Washington v. Chicago Board of Education, 091319 FED7, 18-2626

Docket Nº:18-2626
Party Name:CASSANDRA WASHINGTON, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. CHICAGO BOARD OF EDUCATION, 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

CASSANDRA WASHINGTON, Plaintiff-Appellant,



No. 18-2626

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

September 13, 2019


Submitted July 30, 2019 [*]

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

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


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 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...

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