United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
OPINION AND ORDER
Fine worked as the director of student services for Career
Academy of South Bend, a charter school. She and two other
employees lost their jobs in September 2015 as part of what
the school describes as an effort to balance its budget. Ms.
Fine alleges in this case that the budget cuts were a pretext
for age discrimination. The school moved for summary
judgment, arguing that the evidence could not support such a
finding. For the reasons explained below, the Court agrees,
so it grants the motion.
are two preliminary issues to address before recounting the
facts. First, a party must support the facts upon which it
relies at summary judgment by “citing to particular
parts of materials in the record” that establish
those facts. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1) (emphasis added);
Sommerfield v. City of Chi., 863 F.3d 645, 650 (7th
Cir. 2017); Packer v. Trs. of Ind. Univ. Sch. of
Med., 800 F.3d 843, 850 (7th Cir. 2015). That means that
for each factual assertion (in the statement of facts and the
argument sections), the brief should cite to a particular
place in a specific exhibit that supports that assertion. Ms.
Fine's brief falls short of that standard in many
instances. Similar to the filing the Court discussed in a
related case by Ms. Fine's former co- worker, some
factual assertions do not have any citations at all, and
others are followed by string-cites to voluminous exhibits or
entire depositions. Addie v. Career Acad. of S. Bend.,
Inc., No. 3:16-cv-513, 2019 WL 1382905, at *1-2 (N.D.
Ind. Mar. 27, 2019). In other instances, the exhibits that
are cited bear no apparent relation to the assertions that
precede them. That does not suffice, so in resolving the
motion, the Court relies on the facts that have been properly
cited and supported. Id.; Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3).
Career Academy filed a separate objection to many of the
exhibits Ms. Fine submitted with her response. Career Academy
objects to 26 exhibits on relevance grounds, the entirety of
its argument (which it repeats 26 separate times) being that
“[t]he documents do not tend to prove or disprove any
fact at issue in this case.” [DE 37]. Not only is that
rote argument unhelpful, but there is no reason to object to
an exhibit on relevance grounds at summary judgment. If an
exhibit is not relevant then it will not create a genuine
dispute of material fact, but that is a question on the
merits that should be argued in the brief. Hess v.
Biomet, Inc., No. 3:16-cv-208, 2019 WL 1282032, at *13
n.8 (N.D. Ind. Mar. 20, 2019). Career Academy also objects to
some exhibits on hearsay grounds, but its arguments are
similarly undeveloped and consist solely of the assertion
that “[t]he documents are hearsay[.]” [DE 37].
The Court thus declines to entertain any of the objections.
With that understanding, the Court addresses the pertinent
Academy is a non-for-profit corporation that operates charter
schools in South Bend, Indiana. In August 2011, it opened
Career Academy of South Bend as a middle school with grades 7
through 9. It later expanded to include a middle school with
grades 6 through 8, and a high school with grades 9 through
12. In 2015, it opened another charter school, Success
Academy of South Bend, with Kindergarten through 5th grade.
From 2011 to 2015, Career Academy's total student
enrollment grew rapidly, from 160 students to over 1, 000
Academy was founded by Lawrence Garatoni. In addition to
being the schools' founder and benefactor, Mr. Garatoni
served as president of the board of directors. Along with his
wife and their foundation, Mr. Garatoni contributed millions
of dollars towards purchasing and renovating their buildings.
He has also provided funding to help cover their operating
expenses. Over the years, Mr. Garatoni forgave many of the
loans he provided to the schools, but his goal was for the
schools to become self-sufficient. The schools received
funding from the state for each student that enrolled, and
Mr. Garatoni desired for those revenues to at least cover the
schools' operating expenses, in part so that they could
continue to operate even when he is no longer able to support
Fine joined Career Academy in March 2013 as an administrator,
with the title of Manager of Student Transition. Ms. Fine was
54 years old at the time. Her title later changed to Director
of Career Development, but without a change in
responsibilities. In those positions, Ms. Fine's duties
included helping to arrange internships for students. Ms.
Fine earned a salary of $62, 000 a year, plus other benefits.
In May 2015, Ms. Fine transitioned to a newly created
position, Director of Student Services, though her
compensation did not change. In that position, Ms. Fine's
duties included overseeing support staff, including the
social worker, counselor, and nurse, and coordinating student
services. When Ms. Fine moved to that new position, Career
Academy hired a new employee to assume her prior duties,
Rabab Darwish. Ms. Darwish was 24 years old at the time. Ms.
Fine helped train Ms. Darwish in that position.
September 2015, Career Academy's finance committee met to
review Career Academy's budget for the year. By then
Career Academy knew how many students had enrolled and thus
how much revenue it would receive for the year. The budget
summary reflected that the schools' operating expenses
would exceed their operating revenues by about $240, 000. Mr.
Garatoni thus instructed the superintendent, Paul Schlottman,
that he needed to cut expenses by that amount in order to
balance the budget. Mr. Garatoni told Mr. Schlottman to
consider a reduction in force that would least affect the
teaching of the students.
response, Mr. Schlottman prepared a package of budget cuts.
First, he proposed eliminating three positions. Those
included Ms. Fine's position, another administrative
position held by Chadwick Addie, and a teacher's aide
position. Next, Mr. Schlottman proposed reducing his own
salary by three percent and reducing all employee bonuses.
Finally, he proposed other cost-cutting measures including
changing the schools' cell phone plan and internet
provider. The net effect of those steps would be to balance
the budget. Mr. Schlottman presented that proposal to Mr.
Garatoni, who approved.
on September 30, 2015, Ms. Fine was told that her position
was being eliminated and that her employment with Career
Academy was being terminated. Ms. Fine was not given the
option of bumping any other employees from their positions,
nor has Career Academy given any other employees such an
option. When it informed her of the decision, Career Academy
also presented Ms. Fine with a separation agreement. That
agreement offered to make severance payments for the next
three-and-a-half months, in return for which Ms. Fine would
have to release Career Academy from “any
liability” based on her employment or its termination.
Ms. Fine declined to sign the agreement. Instead, she filed a
charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission, alleging that she was fired because
of her age. After receiving a right-to-sue letter, Ms. Fine
file this suit. Discovery has closed, and Career Academy has
moved for summary judgment.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
must grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there
“is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the
movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A “material” fact is one
identified by the substantive law as affecting the outcome of
the suit. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S.
242, 248 (1986). A “genuine issue” exists with
respect to any material fact when “the evidence is such
that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the
nonmoving party.” Id. Where a factual record
taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to
find for the non-moving party, there is no genuine issue for
trial, and summary judgment should be granted. Matsushita
Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574,
587 (1986). In determining whether a genuine issue of
material fact exists, courts must construe all facts in the
light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all
reasonable and justifiable inferences in that party's
favor. Jackson v. Kotter, 541 F.3d 688, 697 (7th
Cir. 2008); King v. Preferred Tech. Grp., 166 F.3d
887, 890 (7th Cir. 1999). However, the non-moving party
cannot simply rest on the allegations contained in its
pleadings but must present evidence sufficient to show the
existence of each element of its case on which it will bear
the burden at trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477
U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986); Robin v. Espo Eng'g
Corp., 200 F.3d 1081, 1088 (7th Cir. 2000).