Federal Court in Chicago Upholds Assistant Principal Termination

A Chicago federal district court has ruled that a former assistant principal of Community Consolidated School District No. 15, who had been suspended and her contract nonrenewed, failed to produce any evidence supporting her claims of First Amendment retaliation and sex discrimination, and entered judgment in favor of the school district defendants.

In Wong v. Board of Education of Community Consolidated School District et al.(Case No. 2011-cv-07357, N.D.Ill. 2014), successfully defended by Vanessa Clohessy and Kerry Burnet, the plaintiff, a former assistant principal, was suspended with pay for the remainder of the school year and her contract was nonrenewed because of her unauthorized distribution of sensitive survey results.

Plaintiff filed suit claiming: (1) First Amendment retaliation for reporting concerns about a prior supervising principal’s drinking habits during the previous school year; (2) sex discrimination under Title VII based on her suspension and nonrenewal; (3) association discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) based on her husband’s alleged disability; and (4) a due process claim based on a deprivation of plaintiff’s occupational liberty interest.

Regarding plaintiff’s First Amendment retaliation claim, the court found that while plaintiff’s speech was on a matter of public concern, no reasonable jury could have found that her speech was a motivating factor in her suspension and contract nonrenewal. In so holding, the court emphasized that “a federal court is not the super-personnel department for every employer.”

Next, the court entered summary judgment for the defendants on plaintiff’s Title VII sex discrimination claim because plaintiff provided no evidence that she was treated less favorably than a similarly situated male employee. The court rejected plaintiff’s proposed comparator because he had more authority as a principal and he had tenure, while plaintiff was an assistant principal and did not have tenure.

The court also rejected plaintiff’s associational discrimination claim under the ADA because plaintiff “put forth no evidence from which a reasonable jury could conclude that” the superintendent or board of education were even aware of her husband’s alleged disability. Plaintiff’s due process claim failed because her suspension was not stigmatizing as a matter of law and she put forth no evidence that the allegedly stigmatizing information was published, other than in her personnel file. Finally, plaintiff’s claim failed because she put forth no evidence from which a reasonable jury could conclude that she suffered tangible loss of other employment opportunities as a result of the defendants’ actions.

Please contact Vanessa Clohessy with questions regarding this decision or your employment discrimination inquiries.

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