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Valdivia v. Township High School District 214

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

March 20, 2018



          SIDNEY I. SCHENKIER United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff, Noemi Valdivia, filed a two-count first amended complaint ("complaint") against defendant Township High School District 214 ("District 214" or defendant) seeking damages and injunctive relief on the grounds that defendant subjected her to a racially offensive and hostile work environment, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. ("Title VII"), and interfered with her right to take job-protected leave, in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, 29 U.S.C. § 2601, et seq, ("FMLA") (doc. # 29: CompL, at ¶¶ 49-58). On May 15, 2017, after briefing by the parties, this Court denied defendant's motion to dismiss. Valdivia v. Twp. High Sck Dist. 214, No. 16 C 10333, 2017 WL 2114965, at *5 (N.D. Ill. May 15, 2017). Subsequently, defendant answered the complaint, and the parties engaged in discovery. After completion of discovery, defendant moved for summary judgment (doc. # 58). For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants defendant's motion for summary judgment as to plaintiffs Title VII claim, but denies the motion as to plaintiffs FMLA claim.


         The legal standards governing motions for summary judgment are well-established. Summary judgment is appropriate where the moving party establishes that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and he or she is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). A genuine issue exists when "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The substantive law identifies which facts are material. Zaya v. Sood, 836 F.3d 800, 804 (7th Cir. 2016).

         In deciding a motion for summary judgment, we construe the facts and draw reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Sommerfield v. City of Chicago, 863 F.3d 645, 649 (7th Cir. 2017). However, "we need not draw inferences that are supported by only speculation and conjecture." Woods v. City o/Berwyn, 803 F.3d 865, 869 (7th Cir. 2015); See also Aguilar v. Gaston-Camara, 861 F.3d 626, 630-31 (7th Cir. 2017). "[T]he non-movant must 'go beyond the pleadings (e.g., produce affidavits, depositions, answers to interrogatories, or admissions on file), to demonstrate that there is evidence upon which a jury could properly proceed to find a verdict in her favor.'" Sterk v. Redbox Automated Retail, LLC, 770 F.3d 618, 627 (7th Cir. 2014) (quoting Modrowski v. Pigatto, 712 F.3d 1166, 1169 (7th Cir. 2013)). In other words, the non-moving party "must do more than raise some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts; [it] must come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Citizens for Appropriate Rural Roads v. Foxx, 815 F.3d 1068, 1074 (7th Cir. 2016). At tills stage, "[t]he parties are required to put their evidentiary cards on the table .... Summary judgment is not a time to be coy . . ." Sommerfield, 863 F.3d at 649 (internal citations and quotations omitted).


         In support of its motion for summary judgment, defendant submitted a Local Rule 56.1 statement of material facts (doc. # 58: DSOF).[2] Plaintiff responded to defendant's statement of material facts (doc. # 60: PL's Resp. to DSOF, pp. 1-19), and filed a Rule 56.1(b)(3)(C) statement of additional facts (doc. # 60: PSOF, pp. 19-24), to which defendant responded (doc. # 63: Def.'s Resp. to PSOF). The following facts are undisputed unless otherwise indicated.

         Ms. Valdivia emigrated from Mexico as a child (Def.'s Resp. to PSOF, ¶ 2). In May 2010, she began working at Elk Grove High School ("Elk Grove") in District 214 (PL's Resp. to DSOF, ¶ 1). Ms. Valdivia worked as an assistant to the associate principal of instruction (Id.), and served as a bilingual support staff member; in that capacity, she spoke Spanish with some of the school's Hispanic families (Def.'s Resp. to PSOF, ¶ 3). During the 2010-2011 school year, the associate principal of instruction position was split between Carmela Sacchitello and Janet Reed (DSOF, Ex. A: Valdivia Dep. at 28-30). Nancy Holman was the principal at Elk Grove, and the associate principal of operations was Kyle Burritt (Id.). Ms. Valdivia worked in the same office as Diane Free (Ms. Holman's assistant) and Denise Heinol (Mr. Burritt's assistant) (Id. at 31; Def.'s Resp. to PSOF, ¶ 1).

         On June 1, 2011, plaintiff complained in writing (by text message) to Ms. Sacchitello about racially derogatory remarks Ms. Heinol allegedly made about Latino families (Def.'s Resp. to PSOF, ¶ 4). In the text to Ms. Sacchitello, Ms. Valdivia wrote that Ms. Heinol's remarks included, among other things, that she was sick and tired of Mexicans or illegal aliens coming to the United States because they: do not speak English, want and expect everything to be handed to them for free, get to have a bilingual secretary instead of having to learn English for themselves, keep having babies because everything is handed to them, and do not file tax returns and get paid under the table (DSOF, Ex. H: Kelly Dep., Ex. 2: June 2011 text). Ms. Valdivia requested that Ms. Sacchitello ask Mr. Burritt not to "bring the racist thing up to Nancy [Holman]. We all need to survive with the way tilings are currently. She [Ms. Heinol] just needs to be told to relax her attitude" (Id.). On June 2, 2011, Ms. Sacchitello emailed the text conversation to Mr. Burritt (Def.'s Resp. to PSOF, ¶ 7). That year, plaintiff also complained to Ms. Reed or Ms. Sacchitello that Ms. Heinol stated that District 214 was catering to its Latino families by hiring a bilingual secretary (PL's Resp. to DSOF, ¶ 24).

         Glen Simon replaced Ms. Reed and Ms. Sacchitello as associate principal of instruction for the 2012-2013 school year (Valdivia Dep. at 43). Ms. Valdivia does not recall if she complained to Mr. Simon that her co-workers made racist comments (Id. at 46). In the summer of 2013, Paul Kelly replaced Ms. Holman as principal at Elk Grove, and Judi Miller took over the position as assistant to the principal (Id. at 31, 45, 49; Kelly Dep. at 14-16). In 2014, Megan Knight replaced Mr. Simon as associate principal of instruction (Valdivia Dep. at 104).

         Ms. Valdivia alleges that Ms. Heinol continued to make derogatory comments about Latino families, including in 2015, when she stated that she hoped Donald Trump won the election and ended illegal immigration (PL's Resp. to DSOF, ¶ 23). Plaintiff also claims that Ms. Miller twice told her to stop speaking Spanish because they were in America (Def.'s Resp. to PSOF, ¶ 10). At some point, Ms. Valdivia complained to Valerie Norris, the Assistant Principal of Student Services at Elk Grove, [3] about her office-mates' comments, work habits and work distribution; Ms. Valdivia also told Ms. Norris that she thought Ms. Heinol was a racist (PL's Resp. to DSOF, ¶¶ 36, 39).

         In 2015, plaintiff complained to Mr. Kelly that her co-worker made derogatory comments about Latinos, Mexicans and illegal immigration (PL's Resp. to DSOF, ¶¶ 23, 26). On August 31, 2015, Mr. Burritt sent the 2011 chat conversation between Ms. Sacchitello and Ms. Valdivia to Mr. Kelly and Ms. Knight (Def.'s Resp. to PSOF, ¶ 8). Plaintiff cannot recall how many times her co-workers made derogatory comments about Latinos but she asserts that they did so frequently (PL's Resp. to DSOF, ¶ 25). Mr. Kelly recalls Ms. Valdivia complaining to him about interoffice disputes with Ms. Miller and Ms. Heinol, but he does not recall that Ms. Valdivia ever complained that they made racist or harassing comments (Id., ¶¶ 29-32).

         While at Elk Grove, Ms. Valdivia received positive annual reviews and never received any discipline or reprimands (PL's Resp. to DSOF, ¶ 3). In March 2016, she applied for a position as assistant to the principal -- Angela Sisi -- at District 214's Wheeling High School ("Wheeling"); tills job offered more pay and prestige than Ms. Valdivia's Elk Grove position (Def.'s Resp. to PSOF, ¶¶ 14- 15). Ms. Sisi is the daughter of Ms. Sacchitello; Ms. Sacchitello recommended Ms, Valdivia as the best assistant she had ever had (Id., ¶ 16). Ms. Sisi first met plaintiff at Ms. Sacchitello's home in 2011, and they had bumped into each other about five times at Elk Grove (PL's Resp. to DSOF, ¶ 8). In April 2016, Wheeling hired Ms. Valdivia for a 12-month position, which Ms. Valdivia began in mid-June 2016 (Def.'s Resp. to PSOF, ¶¶ 17-20). Plaintiff did not discuss problems she had at Elk Grove with anyone at Wheeling (PL's Resp. to DSOF, ¶ 41).

         In June 2016, Ms. Valdivia asserts that she began to feel overwhelmed and experienced racing thoughts, obsessive worrying, anxiety, insomnia and loss of appetite (Def.'s Resp. to PSOF, ¶ 21). Ms. Valdivia had never received mental health treatment, and she did not understand what was happening to her (PL's Resp. to DSOF, ¶¶ 48-49).

         On July 14, 2016, Ms. Valdivia applied for a job closer to her home, with School District 300; she was offered the position, and she accepted on or before July 27, 2016 (PL's Resp. to DSOF, ¶¶ 16-17, 50). Ms. Valdivia was emotional when she discussed her decision to leave District 214 with Ms, Sisi; Ms. Valdivia told Ms. Sisi that she had not been sleeping and she was worried about her career and about leaving Ms. Sisi (Id., ¶ 54). Ms. Valdivia asserts that she cried in front of Ms. Sisi and experienced crying fits at work, but defendant disputes this (Def's Resp. to PSOF, ¶¶ 21-22; PL's Resp. to DSOF, ¶ 53). On August 4, 2016, Ms. Valdivia submitted her letter of resignation to Ms. Sisi; Ms. Valdivia asserts that she was crying when she did so, but defendant disputes this, acknowledging only that Ms. Valdivia was "emotional" (Id.; PL's Resp. to DSOF, ¶¶ 55-57). Ms. Valdivia told Ms. Sisi she was going to take the District 300 job at least partly because it was closer to her home (Id., ¶ 58).

         On August 9, 2016, Ms. Valdivia showed up unannounced at Ms. Sisi's home at 7:00 a.m., asking to rescind her resignation from Wheeling (Def's Resp. to PSOF, ¶ 26). Ms. Valdivia asserts that she was crying, but defendant disputes this (Id.). Ms. Sisi did not allow Ms. Valdivia to rescind her resignation, and the District 214 school board accepted Ms. Valdivia's resignation on August 11, 2016 (Id., ¶ 28; PL's Resp. to DSOF, ¶ 12). Ms. Sisi never discussed FMLA leave with plaintiff (PL's Resp. to DSOF, ¶ 59).

         Ms. Valdivia started work for District 300 on August 12, 2016; she had completed her employee physical for District 300 on August 5, 2016, which indicated she had no work restrictions (PL's Resp. to DSOF, ¶¶ 18-20). On August 20, 2016, plaintiff was hospitalized for four days and given medication for severe depression and anxiety, and treated for her inability to sleep (Def's Resp. to PSOF, ¶ 31). She began seeing a psychiatrist on August 31, 2016, who diagnosed her with severe major depressive disorder and moderate to severe generalized anxiety disorder (7c/., ¶¶ 32-33).


         Defendant contends that this Court should grant summary judgment in its favor because Ms. Valdivia has not raised a genuine issue as to any fact material to her hostile work environment and FMLA ...

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