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Aku v. Chicago Board of Education

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

June 14, 2018

LU AKU, Plaintiff,



         Plaintiff Lu Aku (“Aku”) filed this pro se lawsuit against his former employer, the Board of Education of the City of Chicago (“the Board”), and D'Andre Weaver (“Weaver”), the principal at the school where Aku taught until 2014. In his initial complaint, Aku also named thirteen other defendants, a broad range of parties that included, among others, the Chicago Teachers Union, Aku's former medical provider and former attorneys, two third-party claims administrators for the Board, and the Illinois Department of Human Rights (“IDHR”). All of those additional defendants have since been dismissed except the IDHR.

         In his amended complaint, Aku claims that the Board, Weaver, and the IDHR discriminated against him based on his age, sex, color, race, national origin, and disability, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”); and based on color, national origin, and race, in violation of 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983. He further alleges that the Board discriminated against him on the basis of disability in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), and on the basis of age in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”). Aku also claims that all Defendants retaliated against him for asserting his rights under these acts.

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (“Rule”) 12(b)(6), the Board[1]moves to dismiss the complaint in part, and the IDHR moves to dismiss Aku's complaint in full. For the reasons given below, the Court grants in part and denies in part the Board's motion and grants the IDHR's motion.

         Factual Background[2]

         Aku, an African-American man born in 1967, began teaching science at Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy (“Brooks”), a public school in Chicago, on August 27, 2007. Am. Compl. Ex. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) Charge, at 2, ECF No. 182-2.

         Aku began to experience challenges at Brooks starting the summer before the 2013-14 school year. The Board's control group (“BCG”)[3] told Aku in May 2013 to prepare for a 2013-14 teaching assignment as an Advanced Placement (“AP”) environmental science teacher and informed him that it would arrange for him to attend AP professional development training that summer. Am. Compl. at 5, ECF No. 182. The BCG, however, failed to respond to any of Aku's inquiries about the AP training, and he was unable to participate in the training. Id. at 5-6.

         A series of changes in Aku's teaching schedule followed. On August 7, 2013, the BCG emailed Aku to inform him that he would be teaching physics and biology, rather than environmental science. Id. at 6. Aku learned at a department meeting on August 20, 2013, that a young, white, female teacher would be teaching AP environmental science instead of him. Id. When he expressed surprise that he would be teaching biology, the science department chairperson told him to be happy he had a job. Id.

         On August 23, 2013, the BCG told Aku that a new science teacher had been hired. Id. The new teacher was white and under 40 years old. Id. The BCG then reassigned Aku's physics sections to the new teacher and assigned Aku to four honors environmental science classes, but it did not notify Aku of the change until the morning of the first day of classes, August 26, 2013. Id. Aku's new schedule also did not allow him to take part in the science department's common planning time. Id. at 7.

         A few months later, on November 23, 2013, the BCG held a staff meeting to which only African-Americans were invited (the “November Meeting”). Id. During the meeting, BCG told the staff that their jobs were not in danger. Id. Aku complained to a Chicago Teachers Union (“Union”) field representative about the November Meeting, but the field representative did not take any action. Id. Nor was any action taken by the Union when Aku emailed Union leadership and requested that they report the November Meeting to the EEOC and the IDHR. Id.

         On April 3, 2014, the BCG summoned Aku to the hallway while he had a class in session and suggested that he leave the field of teaching. Id. at 8. A week later, on April 11, 2014, the BCG assigned Aku's biology and environmental science students to another teacher for tutoring and retesting, causing Aku to lose overtime opportunities and negatively impacting his next teaching performance evaluation. Id. at 7. The teacher who was assigned to tutor and retest those students was not endorsed in the relevant subjects. Id. at 8.

         On April 30, 2014, Aku filed a Complainant Information Sheet (“CIS”)[4] with the IDHR regarding the November Meeting. Id. That same day, Aku emailed the Board's Equal Opportunity Compliance (“EOC”) Administrator, Donna Leaks, about the meeting, stating that he was targeted because of his race. Id. Leaks did not respond to the email. Id.

         Meanwhile, Aku had injured his right ankle at Brooks on October 7, 2013. Id. at 7. On December 31, 2013, he visited a podiatrist, and an x-ray showed no broken bones. Id. Around June 17, 2014, Aku reported the injury to the Board and to Sedgwick Claims Management Services (“Sedgwick”). Id. at 8. Sedgwick generated a workers' compensation claim and told Aku that an adjustor would contact him within two weeks. Id. Around the same time, Sedgwick notified the Board's Legal Department of Aku's claim, and after the Board's Legal Department told Sedgwick not to contact Aku, no adjustor contacted him about his claim. Id.

         On June 26, 2014, the BCG called Aku and told him that (1) his science teacher position was “being closed”; (2) Brooks' math and science departments would be replaced with a Science Technology Engineering and Math (“STEM”) department for the 2014-15 school year; (3) STEM-position candidates needed to be dually endorsed in math and science; (4) because Aku did not hold a math endorsement, he did not qualify for any STEM positions; and (5) as a result, Aku could apply for unemployment insurance. Id. at 8-9. During the call, Aku asked Weaver[5] which math and science teachers had been notified of the dual endorsement requirements prior to him; Weaver did not answer the question, but he told Aku he could apply for the school's STEM vacancies that summer. Id.

         The following day, June 27, 2014, Board Senior Management Analyst Lauren Clair-McClellan told Aku that he was being laid off because he did not possess the credentials necessary to remain on staff at Brooks. Id. at 9. Three days later, she told him that all STEM department teachers needed to be dually endorsed in some combination of math, science, and computer science. Id.

         On August 6, 2014, Aku took the Illinois Licensure Testing System math test, seeking a math endorsement. Id. That same day, Weaver interviewed Aku for a Brooks STEM teacher vacancy. Id. Weaver did not ultimately offer him a job. Id. at 16.

         On or about August 25, 2014, the Board began rehiring teachers who had been laid off in June 2014 Brooks's math and science department. Am. Compl. Ex. IDHR and EEOC Charge #15W0909.15 (“Charge 15”) at 2, ECF No. 182-5. The Board recalled similarly situated non-black employees and employees who were younger than 40, but it did not recall Aku. Id. at 1-2. No. African-American science and math teachers over the age of 40 remained in the department, although one Asian science teacher over 40 retained her position. Am. Compl. at 16. The BCG had also earlier named three people to leadership positions in the STEM department. None was African-American, disabled, or had any open workers' compensation claims, and two of the three were under age 40. Id. at 9.

         Meanwhile, Aku's April 30, 2014, IDHR CIS had not been rejected or converted into a charge. Id. at 8. But after he was dismissed from Brooks, Aku filed[6] a series of IDHR charges of discrimination. He filed his first IDHR charge on July 7, 2014, claiming that he was terminated from Brooks on June 26, 2014, due to age discrimination. Am. Compl., Ex. IDHR and EEOC Charge #15W0707.03 (“Charge 03”) at 1, ECF No. 182-3. Two months later, on August 7, 2014, Aku filed a second IDHR charge, alleging harassment and unequal treatment, based on age and race, from August 2013 to May 2014, Am. Compl. Ex. IDHR and EEOC Charge #15W0807.07 (“Charge 07”) at 1-3, ECF No. 182-4, and discrimination and retaliation from May 2014 to August 2014, due to race and the filing of an earlier discrimination charge, id. at 3-4.

         On September 10, 2014, Aku filed a third IDHR charge, claiming that he was not recalled back to Brooks due to his age, race, and national origin. Am. Compl. Ex. IDHR and EEOC Charge #15W0909.15 (“Charge 15”) at 1-3, ECF No. 182-5. Aku then worked as a substitute teacher in September 2014 for one day, before being offered a bogus job offer and fired that same day. Am. Compl. at 7. As of October 29, 2014, he had not received pay for that work. Am. Compl. Ex. IDHR and EEOC Charge #15W1027.16 (“Charge 16”) at 2, ECF No. 182-6. Aku proceeded to file a fourth IDHR charge on October 29, 2014, alleging harassment and unequal pay from April 30 to October 3, 2014, in retaliation for filing discrimination charges. Id. at 1.

         On October 6, 2014, Leaks, the Board's EOC Administrator, called Aku and told him that the Board's Legal Department had notified her that he had filed a complaint. Am. Compl. at 10. According to Aku, the IDHR had violated its policies by notifying the Board of Aku's filings, so Aku emailed her to ask for detail on the complaint's filing date, the nature of the complaint, and the date she had been notified of the complaint. Id. Leaks responded that the Board's EOC Office would meet with Aku to discuss the allegations in his April 2014 CIS. Id. She also told him that any complaints he filed with an outside agency would be handled by Board's Legal Department, rather than the EOC Office. Id.

         On November 19, 2014, the Board told the Union president that Brooks' STEM teachers were required to possess dual endorsements in math and science, math and computer science, or math and Spanish. Id. This was different than what Aku had been told in June, as Spanish had not been discussed as an option for dual endorsement. Compare Id. at 8-9 with Id. at 10. The Board also told the Union president that all remaining teachers in the Brooks STEM department were dual-endorsed. Id.

         On January 16, 2015, Aku aggravated his earlier ankle injury while substitute teaching. Id. at 13. On February 13, 2015, Aku's attorney had Sedgwick generate a second workers' compensation claim for the incident. Id. at 11. The attorney also filed two complaints on Aku's behalf with the Illinois Workers Compensation Commission. Id.

         On February 27, 2015, Aku submitted another CIS to the IDHR, asserting discrimination and retaliation, some of which was related to his contention that the April 2014 IDHR CIS had been forwarded to Leaks. Id. According to Aku, during a March 12, 2015, fact-finding conference, IDHR charge investigator Judith Weingartner informed Aku that African-Americans were not a protected class under the Illinois Human Rights Act and his race-based discrimination claims therefore had no merit. Id. In response to Aku's questions, Weingartner referred him to the IDHR Chicago Intake Supervisor, who then referred him to the IDHR Director Rocco Claps. Id. Aku then sent multiple letters to Claps on March 14 and March 15, 2015, asking about the agency's mishandling of the fact-finding conferences and the protection of African-Americans under the Illinois Human Rights Act. Id. Claps never responded, although two months later, Charge Processing Division Manager Brent Hartzman responded to one of the letters. Id. The response did not answer all of the questions and hypotheticals in Aku's letters to Claps. Id.

         On April 28, 2015, Leak contacted Aku to discuss Aku's allegations of discrimination. Id. at 12. Aku referred Leak to the IDHR and warned her that if she contacted him again, he would complain that she was harassing him. Id.

         Aku contacted IDHR Intake Program Administrator Raquel Guerra on May 1, 2015, and requested the agency's determination regarding an additional CIS that he had filed on March 16, 2015, which included allegations that the Union and Sedgwick were aiding and abetting the Board's discrimination and retaliation. Id. Guerra responded that the IDHR could not investigate the manner in which Sedgwick processed its claims and told Aku that the IDHR had ignored ...

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