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Morris v. Catholic Bishop of Chicago

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

May 4, 2018



          Gary Feinerman Judge

         Caroleann Morris brought this suit against the Catholic Bishop of Chicago under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq., alleging that she was dismissed from her position as a parochial school teacher because of her age. Doc. 1. The Bishop has moved for summary judgment. Doc. 36. The motion is granted.


         Before setting forth the facts, the court addresses the evidentiary and Local Rule 56.1 issues that the parties raise in three motions. Docs. 48, 52, 67.

         First, Morris moves to strike as irrelevant two paragraphs from the Bishop's Rule 56.1(a)(3) statement. Doc. 48 at 1-3. The paragraphs assert facts regarding the ages of the elementary school teachers at Morris's school, Most Blessed Trinity Academy (“MBTA”), as of April 2016. Doc. 37 at ¶¶ 8-9; Doc. 37-8 at 6. (The Bishop asserts that the data is from August 2015, but the cited personnel chart includes teachers who were hired in January and February 2016 and includes information from as late as April 2016). Morris argues that the evidence is irrelevant because she was fired in May 2015, eleven months earlier. But the evidence is not irrelevant just because it includes teachers who were hired after Morris's departure and may not include some teachers who were present at the time of Morris's firing. Doc. 37-8 at 6 (personnel chart showing that six teachers were hired after Morris was fired). Regardless of whether they worked with Morris or were hired shortly after her termination, the fact that four teachers older than Morris worked at MBTA in April 2016 is highly relevant to her claim that the school's management was biased against older teachers. See Faas v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 532 F.3d 633, 643 (7th Cir. 2008) (affirming summary judgment in part because two employees who “were several years older than” the plaintiff were ranked as the best performing employees in the district, and noting that “[a] pattern where the protected-class members sometimes do better and sometimes do worse than their comparators is not evidence of age discrimination”) (internal quotation marks omitted); Jackson v. E.J. Brach Corp., 176 F.3d 971, 986 (7th Cir. 1999) (affirming summary judgment in part because the defendant continued to employ several individuals who “were the same age or older” than the plaintiff). The fact that the average age of MBTA teachers was 49.5, even after any personnel changes made in 2015 and 2016, is likewise relevant to assessing Morris's age discrimination claim. See Jackson, 776 F.3d at 986.

         Second, Morris moves to strike on hearsay grounds a paragraph from the Bishop's Rule 56.1(a)(3) statement. Doc. 48 at 3-4. The paragraph asserts that at the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year, the parents of three students who had been in Morris's kindergarten or pre-kindergarten classes expressed dissatisfaction with her teaching to assistant principal Sandra Anderson and asked that they not be placed in her second-grade class. Doc. 37 at ¶ 49. The parents' statements are not hearsay because they are offered not for the truth of the matter asserted (i.e., that Morris was, in fact, an unsatisfactory teacher), but rather as evidence that Anderson believed, on the basis of the parents' complaints and requests, that Morris was not adequately performing her job. See Brill v. Lante Corp., 119 F.3d 1266, 1271 (7th Cir. 1997) (holding that out-of-court statements about an employee were not hearsay because the question was not whether the statements were true, but whether the supervisor had an “honest belief” that the statements were true).

         Third, the Bishop moves to strike the affidavit of one of Morris's former students. Doc. 52 at 1-3. Morris offers the affidavit to challenge the Bishop's factual assertions regarding what actually happened during a classroom lesson (of which more below) that prompted Anderson to counsel Morris about her teaching. Doc. 46 at ¶ 59. The court need not resolve the motion because, even if the affidavit were stricken, the relevant portion of Morris's factual assertions (that the student did not cry as a result of the lesson and that the lesson was not fraught with interruptions) would remain supported by Morris's own affidavit. Ibid.

         Fourth, the Bishop moves to strike the affidavit of Morris's coworker Beverly Beinlich. Doc. 52 at 3-4. Morris offers the affidavit to support her assertion that most of the second-grade students with known behavioral issues were assigned to her class rather than to the class of Eileen Burke, who was in her twenties, and that Anderson picked on Morris as well as Beinlich and Sue Connor, teachers close in age to Morris. Doc. 47 at ¶¶ 7, 8, 14. The court need not resolve the motion because, even if Beinlich's affidavit were stricken, Morris's factual assertions would remain supported by Morris's and Connor's affidavits. Ibid.

         Fifth, the Bishop moves to strike Morris's assertion in her Local Rule 56.1(b)(3)(C) statement that, during the 2014-2015 academic year, “most of the students with known behavioral issues such as ADHD, anger issues and miscellaneous related psychological problems” were assigned to her class rather than Burke's, insofar as the assertion relies on nonexpert psychological diagnoses. Doc. 52 at 4-5. To support her assertion, Morris cites the affidavits of three former MBTA teachers, all of whom are lay witnesses. Doc. 47 at ¶¶ 7-8. In response to the Bishop's objection, Morris clarifies that the teachers “are not giving an opinion as to a health problem or offering any detailed medical diagnosis regarding the students … assigned to Morris and not to Ms. Burke, ” but instead base their averments on their “knowledge about students with behavioral issues as opposed to students who do not.” Doc. 59 at 10. On that understanding, the court will disregard Morris's reference to ADHD and other “psychological problems, ” and will interpret her Local Rule 56.1(b)(3)(C) statement as an assertion about the readily observable behavioral problems of the students in her class. See Fed. R. Evid. 701 (providing that a non-expert witness may give opinion testimony that is “rationally based on the witness's perception” and “not based on scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge”); Farfaras v. Citizens Bank & Trust of Chi., 433 F.3d 558, 565-66 (7th Cir. 2006) (permitting a lay witness to testify that an individual was “depressed” because the witness used the term in its lay, rather than clinical, sense).

         Finally, Morris moves to strike many of the Bishop's responses to her Local Rule 56.1(b)(3)(C) statement, Doc. 50, on the grounds that they are extraneous or contain legal argument. Doc. 67. In setting forth the facts below, the court will disregard the portions of the Bishop's responses that contain extraneous matter or contain legal argument.

         With these preliminaries resolved, the following facts are set forth as favorably to Morris as the record and Local Rule 56.1 permit. See Hanners v. Trent, 674 F.3d 683, 691 (7th Cir. 2012). On summary judgment, the court must assume the truth of those facts, but does not vouch for them. See Arroyo v. Volvo Grp. N. Am., 805 F.3d 278, 281 (7th Cir. 2015).

         Morris was born on July 10, 1959. Doc. 46 at ¶ 10. She has worked as an elementary school teacher at several schools over the course of her career. Id. at ¶ 11. In June 2006, while Morris was teaching at Our Lady of the Wayside, a report noted that she needed improvement in two areas related to classroom management. Id. at ¶ 17. The report was based on, at most, a twenty-minute observation by the principal, and no one at the school ever counseled Morris on her work performance. Ibid.

         In 2011, Morris was hired by then-principal Sandra Perez as a pre-kindergarten teacher at MBTA, which is operated by the Archdiocese of Chicago. Id. at ¶¶ 3, 12. MBTA was a challenging place to teach; it had high student turnover, and most students came from low-income, non-English-speaking families. Doc. 47 at ¶¶ 1-2. It was the norm at MBTA for students to exhibit behavioral problems in the classroom. Id. at ¶ 2.

         Sister Erica Jordan took over as the principal of MBTA after the 2011-2012 school year. Doc. 46 at ¶ 13. Jordan asked Morris to teach kindergarten for the 2012-2013 school year and then moved her to second grade for the 2013-2014 school year. Ibid. Jordan testified that after she observed Morris's second-grade classroom early in the year and found the children loud and off task, she had an informal conversation with Morris about how her classroom operated. Id. at ΒΆ 41. Morris disputes that her classroom was loud during the 2013-2014 year and asserts ...

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