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Fields v. The Board of Education of City of Chicago

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

June 27, 2019

Gloria D. Fields, Plaintiff-Appellant,
The Board of Education of the City of Chicago & Chad P. Weiden, Defendants-Appellees.

          Argued June 12, 2019

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 15 C 4581. Rebecca R. Pallmeyer, Judge.

          Before Wood, Chief Judge, and Barrett and St. Eve, Circuit Judges.

          PER CURIAM.

         Gloria Fields, a 63-year-old African-American woman, retired in 2016 from her job as a teacher with Chicago Public Schools. She sued the Board of Education and the principal of the school where she worked, alleging that they discriminated against her because of her race and age and retaliated against her for filing this lawsuit, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 621-34. The district court entered summary judgment for the defendants on all Fields's claims, concluding that Fields did not suffer an adverse employment action. We agree.

         I. Background

         Fields was a teacher at Edgebrook Elementary School from 2002 until May 2016, when she retired. Chad Weiden became the principal of Edgebrook in July 2013, and he required all teachers to submit weekly lesson plans to him. Weiden provided feedback on teachers' plans during the 2014-15 school year, and he informed Fields that her lesson plans were too scripted and too long.

         Weiden also conducted informal observations of teachers, including Fields. He observed often that Fields's teaching was disconnected from her lesson plans and that students were not engaged with the material. Weiden suggested ways for her to improve, but Fields incorporated his suggestions sporadically and refused later offers to assist with her lessons. Based partly on Weiden's observations, Chicago Public Schools rated Fields's job performance for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years as "developing," which ranks below a "proficient" rating.

         Beginning in 2014, Weiden responded to several incidents by issuing Fields "pre-meeting notices" informing her that she had to attend a meeting to develop a performance improvement plan. First, Fields did not attend an evening "open house" in February 2014 -despite working at the school that day-that she acknowledges Weiden would have wanted her to attend. She also did not inform the school's administration that she would not attend. Next, without notifying Weiden, Fields did not attend a mandatory "professional development session" in November 2014. Then, in 2015, Fields did not submit request forms for a field trip on time and completed the forms only after several requests from Weiden. Fourth, Fields did not attend a "principal-directed preparation period" in September 2015. Fields also received notices for failing to turn in lesson plans and failing to properly notify the school about requested leave. The notices stated that Fields could receive a "formal warning" or a "final warning" after the meetings, or that Weiden could recommend her dismissal to the Board.

         When Fields accrued three performance improvement plans, she faced possible disciplinary action. The teachers' union and the Board agreed to mediate the dispute with Fields in January 2016, and both Weiden and Fields attended. The Board's opening position was that Fields could retire with a "do not hire" designation, preventing her from being rehired. The mediator, however, asked Weiden if he objected to Fields's performance-improvement plans being downgraded. Weiden did not object because he wanted Fields to improve her performance, so Fields received no discipline as a result of the performance-improvement plans.

         After the mediation, Fields took a leave of absence under the Family and Medical Leave Act. She retired in May 2016 without ever returning to work.

         Fields then sued Weiden and the Board of Education for discriminating against her based on her race and age; she later added a retaliation claim for filing this lawsuit. (She also sued Weiden for intentional infliction of emotional distress, but she abandons that claim on appeal so we do not address it.) The district judge entered summary judgment for the defendants, reasoning that Fields's discrimination claims failed because she could not show that she suffered an adverse employment action. The court added that Fields had "little to suggest that considerations beyond individuals' job performance entered into the Defendants' calculations, and even less to suggest that Weiden's nondiscriminatory explanations for his behavior was 'mere pretext."' And the defendants were entitled to judgment on Fields's retaliation claim, the court said, because she did not prove that she had suffered a materially adverse employment action. Fields was not constructively discharged, the court reiterated, and the possibility of discipline or termination following the pre-meeting notices was not serious enough to dissuade a reasonable employee from engaging in protected activity.

         II. Analysis

         We review the district court's entry of summary judgment de novo, construing all facts and drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of Fields, the opponent of summary judgment. See Abrego v. Wilkie,907 F.3d 1004, 1011 (7th Cir. 2018). On appeal, Fields argues that she presented enough evidence to get past summary judgment on her discrimination and retaliation claims. On the discrimination claims, she argues that she suffered an adverse employment action because she was constructively discharged and because the Board tried to have her fired at the mediation. On the retaliation claims, Fields adds that she suffered an ...

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