Pregnant teachers at a Northwest Side elementary school received lowered performance ratings and were targeted for firing by their principal, according to a lawsuit the U.S. government filed Tuesday against the Chicago Board of Education and Chicago Public Schools officials.
The civil rights lawsuit alleges that from 2009 to at least 2012, Scammon Elementary School Principal Mary Weaver took actions to oust eight teachers who became pregnant or returned to work after their pregnancies.
Weaver subjected pregnant teachers “to disparate treatment with regard to performance evaluation ratings” and other matters, and “there existed a regular, purposeful, and less-favorable treatment of teachers because of their sex (pregnancies),” according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago.
The lawsuit says CPS does not address discrimination over pregnancy in either its 2009 or its amended 2012 discrimination and sexual harassment policies. It asks the court to order the district to take measures to prevent the kind of prejudicial treatment laid out in the complaint.
CPS issued a statement, saying it “will not tolerate the kind of discrimination or retaliation that is alleged to have taken place at Scammon Elementary” but also that it intends to defend itself against the suit.
Weaver is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit, which seeks monetary damages for affected teachers in addition to new district policies to prevent discrimination.
Weaver was one of about 130 principals awarded bonuses last year under a principal quality award program that’s supported by $5 million from the city’s philanthropic community.
She could not be reached for comment on the lawsuit.
Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey called for Weaver, who the lawsuit indicates remains principal at Scammon, to be placed on administrative leave during the investigation. The union has had ongoing issues with Weaver, and the allegations in the lawsuit reflect “an incredibly toxic internal environment of fear” at Scammon, Sharkey said.
The lawsuit stems from discrimination complaints filed with the Chicago office of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by two former teachers at Scammon, Jane Bushue and Jennifer Mollis.
Bushue, a nontenured second-grade teacher, was described by Weaver as “an excellent teacher” with no performance weaknesses in a 2009 performance review, the lawsuit states. Bushue told Weaver she was pregnant that fall, and received a lower performance rating two months before she was scheduled to begin maternity leave in 2010, according to the lawsuit.
Mollis, a tenured special-education teacher at Scammon, 4201 W. Henderson St., was called “an incredible teacher who puts children first at all times,” in a 2009 evaluation from Weaver, and received high ratings with no listed weaknesses, the lawsuit said.
But after disclosing her pregnancy, Mollis received lower performance ratings and was told she would receive a form that could lead to her being fired. The lawsuit said Mollis, anticipating being let go, found a job at another school.
Neither Mollis nor Bushue could be reached for comment.
The EEOC found reasonable cause to believe discrimination occurred against pregnant teachers, and the case was referred to the Department of Justice.
“Despite much progress, we continue to see the persistence of overt pregnancy discrimination, as well as the emergence of more subtle discriminatory practices in the workplace,” Jenny Yang, chairwoman of the EEOC, said in a statement.
According to the lawsuit, other teachers at Scammon with the same or lower performance ratings of those allegedly targeted by Weaver were allowed to keep their jobs. The lawsuit also alleges that Weaver asked a teacher who was nursing, “When will you be done with that?” and told a teacher who announced she was pregnant, “I can’t believe you are doing this to me. You are going to be out right before (mandatory) testing!”
The lawsuit said the school board approved Weaver’s recommendations to fire “five pregnant teachers whom she had targeted for termination at the end of the 2009-2010 school year.”
The government said it notified the district this past summer of its intent to file a complaint over a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin.
“No woman should have to make a choice between her job and having a family,” Vanita Gupta, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said in a statement. A department spokeswoman declined requests for additional information on the action.