A security guard for the Proviso Math and Science Academy is suing the school district, alleging that he is the victim of racial discrimination and was unfairly demoted after refusing to do political favors for a member of the school board.
Michael Klean, a Westchester resident, has claimed that he was bumped from his full-time managerial job to a lesser, lower-paying position. At the time of his demotion, Klean was the only white member of the school’s security staff, according to his lawsuit, and he was replaced by a less qualified black employee.
In his lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, Klean also accuses District 209 school board President Chris Welch of ordering Klean and others to serve as political foot soldiers during school board elections.
In 2002, Klean was told by an unnamed “school representative” that his job would be protected if he campaigned on behalf of certain school board candidates, according to court records. Again, in July 2005, Klean alleges he was told that his participation in helping to distribute literature, sell tickets for fundraisers and place campaign signs would guarantee his employment.
“In 2006, plaintiff was again asked to participate in school board election activities but declined,” attorneys for Klean said in their complaint. “He was told that his job depended upon the outcome of the election.
“In October 2006, plaintiff applied for the position of director of security. The position was given to a less experienced black male.”
Klean filed his suit Oct. 30, 2008, almost a year after he was demoted in November 2007. Within days of being demoted, Klean filed administrative charges with the Illinois Department of Human Rights, and in August 2008 received a letter from the U.S. Department of Justice clearing the way for his grievance to be heard in court.
On each of three counts of alleged discrimination, Klean is seeking $250,000 in compensation and $250,000 in punitive damages from the defendants, jointly and separately.
Welch’s seat on the District 209 school board is one of four up for re-election in April.
Defense attorney Austin Zimmer is a member of the district’s contracted legal firm, the Del Galdo Law Group, and is acting on behalf of Welch and the district. Zimmer has argued that the case should be dismissed, in part because Klean’s paperwork filed with the state makes no mention of retaliation and only alleges racial discrimination. Because of this, the defense said, the court should not hear the claim until the administrative process has been exhausted.
Zimmer also argued that it’s unclear which statutes will be the basis of the plaintiff’s complaint. Furthermore, punitive damages cannot be awarded in this type of case and the plaintiff failed to demonstrate how Welch is responsible for any of the alleged wrongdoing, Zimmer said in court filings.
During a Jan. 7 hearing, Judge Ronald Guzman gave Klean and his attorneys, Gregory E. Kulis and Associates, until Feb. 4 to file a rebuttal to the defense’s argument that the case be thrown out. Phone calls seeking comment on the case were not returned by lawyers for either side.
According to a Jan. 5 memo filed by the judge, the two sides have discussed the possibility of a settlement and those conversations will continue. Should a trial be necessary, those proceedings are expected to occur in February 2010.