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Thompson v. Board of Education City of Chicago

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

March 22, 2018



          JOHN Z. LEE United States District Judge

         While a teacher for the Chicago Public Schools (“CPS”), Mark Thompson was the subject of number suspensions and transfers. He eventually was terminated on August 13, 2002. Since that time, Thompson has brought no less than seven lawsuits in state and federal court challenging these actions. Defendants have moved to dismiss the Second Amended Complaint based, in large part, on res judicata and absolute immunity. As explained below, 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 governed 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 CPS's CEO, id. ¶ 12, and Defendant Harold Ardell was CPS's law department investigator. Finally, 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, 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 (“NUHS”). 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, 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. Thompson also asserted 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. No. 11 C 1712, 5th Am. Compl., ECF No. 178.

         The subject matters of the lawsuit were Thompson's suspension and termination from various coaching positions and physical education teaching positions as well as 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 he filed the complaint.

         Judge Guzmán entered summary judgment in favor of the defendants on most of the claims, but he permitted Thompson to proceed on his claim that he had been suspended in retaliation for filing certain 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 for several months. 2d Am. Compl. ¶ 15. Doe told local authorities 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 falsely accuse him of rape in retaliation for his prior suit against the Board and its employees. Id. ¶ 34. Thompson also 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 a pretext to terminate his employment in order to conceal the Board's retaliatory motive. Id. ¶ 53. According to Thompson, the Board allowed him to continue teaching students while it was investigating 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 ISBE 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 sued the Board, its employees, Jane Doe, Jane Doe's mother, and others in the Circuit Court of Lake County (“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 Doe investigation, including claims that the Board and CPS employees had subjected him to negligent infliction of emotional distress, and that the Board, Doe, and her mother had 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 it found that Thompson had waited too long to add the claim causing undue prejudice to the defendants. See Pl.'s Mem. Supp., Ex. F, 8/26/14 Order in No. 13 L 879.

         The defendants filed a motion to dismiss, which the state court granted in August 2014. See Board's Mem. Supp., Ex. C, Opinion. And Thompson filed a timely appeal in state court.

         On appeal, the Illinois appellate court affirmed the judgment in all respects and, in particular, affirmed the denial of the motion to add the Title VII claim. See Id. Thompson petitioned for leave to appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court, which was denied, see id., Ex. D, PLA denial, Thom ...

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