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Dunn-Lanier v. Indianapolis Public Schools

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

August 2, 2019




         This cause is before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. [Dkt. 50.] The motion was filed on September 10, 2018, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 and is fully briefed. Plaintiff Sherrie Tuwanna Dunn-Lanier filed this lawsuit against her former employer, Defendant Indianapolis Public Schools (“IPS”), alleging that IPS denied her promotions based on her race and age in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (“ADEA”), respectively. We have jurisdiction over the subject matter of this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. For the reasons detailed below, we GRANT IN PART and DENY IN PART Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.

         Factual Background

         IPS is “the school corporation charged with the education of Indianapolis' urban youth, ” Pack Aff. ¶ 2, ECF No. 50-2, and operates within the boundaries of the Southern District of Indiana. “IPS employs thousands of individuals, including teachers across many schools who are primarily responsible for teaching students.” Id. ¶ 3. Plaintiff Sherrie Tuwanna Dunn-Lanier resides within the Southern District of Indiana.

         From September of 1997 until about August of 2013, Ms. Dunn-Lanier, who is African-American, served in various roles for IPS, including as an elementary school teacher, substitute teacher, and tutor. Dunn-Lanier Dep. Ex. 24, ECF No. 50-1. During that time, she was selected as Teacher of the Year at three different schools. Dunn-Lanier Dep. 75:15-16. In August of 2013, IPS hired Ms. Dunn-Lanier to be a Pre-K Instructional Assistant, Dunn-Lanier Deposition Exhibit 24, at School 44, Dunn-Lanier Dep. 28:15-17. Ms. Dunn-Lanier stated that her transfer to the preschool assistant position was a matter of her own choosing. Dunn-Lanier Dep. 26:19-21.

         Beginning in November 2015, Ms. Dunn-Lanier began applying for teaching positions within IPS. Dunn-Lanier Dep. Ex. 32; Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s Interrog. No. 1. IPS offered Ms. Dunn-Lanier a first-grade teaching position at School 69 on December 7, 2015, at a salary of $52, 000. Pack Aff. ¶ 9. At that time, Ms. Dunn-Lanier raised concerns about the salary IPS offered her because she said it was $1500 less than what she had made previously as a teacher. Dunn-Lanier Dep. Ex. 22; ECF No. 53-11. On December 10, 2015, Ms. Dunn-Lanier sent an email to Stephanie Hardaway, an IPS HR employee, inquiring about the salary discrepancy. Dunn-Lanier Dep. 99:2, 11-17. Ms. Hardaway informed Ms. Dunn-Lanier on December 10, 2015, that the offered salary was “in line with the current contract.” ECF No. 53-1. IPS stated that it had revised its salary structure before the 2015-16 school year resulting in “returning teachers and newly-hired teachers [being] . . . compensated differently.” Pack Aff. ¶ 7. Ms. Dunn-Lanier said that she contacted various people in IPS about her salary and tried to talk with the Superintendent. Dunn-Lanier Dep. 97:12-23. However, she claimed, IPS never resolved the pay issue. Dunn-Lanier Dep. 100:17-19. Ultimately, IPS hired Natalie Banks on January 11, 2019, instead of Ms. Dunn-Lanier, for the position at School 69. Pack Aff. ¶ 9. Ms. Banks is African American and was born in 1973. Id. Over the ensuing year, Ms. Dunn-Lanier applied for several other teaching positions within IPS, but IPS selected other candidates for each position. ECF No. 53-2. The positions for which Ms. Dunn-Lanier applied, but was not selected included:

• a first-grade teaching position at School 99; IPS transferred Leanne Wheeler to the position on December 14, 2015. Ms. Wheeler is Caucasian and was born in 1980;
• a first-grade teaching position at School 58; on January 4, 2016, IPS hired Jillian Hardee who is Caucasian and was born in 1988;
• a first-grade teaching position at School 346; IPS hired Amanda Pereda on January 4, 2016, who is Caucasian and was born in 1990;
• a first-grade teaching position at School 79; IPS hired Patricia Bosley, who is African American and was born in 1967, on January 5, 2016;
• a preschool teaching position at School 60; IPS selected Mary Tuttle who is Caucasian and was born in 1976;
• a first-grade teaching position at School 65; IPS transferred Debra Padgett, who was returning from a leave of absence, to the position instead of hiring a new candidate;
• one of two available second-grade teaching positions at School 42; IPS hired Edward Bloom and Dave Siegelin for the positions. Mr. Bloom is Caucasian and was born in 1952. Mr. Siegelin is Caucasian and was born in 1978.

         Ms. Hardee, whom IPS hired for the first-grade teaching position at School 58, resigned on January 29, 2016, a few weeks after she was hired. Pack Aff. ¶ 10. The principal at School 58, Susan Kertes, emailed Ms. Dunn-Lanier on February 12, 2016, to inquire if Ms. Dunn-Lanier was still interested in the first-grade teaching position. ECF No. 53-4; Dunn-Lanier Dep. Ex. 16. Ms. Dunn-Lanier responded to Ms. Kertes's email six days later, on February 18, 2016, stating that she was interested in the position and wanted to learn more about it. ECF No. 53-4; Dunn-Lanier Dep. Ex. 16.

         On February 19, 2016, Ms. Dunn-Lanier again contacted School 58 and sent a follow up email to Ms. Kertes. ECF No. 53-4. However, Ms. Dunn-Lanier said when she spoke to Ms. Kertes at a job fair on February 26, 2019, Ms. Kertes informed her that the position had already been filled by another candidate because Ms. Dunn-Lanier “took too long to respond” to the email. Dunn-Lanier Dep. Ex. 17. Ms. Dunn-Lanier stated that, prior to the job fair, she had not received notification that the position had been closed, and in fact, it was still listed as an available position on the IPS website. Dunn-Lanier Dep. 91:8-12. On March 7, 2016, IPS hired Claire Hindsley, a Caucasian woman born in 1993, for the first-grade teaching position at School 58. Pack Aff. ¶ 10.

         After being passed over for several teaching positions, Ms. Dunn-Lanier eventually accepted an assignment with School 44 on May 17, 2016 to continue her work as a preschool classroom assistant. Dunn-Lanier Dep. 45:5-15. Ms. Dunn-Lanier thereafter signed her retirement notice on September 28, 2016. Dunn-Lanier Dep. 46:5-7; Dunn-Lanier Dep. Ex. 8.

         Two months prior to the filing of her retirement notice, on July 27, 2016, Ms. Dunn-Lanier filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) accusing IPS of age discrimination based on its failure to award her a teaching position. Dunn-Lanier Dep. Ex. 27. She alleged that the discrimination had occurred over a four-month period, from January 1, 2016, to April 30, 2016, indicating by checking the appropriate box on the form that it was a continuing violation. Id. Ms. Dunn-Lanier, who was born in 1961, was approximately fifty-five years of age at the time she filed the charge. Id. She filed a second Charge of Discrimination on January 13, 2017, claiming race and age discrimination as evidenced by her failure to be hired for a teaching position. Dunn-Lanier Dep. Ex. 28. In her charge, Ms. Dunn-Lanier claimed that the discrimination occurred between December 1, 2015 and March 4, 2016. Id. She also alleged that “the majority of new hires are younger, and White individuals brought in through [the] Teach for America program.” Id.

         On October 13, 2017, Ms. Dunn-Lanier filed this lawsuit after receiving her notice of right to sue from the EEOC. [Dkt. 1.] She amended her complaint on December 22, 2017. [Dkt. 16.] In the motion currently before us, IPS seeks summary judgment on Ms. Dunn-Lanier's race and age discrimination claims.

         Legal Analysis

         I. Standard of Review

         Summary judgment is appropriate when the record shows that there is “‘no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.'” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). There is a genuine issue of material fact when the “evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). In determining whether genuine issues of material fact exist, the court construes all facts in a light most favorable to the non-moving party and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. See Id. at 255. However, neither the “mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties, ” id. at 247, nor the existence of “some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, ” Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986), “will defeat a motion for summary judgment.” Michas v. Health Cost Controls of Ill., Inc., 209 F.3d 687, 692 (7th Cir. 2000).

         On a motion for summary judgment, the moving party “bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. The party seeking summary judgment on a claim on which the non-moving party bears the burden of proof at trial may discharge its burden by showing an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case. Id. at 325.

         Summary judgment is not a substitute for a trial on the merits, nor is it a vehicle for resolving factual disputes. Waldridge v. Am. Hoechst Corp., 24 F.3d 918, 920 (7th Cir. 1994). Therefore, after drawing all reasonable inferences from the facts in favor of the non-movant, if genuine doubts remain and a reasonable fact-finder could find for the party opposing the motion, summary judgment is inappropriate. See Shields Enters., Inc. v. First Chi. Corp., 975 F.2d 1290, 1294 (7th Cir. 1992); Wolf v. City of Fitchburg, 870 F.2d 1327, 1330 (7th Cir. 1989). But if it is clear that a plaintiff will be unable to satisfy the legal requirements necessary to establish his or her case, summary judgment is not only appropriate, but mandated. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322; Ziliak v. AstraZeneca LP, 324 F.3d 518, 520 (7th Cir. 2003). Further, a failure to prove one essential element “necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323.

         The summary judgment standard is applied rigorously in employment discrimination cases, because intent and credibility are such critical issues and direct evidence is rarely available. Senner v. Northcentral Tech. Coll., 113 F.3d 750, 757 (7th Cir. 1997); Wohl v. Spectrum Mfg., Inc., 94 F.3d 353, 355 (7th Cir. 1996). To that end, we carefully review affidavits and depositions for circumstantial evidence which, if believed, would demonstrate discrimination. However, the Seventh Circuit has also made clear that employment discrimination cases are not governed by a separate set of rules, and thus remain amenable to disposition by summary judgment so long as there is no genuine dispute as to the material facts. Giannopoulos v. Brach & Brock Confections, Inc., 109 F.3d 406, 410 (7th Cir. 1997).

         II. Discussion

         A. Request to Strike Exhibits and Statements ...

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