Factual Dispute Over Tenured Teacher Dismissal Prevents Summary Judgment for School District
Plaintiff Bryan Wagner was a tenured teacher employed by North Shore School District 112 (“District”) when, in June 2020, he was arrested for a domestic dispute at his home. Though the criminal charges against Wagner were dropped in November 2020, in the interim the District conducted an investigation into his arrest. Wagner denied engaging in domestic violence, but the District determined that he lied during the investigation and had engaged in domestic violence. On August 19, 2020, the District sent Wagner a notice of recommendation for dismissal and suspension without pay. In September 2020, the District passed a formal resolution to dismiss Wagner from his employment. Wagner alleged that the resolution was purely based on his arrest record, while the District claimed it was based on an exercise of discretion after balancing Wagner’s interests in continued employment against the impact of his conduct on the school environment.
Wagner made a timely written request for a dismissal hearing. A two-day dismissal hearing took place on September 2, and October 21, 2021, and the evidence showed that Wagner had not committed a domestic battery or any other crimes in June 2020. The hearing officer concluded that the District did not have irremediable cause to dismiss Wagner and recommended that he be reinstated. Regardless, the District approved a final resolution and order dismissing Wagner from employment.
Wagner filed a complaint with the Ill. Dept. of Human Rights alleging employment discrimination based on an arrest record in violation of the Ill. Human Rights Act (IHRA), and the complaint was permitted to proceed to state court. The District filed a motion to dismiss Wagner’s complaint, arguing that he was not discharged based on his arrest record but based on “other information” allowed under the IHRA showing Wagner actually engaged in the conduct for which he was arrested – meaning that certain allegations in Wagner’s complaint were false. The District also argued that Wagner’s complaint was barred by various sections of the Local Governmental and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act (TIA), which grants immunity to public entity employees and employers for policy determinations involving the exercise of discretionary authority and for injuries caused by prosecuting an administrative proceeding within the scope of the employee’s role unless they act maliciously and without cause. The trial court denied dismissal based on “other information” under the IHRA, but found that the District’s employees, and thus the District, were immune from liability under the TIA. The trial court granted summary judgment for the District.
Wagner appealed, arguing that the trial court’s dismissal was legally improper because it was not based on the facts alleged in Wagner’s complaint. The appellate court agreed with Wagner, finding that the District had attempted to present facts that differed from those set forth in Wagner’s complaint. The appellate court reversed the trial court’s decision and remanded the case back to the trial court to determine: 1) whether Wagner actually engaged in the conduct that led to his arrest, and 2) whether the decision to fire him was an exercise of discretion and a balancing of competing interests or whether it was based solely on his arrest record.
Michelle Yang, IASB Law Clerk