No Age Discrimination Where New Teacher Replacing Fired Teacher Was Over 40 and Only Seven Years Younger

Category: Private Education Matters
Date: Jun 29, 2018 11:27 AM

Caroleann Morris worked as a school teacher at several elementary schools throughout her career. In 2011, she was hired as a pre-K teacher at MBTA, which is operated by the Archdiocese of Chicago. She was 52 years old at the time.  Students at MBTA generally came from low-income, non-English speaking families and behavior problems were widespread.  

During the 2013-2014 school year, Morris was assigned to teach second grade. The Principal, Sister Erica Jordan, observed Morris’s class and found the children loud and off-task, and she had an informal conversation with Morris.  In late November of that school year, Sandra Anderson joined MBTA and was assigned as a mentor.  Morris alleged that Anderson began picking on her and two other teachers who were close in age.  Anderson conducted several formal evaluations of Morris.  She critiqued Morris’s performance, but Morris disputed her feedback. 

Anderson arranged for a behavioral specialist to observe Morris.  She concluded that Morris did not have the skills to address her students’ behavioral problems.  In May 2014, Morris received an evaluation indicating that she needed to improve her student engagement and classroom management.  However, some aspects of her performance had improved, and she was offered a contract renewal for the 2014-2015 school year. 

At the end of the 2013-2014 school year, an improvement plan was supposedly prepared for Morris, but she claims she never received it.  It was unsigned.  In the new school year, Morris was assigned the second-grade classroom that contained the students with the worst behavioral problems.  Anderson observed Morris’s teaching four times that year.  She counseled Morris on how to improve her performance.  She also requested a meeting with Morris to discuss classroom management. In May, Anderson and Jordan told Morris that her contract would not be renewed for the following year.  Morris was 55 years old. 

Morris sued for age discrimination.  The court noted that for her to establish a claim, she needed to show that age was the “but-for” cause of her termination.  Here, there was ample evidence that age was not the determinative factor, as the teacher MBTA hired to replace Morris was 48 years old, just 7 years younger than Morris.  Also, the average age of the elementary school teachers was nearly 49. 

The only age-related evidence Morris presented was that she was assigned the students with more behavioral problems and that Anderson “picked on” her and two other teachers close to her in age.  The court did not find this evidence persuasive of age discrimination. Given the minimal age difference between Morris and her replacement, the court believed no reasonable juror could find that Morris’s age was the cause of her termination. The school’s motion for summary judgment was granted.

Caroleann Morris v. The Catholic Bishop of Chicago, 2018 WL 2087450.

Note:

The employee argued she never received the performance improvement plan and since it was unsigned, there was no proof she did.  Although employees are sometimes angry and refuse to sign these plans, school and college administrators should make sure to make a contemporaneous dated note on the plan that the employee received it but refused to sign.  This will help serve as documentation that the employee received the plan.

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