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Varela v. Board of Control

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

June 5, 2018

HEIDI VARELA, Plaintiff,
v.
BOARD OF CONTROL, LAKE COUNTY HIGH SCHOOL TECHNOLOGY CAMPUS, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          HONORABLE THOMAS M. DURKIN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Heidi Varela has sued defendants Board of Control of Lake County High School Technology Campus (“the Board”), and Constance Collins, Jim McKay, and Roycealee Wood in their official capacities as officers of the Board, for employment discrimination and retaliation. Currently before the Court is defendants' partial motion to dismiss Varela's complaint. R. 10. For the reasons explained below, the Court grants in part and denies in part defendants' motion.

         STANDARD

         The complaint must provide “a short plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). Through this statement, defendants must be provided with “fair notice” of the claim and the basis for it. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). This means the complaint must “contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). “‘A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.'” Mann, 707 F.3d at 877 (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). In applying this standard, the Court accepts all well-pleaded facts as true and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Mann, 707 F.3d at 877.

         BACKGROUND

         Lake County High School Technology Campus hired Varela as an instructor in August 2013. R. 1 ¶ 12. Derrick Burress was the principal of the school and Varela's immediate supervisor. Id. ¶¶ 14-15.

         From August 2013 through December 2015, Burress did not formally observe Varela in her classroom, Varela was never told that she was performing her job unsatisfactorily, and Varela was not disciplined or reprimanded. Id. ¶¶ 18-20. In September 2013, Varela's teacher evaluation ranked her with two excellent marks, 23 proficient marks, seven needs improvement marks, and no unsatisfactory marks. Id. ¶ 16. Varela's January 2014 teacher evaluation ranked her with nine excellent marks, 36 proficient marks, two needs improvement marks, and no unsatisfactory marks. Id. ¶ 17.

         On September 9, 2015, Varela told Burress that she was pregnant. Id. ¶ 21. Burress asked Varela about her plans after the baby was born, and Varela responded with her due date. Id. ¶¶ 22-23. Burress then “asked in a negative, condescending tone ‘so you don't have a plan?'” Id. ¶ 24. A few weeks later, on September 29, 2015, Varela requested from assistant principal Sebastian Kapala and executive director Steve Clark an aide to assist in heavy lifting and cleaning a printer with chemicals in light of her pregnancy. Id. ¶ 28. On December 8, 2015, Varela communicated again with Kapala and Clark regarding her pregnancy and lack of assistance with heavy lifting and cleaning the printer. Id. ¶ 32.

         Burress conducted his first formal observation of Varela's classroom on December 8, 2015. Id. ¶ 29. Varela's December 8, 2015 teacher evaluation gave her six excellent marks, 30 proficient marks, four needs improvement marks, and no unsatisfactory marks. Id. ¶ 30.

         In 2016, Burress permanently removed Varela's classroom aide from her classroom. Id. ¶¶ 26-27. On February 19, 2016, Burress conducted a second formal observation of Varela's classroom. Id. ¶ 33. Varela's February 19, 2016 teacher evaluation rated her overall performance as needs improvement, and gave her five excellent marks, 27 proficient marks, eight needs improvement marks, and no unsatisfactory marks. Id. ¶ 34. After meeting with Burress to receive her February 19, 2016 evaluation, Varela became visibly upset and left his office in tears. Id. ¶ 35.

         In early March 2016, Varela submitted rebuttals to Burress' evaluation reports from his December 2015 and February 2016 formal observations. Id. ¶¶ 31, 36. On March 17, 2016, defendants notified Varela that she would not be re-employed as a full-time instructor and that her employment would end on June 3, 2016. Id. ¶ 37.

         Varela filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) against Lake County High School Technology Campus on March 30, 2016, which the EEOC received on April 4, 2016. R. 10-2. In her EEOC charge, Varela checked the boxes for sex and disability discrimination, but not for retaliation. See Id. And the narrative section of the EEOC charge alleges that Varela was “discriminated against because of [her] sex female and due to pregnancy . . . [and] because of [her] disability, ” but does not mention retaliation. See id.

         Varela requested leave pursuant to the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) for the birth of her child from May 6, 2016 through May 26, 2016, and that request was approved. R. 1 ¶¶ 38-40. After her leave, Varela was never rehired. Id. ¶ 42.

         On May 10, 2017, the EEOC issued Varela a notice of right to sue, which Varela received on May 13, 2017. Id. ΒΆ 9. Varela filed her complaint in this case on August 10, 2017, within 90 days of ...


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