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Haworth v. Round Lake Area Schools Community Unit School District #116

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

July 15, 2019

DAVID HAWORTH, Plaintiff,
v.
ROUND LAKE AREA SCHOOLS, COMMUNITY UNIT SCHOOL DISTRICT 116 and CONSTANCE COLLINS, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          HON. JORGE L. ALONSO UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff David Haworth sues defendants, the Board of the Round Lake Area Schools Community Unit School District 116 (“Board”)[1] and Constance Collins, for terminating his employment in retaliation for his exercise of his rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), 29 U.S.C. 2601. This case is before the Court on defendant's motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. For the following reasons, the Court denies the motion.

         I. LOCAL RULE 56.1

         Local Rule 56.1 requires a party opposing summary judgment to file “a concise response to the movant's statement [of material undisputed facts] that shall contain . . . a response to each numbered paragraph in the moving party's statement, including, in the case of any disagreement, specific references to the affidavits, parts of the record, and other supporting materials relied upon, ” LR 56.1(b)(3)(B), and “a statement . . . of any additional facts that require the denial of summary judgment.” Defendants argue that plaintiff's statement of additional material facts should be stricken to the extent that it misstates the cited record, is improperly argumentative, and contains inadmissible hearsay.

         There is some truth in defendants' position, and the Court will disregard those portions of plaintiff's statement that are improper, extraneous, or argumentative. However, it will not strike the statement or any portion of it, which would only require the Court to “waste time by . . . engag[ing] in busywork and judicial editing, ” rather than “addressing the merits” of the case.” U.S. Bank Nat. Ass'n v. Alliant Energy Res., Inc., No. 09-CV-078, 2009 WL 1850813, at *3 (W.D. Wis. June 26, 2009). The Court bears in mind that the purpose of Local Rule 56.1 is “to isolate legitimately disputed facts and assist the court in its summary judgment determination, ” Brown v. GES Exposition Servs., Inc., No. 03 C 3921, 2006 WL 861174, at *1 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 31, 2006), as district courts do “not have the advantage of the parties' familiarity with the record and often cannot afford to spend the time combing the record to locate the relevant information, ” Delapaz v. Richardson, 634 F.3d 895, 899 (7th Cir. 2011). Despite its shortcomings, plaintiff's statement achieved this purpose by identifying disputed facts and pointing to evidence in the record. Even if plaintiff cited certain hearsay statements, at the summary judgment stage evidence need only be admissible in substance rather than form, see Cairel v. Alderden, 821 F.3d 823, 830 (7th Cir. 2016) (“‘To be considered on summary judgment, evidence must be admissible at trial, though ‘the form produced at summary judgment need not be admissible.'” (quoting Wragg v. Vill. of Thornton, 604 F.3d 464, 466 (7th Cir. 2010))), and plaintiff is likely to be able to cure these problems at trial.

         II. BACKGROUND

         Round Lake Area Schools Community Unit School District No. 116 is a public school district in Lake County, Illinois. (Pl.'s LR 56.1 Resp. ¶ 1, ECF No. 62.) Plaintiff worked in human resources for the Board, beginning in May 2014. (Id. ¶¶ 3-4.) During the onboarding process, plaintiff submitted a “Certificate of Employee Health Examination, ” in which he disclosed that he had a history of epilepsy, but he was not then taking medication for the condition, nor was he under any medical management for it. (Id. ¶ 5.)

         Plaintiff's supervisor, Director of Human Resources Jerri Ryan, gave plaintiff a performance rating of “Excellent” for the 2014-2015 school year, the highest of the four possible ratings (“Excellent, ” “Proficient, ” “Needs Improvement, ” and “Unsatisfactory”). (Id. ¶¶ 9-10.) For the following school year, plaintiff was promoted to Associate Director of Human Resources. (Id. ¶ 11.) At the end of the 2015-2016 school year, Ryan gave plaintiff a lower rating of “Proficient.” (Id.). On July 1, 2016, plaintiff succeeded Ryan as the Director of Human Resources, as part of a plan for Ryan's transition to retirement. (Id. ¶¶ 12-13.) Ryan replaced plaintiff as Associate Director of Human Resources so that she could serve as a resource for him while he learned the Director role. (Id. ¶ 13.)

         As Director of Human Resources, plaintiff was a member of the “cabinet, ” a group of senior administrators who met weekly with the district's superintendent, Dr. Constance Collins, to discuss ongoing issues and developments. (Id. ¶ 14.) During the 2016-2017 school year, Dr. Collins noticed “deficiencies” in plaintiff's performance in his new role. (Id. ¶ 15.) Plaintiff and Dr. Collins began to have one-on-one meetings at a local Panera Bread restaurant to improve their relationship. (Id. ¶¶ 15-16.) While Ryan had supposedly put off retiring to serve as a resource for plaintiff to draw on while he learned his new position, plaintiff believed that, far from supporting him, she undermined his efforts to learn the Director of Human Resources role. (Id. ¶ 20.)

         In January 2017, plaintiff prepared a proposal for a reorganization within the Human Resources department. (Id. ¶¶ 21-22.) When they met to discuss the proposal, Dr. Collins pointed out errors with the proposal's data and informed plaintiff that “she expected greater things [from him] than that.” (Id. ¶ 22.)

         On February 7, 2017, Dr. Collins met with plaintiff to discuss his strengths and weaknesses, as well as areas where he needed to improve. (Id. ¶ 25.) Dr. Collins told plaintiff she expected greater clarity in communication with the Board and with her, and she gave three examples of situations in which his performance had been deficient: (a) in selecting a professional development software platform, plaintiff had not considered the full cost of the operation and implementation of the system (a criticism that plaintiff disputed); (b) plaintiff had raised his voice in an argument with Dejan Kozic, the Board's Technology Director; and (c) plaintiff had brought a number of proposals to her without first verifying the accuracy of the information they contained. (Id.)

         On March 12, 2017, Dr. Collins emailed plaintiff to inform him that she had not yet received “closed session item” notes from him, which she needed for her regular meeting with the Board President the following morning. (Id. ¶ 26.) Plaintiff acknowledged that it was Dr. Collins's expectation that she would always receive these notes at least twenty-four hours before these meetings and he had not provided them in a timely manner. (Id.)

         On March 23, 2017, Dr. Collins met with plaintiff again to discuss his performance deficiencies, including (a) his failure to inform her that a former teaching assistant who had been hired as a teacher was erroneously being paid as both a teaching assistant and a teacher simultaneously; (b) his decision, without consulting Dr. Collins or the Board, that a counselor would not have to repay approximately $25, 000 she had been mistakenly overpaid; (c) his approval, without Dr. Collins's knowledge, of a realignment in the salary schedule for school social workers, at a significant cost; (d) his allowing a payroll specialist to handle the situation with the overpaid counselor, rather than contacting the counselor himself; (e) his handling of the selection of the professional development software platform, as they discussed during their February 7, 2017 meeting; (f) the erroneous data concerning the reorganization within the Human Resources department; (g) the argument with Kozic; (h) plaintiff's listing his title as “Executive Director of HR” on an organizational chart; (i) his overall communication concerning a transfer of an employee who reported to Heather Bennett, Public Relations Officer; and (j) his communication and transparency with Dr. Collins generally. At the conclusion of the meeting, Dr. Collins informed plaintiff that he was going to receive a rating of “Needs Improvement” for the 2016-2017 school year, and would be placed on an “improvement plan” for the 2017-2018 school year. (Id. ¶ 27.)

         On April 2, 2017, plaintiff suffered two seizures and was hospitalized. (Id. ¶ 28.) Plaintiff's wife notified Ryan, who in turn notified Dr. Collins. (Id. ΒΆ 29.) ...


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