786 Fed.Appx. 602 (7th Cir. 2019), 18-2626, Washington v. Chicago Bd. of Education

Docket Nº:18-2626
Citation:786 Fed.Appx. 602
Party Name:Cassandra WASHINGTON, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. CHICAGO BOARD OF EDUCATION, Defendant-Appellee.
Attorney:Cassandra Washington, Pro Se Sabrina L. Haake, Attorney, Law Office of Sabrina Haake, Gary, IN, for Defendant - Appellee
Judge Panel:Before ILANA DIAMOND ROVNER, Circuit Judge, DAVID F. HAMILTON, Circuit Judge, MICHAEL B. BRENNAN, Circuit Judge
Case Date:September 13, 2019
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

Page 602

786 Fed.Appx. 602 (7th Cir. 2019)

Cassandra WASHINGTON, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

CHICAGO BOARD OF EDUCATION, Defendant-Appellee.

No. 18-2626

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

September 13, 2019

Submitted July 30, 2019 [*]

Editorial Note:

NONPRECEDENTIAL DISPOSITION. (See Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure Rule 32.1)

Page 603

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 604

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 17-CV-2343, Manish S. Shah, Judge .

Cassandra Washington, Pro Se

Sabrina L. Haake, Attorney, Law Office of Sabrina Haake, Gary, IN, for Defendant - Appellee

Before ILANA DIAMOND ROVNER, Circuit Judge, DAVID F. HAMILTON, Circuit Judge, MICHAEL B. BRENNAN, Circuit Judge

ORDER

Cassandra Washington appeals the dismissal of her complaint seeking, among other things, a declaration that a settlement agreement between her and the Chicago Board of Education, her former employer, is unenforceable. The district court ruled that the agreement was valid and dismissed the suit. We affirm.

We accept as true the allegations in Washington’s complaint and take judicial notice of the information in the settlement agreement that she attached to it. See Williamson v. Curran, 714 F.3d 432, 435-36 (7th Cir. 2013). Beginning in 2014, the Board employed Washington as the principal of Stephen F. Gale Community Academy. But in 2016, Washington’s supervisor

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issued her a Corrective Action Plan which, according to her, set "unreasonable" and "unrealistic" goals for the students’ academic performance at the school. According to Washington, the plan was part of the Board’s unwritten policy of "systematically target[ing] experienced African-American female contract principals who were more than forty years of age for unjustified removal." Two months later, the Board demanded that Washington resign or else face involuntary termination after a public hearing.

The Board’s attorneys then presented Washington and her attorney with a Settlement Agreement and General Release, which she and the Board’s general counsel signed. Washington consented to her removal as principal of Gale, without going through a contested hearing under 105 ILCS 5/34-8.3(d)(2). This provision allows the CEO of Chicago Public Schools, with the Board’s approval, to remove and replace the principal of a school on probation that does not make adequate progress. Washington also agreed, "after being afforded the opportunity to receive the advice and assistance of counsel of her own choosing," to "release[ ] and forever discharge[ ] all claims or causes of action which she has or may have against the Board," including those arising out of her employment and separation. In exchange, the Board agreed to remove the Corrective Action Plan from Washington’s file and not to place her in a negative light during the uncontested hearing. But it could present "some references to poor academic results" to justify her removal. The Board would also "reassign" Washington to an administrative position at the same salary for four months and then transfer her again to unpaid leave until the end of the school year. Further, the Board agreed not to contest any unemployment-compensation claims.

Washington’s next step was this lawsuit, which she pursued with the assistance of counsel at all times in the district court. The operative complaint asked the district court to declare that the settlement agreement is unenforceable under state and federal law and to order the rescission of the contract. She alleged that the agreement violated the Board’s own rules, which required (1) the consent of the Local School Council before removing her as principal, and (2) the Board’s approval of the agreement (rather than just its general counsel’s) because it obligated payment to Washington of more than $50,000.

Washington also alleged that the Board had procured the settlement by fraud. She claimed that a "special relationship" existed between her and the Board’s attorneys, giving them "influence and superiority over her" and thus requiring them to disclose to her accurate and complete information. But, she said, the attorneys did not explain the Board’s procedures for a removal hearing under 105 ILCS 5/34-8.3(d) and did not explain that she was waiving her due process rights. Finally, she alleged that the Board breached the agreement by denying her a raise tied to a collective bargaining agreement and placing her in a negative light during the removal hearing.

The Board moved to dismiss the second amended complaint, arguing that Washington had knowingly and voluntarily executed the settlement agreement, in which she released all her claims against it. The district court agreed with the Board that the settlement agreement was enforceable and dismissed the suit. Washington asked the court to reconsider its rulings and for leave to file another complaint (her fourth), but the district court denied both requests.

We review the dismissal de novo . Matlin v. Spin Master Corp., 921 F.3d 701, 704-05 (7th Cir. 2019). State contract law governs the formation, construction, and enforcement

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of settlement agreements. Beverly v. Abbott Labs., 817 F.3d 328, 333 (7th Cir. 2016). Under Illinois law, which governs this contract, a settlement generally is enforceable if there was mutual assent to material terms. Id.

Washington first argues that the settlement agreement is void because § 4-1(c)(6) of the Board’s rules required the Local School Council’s consent to remove her as principal. The Board’s rules have the force of law. See Veazey v. Bd. of Educ. of Rich Twp. High Sch. Dist. 227, 406 Ill.Dec. 79, 59 N.E.3d 857, 866 ¶ 30 (Ill.App. 2016). But § 4-1(c)(6) allowed the Board to remove Washington after a hearing under 105 ILCS 5/34-8.3 "or upon consent of ... the Local School Council." Because the Board removed her under the statute, the Council’s consent was unnecessary.

Washington also maintains that the agreement is void because its value exceeded $50,000, and the Board did not approve it as required by § 3-2 of the Board’s rules. A contract that is "beyond the power of the municipality is absolutely void and cannot be ratified by later municipal action." Ad-Ex, Inc. v. City of Chicago, 207 Ill.App.3d 163, 152 Ill.Dec. 136, 565 N.E.2d 669, 673 (1990). Section 3-2 permits the general counsel "to settle any matter" for "a sum" up to $50,000 without Board approval. The settlement provided that Washington would be "reassigned" to an administrative position and "continue" to receive the same pay, which, for four months, would have been more than $50,000. We agree with the district court that we should, if possible, interpret this obligation to be consistent with the law and public policy of Illinois. See Enterprise Leasing Co. of St. Louis v. Hardin, 353 Ill.Dec. 931, 956 N.E.2d 1059, 1064 (Ill. App. 2011). This agreement provided only for reassignment, not the payment of "a sum." The Board did not incur additional liability, and payment of more than $50,000 was not...

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