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Marina V. Karakozova, Ph.D v. the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania

May 9, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: O'neill, J.


On July 20, 2009, plaintiff Marina V. Karakozova, Ph.D., appearing pro se, filed a complaint against defendant the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania, her former employer, alleging: (1) harassment on the basis of national origin in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (2) disparate treatment on the basis of national origin in violation of Title VII, section 1981 and section 1983; and (3) retaliation. Now before me is defendant's motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff has not filed a response to defendant's motion.*fn1 For the reasons that follow, I will grant defendant's motion.


I. Facts

On October 1, 2004, plaintiff began a one-year appointment as a Postdoctoral Researcher under the supervision of Dr. Anna Kashina, an Associate Professor in the Department of Animal Biology at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine. See Def's. Mot. Ex. B1 to Ex. 1; Ex. 2 at ¶¶ 2-3. Both plaintiff and Dr. Kashina are of Russian national origin, are originally from Russia, would often converse in Russian and exchanged email communication in Russian. Id. Ex. 1 at ¶7; Ex. 2 at ¶¶ 5, 34, 35, 37. On September 30, 2005, plaintiff's appointment to Dr. Kashina's laboratory was renewed for an additional year. Id. Ex. B2 to Ex. 1; Ex. 2 at ¶ 4. On August 7, 2006, Dr. Kashina sent a letter to plaintiff offering to renew her appointment for a third year effective October 1, 2006. Id. Ex. B3 to Ex. 1; Ex. 2 at ¶¶ 8-9.

As a Postdoctoral Researcher, plaintiff was subject to the Policy for Postdoctoral Trainees at the University of Pennsylvania. The Policy set forth plaintiff's obligations as including:

(i) the conscientious discharge of [her] research, scholarly, and teaching responsibilities, as applicable; (ii) conformity with ethical standards in research and scholarship; (iii) compliance with good scholarly practice including the maintenance of adequate research records; (iv) observation of appropriate guidelines regarding human subjects and due observation of University standards regarding use of isotopes, chemicals, infectious agents, animals, and the like, if applicable; (v) open and timely discussion with [her] mentor regarding possession or distribution of tangible property such as materials, reagents and the like; (vi) discussion of laboratory records or scholarly materials, if relevant; (vii) prior disclosure of appropriate scholarly information, findings or techniques proposed for dissemination privately, at scholarly meetings, or in publications; (viii) collegial conduct toward all members of the University community; (ix) compliance with all applicable university policies.

Id. Ex. A to Ex. 2. After plaintiff received the August 7, 2006 reappointment letter, it became apparent to Dr. Kashina that plaintiff was no longer complying with her obligations under the Policy.

In particular, plaintiff's work in Dr. Kashina's laboratory required the use of "constructs," pieces of recombinant DNA from which plaintiff was to grow chimeric proteins in cells for analysis and use in the lab. Id. Ex. 2, ¶ 11. Plaintiff was required to make her constructs available to the lab, her colleagues and, as a condition of the grant under which her appointment was funded, to other researchers after the publication of her research. Id. Ex. 2, ¶¶ 13-14; Ex. A to Ex. 2 at 3. Dr. Kashina asserts that it is the practice and policy in her lab that constructs be made available to others in a common lab box. Id. Ex. 2, ¶ 15. Despite her obligation to share her constructs, plaintiff either failed to place her constructs in the common lab box, misidentified her constructs, or supplied water instead of viable constructs. Id. Ex. 2, ¶¶ 16, 24, 26.

Concerned about plaintiff's performance, on September 11, 2006, Dr. Kashina had a telephone conversation with and subsequently sent an email to Mary Ann Timmins, the Administrative Director of Biomedical Postdoctoral Programs, seeking advice as to how to address plaintiff's performance issues. Id. Ex. C to Ex. 2. Dr. Kashina's proposed email to plaintiff outlined conversations that Dr. Kashina had previously had with plaintiff regarding her concerns about plaintiff's failure to make her constructs available in the common lab box. Id.

Also on September 11, plaintiff was out sick from the lab, requiring Dr. Kashina to find plaintiff's constructs on her own. Id. Ex. 2, ¶¶ 17-18. Dr. Kashina discovered that plaintiff's constructs were not in the common lab box. Id. Ex. 2, ¶ 20. At 10:07 a.m. on September 12, Dr. Kashina emailed plaintiff (who was still out sick) to inform her that Dr. Kashina had been unable to obtain DNA or grow proteins from a construct that plaintiff had made available to her. Id. Ex. D to Ex. 2; Ex. 2, ¶ 23. She asked plaintiff for guidance as to where she could find the stocks and colonies plaintiff had used to make the construct. Id. Ex. D to Ex. 2. Having received an untranslated Russian email response from plaintiff at 11:03 a.m., at 11:11 a.m., Dr. Kashina emailed plaintiff again, asking for information about whether plaintiff had "some bacterial stock or construct saved somewhere" and asking about the location of plaintiff's lab notes. Id. Ex. E to Ex. 2. Dr. Kashina found that she had been unable to grow proteins from the construct to which plaintiff had directed her because it was actually water, and not a construct. Id. Ex. 2, ¶ 24. Plaintiff told Dr. Kashina that she had thrown away a construct that should have been made available to the lab. Id. Ex. 2, ¶ 26.

The Policy provides that "Mentors may terminate a [Postdoctoral Researcher] during an appointment for any reason on three months' written notice." Id. Ex. A to Ex. 2 (emphasis in original). Given plaintiff's conduct, Dr. Kashina felt that she had no choice but to terminate plaintiff's appointment. Id. Ex. 2, ¶¶ 28, 37. On September 13, 2006, Dr. Kashina sent plaintiff an email suspending her with pay until further notice. Id. Ex. 2, ¶ 29; Ex. F to Ex. 2. On September 18, 2006, Dr. Kashina sent plaintiff a letter informing plaintiff that her appointment would be terminated effective December 18, 2006 for her failure to meet the obligations of her position, including failures to fulfil six of nine obligations listed in the Policy.*fn2 Id., Ex. C to Ex.


Plaintiff subsequently sent a complaint regarding her termination to the EEOC. Id. Ex. A, ¶ 14. On October 22, 2007, over a year after the termination of her appointment, plaintiff sent a letter to Dr. Steven Fluharty, the Vice Provost for Research at the University of Pennsylvania to complain about the circumstances of her termination. Id. Ex. 3. In the letter, plaintiff asserted that her EEOC charge of discrimination was "only [the] consequence of a research integrity problem in Dr. Kashina's lab." Id. On October 25, 2007, plaintiff sent a letter to Pierce E. Buller, Associate General Counsel for Penn, in which she reiterated that her EEOC charge of discrimination was "only [the] consequence of a research integrity problem in Dr. Kashina's lab." Id. Ex. 4. In both letters, she claimed that she had reported the incorrect work of a lab technician to Dr. Kashina and that Dr. Kashina had declined to act on her report. Id. Exs. 3, 4. She asserted that she was terminated in retaliation for her complaints about the lab technician. Id. She did not include any allegation that the termination of her appointment was in any way related to her national origin.Id.

Plaintiff initially refused defendant's requests that she appear for her deposition in this action. On September 28, 2010, I granted defendant's motion to compel plaintiff's appearance and she was deposed on October 26, 2010.During her deposition, she was asked why she had instituted an action against defendant. Plaintiff responded only "I believe I did it because I lost my job with the University of Pennsylvania." Id. Ex. 4 at 21:12-17. Counsel for defendant asked, "You feel you were wrongfully terminated by the University of Pennsylvania; is that correct?" Id. Ex. 4 at at 21:24-22:2. Plaintiff responded "I never said that. . . . I said the cause [sic] because suddenly university arrived on a decision to terminate my work." Id. Ex. 4 at 22:3-9. When asked what facts would support her claim that she had been subjected to a hostile work environment on the basis of her national origin, plaintiff responded that "[r]ight now, I cannot say the facts because I don't have many documents. . . . If the defendant presently has got the facts that could refresh my memory, he's more than welcome to introduce them to me." Id. Ex. 4 at 61:25-62-23. When asked why she felt she was discriminated against, plaintiff responded with an objection that she did not understand the question. Id. Ex. 4 at 66:5-9. When asked why she "believ[ed] [she] was a victim of national origin discrimination," plaintiff ...

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