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Thompson v. Board of Education City of Chicago

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

March 21, 2018




         Plaintiff Mark Thompson was a teacher in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS), who was terminated on [ ]. Since that time, he has brought no less than seven separate lawsuits in state and federal court related to his various suspensions, transfers, and ultimate dismissal. Defendants have moved to dismiss the Second Amended Complaint based, in large part, on res judicata and absolute immunity grounds. The Court grants the motions [104][108][109][139] and dismisses the case.

         I. Factual & Procedural Background

         A. Parties

         Plaintiff Thompson is an African-American teacher who worked for the CPS from 2001 to 2003, and from 2005 to 2013. CPS is overseen by the Defendant Board of Education of the City of Chicago (Board). 2d Am. Compl. ¶ 6, ECF No. 99. At all times relevant to the complaint, Defendant James Sullivan was the Board's Inspector General, id. ¶ 18, Defendant Linda Brown was the Board's Director of Investigations, id. ¶ 9, and Defendant Thomas Krieger was the Board's Director of Office of Employee Relations, id. ¶ 16. Defendant Forrest Claypool was until recently CPS's CEO, id. ¶ 12, and during the relevant time period, Defendant Harold Ardell was CPS's law department investigator, Defendant Alicia Winckler was CPS's Chief Talent Officer, and Defendant Reginald Evans worked for CPS as the principal of Harlan High School. Id. ¶ 13.

         Defendant Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) enforces state education regulations. Id. ¶ 8. Defendant Dan Nielsen was employed by ISBE as the hearing officer that presided over Thompson's dismissal hearing. Id. ¶ 17.

         In addition to teaching for the CPS, Plaintiff Thompson provided private athletic training to Defendant Jane Doe. Id. ¶ 15. Doe and her mother, who is also a defendant, lived outside of Cook County, and Jane did not attend a CPS school. Id. ¶¶ 14-15. Jane Doe received mental health treatment from Defendant Dr. Claudia P. Welke, a psychiatrist, through Defendant Northshore University Health System. Id. ¶¶ 9, 19.

         B. Thompson's Lawsuit that Forms the Basis for His Title VII Retaliation Claim

         On December 20, 2010, Thompson filed a lawsuit in the Circuit Court of Cook County, 2010 L 014372. Id. ¶ 33. That lawsuit, which was eventually removed to federal court and heard by Judge Ronald A. Guzmán, case no. 11 C 1712, was brought against the Board, Keith Brookshire, Deborah Edwards-Clay, and Reginald Evans, claiming gender and race discrimination and retaliation under Title VII and 42 U.S.C. § 1981, a violation of the Illinois Whistleblower Act, 740 Ill. Comp. Stat. 174 et seq., breach of contract, tortious interference with contract, negligent supervision, libel per se, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and civil conspiracy. Case No. 11 C 1712, 5th Am. Compl., ECF No. 178. The adverse employment actions of which Thompson complained were his suspension and termination with regard to all coaching positions and physical education teaching positions and his transfer to a history teacher position, all of which occurred in 2010 while he worked at Harlan High School. Id. Thompson had not yet been fired when the operative complaint was filed. Judge Guzmán entered summary judgment in favor of the defendants on most of the claims, but he permitted Thompson to proceed on a claim that he had been suspended in retaliation for previously filing EEOC complaints. See Thompson v. Bd. of Educ. of City of Chi, No. 11 C 1712, 2014 WL 1322958, at *9 (N.D. Ill. Apr. 2, 2014). Thompson and the defendants settled the case in January 2015.

         C. The End of Thompson's Tenure with CPS

         Thompson provided private athletic training to Jane Doe. 2d Am. Compl. ¶ 15. Doe told local police that Thompson had stalked her, but the Board declined to investigate the claim in May 2010. Id. ¶ 32. Doe also told her psychiatrist, Dr. Welke, in April 2011, that Thompson had raped her when she was 17. Id. ¶ 19. Dr. Welke, in turn, reported Doe's account to Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). Id. ¶ 35.

         Thompson claims that the Board solicited Doe through her mother to make false rape claims against him in retaliation for his suing the Board and its employees in December 2010. Id. ¶ 34. Thompson alleges that Doe, her mother, and the Board conspired to have his employment terminated. Id. ¶ 39.

         As part of the investigation into Doe's complaint, in August 2011, unbeknownst to Thompson, the Board subpoenaed and obtained Thompson's confidential AOL email records from January 2009 to December 2010. Id. ¶ 41. Thompson also alleges that the Board obstructed justice and prevented him from learning about Doe's allegations against him until January 24, 2012. Id. ¶ 36. According to Thompson, the Board then interviewed Thompson and obtained his training schedule so that Doe and her mother could use it to file a false police report in February 2012. Id. ¶ 45.[1]

         On May 21, 2012, Defendant Evans gave Thompson an “unsatisfactory” evaluation. Id. ¶ 51. The Board removed him from the classroom in June 2012. Id. ¶ 52. Thompson alleges the “unsatisfactory” evaluation was concocted by the Board as an alternative reason to terminate his employment in order to conceal the Board's retaliatory motive. Id. ¶ 53. Thompson alleges that the Board had allowed him to remain in the classroom teaching students during the investigation into Doe's accusations because the Board knew the accusations were false. Id.

         Based on the investigation into Doe's claims, the Board suspended Thompson without pay on September 13, 2012, pending the ISBE dismissal hearing. Id. ¶ 52. The Board refused to turn over any related investigatory records to Thompson. Id. ¶ 58. In response to court orders, the Board turned over investigatory files on February 25, 2013, but, according to Thompson, the files it provided were incomplete, fabricated, and altered. Id. ¶ 60. Thompson asserts that the Board relied on these files to terminate his employment on August 16, 2013, and during the related hearing on December 9, 2013. Id. ¶¶ 68-70; see Board's Mem. Supp., Ex F, Opinion ¶ 11.

         D. Additional Lawsuits

         Prior to filing the instant lawsuit, Thompson also had sued the Board, its employees, Jane Doe, Jane Doe's mother, and others in the Circuit Court of Lake County (“case no. 13 L 879”).[2]Board's Mem. Supp., Ex. B, 13 L 879 Compl. That case, filed in November 2013, asserted twelve state-law tort and statutory claims related to the sexual-assault investigation, including claims that the Board and CPS employees subjected him to negligent infliction of emotional distress, and that the Board, Doe, and her mother conspired (1) to conceal Doe's allegations from him; (2) to fabricate, alter, and destroy evidence; (3) to illegally obtain his confidential communications; and (4) to terminate Thompson's employment. The circuit court denied Thompson's motion to add a Title VII claim, in part, because his inexcusable delay in adding the claim prejudiced the defendants. See Pl.'s Mem. Supp., Ex. F, 8/26/14 Order in case no. 13 L 879. The court granted the defendants' motion to dismiss on August 2014, see Board's Mem. Supp., Ex. C, Opinion, and Thompson appealed. The appellate court affirmed the judgment in all respects and, in particular, affirmed the denial of the motion to add the Title VII claim as untimely and inexcusable. See Id. Thompson petitioned for leave to appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court, which was denied, see id., Ex. D, PLA denial, Thompson v. Bd. of Educ. Twp. High Sch. Dist. 113, No. 120789, 60 N.E.3d 883 (Ill. 2016).

         Shortly thereafter, on December 2, 2013, Thompson filed a three-count declaratory judgment action (“case no 13 CH 26625”) in the Circuit Court of Cook County against Jane Doe, Northshore University Healthsystem (NUHS) (the custodian of Jane Doe's mental health records), Dr. Claudia P. Welke (Doe's psychiatrist), and Stephanie Locascio (Doe's therapist). Welke & NUHS's Mem. Supp. Ex. A, 13 CH 26625 Compl. Thompson alleged that Dr. Welke, as an employee of NUHS, reported Jane Doe's false claim of rape to DCFS, which led to an investigation and his termination. Id. ¶ 56. He alleged that CPS and Board employees concealed Doe's allegations from him. Id. ¶¶ 57-60. Thompson sought a declaration that any privacy in Doe's records had been waived as well as an injunction to compel the defendants to turn over the records. Id. ¶¶ 100(e), 107(e), 115(e). A motion to dismiss was filed, and the court granted the motion. See id., Ex. 2, Opinion. The appellate court affirmed the judgment, Board's Mem. Supp., Ex. G, Opinion ¶ 67, and the Illinois Supreme Court denied his petition for leave to appeal, see Thompson v. N.J., No. 120993, 60 N.E.3d 883 (Ill. 2016).

         Lastly, Thompson sued the Board and Barbara Byrd-Bennett, then-CEO of CPS, in the Circuit Court of Cook County on September 29, 2014 (“case no. 14 CH 15697”). Id., Ex. E, 14 CH 15697 Compl. He requested a declaration that the ISBE lacked jurisdiction with regard to his dismissal hearing and sought to enjoin the hearing. See Id. ¶ 16. The circuit court dismissed the complaint for failure to exhaust administrative remedies and for failure to state a claim. See id., Ex F, Opinion ¶ 19. The appellate court affirmed, holding that the dismissal hearing was within the jurisdiction of the ISBE and that Thompson had failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. Id. Thompson's petition for leave to appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court was denied. See Thompson v. Bd. of Educ. of City of Chi., No. 121051, 60 N.E.3d 883 (Ill. 2016).

         E. The ...

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