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Popoli v. Board of Trustees of Harford Community College

United States District Court, D. Maryland

October 4, 2017




         Plaintiff Gary Popoli ("Popoli") brings this lawsuit against defendant Board of Trustees of Harford Community College ("HCC") seeking damages for alleged violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.\ 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. Now pending is defendant HCC's motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 20). The parties have fully briefed the motion, and no oral argument is necessary. See Local R. 105.6. For the reasons set forth below, defendant's motion for summary judgment is granted.


         This dispute arises out of HCC's allegedly discriminatory decision not to hire Popoli for a full-time faculty position for which Popoli applied. (ECF No. 1). Defendant Board of Trustees of Harford Community College is the entity empowered under Maryland law to sue and be sued on behalf of Harford Community College, a community college located in Maryland. (Id. ¶ 5). Plaintiff Popoli is a male resident of Maryland who was 57 years old at the time of the events at issue. (Id. ¶ 4).

         Popoli began teaching at HCC in 1992 as an adjunct professor of psychology, (ECF No. 29-4, p. 6). He has a Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology. (ECF No. 29-14, p. 2). He continued teaching at the school until the spring of 2014, typically teaching three class sessions each semester and one in the summer. (ECF. No. 29-4, p. 6). Within that time period, Popoli held a temporary full-time position at HCC during the fall semester of 2011. (ECF No. 29-4, p. 9-10).

         In October 2013, HCC solicited applications for a tenure track, full-time psychology faculty position. (ECF No. 29-18, p. 2). During the selection process, two additional faculty positions opened up, so the search expanded to fill all three open positions. (ECF No. 20-26, p. 1). A search committee ("Committee") for HCC handled the applications and conducted the interviews. (ECF No. 1 ¶ 14). The Committee had six members: (1) Avery Ward, the hiring manager; (2) Jan Brewer, Assistant Professor of Sociology at HCC; (3) Rick Mitchell, Professor of Psychology; (4) Nicole Hoke-Wilson, Director of Disability and Student Intervention Services; (5) Orlando Correa, Associate Professor of Psychology; and (6) Stephanie Hallock, Professor of Political Science and Coordinator for Global Education. (ECF No. 20-1, p. 13). The male members of the Committee were in their sixties or seventies. (ECF No. 20-1, p. 13). The Committee met at the end of October for an initial meeting to review search procedures and overview the search process. (ECF No. 20-45, p. 14).

         HCC received 54 applications in total, including one from Popoli. (ECF No. 20-12, p. 1-2). The applicants were rated on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the best, on seven criteria: (1) education, (2) experience, (3) ability to teach psychology courses using various methods of technologies, (4) experience developing online materials for face-to-face and online courses, (5) experience or ability in assessing student learning and reporting results for institutional accountability, (6) experience with and understanding of curriculum development, and (7) quality of application materials. (ECF No. 20-16, p. 1). Popoli received high ratings in education and experience, but low marks in areas such as curriculum development. (ECF No. 20-14, p. 4). He was rated as the tenth-best overall candidate. (ECF No. 29-17, p. 2). The committee met again in early November and selected eight candidates to interview, including Popoli.[1] (ECF No. 29-17, p. 2).

         Seven of those selected underwent the first round of interviews.[2] (ECF No. 20-22, p. 1). Five candidates were scheduled for one-hour interview slots, while Popoli and one other candidate were scheduled for forty-five minute slots. (ECF No. 29-23, p. 2). Two of the candidates interviewed via Skype while the others, including Popoli, interviewed in person. (ECF No. 29-23, p. 2). The search committee posed the same nine questions to all of the candidates. (ECF No. 29-8, p. 4). The Committee discussed strengths and concerns of each candidate after each interview. (ECF 29-8, p. 8). Popoli's interview lasted about ten minutes. (ECF 20-43, p. 6).

         Six candidates, including Popoli, advanced to the second round of interviews in January 2014.[3] (ECF No. 29-22, p. 2). One component of the second interview was a teaching demonstration where applicants were instructed to give a fifteen minute lesson on attribution theory and to "[t]each the lesson as if the Search Committee members represent your students." (ECF No. 20-27, p. 1). Both parties agree Popoli's teaching demonstration was not interactive. (See ECF No. 29-21, p. 7; ECF No. 29-4, p. 13). By contrast, Committee members noted the candidates who were ultimately selected for the positions presented interactive demonstrations. (See ECF No. 29-21).

         The other component was the second interview itself, which immediately followed the teaching demonstration. (ECF No. 20-27, p. 1). After the second round of interviews, the search committee recommended four of the six remaining candidates as finalists for the vacant positions.[4] (ECF No. 29-21, p. 2). Popoli was not among the finalists. (Id.). From the finalist list, three female applicants, aged 28, 31, and 44* were selected to fill the vacant positions. (ECF No. 1 ¶ 17). Those selected were Roof-Ray, Mosser, and Vithlani. (ECF No. 20-29, p. 1). None of these applicants had a doctoral degree, whereas Popoli did. (ECF No. 1 ¶ 17). Popoli was notified of his non-selection in a letter in February 2014. (Id. ¶ 19). This letter did not recite a specific reason for his non-selection. (Id.).

         On March 31, 2015, the EEOC issued a Determination finding there was reasonable cause to believe Popoli was denied a full-time psychology faculty position because of his age and sex. (ECF No. 1 ¶ 22). Popoli filed a complaint in the District of Maryland on February 17, 2016, alleging two counts of discrimination in connection with his non-selection for the vacant positions. (Id.). First, Popoli claims his non-selection was motivated, at least in part, by his sex, constituting unlawful discrimination in violation of Title VII (Count 1). (Id. ¶¶ 28, 30). Second, Popoli claims his non-selection was based on his age, constituting unlawful discrimination in violation of the ADEA (Count 2). (Id. ¶ 38). HCC moved for summary judgment on April 25, 2017. (ECF No. 20).


         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c), a court must grant summary judgment "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 judgment as a matter of law." See also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986). A genuine issue of material fact exists where, "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id., The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). When reviewing a motion for summary judgment, the court must take all facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007).

         The party opposing summary judgment must, however, "do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986); see also In re Apex Express Corp., 190 F.3d 624, 633 (4th Cir. 1999). The non-movant "'may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of [his] pleadings, ' but rather must 'set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Bouchat v. Baltimore Ravens Football Club, Inc., 346 F.3d 514, 522 (4th Cir. 2003) (alteration in original) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)); see also Adickes v. S. H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 160 (1970). A court should enter summary judgment when a party fails to make a showing sufficient to establish elements essential to a party's case, and on which the party will bear the burden of proof at trial. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322.


         Plaintiff asserts two claims against defendant: sex discrimination in violation of Title VII (Count I) and age discrimination in violation of the ADEA (Count II). In response, defendant argues its hiring decision was not discriminatory and plaintiffs age discrimination claim under the ADEA is barred by the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution. I consider each claim in turn.

         I. Title VII Sex ...

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