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Coursey v. University of Maryland Eastern Shore

United States District Court, Fourth Circuit

April 30, 2013

LEON COURSEY
v.
UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND EASTERN SHORE

MEMORANDUM

CATHERINE C. BLAKE, District Judge.

Now pending before the court is a motion for summary judgment filed by the University of Maryland Eastern Shore ("UMES") against plaintiff Leon Coursey ("Dr. Coursey"). Dr. Coursey brings claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et. seq.; the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 ("the Rehabilitation Act"), 29 U.S.C. § 701 et seq.; 42 U.S.C. § 1983; and Maryland common law. The issues in this case have been fully briefed and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons stated below, UMES's motion for summary judgment will be granted as to all counts.

BACKGROUND

Dr. Leon Coursey began working as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Physical Education at UMES in 1972.[1] In 2004, several students reported to the university that Dr. Coursey had sexually harassed them. An investigation by the UMES Director of Human Resources concluded that Dr. Coursey had violated the UMES sexual harassment policy both by harassing students and by retaliating against them after they reported his behavior. (ECF No. 28, Ex. 11.) UMES issued Dr. Coursey a letter of reprimand and required him to attend sexual harassment training. ( Id., Exs. 11 & 13.)

In 2007, Dr. Coursey began displaying inappropriate behavior toward his colleagues. On several occasions, Dr. Coursey disregarded directives by his supervisor, engaged in unprofessional communication with staff, and ignored university policies regarding travel and class coverage. (ECF No. 28, Exs. 14 & 15; Ex. 4, at 6.) In January 2009, 12 students reported that Dr. Coursey had exhibited erratic behavior in the classroom, including yelling at a student, complaining about students in front of other students whom he perceived to question his grading methods, and telling students that he was the most senior faculty member and "no one [could] touch" him. ( Id., Ex. 1, at § 7.) Some students were scared and upset when they reported the incidents. ( Id. ) One student declared that Dr. Coursey "had lost it" and "went berserk." ( Id., Ex. 2, at 14.) She stated that Dr. Coursey was "unstable" and she was "scared of him and what he might do.'" ( Id. ) Four students submitted written complaints to the Dean of the School of Pharmacy and Health Professions. ( Id., Ex. 1, at § 7.) A faculty member also overheard Dr. Coursey yell at students and state, "I am the highest ranking professor on this campus and no one can touch me." ( Id., Ex. 2, at 12.) In addition, an adjunct faculty member reported that Dr. Coursey once came up behind her while she was sitting at her computer, put his arms around her, leaned down, and stuck his tongue in her ear.[2] ( Id., Ex. 8, at 4.)

Based on this behavior, UMES suspended Dr. Coursey on February 3, 2009, and advised him that he would not be allowed on campus until Dr. Nicholas Blanchard, Dean of the School of Pharmacy and Health Professions, had completed an investigation. UMES states that it was concerned Dr. Coursey posed a direct threat to the safety of students and staff. (ECF No. 28, Ex. 1, at § 8.)

Dr. Coursey appealed his suspension and removal from the classroom to a UMES Faculty Grievance Board. The sole question before the Board was whether Dr. Coursey had been properly removed from his duties and the classroom. (ECF No. 28, Ex. 10.) Although the Board recommended that Dr. Coursey be allowed to resume his regular duties, the President determined that the Board had used the wrong fitness for duty policy and declined to adopt its recommendations. ( Id., Ex. 1, at § 9.) According to the university, the issues were "much broader and more comprehensive" than those addressed by the policy the Board had cited. ( Id., Ex. 2, at 4.)

In the meantime, upon completing his investigation, Dr. Blanchard recommended in an internal memorandum that Dr. Coursey not be placed back in the classroom and that he receive a mental health evaluation. (ECF No. 29, Ex. 6.) On June 4, 2009, President Thompson advised Dr. Charles Williams, Vice President for Academic Affairs, to direct Dr. Coursey to undergo a fitness for duty evaluation with a medical provider. (ECF No. 28, Ex. 1, at § 11.) Although UMES communicated this request to Dr. Coursey's counsel and advised Dr. Coursey in writing four times, Dr. Coursey refused. ( Id. at §§ 9, 11.) UMES Administrators assert that without a fitness evaluation, the risks to campus safety of placing Dr. Coursey back into the classroom were too high. ( Id. at § 10.) UMES also states that the fitness for duty examination was required under USM/UMES policy. ( Id. at § 14.)

On October 29, 2009, Dr. Coursey filed a discrimination complaint with the EEOC.[3] On May 25, 2010, Dr. Williams filed charges to have Dr. Coursey terminated for professional misconduct, incompetence, and insubordination. (ECF No. 28, Ex. 2, at 1b-5.) The charges alleged that Dr. Coursey exhibited abusive behavior toward students and colleagues, was deficient in his preparation for class and arbitrary and capricious in his grading methods, and committed substantial errors in advising that resulted in students not being able to matriculate efficiently through the Exercise Science program. ( Id. ) UMES also claimed that Dr. Coursey created a hostile environment and sexually harassed students, engaging in sexually inappropriate banter and comments targeting female students and touching them in inappropriate and objectionable ways. ( Id. ) Finally, UMES alleged that Dr. Coursey was insubordinate based on his refusal to submit to a medical/psychological evaluation. ( Id. ) On May 26, 2010, UMES notified Dr. Coursey by letter that charges for termination had been filed and that he had been relieved of all duties effective immediately. ( Id. at 1.) Dr. Coursey appealed the charges, and a Faculty Grievance Board of five UMES faculty members was appointed. Between August 26 and September 28, 2010, the Board heard testimony from 19 witnesses and considered 129 exhibits, 10 of which Dr. Coursey presented. ( Id., Ex. 1, § 13.) The hearing lasted 47.5 hours over nine non-sequential days. ( Id. )

On November 4, 2010, the Faculty Grievance Board issued a unanimous decision recommending to President Thompson that Dr. Coursey be terminated. (ECF No. 28, Ex. 4.) The Board found that Dr. Coursey was incompetent in the classroom and engaged in professional misconduct, including insubordination. ( Id. ) Dr. Coursey appealed the recommendation to President Thompson, who upheld the findings on December 17, 2010. ( Id., Ex. 5.)

Dr. Coursey appealed President Thompson's decision to terminate him to the University System of Maryland (USM) Board of Regents. An appeal hearing was held before a panel of three regents on May 27, 2011. (ECF No. 28, Ex. 7.) On June 3, 2011, the Board of Regents panel issued its recommendation to the full USM Board affirming Dr. Coursey's termination. ( Id. ) The panel recommended termination for incompetence in teaching and professional misconduct. ( Id. ) The full Board adopted the panel's recommendation on June 17, 2011, and Dr. Coursey was terminated on June 30, 2011.

On July 18, 2011, Dr. Coursey filed suit in this court against UMES, asserting claims under the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act, the Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Clause pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and breach of contract under Maryland common law. After a period of discovery, UMES filed this motion for summary judgment.

ANALYSIS

Standard of ...


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