In December, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Indiana’s evaluation-driven reduction-in-force statute as unconstitutional. The case, Elliott v. Board of School Trustees of Madison Consolidated Schools and State of Indiana, 876 F.3d 926 (7th Cir. 2017), was brought by a 19-year teacher who was dismissed during a RIF because of his evaluations. The teacher, who also happened to be the union president, had received positive ratings for years but was impacted by the RIF because he was rated “needs improvement” in three discrete skill areas in an evaluation ten years prior. He and five other teachers were laid off.
Elliott sued the school district on several theories. Among them was his claim that, in enacting its tenure statute, the Indiana legislature had created a contractual relationship with teachers who had attained tenure, and thus, that Indiana could not erode the rights of that contract through subsequent legislation–i.e., through a new RIF statute that values evaluations over tenure status–without violating the “Contract Clause” of the United States Constitution. The Contract Clause prohibits states from passing any “law impairing the obligation of contracts.” The Seventh Circuit agreed with the lower court and ruled that Indiana’s new RIF law, which changed the rights of tenured teachers in the event of a RIF, unlawfully impaired the contractual rights of tenured teachers. It therefore held Indiana’s law unconstitutional.
Illinois has a similar RIF system under SB 7, and the Seventh Circuit also has jurisdiction over Illinois. Although Elliott does not eliminate Illinois’ RIF process under SB 7, it does open the door for similar litigation in Illinois. This case was also of interest in several other states, with five other states filing amicus (i.e., friend-of-the-court) briefs. It remains to be seen whether the school district will attempt an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.