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Mezu v. Morgan State University.

United States District Court, Fourth Circuit

July 29, 2013

ROSE URE MEZU
v.
MORGAN STATE UNIVERSITY. et al.

MEMORANDUM

WILLIAM M. NICKERSON, Senior District Judge.

Before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 168, and Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, ECF No. 181. Both motions are fully briefed. Upon review of the pleadings and the applicable law, the Court determines that no hearing is necessary, Local Rule 105.6, and that both motions will be denied.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Dr. Rose Mezu has been employed by Defendant Morgan State University (Morgan State) since 1993. She identifies her national origin as Nigerian, her ethnicity as Igbo, and her race as "commonly perceived as black' in the United States." Am. Compl. ¶ 89. Defendant Armada Grant is the director of the human resources/personnel department for Morgan State and Defendant Dolan Hubbard is the chair of the English and Language Arts Department, the department in which Plaintiff teaches. They were originally sued in their personal and official capacities.

Plaintiff's relationship with her employer has been contentious as evidenced by the fact that Plaintiff has filed four lawsuits against Morgan State, of which this is the third. The first suit, Mezu v. Morgan State Univ ., Civ. No. JFM-02-3713 (the 2002 suit), was filed after Plaintiff was denied a promotion to rank of full professor in 2000. That suit included both a failure to promote claim and a "hostile environment" claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e, et seq. (Title VII), a claim under the Equal Pay Act, 29 U.S.C. § 206(d) (EPA), and a claim under the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993, 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601, et seq. (FMLA or the Act). On March 31, 2003, Judge J. Frederick Motz dismissed the Equal Pay Act claim for failure to state a claim, dismissed the FMLA claim as barred by Eleventh Amendment immunity, [1] dismissed the Title VII failure to promote claim as untimely and granted summary judgment on Plaintiff's Title VII hostile environment claim. Mezu v. Morgan State Univ. , 264 F.Supp.2d 292 (D. Md. Mar. 31, 2003), aff'd 75 F.Appx. 910 (4th Cir. 2003).

Plaintiff's second suit, Mezu v. Morgan State Univ ., Civ. No. WDQ-08-1867 (the 2008 suit), challenged a 2006 denial of promotion. In addition to reasserting that she was denied a promotion on account of race and national origin, Plaintiff asserted that the denial was in retaliation for engaging in protected EEOC activities. On March 23, 2009, Judge William Quarles dismissed her failure to promote claim on the ground that her EEOC charge was not timely filed and her retaliation claim on the ground that she failed to exhaust her administrative remedies as to that claim. Civ. No. WDQ-08-1867, ECF Nos. 16 & 17, aff'd, 367 F.Appx. 385 (4th Cir. 2010).

In this third suit, Plaintiff originally asserted four causes of action: a retaliation claim under Title VII, a hostile environment claim under Title VII, an interference claim under the FMLA, and a retaliation claim under the FMLA. While the Complaint recounted some of the long history of conflict between Plaintiff and her employer, it focused on two specific courses of events that Plaintiff alleged were "recent hostile actions cognizable under Title VII." Compl. at ¶ 9. The first arose out of Plaintiff's request for leave to attend her mother's funeral in Nigeria in the fall of 2008 and Defendants' response to that request. The second arose out of Plaintiff's request for FMLA leave to take care of her daughter, Dr. Olachi Mezu (Dr. Mezu), [2] after that daughter underwent emergency brain surgery following a subarachnoid hemorrhage in August of 2009. As discussed more fully below, Plaintiff alleged that: Defendants improperly delayed responding to her requested FMLA leave; denied the request once they finally did respond, forcing her to take sick leave instead; and, once she returned to work, did not pay her and cancelled her benefits, including health insurance, for several weeks. Only after Plaintiff filed this suit did Morgan State recommence paying her salary and reinstate her benefits.

Ruling on Defendants' motion to dismiss, the Court dismissed Plaintiff's hostile environment claim under Title VII, finding that Plaintiff was complaining of the same kind of conduct that Judge Motz found to be insufficiently "severe and pervasive" in the 2002 suit. The Court also dismissed the claims brought against Grant and Hubbard in their individual capacities. ECF No. 24 at 30 n.15. The Court, however, denied Defendants' motion as to the retaliation claims. The Court found that being taken off the payroll and going without pay or benefits for several weeks was sufficiently adverse that it would dissuade a reasonable worker from taking the protected action. Id. at 28-29. The Court also found that there was close enough temporal proximity between these alleged retaliatory actions and her recent Title VII suit and FMLA request to establish a causal connection. Id. at 29-30.

Finally, the Court permitted Plaintiff's FMLA interference claim to go forward. Significantly, the Court recognized that Plaintiff was bringing this claim only in relation to her 2009 request for FMLA leave to take care of her daughter after the brain surgery. The Court noted that while Defendants argued strenuously that Plaintiff was not entitled to FMLA leave to attend her mother's funeral in 2008, this was a claim never made by Plaintiff. Id. at 31 n.16 (citing Compl. ¶ 88).

In the fourth suit filed by Plaintiff against these Defendants, Mezu v. Morgan State Univ ., Civ. No. WMN-11-3072, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants retaliated against her for filing the 2009 suit. The alleged retaliatory actions in this most recent suit relate to teaching loads and also the denial of another FMLA request made in the fall of 2011. This suit remains pending before the undersigned.

In Defendants' pending motion in this third suit, Defendants repeat many of the same arguments made in their motion to dismiss and seek judgment on all of Plaintiff's claims. In her motion, Plaintiff suggests that it should be established as a matter of law that Morgan State interfered with her FMLA rights and that trial of her interference claim should be limited to establishing the damages caused by that interference. Plaintiff also suggests that the Court should hold that she has established a prima facie case for retaliation under the FMLA.

II. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that summary judgment "shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). A material fact is one that "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A genuine issue over a material fact exists "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id . In considering a motion for summary judgment, a judge's function is limited to determining whether sufficient evidence exists on a claimed factual dispute to warrant submission of the matter to a jury for resolution at trial. Id. at 249.

When both parties file motions for summary judgment, as here, the court applies the same standards of review. Taft Broad. Co. v. United States , 929 F.2d 240, 248 (6th Cir. 1991); ITCO Corp. v. Michelin Tire Corp. , 722 F.2d 42, 45 n.3 (4th Cir. 1983) ("The court is not permitted to resolve genuine issues of material fact on a motion for summary judgment - even where... both parties have filed cross motions for summary judgment.") (emphasis omitted). The role of the court is to "rule on each party's motion on an individual and separate basis, determining, in each case, whether a judgment may be entered in accordance with the Rule 56 standard." Towne Mgmt. Corp. v. Hartford Acc. & Indem. Co. , 627 F.Supp. 170, 172 (D. Md. 1985).

III. DISCUSSION

A. FMLA ...


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