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Rasheed v. Board of Trustees of Community College District 508

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

August 22, 2014



VIRGINIA M. KENDALL, District Judge.

Plaintiff Thomas Rasheed filed a complaint against Defendant Board of Trustees of Community College District No. 508 (the "Board") alleging a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964. Specifically, Rasheed alleges that the Board refused to grant him tenure and terminated his employment because of his religion. The Board, which claims that Rasheed cannot show that religious discrimination contributed to the denial of tenure or termination, moves for summary judgment. The Board also claims that it denied Rasheed tenure because Rasheed behaved inappropriately toward colleagues, repeatedly used a laboratory assistant as a substitute teacher, and failed to respond to student issues. The Board claims that these are legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for denying Rasheed tenure. For the reasons stated herein, this Court denies the Board's motion.


The following facts are undisputed unless otherwise noted.

A. Rasheed's Employment

In January 2008, Kennedy-King College, one of several community colleges operated by the Board, hired Rasheed as a full-time faculty member in the Graphic Arts Department. (Dkt. No. 54 at ¶ 4.) Prior to working at Kennedy-King, Rasheed obtained more than twenty years of experience in the field of graphic design and visual arts. (Dkt. No. 60 at ¶ 81.) During this time, he worked for publishing companies, ran his own studio in Chicago for eight years, and worked at a studio with Leo Burnett Advertising. ( Id. ) He also taught art in a private school in Chicago, at a public school in Harvey, Illinois, as an adjunct instructor at Columbia College Chicago, and as a tenured professor at Florida A&M University. ( Id. at ¶ 81.)

At Kennedy-King, Rasheed created a new curriculum that included eleven classes approved by the District Office, implemented marketing plans for Kennedy-King with an award program that showcased student work, and developed a website for the program. ( Id. at ¶ 87.) The parties dispute whether Rasheed increased enrollment in the program from twenty students to one hundred fifty students. ( Id. ) Former Kennedy-King president Clyde El-Amin wrote a letter of recommendation stating that Rasheed "led the effort to redesign the curriculum" and used "innovative student-centered, industry relevant approaches" in the classroom. ( Id. at ¶ 88.) Rasheed received both positive and negative comments on his student evaluations at Kennedy-King, and his average ratings exceeded 3 out of 5 possible points. (Dkt. No. 54, ¶ 34; Dkt. No. 60, ¶ 109.)

Rasheed initially reported to Dean of Career Programs Jacqueline Hood Martin. (Dkt. No. 54 at ¶ 5.) That changed in August 2009, when John Dozier became interim president of Kennedy-King and Martin became interim vice president of academic affairs. ( Id. at ¶ 13.) Some time in 2009, the Graphic Arts Department, now called the Visual Communications Department, moved to the Educational Media and Distance Learning Division ("EDML Division"). ( Id. at ¶ 6, 15.) Rosemary Jackson was the vice president of the EDML division at the time. ( Id. at ¶ 15.) The Visual Communications Department fell under the umbrella of the Media Communications Department, directed by Kiana Battle. ( Id. at ¶ 14, 15.) The parties dispute whether Rasheed reported to Kimberly Chavis, dean of career programs, or Jackson. (Dkt. No. 54 at ¶ 13, 16; Dkt. No. 60 at ¶ 84.) The parties dispute whether Rasheed continued his reporting relationship with Martin regarding his tenure portfolio and some other matters. (Dkt. No. 60 at ¶ 82.)

B. Tenure Policy

Tenure-track faculty members at the community colleges operated by the Board must apply to have their contracts renewed each academic year. (Dkt. No. 54 at ¶ 7.) Faculty members who have their contracts renewed for a fourth year become tenured upon completing three full academic years of employment. ( Id. at ¶ 7.) To apply for contract renewal and ultimately tenure, faculty members must submit a detailed portfolio and demonstrate that they have met certain minimum criteria in areas such as teaching effectiveness, involvement in college activities and responsibilities, and professional growth. ( Id. at ¶ 8.) Dozier testified that collegiality, the ability to get along with colleagues, was another critical factor when determining whether to grant tenure. ( Id. at ¶ 12.) Rasheed notes that collegiality is not an explicit requirement for tenure under the Board's tenure policy. ( Id. ) Pursuant to the Board's academic policies, all non-tenured faculty members were to be evaluated each semester, with input from peers, department chairs, students, and administration. (Dkt. No. 60 at ¶ 95.) At Kennedy-King, the vice president of academic affairs and then the president review contract renewal and tenure applications, the president then makes a recommendation to the provost. (Dkt. No. 54 at ¶ 9.) The Board must approve all contract renewals and tenure applications. ( Id. at ¶ 10.)

C. Alleged Religious Discrimination

On December 21, 2009, the EMDL Division hosted a luncheon where employees could highlight their holiday traditions. (Dkt. No. 60 at ¶ 90.) Jackson asked Rasheed to give a presentation about his Islamic faith during the luncheon; Rasheed agreed, and wore traditional Islamic garb, read from the Koran in Arabic, and discussed how Islam and Christianity had many things in common. ( Id. at ¶ 91, 94.) Rasheed claims that following the presentation Dozier was "uncomfortable" with him and refused to make eye contact or speak to him, which was inconsistent with their previous interactions. (Dkt. No. 54 at ¶ 91.) He also claims that Dozier stopped his prior practice of asking Rasheed to perform special assignments even though Rasheed had always performed such assignments satisfactorily. ( Id. at ¶ 91, 92.) According to Rasheed, "things got strange" after the luncheon with Jackson, Battle, and Chavis too as Rasheed experienced a "negative change in manner" from them. ( Id. at ¶ 94.) The Board denies that Dozier displayed any sign of being uncomfortable, that Rasheed had done a "suitable job" on previous special assignments, and that Dozier stopped giving Rasheed special assignments after the luncheon. (Dkt. No. 60 at ¶ 91, 92.) The Board also denies any negative change in manner from Jackson, Battle, or Chavis. ( Id., ¶ 94.)

D. Concerns About Rasheed's Performance

Rasheed was occasionally tardy to class during the 2009-2010 school year. (Dkt. No. 54 at ¶¶ 34-36.) The parties dispute how often Rasheed was tardy, how tardy he had been, and whether Jackson or anyone else ever formally notified Rasheed that his tardiness was a problem. ( Id. ) Rasheed frequently turned his certificates of attendance in late, but he disputes that he was the person responsible for their untimeliness. ( Id. at ¶ 46.) On October 8, 2009, Rasheed took a personal day and Jackson sent him an email admonishing him for taking personal days on days he had to teach and for allowing his teaching assistant, Maxwell Amoah, to "fill in" for him. ( Id. at ¶¶ 37-38.) On three subsequent occasions, Rasheed took a personal day and notified a supervisor that Amoah would cover his classes. ( Id. at ¶¶ 37, 40, 42, 43.) The parties dispute whether Amoah was qualified to ...

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