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Brown v. Bd. of Educ.

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

March 26, 2015

LINCOLN BROWN, Plaintiff,
v.
BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE CITY OF CHICAGO, Defendant

For Lincoln Brown, Plaintiff: A William F. Spielberger, LEAD ATTORNEY, William F. Spielberger & Associates, P.C., Chicago, IL; Terence Edward Flynn, Law Office of Terence E. Flynn, Chicago, IL.

For Board of Education, of the City of Chicago, a body politic and corporate, Defendant: Linda Hogan, LEAD ATTORNEY, Cheryl J. Colston, Board of Education of the City of Chicago, Department of Law, Chicago, IL; Susan Margaret O'Keefe, Chicago Board of Education, Chicago, IL.

For Jean Claude Brizard, in his official capacity as the Chief Executive Officer of the Board of Education of the City of Chicago, Defendant: Susan Margaret O'Keefe, Chicago Board of Education, Chicago, IL.

For Gregory Mason, individually and in his official capacity as Principal of Murray Language Academy and employee of the Board of Education City of Chicago, Defendant: Lucille A Blackburn, LEAD ATTORNEY, Board of Educaion of the City of Chicago, Chicago, IL.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Manish S. Shah, United States District Judge.

Lincoln Brown, a sixth-grade teacher in the Chicago Public Schools, brought up the word " nigger" in a discussion with his students--during what ordinarily should have been a grammar lesson. The school's principal happened to walk into the classroom and heard Brown use the word. About a week later, the principal initiated disciplinary proceedings against Brown for his use of the word in the classroom. The Board of Education suspended Brown for five days. Brown alleges that he was disciplined in violation of the First Amendment, and that the Board's policies violate due process because they are impermissibly vague as applied to his conduct.

The Board moves for summary judgment on both the First Amendment and due-process claims. Brown moves for summary judgment on the due-process claim.

I. Background

A court reviews cross-motions for summary judgment by " construing all facts, and drawing all reasonable inferences from those facts, in favor of the non-moving party." United States v. P.H. Glatfelter Co., 768 F.3d 662, 668 (7th Cir. 2014) (citation omitted). Summary judgment is appropriate if " there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a).

The plaintiff has taken some liberties with the Local Rule 56.1 process, most frequently by presenting argument in his responses. In some instances, plaintiff neither admits nor denies a fact, but objects to its relevance (e.g., [96] ¶ 55); plaintiff agrees to some facts " as a general matter," but purports to deny their application to this case (e.g., id. ¶ 11); plaintiff occasionally asserts additional facts, while arguing against the weight to be given an undisputed fact in defendant's 56.1 Statement (e.g., id. ¶ 7).[1] In response to defendant's request that his responses be stricken or disregarded, Brown cites Perez v. Thorntons, 731 F.3d 699, 706 (7th Cir. 2013), and argues that striking his responses would be a " gotcha tactic." Local Rule 56.1 serves an important function--it organizes the evidence and identifies factual disputes--and district courts may require strict compliance with it. Petty v. City of Chi., 754 F.3d 416, 420 (7th Cir. 2014); FTC v. Bay Area Bus. Council, Inc., 423 F.3d 627, 633 (7th Cir. 2005). The tactic criticized in Perez was the movant's presentation of contradictory evidence, see 731 F.3d at 706; the court did not bless a relaxation of the rules such that judges should hunt for truffles buried in briefs, see United States v. Dunkel, 927 F.2d 955, 956 (7th Cir. 1991). That said, when stripped of argument, plaintiff's factual assertions are readily ascertainable.

I disregard arguments raised in the Local Rule 56.1 statements, and I consider defendant's facts admitted, unless plaintiff controverted the fact with citation to supporting material. Plaintiff's denial of facts as outside plaintiff's personal knowledge, e.g., [96] ¶ 14, is not proper--plaintiff's lack of personal knowledge does not mean the fact is not true. The upshot is that most of plaintiff's rhetoric in his 56.1 statements is ignored. The material facts are set forth below.

A. Brown's Use of " Nigger" in the Classroom

In October 2011, Brown taught sixth-grade writing and social studies at Philip Murray Language Academy. [96] ¶ 4. Most of his students were African-American, and they ranged in age from eleven to thirteen years old. Id. ¶ 17. During class, Brown intercepted a note being passed between students. Id. ¶ 18. Brown no longer recalls much about the note (which student was passing it, what it said, who it was about), but does recall that it was a rap song with derogatory words, including the word " nigger." Id. ¶ 18; [87-1] at 17 (Brown deposition, pp. 61--63). Although he lacks any recall about the details, Brown thinks the note was part of " a bullying situation." [87-1] at 19 (Brown dep., pp. 71--72). Brown read some portion of the note aloud to the class, but stopped when he was told that the note was directed at another student. Id. at 17--18 (Brown dep., pp. 64--65).

Some of the students wanted Brown to read more of the note, and Brown said he did not want to read things that were morally offensive. Id. at 18 (Brown dep., p. 65, ll. 16--21). Many of the students chimed in and said they wanted Brown to tell them what words were the ones he didn't want to say. Id. (Brown dep., p. 67--68).[2] Brown said the word " nigger" and told his students that they should trust him; he was using the word in the context of a teacher. [96] ¶ 20. Brown may have referenced the fact that he was not African-American, see [87-1] at 18 (Brown dep., p. 66, ll. 7--8), and then engaged the students ...


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