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Lance v. Board of Education of City of Chicago

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

August 19, 2016

LAWRENCE LANCE, Plaintiff,
v.
BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE CITY OF CHICAGO, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          HON. JORGE L. ALONSO United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff, Lawrence Lance, lost his job as a teacher at a public high school in Chicago, where he was employed by defendant, the Board of Education of the City of Chicago (“Board”). In this lawsuit, plaintiff claims that defendant interfered with, and retaliated against him for exercising, his rights under the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), 29 U.S.C. § 2601. Defendant has moved for summary judgment. For the following reasons, the Court grants defendant’s motion.

         BACKGROUND

         From 1994 to 2012, plaintiff worked for the Board as an English-as-a-second-language (“ESL”) teacher at Carl Schurz High School (“Schurz”) in Chicago. (Def.’s LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. ¶ 4, ECF No. 29.) In the spring of 2012, Daniel Kramer, the principal at Schurz, evaluated plaintiff’s performance by observing his teaching on two occasions. (Id., ¶ 8.) Kramer concluded that plaintiff’s teaching was ineffective due to problems with his lesson planning, student engagement, classroom management, and proficiency teaching the assigned subject matter, and he rated plaintiff’s teaching for the 2011-2012 school year as “unsatisfactory.” (Id.) In June 2012, Kramer informed plaintiff that he had decided, based on plaintiff’s poor performance as an ESL teacher and a request from the department coordinator to remove plaintiff from the ESL program, that plaintiff would not teach ESL the following school year. (Id., ¶¶ 11-12.) The chairperson of the history department offered to accept plaintiff into that department, and Kramer thought plaintiff would be more effective as a history teacher, so Kramer decided to reassign plaintiff to teaching history. (Id., ¶ 13.) In September 2012, plaintiff was informed that he would teach history in the 2012-2013 school year. (Id.)

         On September 6, 2012, plaintiff took leave under the FMLA to deal with mental health issues. (Id., ¶ 18; Id., Ex. 1, Pl.’s Dep., at 77:24-78:15.).

         While plaintiff was on leave, the Board notified Kramer that Schurz's enrollment had not met projections, its budget would be cut, and Kramer would have to eliminate either a full-time teacher position or its equivalent in part-time or overtime positions. (Id., ¶¶ 20-22.). Weighing his options, Kramer knew that teachers in the overtime positions (i.e., teachers due overtime pay because they were teaching more than the standard number of students per class period or more than the standard number of class periods per school year) were often teaching critically important courses that Schurz would be unable to offer without making use of overtime teaching. (Id., ¶ 25.) The class sizes in the history department, however, were below the maximum number of students per class. (Id.) This meant that if Kramer eliminated a history teacher’s position, the remaining teachers could absorb that teacher’s students without exceeding class-size limitations and with minimal disruption to the students’ education. (Id., ¶ 25.)

         Kramer decided to eliminate a full-time history teacher position, and he communicated his decision to the Board’s Budget Office. (Id., ¶ 26.) The Budget Office then forwarded the decision to the Board’s Talent Office for review. (Id.)

         When the Talent Office learns that a position in a particular department of a particular school has been eliminated for budgetary reasons, it reviews the seniority, certifications, endorsements and performance evaluations of teachers who hold that position to determine which teacher will be displaced. (Id., ¶ 27.) Per Board policy at the time, teachers with unsatisfactory performance evaluations were displaced first, regardless of seniority or other factors. (Id.) Although plaintiff believes he heard of other teachers at Schurz who received unsatisfactory performance evaluations in 2011-2012 (Id., Ex. 1, at 62:17-24), the Board’s records show that plaintiff was the only such teacher. (Id., ¶ 28.) Therefore, the Talent Office identified plaintiff as the teacher to be displaced, and it communicated its determination to Kramer. (Id., ¶ 29.)

         On October 10, 2012, while plaintiff was still on FMLA, Kramer notified plaintiff that he had lost his position at Schurz due to the weaker-than-expected enrollment and would be re-staffed in the Reassigned Teacher Pool (“RTP”). (Id., ¶ 31.) Plaintiff received a letter from the Talent Office to the same effect. (Id.) He was officially assigned to the RTP on November 27, 2012, when he returned from FMLA leave. (Id., ¶ 33.) Pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement between the teachers’ union and the Board, plaintiff could stay in the RTP for one year, during which time his salary and benefits would remain the same, and he would receive a series of temporary assignments at various Board schools while he searched for a permanent teaching position. (Id., ¶ 35.)

         Plaintiff had not found a permanent place by the end of his one-year term, so he applied for and accepted a one-year position as a Cadre Substitute Teacher, at a reduced salary. (Id., ¶ 36.) After his one-year term in the Cadre pool elapsed, plaintiff retired. (Id., ¶ 38; id., Ex. 1, Pl.’s Dep., at 91:21-92:6.) He now receives a pension, which amounts to a fraction of his former salary, and works as a part-time, day-to-day substitute teacher. (Id., ¶ 39.)

         ANALYSIS

         To prevail on a summary judgment motion, “the movant [must] show[] that 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). At this stage, the court may not weigh evidence or determine the truth of the matters asserted. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). The court must view all evidence and draw all inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Michas v. Health Cost Controls of Ill., Inc., 209 F.3d 687, 692 (7th Cir. 2000).

         Plaintiff claims that the Board interfered with his FMLA rights, and retaliated against him for exercising those rights, by transferring him to the RTP pool immediately upon his return from FMLA leave, with the result that he was later forced to work as a Cadre substitute for a year and ultimately to retire. The FMLA required the Board to restore plaintiff to the same or an equivalent position to the one he held before he took leave, see James v. Hyatt Regency Chi., 707 F.3d 775, 780 (7th Cir. 2013), but plaintiff claims that his reassignment to the RTP was a demotion that violated his FMLA rights. Additionally, plaintiff claims that his regular teaching position was eliminated solely in retaliation against him for taking FMLA leave.

         According to the Board, the evidence reveals that plaintiff’s position was eliminated purely for budgetary reasons, and plaintiff has not introduced or cited any evidence to the contrary that might create any genuine issue of fact. Because the elimination of plaintiff’s position in the history department at Schurz had nothing to do with ...


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