United States District Court, D. Maryland
XINIS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
before the Court and ready for resolution is Defendant Bowie
State University's (“BSU” or the
“University”) Motion for Summary Judgment. ECF
No. 37. The matter is fully briefed, and a hearing was held
on February 21, 2019. For the reasons given, the Court denies
and Procedural Background
2009, Stennis began working at BSU as a tenure track faculty
member in the Department of Social Work (“DSW”).
ECF No. 37-3. Throughout her employment, Stennis received
positive performance reviews, and according to her 2012-2013
evaluation, exceeded expectations in her job performance. ECF
No. 46-2. After receiving two extensions to apply for tenure,
Stennis' tenure review was scheduled for the 2013-2014
academic year. ECF No. 37-3; ECF No. 37-4.
Fall of 2012, Stennis attended a social work conference with
social work students and her direct supervisor and Chair of
the Social Work Department, Dr. Andre Stevenson. ECF No.
46-7. Prior to the conference, Stevenson announced to the
students that “we're all going to this conference
and as you all know there are two gay males going and I need
you to sign some document to say that you're okay with
sharing housing with these gay males.” Id.
After the meeting, Stevenson shared with Stennis that he was
not comfortable with “the whole gay thing.”
Id. at 44.
Spring of 2013, Stennis discussed with Stevenson that one
student had requested adding a course in the Social Work
Department about homosexuality. ECF No. 37-9. Stevenson
rejected the idea, declaring that no such course would be
offered “on his watch.” Id. In April and
May 2013, Stennis shared concerns with Stevenson “about
female students' treatment by [him].” Id.;
ECF No. 46-7 at p. 26. Stevenson asked Stennis to speak with
the members of the Social Work Club, of which Stennis was the
faculty advisor, to see what they thought of him. ECF No.
46-7, at p. 27.
2013, Stennis and Stevenson met to discuss her performance
evaluation for the 2012-2013 academic year. ECF No. 37-9.
Under “areas for further development, ” Stevenson
noted that on several occasions Stennis had misadvised
students and cancelled classes without forewarning. ECF No.
46-9. Stennis responded by noting on her evaluation that
Stevenson could not provide any evidence of mis-advisement
and by listing the various ways students were notified of
cancelled classes. Id. In the same meeting, Stennis
“expressed concern to Dr. Stevenson about how the gay
students within the DSW were being treated by Dr.
Stevenson.” ECF No. 37-35. Also in May, Stennis
attended a retreat for the Social Work Club's executive
board. ECF No. 46-2. There, Stennis inquired about
Stevenson's performance as Chair, as he had requested.
Id. Several students expressed concern that
Stevenson unfairly treated students based on gender and
sexual orientation. Id.
September 3, 2013, Stennis sent Stevenson a memo entitled
“Assessment of Dr. Stevenson, Chair, ” which
memorialized the information that Stennis learned at the
Social Work Club's retreat. ECF Nos. 37-3, 37-5
(“the assessment”). The assessment stated, in
Favoritism: Students feel that there is clear evidence of
unfair discrimination and favoritism shown to them by the
Chair and specific faculty members. If not addressed, such
actions could warrant a decrease in SOWK [Social Work]
majors, more clearly seen faculty discord, and even legal
actions (ie. Law suits).
37-5. Stennis also communicated to Stevenson that the nature
of the student complaints centered on Stevenson's
discriminatory acts and words toward gay and lesbian
students. ECF No. 37-3. Two days later, Stevenson responded
to the assessment, stating: “For the record: I
didn't ask you or the Social Work Club e-board for an
assessment of me as Chair. I asked you to ask them how I
could further assist/support them in their efforts as a
club.” ECF No. 37-7.
days later, on September 9, 2013, Stevenson added a
co-advisor to the Social Work Club to work alongside Stennis
“[a]s a result of what [he] considered to be
inappropriate behavior” of Stennis in having conducted
the assessment. ECF No. 37-17. Stevenson's reason for
adding a co-advisor was in direct response to Stennis
submitting the assessment. Id. “Even if
requested, ” Stevenson writes, “such an
‘assessment' could not be accurately done within 10
days. As a result of what I considered inappropriate
behavior, I assigned another faculty member to serve as
co-advisor of the Social Work Club.” Id. At
the same time, Stevenson also added co-advisors to at least
one other student organization “[i]n an attempt to
become more transparent and collegial.” ECF No. 37-8.
days after the co-advisor change, Stennis, Stevenson, and
Jerome Schiele, Dean of the School of Professional Studies,
met to discuss the assessment. ECF Nos. 37-3, 37-6. During
this meeting, Stennis raised the students' concerns
regarding discrimination against gay and female students. ECF
Nos. 37-3, 37-6.
September 13, 2013, Stennis was notified of her eligibility
to apply for tenure. ECF No. 37-34. On September 25, 2013,
Stennis notified Elizabeth Stachura, BSU Labor and Employee
Relations Manager who was also the University's acting
Title IX officer, of the adverse actions Stevenson had taken
against Stennis since the assessment had been communicated to
him. ECF Nos. 37-3, 37-10, 37-36. Stennis conveyed to
Stachura the students' concerns regarding Stevenson
discriminating against homosexual and female students, as
well as her concern of “how all of this was impacting
[her] . . . tenure process.” ECF No. 37-3. In
response, Stachura's only suggestion was that Stennis
speak with Stevenson directly about her concerns and ask him
for “ways and areas” she could improve her
performance. ECF Nos. 37-9, 37-36.
took Stachura's advice, and on October 1, 2013, met with
Stevenson to discuss her tenure application, among other
things. See ECF No. 37-11. As a follow-up to the
meeting Stevenson emailed Stennis the next day to express
concerns about her advisement of students even though he had
not raised this issue during their meeting about Stennis'
job performance. See id.; ECF No. 37-3. Stennis,
fearing Stevenson's “mis-advisement” claim
could be used against her in the tenure process, responded
that she had no knowledge of such issues but remained willing
to review any student files to discuss specific advisement
concerns. ECF No. 37-3, ECF No. 37-11. Stevenson replied that
he would review student files with Stennis but only with Dean
Schiele present. ECF No. 37-11.
October 11, 2013, Stennis submitted two copies of her tenure
dossier to Stevenson. ECF No. 37-3. In response, Stevenson
notified Stennis that she was required to submit three
copies. ECF No. 37-12. After confirming with the
University's Appointment, Rank, and Tenure
(“ART”) Committee Chair that three copies were
required, Stennis asked Stevenson whether she could submit
additional materials to supplement her application and an
additional copy of her dossier. ECF No. 37-14. Stevenson
responded that he would include one additional article
provided by Stennis but would not accept additional copies of
her dossier. Id. As grounds, he noted
“slight” inconsistencies between the two
submitted copies and that the third copy, if submitted, would
be late. ECF Nos. 37-12, 37-14.
after this interaction with Stevenson, Stennis again reached
out to Stachura regarding concerns that Stevenson may
undeservedly interfere with her ability to receive tenure.
Stachura, once again, offered little assistance other than to
recommend more discussions, this time with Dean Schiele. ECF
Nos. 37-10, 37-36. Stachura also sent Stennis a copy of the
Grievance Process from the Faculty Handbook, although
Stachura cautioned that the grievance process was not an
appropriate venue to pursue discrimination complaints. ECF
No. 37-15. Stachura also suggested that Stennis follow up
with Schiele. Id.; ECF No. 37-36.
November 8, 2013, Stennis met with Schiele to discuss the
mis-advisement concerns raised by Stevenson. ECF No. 46-2.
After a review of student files, Schiele agreed that the
concerns were unsubstantiated. Id.
November 12, 2013, Stachura spoke with Schiele about
Stennis' complaints. ECF Nos. 37-10, 37-36. According to
Stachura's notes taken during this conversation, the two
discussed Stennis as a faculty member who “cares about
students.” ECF No. 37-10. The notes also reflect
discussion of someone unidentified in the notes as being
described as “not collegial, ”
“dictatorial, ” “abrasive, ” and
“rude.” Id. The notes also reflect
discussion about “students['] fear of
reprisals/retaliation, ” and that “2 faculty had
concerns: last 6 including Stevenson, ” and that one
particular action item included to “go over faculty
evals of him.” Id. Although by affidavit,
Stachura confirmed her conversation with Schiele, she does
not decipher with any more particularity her notes.
November 13, 2013, Stennis' husband called the University
President's office on behalf of a University social work
student who was also on the executive board of the Social
Work Club, complaining about an advisement matter involving
the student. ECF Nos. 37-3, 37-16, 37-17. The matter appears
wholly unrelated to Stennis as a professor in the department.
Although Stennis explained that this student for whom her
husband called had become very close with her family, both
Schiele and Stevenson found the call to be “highly
inappropriate.” ECF No. 46-7 (Stennis describing
student as “part of the family”); ECF Nos. 37-16,
37-17, 37-37. However, neither Dean Schiele nor Stevenson
could justify the basis of such characterization, nor did
either take any formal action against Stennis related to her
husband's phone call.
same day, Stennis requested a meeting with Schiele to discuss
concerns raised by her students and her tenure process. ECF
No. 37-18. Schiele responded that he had spoken with Human
Resources about Stennis' concerns and requested that
Sheila Hobson, Director of Human Resources, and Stevenson be
present at the meeting. Id.; ECF No. 37-19. Stennis
agreed to both Hobson and Stevenson's participation. ECF
November 19, 2013, Stennis again raised concerns to Stachura
about her tenure process. ECF Nos. 37-10, 37-36. Stennis also
mentioned that she had sought mediation with Stevenson, but
he had declined the offer. ECF No. 37-10. The next day,
Stachura further explored the possibility of mediation with
Stevenson, although Stevenson again declined to participate.
ECF Nos. 37-10, 37-20, 37-36.
November 20, 2013, Stennis met with Stevenson, Schiele, and
Hobson to discuss her concerns regarding her tenure
application and her husband's call to the University
President's office. ECF Nos. 37-16, 37-17, 37-37. During
this meeting, Schiele raised the issue of student
mis-advisement despite his previous determination that none
had occurred. ECF No. 46-2. The meeting otherwise, and almost
exclusively, focused on the phone call that her husband made.
Id. At the end of the meeting, Stevenson removed
Stennis from her role as co-advisor of the Social Work Club.
ECF Nos. 37-16, 37-17. The stated reason for her removal was her
husband's call. ECF Nos. 37-16, 37-17.
November 21, 2013, Schiele emailed Stennis a summary of the
November 20, 2013 meeting. ECF Nos. 37-16, 37-22, 37-37. Two
days later, Stennis responded to Schiele, laying out her
concerns with her tenure application and the work
environment. ECF No. 46-10. Stennis specifically described
having sought Stachura's assistance with “concerns
related to tenure and perception that [her] chair would
possibly try to derail [her] process, citing advisement as an
example of something he may use.” Id. Stennis,
more particularly, described her reason for seeking
Stachura's help was to “protect [herself] from
workplace bullying and reprisal by [her] chair and other
same letter, Stennis also communicated to Schiele that
Stevenson had just informed Stennis' female colleague
that the colleague's contract would not be renewed so he
could hire someone more in line with “his
vision.” Id. Stennis further described
Stevenson's overt hostility to the student's request
for a class on homosexuality: “[h]e didn't want his
legacy to be that he introduced a class on some
‘gay***'.” Id. Stennis also noted
that she had conveyed her concerns regarding Stevenson's
bias and retaliatory acts to Schiele in the past.
November 24, 2013, Stennis informed Stachura that she had met
with Schiele, Stevenson, and Hobson. ECF No. 37-15. Stennis
further relayed that she was considering filing a grievance
for the ...