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Sewell v. Strayer University

United States District Court, D. Maryland

July 9, 2013


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Starsha Monet Sewell, Plaintiff, Pro se, Capitol Heights, MD.

For Strayer University, Defendant: Crystal Elizabeth Barnes, John Steven Bolesta, Ogletree Deakins Nash Smoak and Stewart PC, Washington, DC.


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DEBORAH K. CHASANOW, United States District Judge.

Presently pending and ready for resolution in this employment discrimination case are several motions: the motion for recusal filed by pro se Plaintiff Starsha Monet Sewell (ECF No. 23); the motion to dismiss filed by Defendant Strayer University, Inc. (" Strayer" ) [1] (ECF No. 7); and the motion for summary judgment filed by Ms. Sewell (ECF No. 16). The court now rules pursuant to Local Rule 105.6, no hearing being deemed necessary. For the reasons that follow, Ms. Sewell's motion for recusal will be denied, Strayer's motion to dismiss will be granted, and Ms. Sewell's motion for summary judgment will be denied as moot.

I. Background

A. Factual Background

Except as otherwise noted, the following facts are alleged by Ms. Sewell in her complaint. (ECF No. 1). In February 2006, Strayer hired Ms. Sewell, an African American woman, to serve as a Quality Assurance Specialist. Ms. Sewell initially earned an annual salary of $50,000 and received a raise of approximately 5%, to $52,800, after her one-year performance review. Strayer also hired Ms. Sewell to teach classes as a part-time member of the adjunct faculty. Ms. Sewell received approximately $18,000 per year as an adjunct professor, bringing her total annual compensation to $70,800. In September 2007, Strayer promoted Ms. Sewell to the role of Associate Campus Dean, a position that paid an annual salary of $60,000. According to Ms. Sewell, she also continued to teach classes as a part-time adjunct professor, bringing her total annual compensation to $78,000.

In October 2007, Ms. Sewell filed an internal complaint of racial discrimination

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against her direct supervisor, Kelley Justice. Ms. Sewell generally alleges that Ms. Justice subjected her to a hostile work environment because of her race, although the complaint contains no specifics about the nature of the alleged discrimination. In March 2008, Ms. Justice " financially demoted" Ms. Sewell by instructing Strayer's human resources department to stop compensating Ms. Sewell as an adjunct part-time professor. According to Ms. Sewell, Ms. Justice's instructions had the effect of reducing Plaintiff's annual compensation from $78,000 to $60,000 and also breached the terms of her contract with Strayer to teach as an adjunct professor. Ms. Sewell conclusorily contends that Ms. Justice demoted her because of her race, color, and gender, and in retaliation for complaining of discrimination.

Ms. Sewell also alleges that Strayer intentionally discriminated against her and engaged in retaliation by terminating her employment and " upon furnishing negative references." The complaint does not specify when either of these events took place.

B. Procedural Background

On August 5, 2009, Ms. Sewell filed a charge of discrimination (" the August 2009 Charge" ) with the Office of Human Rights & Equity Programs, Human Rights Division, for Fairfax County, Virginia (" the FCHRC" ). (ECF No. 10, at 3). [2] In the August 2009 Charge, Ms. Sewell alleged that Strayer retaliated against her for filing an internal complaint of discrimination against Ms. Justice in October 2007 and for filing a discrimination complaint with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (" EEOC" ) on March 25, 2008. Ms. Sewell cited a number of events as examples of this purported retaliation, including: (1) her August 18, 2008 termination from Strayer after she returned from medical leave; (2) her belief that, beginning in August 2008, Strayer provided negative references to other prospective employers; and (3) the refusal of Ms. Deepali-Kala, Strayer's director of quality assurance, to provide Ms. Sewell with a reference in July 2009. [3] The August 2009 Charge did not reference Ms. Sewell's purported financial demotion. On August 12, 2009, Ms. Sewell cross-filed her complaint with the EEOC.

On July 9, 2012, the EOOC adopted the findings of the FCHRC and issued a right to sue notice to Ms. Sewell. (ECF No. 1-2). On October 2, 2012, Ms. Sewell filed a

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complaint against Strayer in this court, asserting claims of race-, color-, and gender-based discrimination and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (" Title VII" ), as well as claims for race-based discrimination and retaliation under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (" Section 1981" ). (ECF No. 1). [4] Concomitantly with her complaint, Plaintiff filed a motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis (ECF No. 2), which was granted on October 25 (ECF No. 6).

On October 26, 2012, Strayer moved to dismiss Ms. Sewell's complaint, asserting that Ms. Sewell failed to exhaust her administrative remedies as to the Title VII claims she raises here; that Ms. Sewell's claims are time-barred; and that the complaint fails to state a plausible claim for relief. (ECF Nos. 7 & 7-1). Strayer attached a copy of the August 2009 Charge as an exhibit to its motion. (ECF No. 10). Ms. Sewell filed an opposition on October 31 (ECF No. 14), to which she attached an informational brochure published by the FCHRC (ECF No. 14-1) and several email chains between her and Strayer employees about her financial demotion (ECF Nos. 14-2 & 14-3). On November 14, Strayer replied. (ECF No. 15).

Two days later, Ms. Sewell filed a motion for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56(c), without any supporting memoranda or exhibits. (ECF No. 16). On November 30, Strayer filed an opposition, arguing that Ms. Sewell's conclusory motion fails to satisfy her burden under Rule 56 and is premature in light of its pending motion to dismiss. (ECF No. 17). On December 11, Ms. Sewell filed a memorandum in support of her motion for summary judgment that attaches certain documents from the administrative proceedings as well as documents relating to Ms. Sewell's requests to the EEOC pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (" FOIA" ). (ECF No. 18). On December 14, Ms. Sewell filed additional documents relating to her FOIA requests. (ECF No. 19). Strayer then filed an amended opposition to Ms. Sewell's summary judgment motion (ECF No. 21), and Ms. Sewell replied (ECF No. 22). On March 26, 2013, Plaintiff moved for the undersigned's recusal. (ECF No. 23). Strayer filed a response in opposition. (ECF No. 24).

II. Ms. Sewell's Motion for Recusal

A. Standard of Review

Ms. Sewell seeks recusal of the undersigned pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ...

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