Cooksey v. Bd. of Educ. of Chi., No. 12-cv-7180

CourtUnited States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court (Northern District of Illinois)
Writing for the CourtJOAN HUMPHREY LEFKOW
Docket NumberNo. 12-cv-7180
PartiesVELMA COOKSEY, Plaintiff, v. BOARD OF EDUCATION of the CITY OF CHICAGO Defendant.
Decision Date19 February 2014


No. 12-cv-7180


Dated: February 19, 2014

Judge Joan H. Lefkow


Velma Cooksey filed a two-count complaint against the Board of Education of the City of Chicago ("CPS") alleging age discrimination and retaliation while employed as principal of Wadsworth School ("Wadsworth"), in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("the ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 621 et seq. CPS has moved for summary judgment.1 For the following reasons, CPS's motion is granted.


Summary judgment obviates the need for a trial where there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). A genuine issue of material fact exists if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986). To determine whether any genuine fact issue exists, the court must pierce the pleadings and assess the proof as presented in depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions, and affidavits that are part of the record to view the facts

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in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378, 127 S. Ct. 1769, 167 L. Ed. 2d 686 (2007). The court may not weigh conflicting evidence or make credibility determinations. Omnicare, Inc. v. UnitedHealth Grp., Inc., 629 F.3d 697, 704 (7th Cir. 2011). If a claim or defense is factually unsupported, the court should dispose of it at the summary judgment stage. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986). The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of proving there is no genuine issue of material fact. Id. at 323. In response, the non-moving party cannot rest on bare pleadings but must designate specific material facts showing there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 324; Insolia v. Philip Morris Inc., 216 F.3d 596, 598 (7th Cir. 2000).

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I. Introduction

Cooksey was the principal of Wadsworth Elementary School ("Wadsworth") in Chicago from 2003 until 2013. She brings this suit against CPS primarily based on the allegedly discriminatory actions of Judith Coates, who served as Cooksey's supervisor from October 2009 until July 31, 2011. In particular, Cooksey takes issue with the following: (1) a negative performance review that Coates gave Cooksey in December 2010; (2) Coates' decision to put Cooksey on a "Direct Assistance Plan" ("DAP") in January 2011; (3) Coates' decision to discipline Cooksey in January 2011 and suspend Cooksey for three days without pay after alleged safety breaches at Wadsworth; (4) the alleged retaliation against Cooksey Coates

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engaged in after Cooksey appealed the January 2011 suspension; (5) Coates' decision to put Cooksey on a "Corrective Action Plan" ("CAP") in May 2011; (6) Coates' decision to require Cooksey to host summer school at a school other than Wadsworth during the summer of 2011, even though Cooksey had hosted summer school the previous summer; (7) Coates' general behavior towards Cooksey.

In addition to Cooksey and Coates, some of the most relevant individuals to this motion are (1) Clarice Jackson-Berry, the president of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, to whom Cooksey turned with her complaints about Coates; (2) Duane Turner, the vice principal of Wadsworth; and (3) Venesa Woods-Andrews, Coates' former assistant. Other persons relevant to this motion include other CPS principals supervised by Coates and will be discussed below.

II. Cooksey's tenure at CPS

A. Wadsworth Elementary School

Cooksey, who was born in 1956, was the principal of Wadsworth Elementary School ("Wadsworth") in Chicago from 2003 until she retired on June 30, 2013.3 As of 2009, Wadsworth had approximately 325 students in grades pre-kindergarten through fifth grade,

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taught in approximately 14 classrooms. Cooksey testified in her deposition that, as principal, she was ultimately responsible for the performance of the students in her school.

CPS measures school performance in part through a performance assessment test that scores schools out of a maximum 42 points. One way in which principals in Cooksey's area ("Area 15") could improve their performance was to rely on data provided to them by their area office. Although Cooksey's assistant principal, Turner, stated that he used this data to create professional development workshops for teachers to help them understand individual students' needs, Cooksey stated that she never understood the data presented to her. Wadsworth's performance assessment score at the end of 2010 and beginning of 2011 was 9 out of 42. Moreover, Wadsworth had been on probation with CPS since 2007, meaning that the school was below standards based on a set of CPS criteria. (See Dkt. 33, Ex. 1 at 19:10-12.) There were students at Wadsworth who could not read at grade level, which Cooksey said was unacceptable to her and should have been unacceptable to whomever supervised her. (See id. at 19:19-20:9.)

Coates supervised Cooksey and the other principals in Area 15 from October 2009 until July 31, 2011. Before being supervised by Coates, Cooksey had never been disciplined and had never been placed on a DAP or CAP.4 Cooksey and other principals in Area 15 attended weekly meetings with Coates. Cooksey presented once at these meetings and spoke up sometimes.5

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B. Cooksey's December 2010 Performance Review

Because of Wadworth's low performance assessment score, when Coates reviewed Cooksey's performance on December 2, 2010 ("the December 2010 review"), she gave Cooksey ratings of two out of a possible four points across the board, which translated to an overall assessment of "needs improvement." Coates' assessment highlighted (1) that Wadsworth had been on probation for three years in a row; (2) that its reading and science scores were declining (although its math and composite scores showed increases); (3) Wadsworth's "downward trend in attendance"; and (4) its "systematic absence of instructional guidance and individual teacher/classroom oversight by the principal." (Dkt. 33, Ex. 10.) Around the same time as the December 2010 review, Cooksey completed two self-assessments using the same four-point scale. She gave herself scores ranging from two to four.6

C. The DAP and CAP Improvement Plans

Due to Wadsworth's low performance assessment score and Cooksey's December 2010 review, Coates placed Cooksey on a DAP on January 5, 2011. The DAP provided that Cooksey would receive a mid-term review on May 19, 2011, and could be placed on a CAP at that time if she had not made any progress. The DAP required Cooksey to give periodic reports and other

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plans for and assessments of her school to Coates, the Local School Council ("LSC")7 for Wadsworth, and others, and to hold evening meetings to make it easier for stakeholders to attend. Cooksey has admitted that even before Coates put her on the DAP, she was doing most of what the DAP required her to do. (Dkt. 33, Ex. 2 at 181:15-182:12.)

Coates and Cooksey met on May 19, 2011 to discuss the DAP, at which time Coates put Cooksey on the CAP, starting on June 16, 2011. The CAP is a more severe measure than a DAP.8 Coates took this action based on her belief that Cooksey had failed to comply with most of the expectations described in the DAP.9 Specifically, Coates believed that Cooksey failed to provide a focused plan to improve instructional outcomes, failed to follow the format for written weekly teacher meeting reports, and otherwise failed to show successful progress under the DAP. Cooksey claims Coates did not visit Wadsworth enough to know if any improvement was being made, which Coates does not contradict.

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After being put on the DAP and CAP, Cooksey's job title, duties, and salary remained the same. Cooksey admitted in her deposition that neither a DAP nor a CAP constitutes discipline.10

Cooksey's CAP bore some similarities to the CAP that another Area 15 principal, Lori Lennix, received. Coates' subordinate Venesa Andrews testified that Coates asked her to write a draft CAP for Cooksey and emailed her "three CAPs from prior employees before I had come and asked me to go through and find—and this was a quote, find the absolute worst information and put it in" Cooksey's CAP. (Dkt. 46, Ex. 2 at 51:12-17.) Andrews took "worst information to mean anything showing the principal being incompetent." (Id. at 51:19-21.) Andrews protested that she could not create the CAP because she had not observed Cooksey and would not know what to put in the CAP. Andrews testified that Coates responded that it did not matter because "a bad principal is a bad principal. Just cut and paste as needed." (Id. at 52:1-2.) In the end, Coates drafted the CAP herself.

D. Cooksey's Supervision of Summer School at Doolittle

Cooksey also...

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