School District 84
CHICAGO — A federal appeals panel has told a federal judge to reexamine the claim of a laid off Franklin Park teacher who, with her union, alleged the school district had violated her constitutional rights because the school district didn’t give her a chance to contest the low rating that preceded the layoff.
Franklin Park School District 84 laid off tenured teacher Carolyn Mascow in 2017. According to court documents, Mascow had worked at Franklin Park North Elementary School.
Her preceding job rating was “unsatisfactory,” which made her first in line for the layoff at a time the district shed a single position while also stripping her of recall rights once the district resumed hiring. When Mascow and Illinois Federation of Teachers Local 571 sued the district, along with Superintendent David Katzin and Principal Heidy LaFleur, U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman dismissed Mascow’s due process claim and granted summary judgement to the defendants on her First Amendment allegations.
Mascow and the teachers union received a more favorable ruling on appeal to the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago. Judge Frank Easterbook wrote the opinion, filed March 3, for the three-judge panel hearing Mascow’s appeal. Judges William Bauer and Daniel Manion concurred.
According to the panel, Mascow became co-president of the union in 2010. She claimed the district violated her First Amendment rights in 2014 and 2015 when she raised concerns about teachers being required to stay late for school functions in violation of the union contract. Although the district canceled one event and revised another to comply with the contract, she said her evaluations suffered, leading to the contested rating.
According to the panel, Coleman said a reasonable jury couldn’t find those instances contributed to an “unsatisfactory” rating in 2017 in the larger context of her role as co-president since 2010, particulatly in light of the “excellent” rating for her co-president at the time of the 2015 complaint.
“Mascow’s contention boils down to post hoc ergo propter hoc, which is the name of a logical error rather than a way to prove a violation of the Constitution,” Easterbrook wrote. “This makes it unnecessary to consider the extent to which the First Amendment, as opposed to state law, protects the interests of union representatives engaged in collective bargaining with public schools.”
However, he continued, “the due-process claim stands differently.” He said that claim rests on Mascow’s tenure and teaching career of more than two decades. Whereas Coleman granted summary judgment on this issue to District 84, because state law didn’t provide a right to a hearing, Easterbrook said Coleman didn’t “cite any case for the proposition that the absence of a right to a hearing under state law knocks out a due-process claim under federal law.”
Easterbook said Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist took a similar position in a 1974 opinion in Arnett v. Kennedy, but that was the minority opinion in a 6-3 ruling.
“If state law creates a legitimate claim of entitlement, then federal law alone determines whether a hearing is required,” Easterbrook wrote.
State law limits what Mascow could contest at such a hearing to the rating itself. Easterbook said a “proficient” or higher rating would’ve prevented her from being laid off, while a “needs improvement” rating would’ve retained her recall right. The panel pointed to Mascow’s allegation Katzin “refused even to entertain the possibility” of reconsidering the “unsatisfactory” rating in 2017, even though LaFleur had granted her a similar request in 2015.
Since neither Coleman nor the parties’ filings address the procedure for teachers to have a rating reviewed, Easterbrook wrote, “It would be inappropriate for an appellate court to try to resolve these subjects without briefs focused on the vital issues. They should be considered first by the district court.”
While affirming Coleman’s ruling on Mascow’s First Amendment claims, the panel vacated Coleman's ruling on the due process claim and sent the case back to her for further proceedings on the question of whether the lack of a hearing violated her rights.
Mascow has been represented in the action by attorneys with the firm of Dowd Bloch Bennett Cervone Auerbach & Yokich, of Chicago.
The school district is represented by the firm of Franczek Radelet P.C., of Chicago.