Springfield Division

February 11, 2014

PAMELA REIN, Plaintiff,
v.
QUINCY PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT #172, Defendant.

OPINION

SUE E. MYERSCOUGH, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendant Quincy Public School District #172 ("Defendant") against its former employee and now Plaintiff, Pamela Rein ("Plaintiff"). Because genuine issues of material fact exist, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Between the ages of 54 and 55, Plaintiff Pamela Rein applied for six administrative positions in the Quincy Public School District. Despite her administrative qualifications and 19-year history with the District, Plaintiff was not hired for any of these positions. It must be because of my age, she thought, and filed this suit under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, alleging that Defendant discriminated against her because of her age.

Nearly all of Pamela Rein's educational experiences-as a student, teacher, and principal-have occurred in or around Quincy, Illinois. Plaintiff attended Quincy High School and graduated with a bachelor's degree in special education from Western Illinois University. She earned her Master's Degree in elementary education and later obtained an administrative certification from Quincy University. In 2009, while working in the Quincy School District, Plaintiff was awarded a superintendent certificate after completing a two-year program at Western Illinois University.

Years before becoming Plaintiff, Pamela Rein was Principal or Director of Irving Alternative School, which had previously been known as the 14th Alternative School, in Quincy, Illinois.[1] She held that position from 2004 to 2010 when, depending on which party is asked, the school was either "closed" or "outsourced." The Irving Alternative School is exactly as it sounds: it is an alternative to Quincy High School for the students who were struggling academically or behaviorally there. Prior Superintendent Lonny Lemon, a key witness in this case, has described students at Irving as those who were emotionally, socially, or academically "at risk." Lemon Deposition, d/e 34-6 at 29-30. There were also students with behavioral issues who were in trouble with the law and missed school. Id. at 30. According to Mr. Lemon, "truancy was a huge factor" at Irving. Id. at 31. Mr. Lemon explained that "truancy" is defined by the state and that at the relevant time, a "chronic truant" was a student who missed 10 percent of his classes. Id. at 33-34 (explaining that in the past few years the state legislature has decreased the percentage from 10 to five). Irving students had lower graduation rates than their counterparts in the mainstream Quincy High School. Id. at 31.

Safety was an additional problem at Irving School. In or around 2008, at least two security guards policed the Irving grounds. Plaintiff later asked for "more staff" due to, in Mr. Lemon terms, "extreme issues with kids." Lemon Deposition, d/e 34-6 at 45.

1. Plaintiff's Positive and Negative Evaluations as Principal

Around 2008, when the Irving School opened, a Pre-Evaluation Reflection and Feedback form indicated that Plaintiff was succeeding in her position as Principal. This Pre-Evaluation form included Plaintiff's goals based on six state standards and feedback on those goals and Plaintiff's performance from the "Central Office Administrative Team, " ("Central Office") which consisted of the superintendent at that time, Tom Leahy, and Assistant Superintendents Patricia Sullivan-Viniard and Christie Dickens. The below snapshots of the feedback on the Pre-Evaluation form show the Central Office praising Plaintiff's work as Principal of Irving:

We agree now that you have done a superb job of establishing the culture and climate for supporting at risk students, and the next-the most important-step is to ensure that the students who work and learn in that environment receive a quality, rigorous instructional program.
You are very organized and utilize effective problem-solving skills on a daily basis. Your demeanor, work ethic and flexibility all serve you well as you work to manage the at-risk teens in your building and the staff who support them.
The Central Office Administration commends you, Pam, for your natural talent to work warmly, cooperatively and collaboratively with parents/guardians in the most challenging circumstances.... Your calm, welcoming, non-judgmental and genuine demeanor puts all around you at ease.
The Central Office administration observes you consistently being an educational leader who promotes the success of all students by understanding, responding to, and influencing the larger political, social, economic, legal, and cultural context.

Lemon Deposition, Exhibit 1, d/e 34-6 at 175-80.

Ms. Sullivan-Viniard prepared this pre-evaluation form after collaborating with Mr. Leahy, the superintendent who preceded Mr. Lemon, and Ms. Dickens. See Sullivan-Viniard Deposition, d/e 34-4 at 33. Mr. Leahy's participation dates the evaluation to some time prior to 2008, when Mr. Lemon became superintendent. Id . According to Ms. Sullivan-Viniard, the Central Office's feedback was based on discussions with students and staff at Irving, staff surveys, and the Central Office Administration's personal observations of Plaintiff. Id.

This Pre-Evaluation form created by Plaintiff, former Superintendent Mr. Leahy, Ms. Sullivan-Viniard, and Ms. Dickens is a stark contrast to the evaluation Plaintiff received in January of 2010 when Mr. Lemon led the Central Office as Superintendent. Although the Central Office praised Plaintiff's "ability to collaborate with families" as a "leadership strength" and stated that her work with the "Truancy task force has been notable, " other comments in the review are critical, as the below sample shows:

You have been unsuccessful in facilitating a vision of learning for the students, staff, and faculty of Irving.
Feedback to Central Office through meetings, surveys, and personal conversations with faculty and staff at Irving shows a prevalent belief that students are not disciplined in a fair and consistent manner.
A number of the above issues were addressed with you by [Mr. Lemon] and Mrs. Dickens in meetings held on 11-17-08 and 1-7-09. Further, you set as goals for the 2009-10 school year to address issues of attendance, behavior and changes in the behavior rubric. Yet these areas continue to be issues of concern this year and we have little to no evidence that you have addressed them, created new action plans or implemented substantive changes in current practices and policies.
To summarize, Central Office has great concerns that there has been no significant improvement in the culture of Irving School.... We are not seeing the results we expected from your building.... There is minimal evidence that you have assisted your faculty and staff to create an atmosphere of learning at Irving Alternative.
Culture and climate assessment by you, in consultation with your staff, should have brought response and implementation of change to correct student behavior, attendance, and academic accountability. We do not have any indications of this occurring.
The academic climate at Irving currently does not meet District ...

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