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Marich v. School Town of Munster

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division

April 23, 2015

ANDJA MARICH, Plaintiff,
v.
SCHOOL TOWN OF MUNSTER, INDIANA, an Indiana Community School Corporation, and LAKE CENTRAL SCHOOL CORPORATION, an Indiana Community School Corporation, Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

ANDREW P. RODOVICH, Magistrate Judge.

This matter is before the court on the Motion for Summary Judgment [DE 39] filed by the defendants, School Town of Munster, Indiana and Lake Central School Corporation, on January 29, 2015. For the following reasons, the motion is GRANTED.

Background

On May 14, 2012, the plaintiff, Andja Marich, filed her Amended Complaint, which alleged discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII. Marich is female and was forty-seven years old when she filed her Amended Complaint. In 1986, the defendant, School Town of Munster (STM), hired Marich as a special education teacher and assigned her to the West Lake Special Education Cooperative. West Lake is a joint special education program for students in STM and the defendant, Lake Central School Corporation (LCSC). At that time, all West Lake employees were STM employees, but they could be assigned to schools within STM or LCSC.

Marich taught special education at LCSC middle schools through 1994 and then became a West Lake consultant. She remained a consultant until 1998, when she was promoted to a West Lake supervisor. As a West Lake consultant and supervisor, Marich remained an employee of STM. In 2001, after Marich obtained her principal's license, STM hired her as an assistant principal at Wilbur Wright Middle School.

At the end of the 2005-2006 school year, Marich accepted a promotion to become an assistant principal at Munster High School. At the end of the 2006-2007 school year, Steve Tripenfeldas, the high school principal and Marich's supervisor, told her that he had requested her removal as assistant principal because things were not working. STM transferred her to West Lake as a supervisor/early childhood director, which was similar to her prior West Lake supervisor position. Following the transfer, STM did not reduce Marich's salary, despite it being contrary to the pay scale, which paid a West Lake supervisor less than a high school assistant principal.

In 2007, she applied for an assistant principal position at Wilbur Wright Middle School. The position included duties as the athletic director. STM hired Tim Sopko, a male under age forty, for the position. Sopko did not have a principal's license but was more proficient with computers and had experience in athletics. Marich remained as a West Lake supervisor and met with STM administration regarding her contract in May or June 2009. The administration decided to freeze her salary because it was higher than the West Lake supervisor pay scale and stated that she would not receive any raises until her salary was consistent with the pay scale.

On November 15, 2009, Marich filed her first charge with the EEOC and alleged gender and age discrimination. She received her Right to Sue letter on October 21, 2010. Before Marich filed her first charge, she received positive evaluations as a West Lake supervisor and middle school assistant principal. In the Spring of 2010, the West Lake director informed the supervisors that LCSC was taking over the employment of West Lake administrators from STM. Because new West Lake teachers were LCSC employees, the administration found it would be more efficient if the West Lake administration and teachers had the same employer. Initially, Marich thought all the supervisors would be transferred from STM to LCSC without reapplying. In July 2010, Joan Machuca became the West Lake interim director after the director retired. Although Machuca previously was the West Lake assistant director, she did not work closely with Marich until becoming interim director.

Within the first couple months of the 2010-2011 school year, Machuca told all the West Lake supervisors that they made a good team and were doing a good job. However, at the beginning of the 2010-2011 school year, a parent complained to Machuca that Marich was not following through on her duties. Machuca had additional concerns because Marich spoke generally and could not provide specifics when asked about tasks and goals. In November 2010, the West Lake supervisors were scheduled to meet with LCSC administration to discuss the transfer. Prior to the meeting, Machuca advised Marich that she did not need a resume and that the meeting was not an interview. Ultimately, Marich's meeting was postponed because Machuca had concerns about Marich's ability and was not sure whether she would recommend her transfer. Later, Marich learned that each supervisor needed to apply for the position at LCSC.

In October 2010, Machuca asked each supervisor to create professional and personal goals for themselves. When Machuca met with Marich to discuss her goals, Machuca told her specific areas for improvement. However, Marich indicated that she already was well versed in those areas. In November 2010, Machuca received a second parent complaint about Marich. Throughout the school year, Machuca had continuing concerns about Marich's performance. In March 2011, Machuca evaluated Marich and advised that she recommended that LCSC not retain her as a West Lake supervisor. During the meeting, Machuca found her unprofessional, and Marich did not find any issues with her performance. After the meeting, Marich attempted to attend an educational conference to address some of her reported weaknesses and to discuss the evaluation further with Machuca. However, Machuca denied both requests.

Ultimately, Marich was assigned to teach early childhood beginning in the 2011-2012 school year. Marich filed her second charge on October 21, 2010 and alleged that the transfer of West Lake supervisors from STM to LCSC was in retaliation for filing her first charge. She filed her third and fourth charges in November 2011 and February 2012 and alleged that the decision not to retain her as a West Lake supervisor and her March 2011 evaluation were the result of age and gender discrimination and in retaliation for filing her prior charges.

Machuca learned about Marich's first EEOC claim towards the beginning of the 2010 school year. Machuca claimed that she partly decided not to recommend Marich for a West Lake supervisor role because principals had complaints and concerns about her performance. Specifically, she alleged that four principals had received complaints from parents and that they found that their special education teachers under Marich's supervision did not know how to complete their duties. The parties deposed three of those principals, Linda Bevil, Nancy Ellis, and Nicole Guernsey. None of the principals reported any fear of retaliation from Marich. Bevil and Guernsey stated they had difficulty contacting Marich on a couple of occasions but had no other complaints about her performance. Ellis indicated that she did not have trouble contacting Marich, did not recall any parent complaints, and was satisfied with the students' progress. Additionally, Ellis and other individuals wrote letters of recommendation for Marich after she was removed from her West Lake supervisor position.

Discussion

Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c), summary judgment is proper only if it is demonstrated that "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986); Garofalo v. Vill. of Hazel Crest, 754 F.3d 428, 430 (7th Cir. 2014); Kidwell v. Eisenhauer, 679 F.3d 957, 964 (7th Cir. 2012); Stephens v. Erickson, 569 F.3d 779, 786 (7th Cir. 2009). A fact is material if it is outcome determinative under applicable law. The burden is upon the moving party to establish that no material facts are in genuine dispute, and any doubt as to the existence of a genuine issue must be resolved against the moving party. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 160, 90 S.Ct. 1598, 1610, 26 L.Ed.2d 142, 155 (1970); Stephens, 569 F.3d at 786. If the non-movant bears the ultimate burden of persuasion on an issue at trial, the requirements are not as onerous for the moving party. Modrowski v. Pigatto, 712 F.3d 1166, 1168 ...


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