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Meade v. Moraine Valley Cmty. College

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

October 30, 2014

ROBIN MEADE, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
MORAINE VALLEY COMMUNITY COLLEGE, Defendant-Appellee

Argued September 8, 2014.

Page 681

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 13 C 7950 -- Samuel Der-Yeghiayan, Judge.

For Robin Meade, Plaintiff - Appellant: Wayne B. Giampietro, Attorney, Poltrock & Giampietro, Chicago, IL.

For Moraine Valley Community College, Defendant - Appellee: John B. Murphey, Attorney, Rosenthal, Murphey, Coblentz & Donahue, Chicago, IL.

Before WOOD, Chief Judge, and POSNER and HAMILTON, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 682

Wood, Chief Judge.

In August 2013, Robin Meade wrote a letter to the League for Innovation in the Community College about her employer, Moraine Valley Community College. The letter was not complimentary. Meade, an adjunct faculty member at Moraine Valley, leveled multiple charges at the college regarding its poor treatment of adjuncts. These practices, she charged, harmed Moraine Valley's students. She signed the letter in her capacity as president of the Moraine Valley Adjunct Faculty Organization, a union representing the college's adjunct faculty. Two days later, Moraine Valley fired Meade. Its explanation for doing so was unusually frank: it sent her a written notice explicitly citing Meade's letter as the reason for its action. A few weeks later, the college warned Meade that it would regard her further presence on campus as criminal trespass.

Believing that Moraine Valley retaliated against her for exercising her right to freedom of speech and violated her due process rights, Meade sued the college in federal district court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Moraine Valley persuaded the district court to dismiss for failure to state a claim. The court first concluded that Meade's letter did not address matters of public interest and thus could not serve as the basis of a First Amendment retaliation claim. It rejected Meade's due process claim for lack of a cognizable property interest in her employment at the college. Both of these conclusions are incorrect, and so we must return this case to the district court for further proceedings.

I

Because this appeal comes to us from a dismissal for failure to state a claim, we construe Meade's complaint in the light most favorable to her and draw all reasonable inferences in her favor. Park v. Ind. Univ. Sch. of Dentistry, 692 F.3d 828, 830 (7th Cir. 2012). In August 2013, Meade received a one-page document that set out the schedule of the courses she was assigned to teach that autumn at Moraine Valley, a community college in Palos Hills, Illinois. At the top of the document were the words " EMPLOYMENT AGREEMENT" ; it then listed three classes along with their start and end dates (August 19 through December 20), as well as Meade's

Page 683

salary for the semester. At the bottom of the page, the words " employment agreement" appeared again, followed by two paragraphs of text. The text first noted that the agreement incorporated " [d]uly established and published Board policy," which was to be binding on the signing parties (Meade and Moraine Valley's dean). It then stated that the document was " not a full-time employment contract" and added " Should the need for indicated service not materialize, this agreement automatically becomes null and void." Finally, it said that the agreement ...


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