The City Colleges of Chicago is taking steps to have a racial discrimination lawsuit against the community college district dismissed.
But that doesn’t mean the 2007 federal case filed by Ramona Shaw, a former human resources administrator, will wrap up any time soon.
Shaw worked for the district for seven years until she was fired at the end of 2006. She said in her federal lawsuit that the district fired her in retaliation for raising questions about why some black employees in her department were paid less than Hispanic employees.
Shaw also complained that she was passed up for a promotion because the mayor’s office wanted a Hispanic in the position for which she applied, and she was black. In court filings, the City Colleges has denied that allegation; the mayor’s office has declined to comment on the case.
In a somewhat unusual oral argument scheduled for May 21, the City Colleges is expected to argue that there are no factual issues at stake in the case and that therefore, it should be allowed to file a motion that could lead to dismissal.
Judge Joan Lefkow told the attorneys for the City Colleges today that she wanted a clear reason for why the case should move toward the summary judgment phase – often a request defendants make to justify having a case dismissed.
“A motion for summary judgment more or less says to the judge, there are no factual disputes and the plaintiff can’t win, so the case should be dismissed,” said Fern Trevino, who is Shaw’s attorney.
But Lefkow said Thursday she wanted clear and convincing reasons from the City Colleges why the case should move in that direction.
“If it’s, did they or did they not retaliate (against Shaw), that’s a less persuasive argument,” Lefkow said.
Trevino said while such summary judgment motions are common, having a hearing first to determine whether the motion can even be filed is less so. She believes such a motion can’t be justified in Shaw’s case, because there are many unanswered questions in the case.
Following next month’s hearing, the judge could decide to let the case keep moving toward trial – though Lefkow noted Thursday that the case “could go on indefinitely” as both sides file various competing motions.
If the City Colleges is allowed to start the summary judgment process, that could take several months, after which Lefkow would have to decide whether or not to dismiss the case.
Daily News Staff Writer Peter Sachs covers higher education. He can be reached at 773.362.5002, ext. 18, or peter [at] chitowndailynews [dot] org.