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Mezu v. Morgan State University

United States District Court, D. Maryland

April 16, 2014




Before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. ECF No. 89. Plaintiff filed a substantial opposition to the motion, ECF No. 92, and Defendants elected not to file a reply and the time for so doing has long expired. Upon review of the pleadings and the applicable law, the Court determines that no hearing is necessary, Local Rule 105.6, and that the motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

Plaintiff Dr. Rose Mezu has been employed by Defendant Morgan State University (Morgan State) since 1993. In August 2013, she was made a full professor, although she asserts that this was a promotion that was long overdue. 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. This is the fourth lawsuit that Plaintiff has filed against Morgan State. Plaintiff's third suit, Mezu v. Morgan State Univ., Civ. No. WMN-09-2855 (D. Md.) (the 2009 Action), asserts claims under Title VII[1] and the FMLA[2] and is scheduled for trial to commence on June 2, 2014.[3]

In this suit, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants discriminated against her on the basis of her "race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, " Am. Compl. ¶ 5, and retaliated against her for filing the 2009 Action. Plaintiff asserts three specific forms or incidents of discriminatory or retaliatory conduct: (1) the consistent assignment of teaching overloads without compensation; (2) the manner in which Defendants, specifically Defendant Grant, handled Plaintiff's request for FMLA leave during the Spring 2011 Semester; and, (3) an incident in October of 2011 in which she alleges Defendant Hubbard riled up her students and encouraged them to file complaints against her. The Amended Complaint asserts four causes of action: retaliation under Title VII (Count I); an Equal Protection claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Grant related to the handling of Plaintiff's FMLA leave request (Count IV); an Equal Protection claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Hubbard related to his October 2011 interactions with Plaintiff's students (Count V); and a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 against Hubbard based on his role in assigning her teaching overloads (Count VI).[4]

While denying, in part, Defendants' motion to dismiss at an earlier stage of these proceedings, the Court expressed some doubt as to the ultimate merits of Plaintiff's claims. The Court was particularly skeptical of the method by which Plaintiff arrived at the conclusion that she was assigned a teaching overload, finding her interpretation of the Faculty Manual "farfetched." ECF No. 32 at 11. The Court also noted the lack of any basis for Plaintiff's claimed entitlement to certain benefits, such as her claim that Morgan State was responsible for her emergency room bill. Id . In addition, the Court found that Plaintiff's allegations pointed as strongly to the conclusion that professional jealousy was the likely motivator behind some of the complained-of conduct as to the conclusion that this conduct arose from any discriminatory or retaliatory animus. Id. at 10. While the Court retains some of those same reservations, the Court will deny Defendants' motion for summary judgment as well, at least as to some elements of her claims. On the record as it now stands, particularly given the lack of any reply from Defendants, disputes of material fact remain rendering summary judgment inappropriate. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 ("The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.").

For example, on the issue of Plaintiff's alleged teaching overload, Defendants argued in their motion that, under the terms of the Faculty Manual, Plaintiff was never assigned an overload. The Manual defines "teaching load" as follows:

In the College of Liberal Arts, the prescribed teaching load for faculty is twelve credits undergraduate courses per semester, or fifteen to eighteen contact hours in undergraduate courses per semester in specified special programs (e.g. Freshman Studies Program).
The teaching load for graduate faculty in the College of Liberal Arts is nine credits per semester. Faculty members are considered graduate faculty when teaching two or more graduate classes in a given semester. Faculty members teaching one graduate course per semester may be granted a reduced teaching load of nine credits when they, in one semester or over a period of several semesters, have served as advisors to four master's thesis students or two doctoral dissertation students.

Pl.'s Ex. 1, 2009 Faculty Manual, Operational Policies & Procedures, at 22. Thus, if a faculty member is teaching only undergraduate courses, a standard load is four three-credit classes per semester. If a faculty member teaches at least two graduate classes, a standard load would be three three-credit courses. If a faculty member is teaching only one graduate course, the standard load remains four three-credit courses, unless the faculty member is also advising four master's thesis students or two doctoral dissertation students, in which case, the faculty member "may be granted a reduced teaching load" of three three-credit courses.

Defendants submitted with their motion a summary chart purporting to show the classes taught by Plaintiff and two other faculty members in Plaintiff's department, Dr. Linda Carter and Dr. Julie Nerad, for the Fall 2009, Spring 2010, Fall 2010, and Spring 2011 Semesters. Defs.' Ex. B. According to that chart, Plaintiff was not assigned an overload for any of those semesters. For the Fall 2009 Semester, when she was on FMLA leave taking care of her daughter, she taught no classes. For the Spring 2010 Semester, Plaintiff was assigned four undergraduate classes. While the chart also shows three advisement or dissertation "classes" for that semester, it also shows that no students were enrolled in those classes as advisees. For the Fall 2010 Semester, the chart indicates that Plaintiff was assigned three undergraduate classes and was advising two doctoral students. For the Spring 2011 Semester, she taught one graduate class and advised one doctoral student.[5]

According to the summary chart supplied by Defendants, Drs. Carter and Nerad taught equal or heavier loads than Plaintiff. For example, for the Spring 2010 Semester, Dr. Carter appears to have taught one undergraduate class, two graduate classes, and advised four masters students and one doctoral student. For the Spring 2011 Semester, Dr. Nerad appears to have taught three undergraduate classes, one graduate class, and advised at least two doctoral students. This would appear to have been an overload.

In opposing Defendants' motion, Plaintiff continues to argue that any time spent advising graduate students is extra work that must be compensated. See Pl.'s Opp'n at 2-5, 25-26. Defendants have stated that this is not the practice of the university, see Hubbard Dep. at 146, and the Court notes that Plaintiff's position seems inconsistent with the Faculty Manual on which she so heavily relies. While the Manual permits a reduction in teaching load for advising four or more Master's students or two or more Doctoral students, the clear implication is that advising fewer graduate students does not entitle the faculty member to reduced class assignments or additional compensation.

Plaintiff, however, also raises other challenges to Defendants' motion that have some merit or, at the least, warranted some reply from Defendants. Plaintiff notes that Defendants have provided no evidentiary support for the summary chart they submitted with their motion. Opp'n at 27. She also notes that Magistrate Judge Gesner, who presided over the discovery in this matter, previously addressed the adequacy of a similar summary chart and ordered Defendants to produce "any supporting documents related to teaching schedules, and requests for assignments of overloads, for all departments of the MSU College of Liberal Arts, for the entire time period requested." 5/28/13 Letter Order at 2. Plaintiff represents that, despite that Order, Defendants refused to produce supporting documents related to requests or assignments of overloads. Opp'n at 27.[6]

Most significant, and most in need of some response, is Plaintiff's observation that, even if the summary chart were accurate and supported, and shows that Drs. Carter and Nerad taught overloads for some semesters, "[t]his does not answer the key question of whether first, these faculty volunteered to do so, and second, how it affected their compensation." Id . Notwithstanding this pointed critique of their evidence and argument, Defendants filed no reply. Thus, the Court is left with unanswered questions. It could be that Drs. Carter and Nerad were indeed paid for a teaching overload and that explains the lack of a reply from Defendants. Or, it could be that Defendants' failure to properly respond to discovery prevents them from now submitting the evidence that would refute that argument. Or, the absence of a reply from Defendants could simply reflect the ...

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