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Williams v. Board of Education of City of Chicago

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

September 24, 2019

DAN WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE CITY OF CHICAGO, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Virginia M. Kendall, United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Dan Williams is a school social worker for Chicago Public Schools. He sued his employer, the Board of Education of the City of Chicago, for employment discrimination and retaliation based on his gender and disability. Williams claims he was not selected for certain additional social work roles because he is male and has a disability, and that he was denied an accommodation for his disability, namely depression, anxiety, and sinusitis that prevents him from sleeping well. The Board now moves for summary judgment on each of Williams’s claims. For the following reasons, the Board’s motion for summary judgment [Dkt. 72] is granted.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         The Board moved for summary judgment on November 16, 2018. Williams’s response was due on December 14, 2018. (Dkt. 71.) Williams, who is represented by counsel, did not file a response or timely request an extension of time to respond, and the Board asked the Court to grant judgment in its favor based on Williams’s failure to respond. (Dkt. 75.) Of course, the Court would have been well within her right to do so at that time. See, e.g., Pierce v. Ill. Dept. of Human Servs., 355 Fed.Appx. 28, 31 (7th Cir. 2009). However, in the interest of not allowing counsel’s failure to respond adversely impact her client’s case in such a critical way, the Court granted Williams’s request for a 30-day extension to respond, which he filed on January 11, 2019, nearly a month after his response was originally due. (Dkt. 76, 78.) But Williams again failed to respond in a timely fashion and asked for a second extension of time, which the Court granted, making his new due date January 22, 2019. (Dkt. 79, 82.) Despite the two extensions, Williams then missed his due date for a third time.

         On February 5, 2019, two weeks after the deadline to respond had passed, Williams finally filed his response and asked the Court to accept the late submission due to the voluminous evidentiary record and his counsel’s health issues. (Dkt. 83.) Williams’s filing included 70 additional statements of fact, in violation of the local rules for summary judgment, which allow the nonmoving party to file no more than 40 additional facts unless they seek prior permission from the court. (Dkt. 83-2 at 31-45; see also L.R. 56.1(b)(3)(C).) The Board again asked the Court to deem its facts admitted based on Williams’s late response and failure to comply with local summary judgment rules, which the Court had discretion to do. But the Court accepted Williams’s late response and granted him additional time to file a statement of additional facts (limited to 60 facts) that complied with the local rules. (Dkt. 87.)

         Despite being given over three months to respond to the Board’s motion for summary judgment, Williams has failed to create a genuine dispute of material fact on key elements of his claims. The Board is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

         STATEMENT OF FACTS

         I. Williams and CPS Social Workers

         Dan Williams works as a school social worker employed by Defendant Board of Education of the City of Chicago (the “Board”) since September 2008. (Dkt. 74 ¶ 3.) The Board maintains a system of schools commonly known as Chicago Public Schools (“CPS”). (Id. ¶ 2.) CPS social workers can be assigned to any of the Board’s 600-plus elementary and high schools within Chicago city limits. (Id. ¶ 5.) Most CPS social workers are assigned to two or three schools. (Id. ¶ 6.) A CPS social worker’s primary job functions are assisting students in developing coping skills, self-esteem, and improving their interactive skills; providing crisis, individual, and group intervention services; consulting with school staff, parents, and others regarding sociocultural and emotional factors impacting student learning; conducting diagnostic assessments to determine student eligibility for special education; developing Individualized Education Plans (“IEPs”); and providing professional development and leadership in developing school/community partnerships. (Id. ¶ 7.)

         CPS schools have varying start times ranging from 7:30 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. and varying dismissal times ranging from 2:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. (Id. ¶ 14.) CPS social workers are expected to work the hours of their assigned school (i.e., when the students are in attendance), so CPS social workers assigned to more than one school may have different start times on different days. (Id. ¶ 15.) During the 2014-2015 school year, one of Williams’s assigned schools had an 8:45 a.m. to 3:25 p.m. school day, while the other school had a 7:45 a.m. to 2:35 p.m. school day. (Dkt. 74-4 at 11.) School principals provide private areas for social workers to work with students, but due to space limitations in school buildings, social workers are expected to share office space and equipment. (Dkt. 74 ¶ 16.)

         Williams suffers from depression, anxiety, and chronic sinusitis. (Dkt. 89 ¶ 1.) As a result of these conditions, Williams is often unable to sleep at night, which in turn makes it difficult for him to concentrate on work tasks and negatively impacts his memory. (Id.) Williams’s anxiety and depression make it difficult for him to accomplish tasks. (Id. ¶ 2.) It is important for someone with anxiety and depression to work in a reasonably quiet workspace with adequate resources and a consistent work schedule. (Id. ¶ 3.) A noisy or chaotic workspace can exacerbate the symptoms of anxiety and depression, as can the “constant search for resources, including private space to serve students.” (Id.)

         II. Williams's Accommodation Requests

         On October 9, 2014, Williams submitted an accommodation request for consistent start and end times of 7:45 a.m. and 2:45 p.m. every day.[1] (Dkt. 74 ¶ 61; Dkt. 74-4 at 2.) The request stated that Williams has chronic sinus problems and clinical depression that impact his ability to sleep at night. (Id.) The request further stated that a consistent start time would allow Williams to have a consistent sleep pattern, which would in turn help him be more alert and focused at work. (Id.) Representatives from the Board’s Equal Opportunity Compliance Office (“EOCO”) began communicating with Williams about his request shortly after it was submitted. (Id. ¶ 62.) Approximately a week after Williams submitted his request, one of the EOCO representatives told Williams that his request was “a matter of convenience.” (Dkt. 89 ¶ 58.) The EOCO contacted Williams’s healthcare provider seeking additional information to support the request. Williams’s healthcare provider responded that Williams was unable to fluctuate between two different work schedules and needed a consistent schedule to maintain a healthy sleep/work schedule. (Dkt. 74-4 at 11.) On November 14, 2014, the Board denied Williams’s request. (Dkt. 74 ¶ 63.) The denial letter stated that Williams’s healthcare provider did not give the Board enough information to support his request “for a fixed schedule of 7:45 a.m. to 2:25 p.m.” (Id.; see also Dkt. 74-4 at 12.) The letter further stated that, in order to provide temporary assistance, the EOCO arranged for Williams to arrive at one of his assigned schools at 7:45 a.m. (even though it was an 8:45 a.m.-start school) if he wished to. (Id.)

         On May 7, 2015, Williams submitted a second accommodation request to EOCO requesting: (1) a consistent start time of 7:45 a.m.; (2) a reduced caseload of no more than 20 students (the request was later adjusted to “the minimum caseload of students”); (3) assignment to a single school (preferably Lawndale Elementary School); and (4) removal from Prescott Elementary School (“Prescott”). (Dkt. 74 ¶ 65; Dkt. 74-4 at 16.) On June 26, 2015, the Board denied each of Williams’s requests. (Dkt. 74 ¶ 67; Dkt. 74-4 at 20.) The Board’s letter stated that the first request was denied for the remainder of the 2014-2015 school year, which was nearly over by that time, because social workers are required to work the hours of their assigned schools and there were no vacancies at 7:45 a.m.-start schools. (Id.) However, the letter also stated that the EOCO would seek opportunities to place Williams at ¶ 7:45 a.m.-start school for the following school year. (Id.) The second request, for a reduced caseload, was denied because social workers are expected to support all students in a school building and a review of Williams’s caseload did not support a reduction.[2] (Id.) The third request was denied because assignment to Lawndale Elementary only would be part-time work based on the number and needs of students. (Id.) The final request was denied because Williams’s removal from Prescott would create a part-time position and the Board does not have part-time social workers. (Id.)

         On September 7, 2015, Williams submitted a third accommodation request, which included: (1) a fully functional, private office at each school with the following equipment: a telephone with private voicemail, proper light, heating and air conditioning, a high-capacity laser printer with extra ink, a private fax machine, a large high-resolution monitor, a high-capacity shredder, a high-capacity scanner, and a “proper” sized desk and swivel chair; (2) a large HEPA room filter for each office; (3) that his job performance evaluation be based primarily on Health Services Management Program (“HSMP”) compliance rather than the Board’s current REACH criteria; and (4) a permanent, lifelong residency waiver. (Dkt. 74 ¶ 69; Dkt. 74-4 at 24.) The Board gave Williams HEPA filters and offered him a private space with a suitable chair and table or desk at each school, but denied the other requests because they were either unrelated to his disability or did not assist him in performing the essential functions of his job. (Dkt. 74 ¶ 70; Dkt. 74-4 at 26-28, 30, 32-34.)

         III. Williams’s Performance Evaluations and Disciplinary History

         The Board uses the “REACH” tool to evaluate CPS teachers and social workers.[3] (Dkt. 74 ¶ 22.) REACH evaluations are scored from 100 to 400 points, and employees can receive a REACH summative rating of excellent, proficient, developing, or unsatisfactory based on their score. (Id. ¶¶ 23-24; Dkt. 74-2 at 58, 64.) For the 2013-2014 school year, Williams received a REACH score of 268, which is in the “developing” range. (Id. ¶ 25.) Because Williams received a “developing” rating, he was placed on a professional development plan in December 2014. (Id. ¶ 26.) For the 2014-2015 school year, Williams received a REACH score of 253. (Id. ¶ 28.) Williams was on short-term disability leave for part of the school year and did not receive a final REACH rating. (Dkt. 90 ¶ 39.)

         During the 2014-2015 school year, the Prescott principal complained to Williams's supervisor about his behavior. (Dkt. 74 ¶ 30.) Williams was placed on a Performance Improvement Plan (“PIP”) as a result of his behavior at Prescott. (Id. ¶ 31.) A PIP is a disciplinary action that outlines each infraction and provides suggested behavioral changes to improve an employee's conduct. (Id. ¶¶ 31-32.) Williams’s PIP, dated June 12, 2015, lists five infractions: (a) failure to perform duties; (b) insubordination; (c) policy non-compliance – students; (d) attendance abuse – absenteeism; and (e) negligence/incompetence – other duties. (Id. ¶ 33.) The PIP lists dozens of examples of Williams’s conduct during the 2014-2015 school year, including but not limited to the following concerns:[4]

• Williams interrupted a teacher while she was teaching and during her preparation period;
• Williams did not read a student’s IEP before meeting with the student;
• Williams failed to submit required documentation for a particular student, including the student’s needs assessments and a copy of his calendar;
• After a Prescott parent complained that she did not want Williams seeing her son any longer, Williams told her he had not read the child’s IEP;
• Williams spoke inappropriately to a teacher about his personal life and spent considerable school time making personal phone calls;
• Williams did not report to work on 20 days between September 17 and February 4, failed to swipe in twice, failed to swipe out twice, failed to work the assigned hours on two occasions, and left ...

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