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Ronald Heneghan v. Northampton Community College

July 11, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stengel, J.

The plaintiff in this matter, Ronald Heneghan, claims that Northampton Community College violated his right to procedural due process when it rescinded its decision to offer him a tenured employment position in the College‟s Theatre Department. He also claims that the College and its Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences, Elizabeth Bugaighis, are liable for violating Title VII and the PHRA because they discriminated against him on the basis of his gender. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss his amended complaint and this Court granted the motion in part and denied it in part. Heneghan then filed a second amended complaint. Discovery has been completed, and the defendants have filed a motion for summary judgment in their favor on Heneghan‟s remaining claims. I will grant the motion.


A. Facts Relevant to Procedural Due Process Claim

Ronald Heneghan began employment at Northampton Community College ("NCC" or "the College") in the fall of 2003 in a tenure-track, initial appointment position as Associate Professor of Communications and Theatre. Def. Concise Statement of Material Facts ("Def. SMF") ¶ 1.*fn1 Mr. Heneghan was a member of a union, the American Federation of Teachers ("the Federation"), which had a Collective Bargaining Agreement with NCC. Id. at ¶ 2; Def. Ex. 11, Collective Bargaining Agreement ("CBA"). That agreement provides, among other things, that faculty appointments may be either "temporary, initial, or standard." CBA Article VI, ¶ A. "Faculty on initial contracts are typically offered six (6) one (1) year contracts." Id. at ¶ C. The CBA further provides that,

Initial appointments may be renewed, or not renewed at the option of the College and for any reason, but the Faculty Member shall be given a statement of reason upon request. Non-renewals during the first five (5) years may not be appealed, but a Faculty Member may appeal a non-renewal occurring during the sixth year of employment to the Board within one (1) month of notification. The Board‟s decision in the appeal shall be final. The Faculty Member may be represented by the Federation. . . .

Faculty with these appointments shall not be given the rights in Article XII, paragraph E, but shall retain all other rights accorded to all other faculty with standard appointments.

Id. at Art. VI, ¶ C. Article XII pertains to retrenchment of faculty members, and paragraph E explains in detailed terms the rights of faculty with standard appointments, i.e. tenured faculty: "retrenchment of an Employee shall not occur if a position can be made available by the elimination of part-time and overload assignments and temporary and initial appointments for which the Employee is qualified[.]" Id. at Art. XII, ¶ E. Article X of the CBA provides, except with respect to the provisions for termination under Section VI, that a faculty member may be discharged "only for just cause." Id. at Art. X, ¶ A. In other words, a faculty member under an initial appointment during the first five years has the right to a statement of reasons for non-renewal, but has no appeal process. A faculty member who is denied another year of employment during the sixth year has the right to both a statement of reasons and an appeal to the Board. Standard appointment, or tenured, faculty members, are guaranteed employment absent "just cause" for dismissal.

During his sixth year at NCC, in February of 2009, Mr. Heneghan was notified that he was recommended for standard appointment to NCC‟s Board of Trustees ("the Board"). Def. SMF ¶ 14. On March 5, 2009, the Board voted to approve his standard appointment. Id. at ¶ 15. In a memorandum to Mr. Heneghan, Kathy Siegfried, Director of Human Resources at the College, notified him of the Board‟s vote, stating that his appointment was "effective with the 2009/10 academic year." Def. Ex. 3. However, on March 13, 2009, Heneghan received a letter, written by College President Arthur Scott and delivered by Vice-President of Administrative Affairs Mike McGovern, reversing this decision. See Def. Ex. 1, Heneghan Dep. Session 1, July 19, 2010 ("Heneghan Dep. 1"), at 73-75. It stated, "This is to officially notify you that we are rescinding the March 6, 2009 memorandum notifying you of the College‟s decision to grant you a standard appointment. This decision has been delayed until further notice." Def. Ex. 4.

At some point in late March, 2009, Mr. Heneghan attended a meeting with Helene Whitaker, Vice-President of Administrative Affairs, Dr. Bughaghis, Dr. McGovern, and Margaret Closson, Vice-President of Student Affairs. Heneghan Dep. 1, 82:19 - 83:24. He was informed by these administrators that his tenure had been rescinded due to non-collegial conduct with his colleagues and because "the college had discovered several things about [his] work that were cause for concern." Heneghan Dep. 1, 84:6-13; Def. Ex. 2, Heneghan Dep. Session 2, Jan. 31, 2011 ("Heneghan Dep. 2"), at 27:1-17. Specifically, Ms. Whitaker accused Mr. Heneghan of sexually harassing a student, kissing a student, and providing beer to underage students. See Heneghan Dep. 2, 27:1-17; Heneghan Dep. 1, 85-88. Mr. Heneghan answered questions about these allegations, explaining with respect to the beer that he had attended a student cast party and brought beer, but that the beer was for his personal consumption. Heneghan Dep. 1, 86:12-17. He admitted during his deposition that he didn‟t actually drink any of the beer, and left it all in the refrigerator at the party. See id. at 87. The administrators also asked him about an interaction with a student in which he had "humiliated" that student. Heneghan Dep. 2, 43:4-19.

Following the meeting and on April 2, 2009, Mr. Heneghan sent a three-page letter to Ms. Whitaker, Ms. Closson, Dr. McGovern and Dr. Bugaighis responding to some of the issues raised during the meeting. Def. Ex. 15. In the letter, Mr. Heneghan admitted that he had both commented on a student‟s "look and physical presence" in front of a class, and kissed a student during a rehearsal but apologized to her. See id. His letter was in large part directed at the collegiality issue addressed at the meeting. He explained that "inconsistencies with my colleagues have been a challenge," and detailed many conflicts that had arisen between him and Jaye Beetem, another faculty member in the Theatre Department. See id. He asked that the recipients of the letter communicate his thoughts with the Board of Trustees "as this process continues." Id. On April 2, 2009, the Board of Trustees ratified the rescission of Mr. Heneghan‟s standard tenure appointement. See Def. SMF ¶ 24; Def.‟s Ex. 10.

On April 9, 2009, Mr. Heneghan officially appealed the decision rescinding his tenure by sending a letter to Ms. Whitaker, citing his appeal rights under Article VI, ¶ C of the CBA pertaining to sixth year initial appointment faculty members. See Def. Ex. 5. He notified Ms. Whitaker that he would be represented by Shelly Snyder, of the American Federation of Teachers, in his appeal. See id.; Def. SMF ¶ 31. On April 15, 2009, Mr. Heneghan received a letter from Ms. Whitaker confirming the reasons for the rescission. She cited his non-collegial behavior with his colleagues and troubling interactions with students, including bringing beer to cast parties, kissing a student, humiliating numerous students, and using inappropriate language. See Def. Ex. 6. On April 20, 2009, Mr. Heneghan was informed by letter that the Board of Trustees would hear his appeal on May 7, 2009. See Def. Ex. 7. He had requested a closed hearing before the board, but Ms. Whitaker, Dr. Bugaighis, and Dr. McGovern were present. Heneghan Dep. 1, 146:8-21. Mr. Heneghan gave an opening statement asking the Board to remember his work as a teacher in considering whether to grant him tenure. Id. at 147:16-148:17. Ms. Snyder also made opening comments to the Board. Id. at 150:17-151:4. Mr. Heneghan gave the Board materials in support of his arguments, including letters on his behalf. Id. at 144-145. He was asked questions about the same allegations addressed in his earlier correspondence with Ms. Whitaker, including bringing beer to a student event, his collegiality with other department members, his use of language, and other incidents Ms. Whitaker had identified in her April 15, 2009, letter. See id. at 151-152. Mr. Heneghan responded to all questions asked of him. Id. at 152:10-153:5. He learned the next day that the Board had voted unanimously not to grant him tenure. Id. at 156:15-24. He received official notice that his appeal had been denied on May 11, 2009. Def. SMF ¶ 34.

On May 13, 2009, Mr. Heneghan filed a union grievance regarding NCC‟s decision denying him tenure. Def. SMF, ¶ 35; Def. Ex. 8. Article XIV of the CBA sets forth the rules for the filing of grievances. Under these rules, a grievant shall "present a grievance at the lowest administrative level having authority to dispose of the grievance within fifteen (15) College days after the occurrence or condition giving rise to the grievance[.]" CBA Art. XIV, ¶ D. The College‟s administrative representative has fifteen days to submit a written response to the grievant, and if the employee‟s grievance is not resolved by the response, the grievant may appeal to the President of the College. Id. Following appeal to the President, the grievant, may, through the Federation, submit the matter to the American Arbitration Association for arbitration. Id. Mr. Heneghan‟s grievance was denied. The Federation decided not to proceed with the second step of the grievance process by appealing to the President. Def. SMF ¶ 36.

B. Facts Relevant to Gender Discrimination Claim

Julie ("Jaye") Beetem was hired as a faculty member in the Theatre Department at NCC in January of 2006. Second Am. Compl. ¶ 14. She was not Heneghan‟s supervisor. Def. SMF ¶ 4. In his Second Amended Complaint, Mr. Heneghan alleges that after Ms. Beetem was hired, "[i]t quickly became obvious [] that [she] was hostile to males in Theatre." Second Am. Compl. ¶ 15. Mr. Heneghan alleges that evidence of this consisted of (1) her hostile response to a male guest play director in the Spring 2006 semester; (2) the fact that she was "directly responsible for at least two male students withdrawing from the Theatre program at NCC"; (3) her spreading "false rumors" about another male guest director in the Spring 2008 semester; (4) her opposition to a male candidate for a position in the Theatre department; and (5) the fact that, beginning in 2007, she "began a course of conduct aimed at having Heneghan removed from his position" at NCC. Id. at ¶¶ 15, 19, 20, 25-26, 28. With respect to her alleged attempts to have Mr. Heneghan fired, he claims Ms. Beetem "attempted to blackmail him," made statements indicating that "she was going to destroy Heneghan‟s employment at NCC and [] compromise his ability to obtain work elsewhere in educational theatre," failed to perform her duties in connection with a play he directed, blamed him for an injury to a student that was actually her fault, excluded him from department decisions, and finally, "began a campaign against him designed to have his tenure revoked" after she learned of the decision granting him tenure. See id. at ¶¶ 22, 23, 29, 32-35, 38, 39.

Mr. Heneghan alleges he "made complaints to Dr. [] Bugaighis about the sexually discriminatory actions by Beetem, but no action was taken to stop her," that he "made NCC administration aware of these threats by Beetem, specifically to [sic] Dr. Bugaighis," and that he "made a complaint to Bugaighis by letter of March 5, 2008 that Beetem was attempting to undermine him." Id. &¶ 21, 24, 27. During his deposition, Mr. Heneghan testified that he had "said to Dr. Bugaighis on a few occasions that [Ms. Beetem] seems to be having trouble with" or "had problems with" various male guest directors working in NCC‟s theatre program. Heneghan Dep. 1, 200:8-14. He explained that Ms. Beetem had threatened him by confronting him with an accusation that he should not be directing a play that used funds allocated by the College Life Committee, a committee that he chaired. See Heneghan Dep. 2 at 13:21-17:15. He told Dr. Bugaighis that Ms. Beetem had accused him of "using money illegally or [fraudulently]," and explained the circumstances of the situation to her. See id. at 17-19:10 Dr. Bugaighis said she would look into it and never brought up the topic again. See id. While Mr. Heneghan suspected that Ms. Beetem had voiced her allegations to others, he had no facts supporting that conclusion. See id. at 19:11-20:12. He also told Dr. Bugaighis that Ms. Beetem had told him "that [his] window for obtaining a job at a four year college or university was rapidly closing" and told him that if he was going to leave NCC, he should do so soon. Id. at 21:12-19. Dr. ...

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