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Schandelmeier-Bartels v. The Chicago Park District

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Fifth Division

January 23, 2015


Page 542

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 08 L 13703. The Honorable Patrick F. Lustig, Judge Presiding.



Where a Caucasian employee of the Chicago park district was terminated from her position after reporting an incident of child abuse involving an African-American family to the Department of Children and Family Services and she then filed a complaint for racial discrimination and retaliatory discharge in the federal district court, but the district court declined to exercise jurisdiction over the state-law retaliatory discharge claim and began proceedings that resulted in an award of compensatory damages for plaintiff in the amount of $30,000, and meanwhile plaintiff had refiled her retaliatory discharge claim in the state court, collateral estoppel prevented plaintiff from seeking compensatory damages in that case when she had already recovered identical damages in her federal case.

FOR APPELLANT: Kent D. Sinson, SINSON AND SINSON, LTD., Chicago, Illinois; David Hemenway, DAVID A. HEMENWAY, P.C., Chicago, Illinois.

FOR APPELLEE: Nelson A. Brown, Jr., Esq., Senior Counsel, Chicago, Illinois.

JUSTICE GORDON delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices McBride and Reyes concurred in the judgment and opinion.


Page 543


[¶1] Plaintiff Cathleen Schandelmeier-Bartels was terminated from her employment with the defendant Chicago Park District (Park District) after reporting an allegation of abuse to the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). Plaintiff, who is Caucasian, claimed that her termination was racially motivated since she was terminated by her African-American supervisor after reporting an incident that involved an African-American family. Plaintiff filed a complaint in federal court for racial discrimination and retaliatory discharge. The federal district court declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state-law retaliatory discharge claim but proceeded with the racial discrimination case, and plaintiff refiled her retaliatory discharge claim in state court.

[¶2] After a jury trial on her federal racial discrimination claim, plaintiff was awarded $200,000 in compensatory damages. The federal district court granted the Park District's motion for judgment as a matter of law (judgment notwithstanding the verdict), and plaintiff appealed to the Seventh Circuit. The Seventh Circuit reversed and reinstated the jury verdict, but remitted the award to $30,000.

[¶3] After the federal award, the Park District filed a motion in limine in the state-court case, asking the circuit court to find that plaintiff could recover no damages for her retaliatory discharge claim in light of the recovery for the federal racial discrimination claim. The circuit court found that plaintiff was precluded from recovering any damages for her retaliatory discharge claim on the basis of res judicata and granted the Park District's motion in limine. The circuit court then entered judgment in favor of the Park District. Plaintiff appeals, and we affirm.


[¶5] I. Plaintiff's Discharge from the Park District

[¶6] We take the facts leading to plaintiff's discharge from the Seventh Circuit's

Page 544

opinion in Schandelmeier-Bartels v. Chicago Park District, 634 F.3d 372, 376-78 (7th Cir. 2011), as do the parties in their briefs.

[¶7] On April 23, 2006, plaintiff began working at the Park District as cultural coordinator for the South Shore Cultural Center, which involved her being responsible for supervising the cultural center's after-school program and summer camp. Her duties included creating and adhering to a program schedule, following program rotations, documenting all incidents involving children, and supervising children and staff.

[¶8] On July 31, 2006, J.J., an African-American child, was suspended from summer camp for misbehavior, and his aunt came to pick him up. While J.J. and his aunt were in another room, plaintiff heard the sound of flesh being struck and a child screaming. Plaintiff followed the sounds and observed J.J.'s aunt kneeling over him with her arm raised above her head and a belt looped in her hand. J.J. had a welt on his arm and was crying. Plaintiff ordered J.J.'s aunt to stop, and J.J. and his aunt left the cultural center.

[¶9] Plaintiff, who is Caucasian, reported the incident to her immediate supervisor, Andrea Adams, who is African-American. Adams explained that the J.J. incident was " 'a cultural thing,'" because " 'this is the way we discipline children in our culture'" ; plaintiff assumed that Adams was referring to African-American culture. Plaintiff asked Adams what she should do, and Adams informed plaintiff that under Illinois law, if plaintiff believed she had observed child abuse, she was obligated to report it to DCFS. However, since Adams had not witnessed the incident, she informed plaintiff that it would be plaintiff's decision whether or not to report the incident. That night, plaintiff reported the incident to DCFS and was informed that she should call the police to perform a well-being check, which plaintiff did the next morning.

[¶10] During the morning of August 1, Adams called plaintiff into her office, where J.J.'s aunt was present. Adams confronted plaintiff about sending the police to the aunt's home, and plaintiff explained her actions. When Adams learned that plaintiff had not actually observed the aunt's belt connect with J.J.'s flesh, Adams " 'went ballistic.'" Adams again told plaintiff that it was a cultural difference that plaintiff did not understand, and when plaintiff told Adams that her black friends did not beat their children, Adams responded, " '[Y]our friends who are black tell you that they don't beat their children and then they go home and beat their children.'" Adams ordered plaintiff to leave her office, telling plaintiff that she " '[could not] stand the sight of'" her.

[¶11] Adams then wrote a memo to the director of lakefront operations of the Park District and copied her immediate supervisor, detailing plaintiff's poor performance at her employment. Adams then recounted the " 'J.J. incident,'" which she called " 'the last straw.'" Adams concluded the memo by saying that " '[s]omething has to give.'" The same day, the Park District's human resources director drafted a letter terminating plaintiff's employment. At 6 p.m. on August 1, Adams and her supervisor delivered the termination letter to plaintiff, terminating her employment immediately.

[¶12] II. Federal-Court Action

[¶13] Plaintiff filed a complaint in federal court, alleging, inter alia, " reverse race discrimination" in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a) (2006)), and a state common-law

Page 545

claim for retaliatory discharge.[1] The district court denied the Park District's motion for summary judgment on plaintiff's state-law retaliatory discharge claim on November 7, 2008. However, on November 17, 2008, the district court granted plaintiff's motion to clarify the November 7 order and ordered it " modified to render no decision as to Count X [the state-law claim] and to advise that the Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's tenth cause of action for the Illinois common law tort of retaliatory discharge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § § 1367(c)(1)-(2), because the state law claim substantially predominates over the claims over which the Court has original jurisdiction, because it raises a novel or complex issue of state law, and because it would require the Court to address facts and issues irrelevant to the federal claims."

[¶14] Plaintiff's racial discrimination claims proceeded to trial and, on March 5, 2009, the jury returned a verdict in favor of plaintiff, finding that plaintiff " prove[d] by a preponderance of the evidence that she was terminated by the Chicago Park District because of her race" and awarding her compensatory damages in the amount of $200,000.[2] The jury instruction concerning damages stated:

" You may award compensatory damages only for injuries that Ms. Schandelmeier-Bartels has proved by a preponderance of the evidence were caused by the Chicago Park District's wrongful conduct.
Your award must be based on evidence and not speculation or guesswork. This does not mean, however, that compensatory damages are restricted to the actual loss of money; they include both the mental and physical aspects of the injury, even if they are not easy to measure.
In calculating damages, you should not consider the issue of lost wages and benefits. The court will calculate and determine any damages for past or future lost wages and benefits. You should consider the following type of compensatory damages, and no others:
The mental and/or emotional pain that Ms. Schandelmeier-Bartels has experienced. No evidence of the dollar value of mental and/or emotional pain and suffering has been or needs to be introduced. There is no exact standard for setting the damages to be awarded on account of pain and suffering. You are to determine an amount that will fairly compensate Ms. Schandelmeier-Bartels for the injury, if any, that she sustained."

When arguing before the jury, plaintiff's attorney did not include " loss of normal life" as an element of plaintiff's compensatory damages that should be awarded, nor does plaintiff claim that she tendered a jury instruction that was rejected concerning loss of normal life. " Loss of a normal life" is defined as " the temporary or permanent diminished ability to enjoy life. This includes a person's inability to pursue the ...

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