Peoria Federal Court Upholds Principal Reclassification Against Claim of “Reverse Discrimination”

By January 13, 2015May 1st, 2015News, Vanessa Clohessy

A federal district court has ruled that a former principal of Peoria School District No. 150, who had been reclassified to a teaching position, failed to produce any evidence supporting his reverse race discrimination claim and entered judgment in favor of the school district defendants.

In Curtin v. Bd. of Educ. of Peoria Sch. Dist. No. 150, Case No. 12-1449 (N.D. Ill. 2014), successfully defended by HLERK attorneys Vanessa Clohessy and Nina Gougis, the plaintiff, Kevin Curtin (Caucasian) was reclassified from a principal position to a teaching position in April 2012 for falsifying teacher observation forms. Specifically, the plaintiff doctored forms for observations he conducted during a prior school year to give the impression that they were for observations he conducted during the current school year.

As required by the School Code reclassification procedure, the plaintiff was afforded an opportunity to address the Board of Education during a private hearing and a public hearing to refute the administration’s recommendation that he return to the classroom. At both hearings, the plaintiff admitted to falsifying the observation forms. Following the public hearing, the Board approved the plaintiff’s reclassification from principal to teacher.

Despite his admissions, the plaintiff filed suit against the Board of Education, the Superintendent, and certain Board members alleging reverse race discrimination. In support of his claims, the plaintiff alleged that: (1) an African American principal was considered for reclassification during the same time period, but was allowed to voluntarily accept an assistant principal position; and (2) the Superintendent made various derogatoryremarks about Caucasian administrators in 2010.

Specifically, the plaintiff alleged that the Superintendent: (1) called him a “whiner”; (2) referred to one principal as “the captain of the Titanic” (because the principal insisted on serving as principal of a school that was scheduled to be closed); (3) mocked a principal for crying during a meeting; and (4) mocked a principal with what the plaintiff claimed was a “white speaking voice.”

The court found that no reasonable juror could find evidence to support the plaintiff’s reverse discrimination claim. With regard to the African American principal who was allowed to accept the assistant principal position, the court held that employee was not similarly-situated to the plaintiff because there was no evidence she engaged in the same misconduct, i.e., falsifying teacher observation forms.

The court also found that the plaintiff failed to show the existence of background circumstances showing that the defendants discriminated against Caucasian employees, an additional requirement for reverse race discrimination.

With regard to the comments alleged to have been made by the Superintendent in 2010, the court found the comments had “no probative value that a reasonable juror could use to conclude [the Superintendent] was racially motivated” in her recommendation to reclassify the plaintiff.

School districts will soon be facing employee non-renewal and reclassification decisions. HLERK’s “RIF team” will, as it has for the past twenty-five years, stand ready to help.