Joll v. Valparaiso Community Schools, 032020 FED7, 18-3630

Docket Nº:18-3630
Opinion Judge:Hamilton, Circuit Judge.
Party Name:Molly Joll, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Valparaiso Community Schools, Defendant-Appellee.
Judge Panel:Before Flaum, Ripple, and Hamilton, Circuit Judges. Ripple, Circuit Judge, dissenting.
Case Date:March 20, 2020
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
 
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Molly Joll, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

Valparaiso Community Schools, Defendant-Appellee.

No. 18-3630

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

March 20, 2020

Argued December 4, 2019

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Hammond Division. No. 2:16-cv-00338-JEM - John E. Martin, Magistrate Judge.

Before Flaum, Ripple, and Hamilton, Circuit Judges.

Hamilton, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiff Molly Joll is an accomplished runner and an experienced running coach. She applied for a job as the assistant coach of a high school girls' cross-country team. The high school hired a younger man for the job but invited Joll to apply for the same position on the boys' team. So she did-and the high school hired a younger man again. She filed this suit for sex and age discrimination. After discovery, the district court granted summary judgment for the school district, concluding that Joll had not offered enough evidence of either form of discrimination to present to a jury.

We reverse the dismissal of Joll's sex discrimination claim. The district court appears to have erred by doing what we have repeatedly said a court should not: "asking whether any particular piece of evidence proves the case by itself," rather than aggregating the evidence "to find an overall likelihood of discrimination." Ortiz v. Werner Enterprises, Inc., 834 F.3d 760, 763, 765 (7th Cir. 2016). Joll offered evidence that would allow a reasonable jury to find that the school district used hiring procedures tilted in favor of the male applicants, applied sex-role stereotypes during the interview process, and manipulated the criteria for hiring in ways that were inconsistent except that they always favored the male applicants. A reasonable jury might also find no sex discrimination, but on this record, the decision belongs to a jury.

I. Facts for Summary Judgment

We state the case in the light reasonably most favorable to Joll, giving her the benefit of conflicts in the evidence and reasonable inferences from the evidence, but without vouching for the objective truth of any fact or expressing any opinion on the weight of the evidence. Garofalo v. Village of Hazel Crest, 754 F.3d 428, 430 (7th Cir. 2014); Lewis v. City of Chicago, 496 F.3d 645, 651 (7th Cir. 2007).

Defendant Valparaiso Community Schools operates Valparaiso High School and Thomas Jefferson Middle School, two public schools in northwestern Indiana. Joll has been a teacher at the middle school for more than twenty-five years. For twelve years, from 2005 to 2013, she co-coached the middle school boys' and girls' cross-country team. In 2013 she resigned the middle school coaching position to better support her two daughters in their high school and college running careers. "It wasn't fair" to the cross-country program, as Joll thought and explained at the time, for her to divide her time between the program and her daughters.

By 2014 her older daughter's running career had come to a close, so Joll again had the time to devote to coaching. Her old position at the middle school had been filled, but the high school was hiring an assistant coach for the girls' cross-country team. On June 17, Joll sent letters of interest in the position to high school principal Reid Amones and high school athletic director Herb Hofer. That was "the normal process" for applying, according to Hofer.

At first Joll heard nothing back. Around the end of June, she emailed Hofer and enlisted the help of her union president and vice-president. Finally, on July 3, Joll received a text message from the girls' head coach, Adam Nellessen, asking whether she would be available for an interview two days later, on July 5. Joll said she would be. While athletic director Hofer ordinarily would have conducted the interview with coach Nellessen, knee surgery prevented Hofer's attendance on July 5. His place was taken by principal Amones.

Normally, according to Hofer, interviewers would ask applicants "what their qualifications are," "what experiences they have, what drew them to the job." Joll has substantial experience both as a coach and as a runner herself. She ran crosscountry and track all four years of high school and attended Indiana State University, an NCAA Division I school, on a full athletic scholarship for both sports. After receiving her master's degree in education, Joll spent about five years as the girls' track coach at a junior high school in central Indiana, with a one-year stint as a volunteer track coach at a school in the United Kingdom as part of a Fulbright teachers' exchange program.

Joll then began her more than twenty years with Valparaiso Community Schools and its athletics programs. From 1991 to 1995, Joll was the assistant girls' track coach at Valparaiso High School; she was the co-coach of the girls' track team at Thomas Jefferson Middle School from 1995 to 2005. For part of the same period, from 1994 to 2004, she was an assistant women's and men's cross-country coach at Valparaiso University, also a Division I school. Finally, as mentioned above, Joll co-coached the middle school's cross-country team from 2005 until 2013, when her daughters' athletic careers led her to resign that position. Throughout this period Joll also coached a local youth running club as a volunteer.

There is no evidence, however, that this wealth of experience was discussed much during Joll's July 5, 2014 interview with coach Nellessen and principal Amones for the position with the high school girls' team. Rather, Joll fielded questions about resigning her middle school coaching position in 2013 and whether her parenting duties would permit her to devote sufficient time to coaching at the high school. She was emphatic that they would.

Given Joll's 2013 resignation from the middle school coaching position, such questions might have seemed unremarkable. In this case, however, the only other applicant was John Arredondo, a forty-year-old man who was eventually hired for the position. Arredondo had also resigned a crosscountry coaching position in 2013 for family reasons. During his interview with Nellessen and Amones, however, Arredondo was not asked about his family life. He was asked instead about his "coaching experience, what my coaching philosophy is, a lot of shop talk." In other words, the three men "talked shop." Joll had to talk parenting.

The differences in the high school's hiring process did not end there. According to athletic director Hofer, the school's ordinary course was to check an applicant's references only after the decision had been made to recommend his hiring to the school board, the school district's final decision-maker on personnel matters. That is how the school proceeded with Arredondo. Joll's references, however, were contacted within days of her interview on July 5.

The high school heard from at least three of Joll's seven references. Two gave her unqualified recommendations, submitting lengthy narratives praising her as a "respected leader" and a "great role model." Aaron Crague, head coach of the high school's boys' cross-country team, whom Joll had coached when he was a student-athlete at Valparaiso University, pointed to Joll's "authentic knowledge gleaned" as a runner herself. He said "she would do a fine job collaborating with Coach Nellessen." It had been Crague's experience that Joll had "always done a great job supporting and complimenting [sic] the head coach."

A third reference was generally strong but less favorable on the later point. Jim Polite, the middle school's principal, opined in a brief, three-point email to Amones that Joll's fitness to serve in a subordinate role "would be my only concern." Joll, thought Polite, "has a dominate [sic] personality." (The parties assume he meant "dominant personality.") Amones forwarded Polite's email to Hofer with the one-sentence comment, "The 3rd one I got," seemingly referring to the "dominate personality" comment, the third of Polite's comments.

On July 18, Hofer called Joll to tell her the school had chosen Arredondo because he had "more current experience working with high school age athletes." That was true as far as it went, despite Joll's much more extensive experience as a coach and runner. Arredondo had coached the boys' crosscountry team at a different high school outside the school district from 2008 to 2013. Joll had last professionally coached high schoolers in 1995. There is no evidence of how the difference between middle school and high school athletes or between high school and college athletes was material to the assistant coach position, and Polite saw "no reason" why Joll's middle school experience "wouldn[']t translate to the HS level."

In the meantime, Joll had learned that there would also be a...

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