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Davis v. Board of Education of Peoria Public School District No. 150

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois

September 29, 2016

MARY DAVIS, Plaintiff,
BOARD OF EDUCATION OF PEORIA SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 150, a body corporate and politic, Defendants.


          James E. Shadid Chief United States District Judge

         Now before the Court is the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by the Board of Education of Peoria School District No. 150 (the “Board”) arguing that summary judgment in their favor is appropriate. For the reasons stated herein, the Motion [18] is DENIED.

         Procedural Background

         Mary Davis (“Davis”) was on administrative leave from her position as Academic Officer with Peoria School District 150 on June 7, 2010, when the Board adopted a Resolution seeking to dismiss her employment. Davis requested an administrative hearing pursuant to § 24-12 of the School Code, 105 ILCS 5/24-12, arguing that she had been deprived of an adequate pre-deprivation hearing in violation of the Due Process Clause. The Hearing Officer determined that Davis had received all the process that she was due. On December 3, 2010, she filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Illinois Department of Human Rights. The Charge was ultimately dismissed.

         In the meantime, Davis was criminally charged with 16 felonies: eight counts of theft and eight counts of official misconduct. On February 21, 2012, Davis pled guilty to attempted obstruction of justice, a Class A misdemeanor, and all other charges were dismissed as part of her plea agreement.

         Davis' Complaint was filed in February 2012, alleging reverse racial discrimination in violation of Title VII and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.[1] In August 2012, an administrative hearing was held to adjudicate the propriety of the Board's request to discharge Davis, and she received a ruling in her favor. The Board sought administrative review in the Circuit Court of Peoria County, resulting in a reversal of the hearing officer's decision and finding cause for the dismissal. This federal action was stayed while Davis pursued an appeal to the Illinois Appellate Court. The Illinois Appellate Court affirmed the decision in favor of the Board, and her Petition for Leave to Appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court was denied. Briefing commenced on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. The matter is now fully briefed, and this Order follows.

         Identification of the Parties and Overview of Undisputed Facts

         Davis was hired by District 150 as a teacher at Richwoods High School in August 1985. In 1999, she was elevated to the position of Dean of Students, followed by a promotion to Principal of Lindbergh Middle School in June 2003. Davis became the District's Academic Officer on July 1, 2008, making her the third-highest ranking official in District 150. In this capacity, she was supervised by Dr. Herschel Hannah and Superintendent Ken Hinton (“Hinton”), both of whom are African-Americans. She is Caucasian and has a Ph.D.

         During her time as Principal of Lindbergh, Davis was responsible for direct oversight of the Lindbergh student activity fund. Student activity funds are comprised of money earned or collected by student groups with a faculty sponsor and are reserved solely for student groups, extracurricular programs, and for the school. 105 ILCS 5/10-20.19(3). She was the only individual in the District who could withdraw money from the account or approve purchases, and it was also her responsibility to maintain the accounting records for the fund.

         On July 3, 2006, Davis purchased a Mont Blanc 100th Anniversary Starwalker Pen for $467.75 using a Sam's Club Discover Card that she held in both her and the school's name for purchases; this was not a District credit card and was used for both personal purchases and items for the school. Around the same time, she purchased books on for $39.83. Davis then paid $507.58 to Discover - representing the combined cost of the books and pen - using a Lindbergh school check, number 1780, dated July 7, 2006. On the Request for Funds form required to disburse money from the fund, Davis indicated that the purchase was for “office supplies and books” and charged the total amount to the “7th grade Trip.” The Request was then approved by Davis herself.

         Davis maintains that there were no guidelines or policies provided to her relating to the administration of the activity fund. The activity fund accounts were periodically reviewed by Clifton Gunderson and the District's Director of Internal Audits, Michael McKenzie (“McKenzie”).

         In fall 2008, Julie McArdle (“McArdle”), a Caucasian, succeeded Davis as principal at Lindbergh. Parents began complaining about McArdle to Davis, Hinton, and the Board shortly thereafter. Throughout the fall, Davis communicated with McArdle about her performance issues, and in January 2009, Davis put McArdle on a remediation plan that outlined areas for improvement. When McArdle's performance failed to improve, Hinton held a meeting on April 21, 2009, to discuss the situation. Davis recommended that McArdle be dismissed. Hinton made the decision to dismiss McArdle because she was not a good fit for Lindbergh, and the school was declining as a result. The same day, Thomas Broderick (“Broderick”), District Human Resources Director, phoned McArdle to discuss the early termination of her contract. On April 23, 2009, McArdle emailed Broderick a letter alleging that Davis had engaged in misconduct during her time as principal at Lindbergh, including mismanaging the student activity fund, stealing money from the fund, and the use of a Discover card in her name but paid for by the school. Broderick forwarded the email to Hinton and others. Hinton asked McKenzie to review the student activity funds at Lindbergh. McKenzie was able to find certain records, including the 2006 Discover card statements and application but was initially unable to locate the activity fund records from 2007-08.

         On April 24, 2009, Hinton referred McArdle's allegations to the Peoria Police Department (“PPD”) and also notified them of the missing activity fund records. McArdle personally visited the PPD in person to report her allegations. On April 27, 2009, the Board held a closed session and voted to dismiss McArdle's contract effective June 30, 2009. Davis was present and explained McArdle's deficiencies prior to the vote. After Davis was excused from the closed session, the Board was informed of McArdle's allegations against Davis and that a police report had been filed.

         The 2007-08 records were subsequently located, having been moved due to a construction project. After reviewing the records, McKenzie reported to Hinton that he found nothing out of line. The Clifton Gunderson review of the 2007-08 records also noted no irregularities.

         Detective Martin Kenser was assigned to investigate McArdle's complaint. He interviewed Davis on June 18, 2009, and August 13, 2009. During the first interview, it is undisputed that Davis denied having used school funds for personal reasons. Whether she was also asked about the Mont Blanc pen at that time is disputed; Davis maintains that she was not asked about the pen during this interview, while Detective Kenser insists that she was asked and responded that the pen was a personal charge. During the second interview, Davis admitted that she purchased the pen with school funds. Detective Kenser also asked whether she had used the pen for her own personal use. Davis states that she responded that she was willing to take a polygraph examination; Detective Kenser asserts that Davis told him that she thought she had reimbursed the District for the pen but could not remember how or when she paid it back and that she could not prove it.

         Hinton met with Davis and others on September 8, 2009, to discuss the allegations of misconduct. Davis was advised that Detective Kenser was going to turn his investigation over to the State's Attorney's Office. Hinton further stated that Davis was being placed on paid suspension pending the outcome of the State's Attorney's investigation.[2] Later that day, Hinton informed the Board of Davis' suspension in a closed session. Hinton left the District in December 2009 while Davis was on administrative leave. Dave Barnwell (“Barnwell”), a Caucasian, retired administrator, replaced Davis as interim Academic Officer. Following Barnwell's interim service, the Academic Officer position was divided into two Instructional ...

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