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Weaver v. The Board of Education of the City of Chicago

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Second Division

April 11, 2017

MARY WEAVER, Petitioner,
v.
THE BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE CITY OF CHICAGO et al., Respondents.

         On Petition for Review of a Final Administrative Order of the Board of Education of the City of Chicago.

          JUSTICE MASON delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Hyman and Justice Pierce concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          MASON JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 Mary Weaver was a contract principal at Jonathan Y. Scammon Elementary School in Chicago. On December 28, 2015, the Chicago Board of Education informed Weaver that she was being "reassigned to home" as the result of a "substantiated investigation" conducted by the Board's Inspector General. Weaver continued to receive her pay and benefits following her reassignment. Two months after her reassignment, Weaver applied for and was granted leave pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) (29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq. (2012)).

         ¶ 2 On April 1, 2016, while on leave, Weaver received a letter from Forrest Claypool, the Board's Chief Executive Officer.[1] The letter informed Weaver that the Board had approved charges against her and enclosed the written charges and details supporting those charges. Among other things, the Board charged that Weaver (i) falsified student attendance data to inflate the student attendance rate, which, in turn, enabled Scammon Elementary to obtain a higher school quality rating; (ii) instructed teachers to cheat on a corporate-sponsored contest by completing activities that students were required to complete; (iii) improperly used sick time for vacation and falsely reported vacation plans to her supervisor; (iv) interrogated, harassed or intimidated Scammon staff members engaged in protected activities under the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act (115 ILCS 5/1 et seq. (West 2014)); and (v) mismanaged Scammon elementary by (1) failing to ensure that bilingual teachers had bilingual materials and conducted classes in Spanish for non-English speaking students, (2) improperly administering the Individualized Education Program for various students, (3) paying excessive overtime to select employees, and (4) allowing personnel that were not properly certified to teach classes.

         ¶ 3 Claypool's letter further advised Weaver:

"Pursuant to statute, a dismissal hearing has been tentatively scheduled for April 29, 2016. However, you will be dismissed from your employment with the Board of Education of the City of Chicago and no hearing on the charges will be held, unless, within seventeen (17) calendar days after receiving this notice, you request in writing of the Chief Executive Officer that a dismissal hearing be scheduled on the charges. If you wish to request a hearing on the charges, please direct your written communication to Mr. Ronald L. Marmer, General Counsel, Board of Education of the City of Chicago, Law Department, 1 N. Dearborn Street, Suite 900, Chicago, Illinois 60602." (Emphasis in original.)

         The letter informed Weaver that pending a termination hearing, Claypool was requesting that she be suspended without pay and that she would be afforded a pre-suspension hearing to be held in the Board's Office of Employee Engagement. Weaver was also advised that she would receive notice of the date and time of the pre-suspension hearing from the Office of Employee Engagement.

         ¶ 4 As Claypool's letter indicated, Weaver was separately contacted by the Office of Employee Engagement. On April 1, 2016, Thomas Krieger, Manager of Employee Engagement, advised Weaver in a letter that her pre-suspension hearing would take place on Friday, April 8, 2016, at 10:30 a.m. in his office.

         ¶ 5 Weaver received the letters on April 1. That same day, James Ciesil, the Board's Deputy General Counsel, advised Weaver's attorney, Martin Dolan, via email, of the scheduled pre-suspension hearing. Dolan promptly responded to Ciesil's email indicating that he was expecting to start a trial on Monday, April 4, 2016, and, therefore, he requested that the April 8 hearing be postponed. Dolan also stated: "As you know, Ms. Weaver is on FMLA leave." Ciesil responded that he would agree to a short continuance and advised Dolan to choose any day during the following week for the pre-suspension hearing. Dolan promised to give Ciesil dates on Monday. ¶ 6 When Ciesil did not hear from Dolan on April 4, he sent an email the following day advising Dolan that he suggested rescheduling the pre-suspension hearing for Friday, April 15, at 9:30 a.m.

         ¶ 7 On Wednesday, April 6, Dolan advised Ciesil that Weaver would be on medical leave until May 25, 2016, and that "[n]o pre-suspension hearing or dismissal hearing can take place until her leave is over at a minimum." Dolan also advised Ciesil that, given the extensive charges against Weaver, he would need to obtain documents relating to the charges from the Board. After indicating that "more time is necessary on our end, " Dolan stated, "[i]f we need to contact Ronald Marmer [the Board's General Counsel] directly please advise."

         ¶ 8 Ciesil responded to Dolan's email the same day. Ciesil explained to Dolan that the Board does not wait for an employee to come off leave before setting a pre-suspension hearing and that the Board was unwilling to wait until after May 25 to schedule Weaver's pre-suspension hearing. Ciesil stated: "If I do not hear back from you by tomorrow, I will have the pre-suspension hearing automatically scheduled for Friday April 15, 2016."

         ¶ 9 Ciesil went on to address the purpose of the pre-suspension hearing:

"The pre-suspension hearing is to comply with the Loudermill [Cleveland Board of Education v. Loudermill,470 U.S. 532 (1985)] requirements of notice and an opportunity to be heard. Loudermill does not require that I turnover all my documents relevant for the case before the pre-suspension hearing. Moreover, the [Illinois State Board of Education] regulations, which govern principal discharge hearings, have a detailed discovery process. I fully intend on complying with the ISBE discovery rules which [do] ...

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