Catholic School Nabs Quick Win In Teacher's Age Bias Suit

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Law360 (May 4, 2018, 8:16 PM EDT) -- An Illinois federal judge granted a quick win Friday to the operators of a Catholic school accused of discriminating against a 55-year-old teacher because of her age, saying her case is too weak to present to a jury.

U.S. District Judge Gary Feinerman said the only age-related evidence supporting Caroleann Morris’ discrimination claims under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act were that she was assigned more unruly second-graders than a colleague half her age and that a school executive “picked on” her and other similarly aged colleagues.

And while those instances considered alone could “possibly suggest” ageist sentiments from the school official, he ruled, they don’t defeat the fact that Morris was replaced by a teacher who was also older than 40 — the ADEA’s protective threshold — when the administration fired Morris over alleged performance concerns.

“On this record, no reasonable juror could find that [school official Sandy] Anderson fired the 55-year-old Morris because of her age given that Anderson immediately thereafter hired a 48-year-old to replace her,” Judge Feinerman wrote in his 13-page order.

Morris, who taught at Most Blessed Trinity Academy, says in her 2016 suit that the school hired Anderson in 2013 as a consultant to principal Erica Jordan, but Anderson only caused school morale to drop and placed increased criticism and demands on the teachers.

The suit targets the Catholic Bishop of Chicago, a term for a nonprofit organization with responsibility for the school.

Morris claims Anderson’s 2014 request that a behavioral specialist observe her classroom was a first for both Anderson and Jordan, during a year when she was the only second-grade teacher and the school enrolled so many students her class had to split in two.

The second teacher the academy hired was in her 20s, and Jordan and Anderson used their authority to assign Morris the children with known behavioral issues, according to the suit. After Anderson observed Morris’ classroom four times during the 2014-15 school year and grew concerned over her behavior management skills, she told Morris her contract would not be renewed, the suit claims.

But Judge Feinerman’s Friday ruling said since Morris didn’t present enough evidence for a reasonable jury to side with her, “it makes no difference whether Morris did or did not have problems with classroom management, or even whether Anderson and Jordan treated her unfairly in some way.”

“As long as the reason for Morris’s dismissal was not her age — which, for the reasons just stated, it indisputably was not — her age discrimination case necessarily fails,” he wrote.

Counsel for both sides did not immediately respond Friday to requests for comment.

Morris is represented by Joel Handler.

The Catholic Bishop of Chicago is represented by Rachel Yarch and Elizabeth Pall of Burke Warren MacKay & Serritella PC.

The case is Caroleann Morris v. The Catholic Bishop of Chicago, case number 1:16-cv-07916, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

This article also appears at https://www.law360.com/articles/1040592/catholic-school-nabs-quick-win-in-teacher-s-age-bias-suit. 

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