93 F.3d 327 (7th Cir. 1996), 96-1079, Helland v. South Bend Community School Corp.

Docket Nº:96-1079.
Citation:93 F.3d 327
Party Name:Peter S. HELLAND, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. SOUTH BEND COMMUNITY SCHOOL CORPORATION, Defendant-Appellee.
Case Date:August 15, 1996
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
 
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93 F.3d 327 (7th Cir. 1996)

Peter S. HELLAND, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

SOUTH BEND COMMUNITY SCHOOL CORPORATION, Defendant-Appellee.

No. 96-1079.

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

August 15, 1996

        Argued June 6, 1996.

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        Robert J. Palmer, Thomas Arkell, Law Student, May, Oberfell & Lorber, South Bend, IN, for plaintiff-appellant.

        John B. Drummy, Thomas E. Wheeler, II, Kightlinger & Gray, Indianapolis, IN, Thomas J. Brunner, Jr., Kari A. Gallagher, Baker & Daniels, South Bend, IN, for defendant-appellee.

        Before BAUER, ROVNER, and DIANE P. WOOD, Circuit Judges.

        BAUER, Circuit Judge.

        The South Bend Community School Corporation removed Peter Helland from its list of substitute teachers because he failed to follow lesson plans, failed to control his students, and improperly interjected religion into his classrooms. Helland believes that the School Corporation unlawfully dismissed him because of his religious beliefs, so he

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sued under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act ("RFRA"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb. The district court granted the School Corporation's motion for summary judgment, and we affirm.

        BACKGROUND

        Helland's Christian and Gideon beliefs require that he carry and read the Bible. From May 1979 to June 1980, and again from August 1985 to November 1993, Helland worked as a substitute teacher for the South Bend Community School Corporation. During that time, several principals and teachers for whom he had substituted submitted negative evaluations of Helland's performance and requested that he not return to their schools or classrooms. The evaluations indicated that Helland failed to follow lesson plans left for him by the teachers for whom he substituted and that he failed to maintain control of his classes. One teacher complained that Helland drank a nonalcoholic beer in class, and that the students believed it was alcoholic. Two teachers commented on Helland's lack of understanding of high school students, noting an incident where Helland gave his car keys to a student who had been suspended from school grounds. In addition, several teachers complained that Helland proselytized in his classes by reading the Bible aloud to middle and high school students, distributing Biblical pamphlets, and professing his belief in the Biblical version of creation in a fifth grade science class. After the latter incident, Helland agreed not to give the students an assignment if they agreed not to tell anyone about the discussion.

        The School Corporation warned Helland numerous times that his poor performance as a substitute and his improper interjection of religion into the classroom were grounds for removing him from the substitute teacher list. Finally, in November 1993, it notified Helland that it no longer would hire him as a substitute teacher because he did "not follow[ ] lesson plans, [had] problems with classroom management and on some occasions ... interjected ... religious-oriented materials into portions of your classroom presentation."

        Helland filed a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") within 180 days of his removal from the School Corporation's substitute teacher list. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e)(1). The EEOC declined to bring an action on Helland's behalf. Helland then commenced this lawsuit in federal court, alleging that the School Corporation discriminated against him because of his religion in violation of Title VII, § 1983, and RFRA.

       I. Title VII and § 1983 Claims

        The district court granted the School Corporation's motion for summary judgment on Helland's Title VII and § 1983 claims because it concluded that Helland had not responded to the motion with evidence sufficient to allow a factfinder to conclude that the School Corporation dismissed him because of his religion. Helland can prevail on his Title VII and § 1983 claims in one of two ways. He can offer direct proof of discriminatory intent, Sample v. Aldi Inc., 61 F.3d 544, 547 (7th Cir.1995), or he can rely on the indirect, burden-shifting approach of McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973). Bruno v. City of Crown Point, Ind., 950 F.2d 355, 361 (7th Cir.1991), cert. denied, 505 U.S. 1207, 112 S.Ct. 2998, 120 L.Ed.2d 874 (1992). Under the McDonnell Douglas framework, the plaintiff first must establish by a preponderance of the evidence a prima facie case of discrimination, which creates a presumption that the employer unlawfully discriminated against the plaintiff. The burden then shifts to the employer to produce evidence which, if taken as true, would permit the conclusion that it had a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for its challenged employment action. St. Mary's Honor Ctr. v. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502, 507, 113 S.Ct. 2742, 2747, 125 L.Ed.2d 407 (1993). If the employer meets this burden, the plaintiff then must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that "the legitimate reasons offered by the defendant were not its true reasons, but were a pretext for discrimination." Texas Dep't of Community Affairs

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v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 253, 101 S.Ct. 1089, 1093-94, 67 L.Ed.2d 207 (1981).

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