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Silk v. Board of Trs. Moraine Valley Community College

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

May 30, 2014

WILLIAM H. SILK, Plaintiff,
v.
BOARD OF TRUSTEES of MORAINE VALLEY COMMUNITY COLLEGE, DISTRICT NO. 524, Defendant

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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For William H Silk, Plaintiff: Timothy A. Bridge, LEAD ATTORNEY, Timothy A. Bridge, Esq., St. Charles, IL.

For Board of Trustees, Moraine Valley Community College, District No. 524, Defendant: John B. Murphey, LEAD ATTORNEY, Joy Annette Roberts, Rosenthal, Murphey, Coblentz & Donahue, Chicago, IL.

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MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

John J. Tharp, Jr., United States District Judge.

Plaintiff William H. Silk, sued his former employer, Moraine Valley Community College, for discrimination based on age and disability as well as retaliation for complaining about discrimination. Silk, who was an adjunct professor at the College for many years, alleges that various decision-makers altered his terms of employment and ultimately terminated him after he took a medical leave to have triple bypass surgery. The College denies that there was any discrimination or retaliation. It now moves for summary judgment, contending that after discovery, Silk has not adduced any evidence that his age or a perceived disability caused the employment actions about which complains, nor any evidence that any action was taken as a result of his two discrimination complaints. For the reasons that follow, the defendant's motion is granted.

FACTS

Silk began working at the College, a community college in Chicago's southwestern suburbs, as an adjunct professor in 1986. The College's adjunct faculty members are non-tenure-track, at-will employees. Throughout his employment, Silk was a member of the adjunct faculty bargaining unit represented by a local chapter of Cook County Teachers Union, and covered by a collective bargaining agreement.

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Typically, Silk taught four classes during the Fall and Spring Semesters, and two or three classes during the summer session.

Walter Fronczek was the Dean of Liberal Arts at the College during the relevant time period. The Dean held ultimate supervisory authority over the faculty in the Department of Liberal Arts. Fronczek was absent during much of the Spring 2010 semester due to health problems. During that time, Lisa Kelsay served as Acting Dean; during the remainder of the relevant time period, she was the Assistant Dean of Liberal Arts. The faculty Chair of the Social Sciences Department (a branch of the Liberal Arts Department) in Spring 2010 was Aileen Donnersberger; when she took sabbatical leave in Fall 2010, Ricky Cobb served as the Interim Chair. Throughout this time period and until June 2012, the president of the College was Dr. Vernon Crawley.

Beginning in 2009, Dean Fronczek instituted a new adjunct faculty evaluation system in the Liberal Arts Department. Before that time, only new adjunct faculty were observed and evaluated by the College; experienced adjunct professors received only student evaluations.

In March of 2010, according to the usual procedures for assigning faculty members to classes, Aileen Donnersberger sent Silk an offer to teach two sociology classes in the upcoming summer term, and Silk responded affirmatively. However, beginning on April 19, Silk took a medical leave of absence and did not return to teach his spring semester classes. Silk had heart bypass surgery on April 21 and was released from the hospital on April 26.

During Silk's absence, Donnersberger and Fronczek went to Silk's spring classes and informed the students that there would be an instructor change. They spoke with the students and reviewed the syllabi for the course. Fronczek testified that the students he spoke to expressed concern because they had been given only one quiz for a grade during the semester. The attendance at Silk's classes was low compared to the enrollment. Fronczek was concerned about the attendance and about what he believed to be an inadequate syllabus; Donnersberger noted that in one course, the syllabus did not reflect the textbook that was actually used in the class.

As the semester closed, Fronczek was off of work for about two months for a medical issue, during which time Lisa Kelsay assumed his duties. In late April, Donnersberger became concerned about the summer classes she had designated for Silk; Silk was not back from his medical leave, and she needed to cover those courses. In early May, Silk attempted to contact Donnersberger about his summer class assignments; initially, he misdirected his email to another College employee with the same last name. On May 5, Silk spoke to Acting Dean Kelsay and was informed that his two summer classes had been reassigned because the College had no information about how long he would be out of work. Kelsay also told Silk that pursuant to College policy for employees who are hospitalized or on medical leave, a medical release would be required before he could go back to work. She memorialized the conversation in a May 7 email to Fronczek, conveying that she had informed Silk that it was incumbent on him to obtain a medical release before he could be assigned any classes. Silk went to his doctor on May 10 and obtained a medical release. Silk hand-delivered the medical release to the Human Resources Department on May 12, 2010, and Kelsay was informed the same day that the release had been submitted, although she did not receive a copy. On May 17, Silk sent a copy of the release to Donnersberger.

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However, Silk's classes had already been assigned to other instructors, even though, according to normal practice, the actual teaching contracts often were not executed until classes began or the week before.

Upon his own return from medical leave, Dean Fronczek scheduled a meeting with Silk to " deal with problems in his syllabus." The meeting was held on July 15, 2010, and was attended by Fronczek, Silk, Donnersberger, Cobb, and Silk's union steward, Don Stewart. At the meeting, Silk was advised of deficiencies in his course outline and was directed to make changes. Fronczek perceived Silk as uncooperative during the meeting and was offended by Silk's suggestion that the College's students could not be treated as Harvard students.[1] The day of the meeting Fronczek determined that Silk should be assigned no more than two classes in the fall. Fronczek reduced Silk's course load from four to two out of concern for " the way that the class was being taught." According to Silk, at the same meeting Donnersberger said that " we" assigned him only two classes in the fall because " we didn't think [you] were physically capable of handling them." [2]

Eventually, Silk submitted a syllabus that Fronczek approved. Fronczek and Cobb, the Acting Chair of Sociology, agreed that they would each conduct a classroom observation of Silk during the fall semester. Dean Fronczek observed Silk's Sociology 102-003 class, " Marriage and Family," on October 15, 2010. He entered the classroom late and at one point interrupted Silk's dialog with a student. After observing the class, Fronczek had many criticisms of Silk's classroom performance, such as: over-relying on notes, giving out misinformation, using statistics inappropriately, failing to cite any source material, using slang, and mostly relying on his personal experiences. Fronczek also noted that only 7 of 28 students were in attendance and few, if any, were paying attention, taking notes, or participating. After the class, Fronczek discussed Silk's teaching with students who approached him in the hallway outside the classroom. Fronczek was alarmed by the students' complaints about the class, and he gave them his business card. Silk does not contest that this was Fronczek's assessment of his performance, but he disagrees with it.

Cobb conducted an observation of Silk's " Marriage and the Family" course sometime in late October. He discussed his observations with Fronczek afterward, stating that there was low attendance, that the students were not engaged, and that Silk's presentation was disorganized and largely incoherent. Cobb stated that Silk's performance was below the department's standards and " one of the poorest exhibitions of instruction I have witnessed at the collegiate level." Again, Silk does not dispute that this was Cobb's evaluation, but he disagrees with the ...


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