Pamela D. Ferrill, Plaintiff-Appellant,
Oak Creek-Franklin Joint School District and Oak Creek-Franklin Joint School District Board of Education, Defendants-Appellees.
June 2, 2016
from the United States District Court for the Eastern
District of Wisconsin. No. 13-cv-0858 - Lynn Adelman,
POSNER and Sykes, Circuit Judges, and Yandle, District
Ferrill was hired as the principal of Edgewood Elementary
School in the Oak Creek-Franklin Joint School District for an
initial two-year term with an automatic third-year rollover
unless the Board of Education opted out. Ferrill is black;
the school district serves two predominantly white suburbs on
the southern edge of Milwaukee County. During her tenure as
principal, the Edgewood staff had exceedingly low morale, and
Ferrill was plagued with multiple performance complaints.
Staff described her as confrontational, inconsistent in her
treatment of her subordinates, and quick to accuse others of
racism. The superintendent of schools hired a consultant to
help improve Ferrill's performance, but that effort
failed and the consultant bluntly recommended that Ferrill be
the time came to review the rollover of Ferrill's
contract, the superindent recommended that the Board opt out.
The Board accepted that recommendation. Ferrill found a new
job, which the Board treated as a functional resignation of
her position. She then sued the Board alleging claims of
racial discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil
Rights Act of 1964 and 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and retaliation
in violation of her rights under Title VII and the First
Amendment. The district judge granted summary judgment for
the Board on some of these claims. Other claims were tried to
a jury, which found for the Board after less than a half-hour
concentrates her appeal on the judge's summary-judgment
ruling rejecting her discrimination and retaliation claims
related to the Board's decision to opt out of the
third-year contract rollover. The judge's ruling was
sound. Ferrill's shortcomings as Edgewood's principal
were well documented and confirmed by an independent
consultant, so she has not shown that she was meeting the
Board's legitimate performance expectations and thus has
not established a prima facie case of discrimination. The
retaliation claim fails for lack of evidence connecting the
Board's decision to activity protected by Title VII.
Elementary School serves students in grades K-5 in the Oak
Creek-Franklin Joint School District. In July 2008 Dr. Sara
Burmeister, the district superintendent, hired Ferrill as
Edgewood's principal for an initial term of two years.
The contract contained an automatic rollover for an
additional year unless the Board of Education opted out
before January 31, 2010.
tenure as principal was turbulent. Edgewood was consistently
plagued with low morale, the responsibility for which Ferrill
attributes to others. Because we're reviewing a
summary-judgment ruling, we describe the key events drawing
reasonable inferences in Ferrill's favor.
first few months on the job, Ferrill learned that some of
Edgewood's students-and even some parents- were referring
to the bus that served a low-income neighborhood as the
"ghetto bus." She also learned that some white
students were calling black students derogatory names.
Ferrill addressed these problems at an October staff meeting
and urged the teachers to be proactive about addressing
racial issues with their students.
early November two fifth-grade students, one of whom is
black, started spreading a false story that certain teachers
were having sex in the faculty lounge. Ferrill reprimanded
the students, spoke with their parents, and then discussed
the matter with the two teachers at the center of the
rumormongering. The black student had confided to Ferrill
that he was afraid his misbehavior would mean he would no
longer be called on in class. When Ferrill brought this
concern to the attention of one of the wrongly accused
teachers, the teacher interpreted her comment as an
unwarranted accusation of racism.
that same month, Dr. Burmeister met with Ferrill to discuss
the issues we've just recounted and also to address the
rapidly deteriorating morale at the school and numerous
complaints from teachers about Ferrill's management
style. In brief, Ferrill was described as confrontational,
inconsistent in her treatment of the staff, and quick to
suggest that others were either racist or culturally
insensitive. Teachers lodged similar complaints about Ferrill
with Katie Kelso, the teacher's union representative, and
in December she too spoke with Ferrill about the growing
problems stemming from her discordant leadership style.
incident in January 2009 continued this trend. A black
student accused a teacher of hitting her, and the school
district launched an investigation into the incident.
Although the matter was being handled at the district level,
Ferrill conducted her own independent investigation, which
upset the teachers and staff, who thought that Ferrill was
conducting her own investigation only because the student was