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Siggers v. Thornton High School District 205

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

August 14, 2014

THOMAS J. SIGGERS, Plaintiff,
v.
THORNTON HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT 205, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

HARRY D. LEINENWEBER, District Judge.

Pro se Plaintiff Thomas Siggers ("Plaintiff") brings this action against his former employer, Thornton High School District 205 (the "District"), alleging three violations of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (the "ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. The District has moved for summary judgment. For the reasons stated herein, the Motion is granted in part and denied in part.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff began his employment as a substitute teacher with the District in 1994. By the 2008-2009 school year, Plaintiff (then aged 76) had become one of two "permanent substitutes" working at Thornton High School. As a permanent substitute, Plaintiff reported to work daily regardless of need, unlike ordinary substitutes who were called in only as necessary.

The events leading to this lawsuit took place starting in the spring of 2009. Defendant's Director of Human Resources swears by affidavit that Plaintiff was advised in the spring of 2009 that he would not be retained as a permanent substitute for the next school year due to concerns about his performance. Plaintiff denies that anyone discussed performance issues with him. Near the end of that school year, a school administrator asked Plaintiff for his mailbox key. In response, he told the administrator that he always kept his key over the summer so that he can collect mail that arrives when school is not in session. The administrator also asked for Plaintiff's keys to the building, even though Plaintiff, as the longest-serving substitute teacher, was responsible for opening locked classroom doors for the other substitutes. Plaintiff turned over the keys despite his ignorance as to why he was being asked for them.

Also, in the spring of 2009, Plaintiff applied for the position of Assistant Principal for Summer School but never received a response. Plaintiff is unable to identify the age or identity of the individual who was hired, but he contends that individual must have had qualifications inferior to his own.

Toward the end of each school year, the District takes inventory of which substitute teachers wish to remain on the substitute list for the next year. It appears that the District sends all current substitute teachers an eligibility form that allows the teacher to indicate whether he would like to remain on the list of substitute teachers in the fall or whether he would like his name removed from the list. It is undisputed that Plaintiff submitted this form timely from 1994 to 2008 but did not do so in early summer 2009, when the form for the 2009-2010 school year was due.

Confusion ensued when Plaintiff returned to the school in the fall of 2009 to report for work. Although the exact timeline is unclear, it appears that first Plaintiff was informed that his name did not appear on the employee list. He may have been told that he was no longer a permanent substitute because he had not submitted the eligibility form. But then the office declined to provide him with the form, instead telling him that he would be called when the school needed his services. Plaintiff returned to the school a week later trying to work. At one point, a secretary remarked "Mr. Siggers, you weren't supposed to be coming back." Siggers Dep. 23:23-24. At the direction of Wanda Russell, the interim principal, two security guards escorted Plaintiff out of the building. Plaintiff managed to obtain the eligibility form and submit it at the District office, and then his name was added to the list of substitutes. But even then, and even after several teachers requested Plaintiff's services, Plaintiff was told there was no work for him. On one occasion, a regular teacher requested that Plaintiff cover his class, but the secretary told the teacher that Plaintiff was busy (when, in fact, he was on school premises, waiting for work). A younger teacher was offered the opportunity to cover the class but declined; only then was Plaintiff allowed to work that assignment. Plaintiff asked the secretary what was going on; she responded "I only do what Ms. Russell tells me to do." For the 2009-2010 school year, the school again had two permanent substitutes: the school recalled the other permanent substitute, and Plaintiff was replaced by Russell's nephew, who was in his 20's.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate where the moving party "shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and [it] is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a). The Court reviews the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draws all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Bahl v. Royal Indem. Co., 115 F.3d 1283, 1289 (7th Cir. 1997).

III. ANALYSIS

The ADEA makes it unlawful for an employer "to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual or otherwise discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's age." 29 U.S.C. § 623(a)(1). While age need not be "the sole factor motivating the employer's decision, " the plaintiff must establish "that he would not have been fired but for the employer's motive to discriminate on the basis of age." McCoy v. WGN Cont'l Broad. Co., 957 F.2d 368, 371 (7th Cir. 1992) (internal citation omitted).

A plaintiff may prove age discrimination using either the direct or the indirect (burden-shifting) method of proof. Cerutti v. BASF Corp., 349 F.3d 1055, 1060 (7th Cir. 2003). "Under the direct method of proof, a plaintiff may show, by way of direct or circumstantial evidence, that his employer's decision to take an adverse job action against him was motivated by an impermissible purpose." Id. at 1061. Direct evidence could take the form of "an admission by the decisionmaker that the adverse employment action was motivated by discriminatory animus." Darchak v. City of Chi. Bd. of Educ., 580 F.3d 622, 631 (7th Cir. 2009). Direct evidence, if believed by the trier of fact, "prove[s] discriminatory conduct... without reliance on inference or presumption." Cerutti, 349 F.3d at 1061. But a plaintiff need not provide such "smoking-gun" evidence; he "can also prevail under the direct method of proof by constructing a convincing mosaic' of circumstantial evidence that allows a jury to infer intentional discrimination by the decisionmaker.'" Id. Circumstantial evidence is probative only if it "point[s] directly to a discriminatory reason for the employer's action." Adams v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 324 F.3d 935, 939 (7th Cir. 2003).

A plaintiff lacking both direct and circumstantial evidence of discrimination may proceed under the indirect method's burden shifting framework, first set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). The initial burden rests with the plaintiff, whose prima facie case consists of four elements: (1) the plaintiff was a member of the protected class; (2) the plaintiff was qualified for the position; (3) the plaintiff was rejected for the position; and (4) the position was given to an individual outside the protected class who was similarly situated or less qualified than he was. Stockwell v. City of Harvey, 597 F.3d 895, 901 (7th Cir. 2010). If the plaintiff establishes those elements, the burden shifts to the defendant ...


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