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Teacher's National-Origin Bias Suit Revived

A federal appeals court has revived the national-origin discrimination lawsuit of a Chicago teacher who alleges that her principal called her "a stupid Polack" and took adverse job actions against her.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, in Chicago, upheld the dismissal of other claims brought by Anna Darchak, who was a Polish bilingual teacher at an elementary school in the 2005-06 school year when the controversy occurred.

For example, the court refused to revive a claim that Darchak faced a retaliatory discharge for complaining that she was assigned to a Spanish bilingual class, which Darchak believed was in violation of requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act because she wasn't qualified as a Spanish teacher.

But the appeals court revived Darchak's national-origin bias claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Darchak alleges that when she complained that Hispanic students were being treated better at the school than students of Polish descent, her principal made the "stupid Polack" remark and said that Hispanic students "deserve more than Polish people."

Darchak's suit, which named the Chicago school district the defendant and not the principal, argues that the principal's alleged derogatory remarks about Polish people motivated the decision not to renew Darchak's teaching contract.

The appeals court noted that Darchak's own testimony is the sole evidence of the principal's remarks. And the school system offered several legitimate reasons for the teacher's nonrenewal, including ineffective classroom management and her refusal to follow a schedule. But the evidence of the discriminatory remarks combined with what followed--a cautionary notice charging Darchak with insubordination and later her contract nonrenewal--was sufficient to allow the national-origin claim to go before a jury, the court said.

"While it is also true that isolated remarks are not enough to meet the plaintiff’s burden, remarks coupled with an adverse employment action suffice," the appeals court said in its Sept. 3 decision in Darchak v. City of Chicago Board of Education. "Because Darchak’s evidence of discrimination is sufficient to reach a jury, she does not bear the burden of proving that the defendant’s reasons for terminating her were pretextual."

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