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Sutton v. Board of Education

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

February 11, 2015

EARNEST SUTTON, Plaintiff,
v.
BOARD OF EDUCATION, BREMEN HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT 228, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

AMY J. ST. EVE, District Judge.

Before the Court is Defendant Board of Education, Bremen High School District 228's (the "Board's") motion to dismiss. For the following reasons, the Court grants in part and denies in part the Board's motion.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Earnest Sutton ("Sutton") has filed a complaint alleging a violation of procedural due process under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (R.5, ¶¶ 37-43, Count I) and breach of contract (R.5, ¶¶ 44-48, Count II). The Board moved to dismiss Sutton's Complaint under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. ( See generally R.9, Def.'s Motion to Dismiss)

I. The Parties' Relationship

Sutton has worked in the athletic department for District 228, since 1991. (R.5, ¶ 7.)[1] Sutton is a lifelong resident of the South Suburbs of Chicago and graduated from Bremen High School in 1985. (R.5, ¶ 5.) After high school, Sutton attended Benedictine University in Lisle, Illinois and earned a masters degree in marketing while he worked as an assistant coach for the Benedictine University Football Team. (R.5, ¶ 5.) After college, Sutton returned home to Bremen Township and began working part-time in the athletic department for District 228- either at Bremen High School and/or Hillcrest High School-performing extra-curricular duties for the football program, including being appointed to the position of Assistant Football and Head Football Coach. (R.5, ¶¶ 6, 7.) At the beginning of the 2009-2010 school year, Sutton became a full-time employee of District 228-Hillcrest High School pursuant to a "Supervisory Personnel Contract" in the position of Dean of Compliance. (R.5, ¶¶ 8, 9.)[2] At the end of the initial one-year employment contract Sutton continued to be employed as Hillcrest High School's Dean of Compliance for three consecutive years. (R.5, ¶¶ 9, 11.) In July of 2012, Sutton was hired as "Dean" of Hillcrest High School, categorized as an "Administrator." (R.5, ¶ 10; see R.5-1.)

II. Sutton's Employment Agreement

Sutton's position as Dean was pursuant to a written employment contract between Sutton and the Board that ran a five year term, "beginning July 1, 2012 and running through June 30, 2017." ("Employment Agreement") (R.5, ¶ 10; R.5-1, Ex. A, § 1.) Sutton's obligations under the Employment Agreement included "those duties incidental to assisting the Building Principal in the area of student discipline." (R.5, ¶ 12; R.5-1, § 1.) The Employment Agreement further provided that, "the Administrator shall also have all duties as assigned by the Building Principal, Superintendent or the [Board]." (R.5, ¶ 12.) The Employment Agreement expressly provided for Sutton's periodic evaluation as Dean" by the Board and required that Sutton meet clearly defined "performance goals" which included, "indicators of student performance and improvement." (R.5, ¶ 13; R.5-1, § 3.) The Board would use these "performance goals" "to measure performance and effectiveness of the Administrator, along with such other information and evidence that the Superintendent or Board may determine as relevant and/or necessary." (R.5, ¶ 13; R.5-1, § 3.) During his employment for District 228, Sutton received excellent and outstanding performance evaluations from his supervisors. (R.5, ¶ 14.)

The Employment Agreement specified various bases for termination of the agreement including "[d]ischarge for cause" which stated:

Discharge for cause. "For cause" means any conduct, act, or failure to act by the Administrator which is detrimental to the best interests of the School District. Reasons for discharge for cause shall be given in writing to the Administrator, who shall be entitled to notice and a hearing before the Board to determine whether such cause exists.

(R.5, ¶¶ 20, 21; R.5-1, § 8(c).)

III. Sutton's Arrest

On Sunday, June 10, 2013, at approximately 2:39 a.m., the Homewood Police Department charged Sutton with marijuana possession, drunken driving, no insurance and improper parking on a roadway. (R.5, ¶ 15.) Sutton was not working on June 9 or June 10 and was not required to perform any duties for Hillcrest High School on either of those days. (R.5, ¶ 18.) The traffic arrest did not occur in the town where Hillcrest High School is located- Country Club Hills, Illinois. (R.5, ¶ 18.)

About a week later, on or about June 18, 2013, Renee Simms, the Principal for Hillcrest High School and Sutton's direct supervisor, advised Sutton that it was the policy and past practice of District 228 to permit staff to participate in alcohol abuse treatment programs before initiating any disciplinary action and before taking any action that would lead to possible termination of employment due to alcohol related issues. (R.5, ¶¶ 17, 19.) Principal Simms further recommended Sutton self-report the June 10th arrest to the Superintendent to ensure an alcohol treatment program would be provided in lieu of any disciplinary proceedings. (R.5, ¶ 17.) Prior to Sutton's conversation with Principal Simms, no information was presented to Sutton alleging that his conduct as charged on June 10, 2013 was in any way "detrimental to the best interests" of District 228. (R.5, ¶ 16; see also R.5-1, § 8(c).) On June 20, 2013, the local newspaper, Dailey Southtown, publicized Sutton's arrest of suspected driving under the influence, traffic violations and possession of marijuana. (R.5, ¶ 18.)

IV. The Superintendent's Recommendation for Dismissal

Following the advice of Principal Simms, on June 25, 2013, Sutton self-reported his arrest to the Bremen High School District Superintendent, Dr. Bill Kendall, ("Superintendent" or "Dr. Kendall"). (R.5, ¶ 19.) In doing so, Sutton made personal and private admissions directly to the Superintendent in order to qualify for the Bremen High School District 228 sanctioned teacher alcohol treatment program. (R.5, ¶ 19.) The very next day, the Superintendent hand-delivered a letter to Sutton entitled "Recommendation for Dismissal." (R.5, ¶ 22, 24; see also R.9-4, attached as Ex. B to Def.'s Motion to Dismiss ("Recommendation for Dismissal Letter").) The Recommendation for Dismissal Letter notified Sutton that the Superintendent intended to "recommend to the [Board] that [Sutton] be discharged as an employee of the District for cause." (R.9-4, at 1.) Furthermore, the Recommendation for Dismissal Letter indicated "[p]ursuant to Section 8(C) of your employment agreement with the [Board], you are entitled to a hearing before the [Board] to determine whether such cause exists for your dismissal." (R.9-4, at 1.) The letter also provided "reasons for [Dr. Kendall's] recommendation to the [Board]" which referenced personal information Sutton shared during his private conversation with Dr. Kendall. (R.5, ¶ 22; R.9-4.) The ...


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