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Meyers v. California University of Pennsylvania

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

July 31, 2014



TERRENCE F. McVERRY, District Judge.

Pending before the Court is a MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (ECF No. 52) filed by Defendants The California University of Pennsylvania ("CalU"), Greg Harrison, Richard Miecznikowski, Jim Bove, and Scott Lloyd (collectively, the "Employee Defendants") with brief in support (ECF No. 53). Plaintiff Robert Meyers filed a brief in opposition (ECF No. 69). The summary judgment record has been fully developed via the submission of Defendants' concise statement of material facts ("CSMF") (ECF No. 54) and appendix (ECF No. 55); Plaintiff's Responsive CSMF ("ECF No. 68), Statement of Additional Facts (ECF No. 70) and appendix (ECF No. 71); and Defendants' Response to Plaintiff's Statement of Additional Facts (ECF No. 74) with a supplement (ECF No. 75) attached. Also pending is Plaintiff's MOTION FOR JUDICIAL NOTICE (ECF No. 72) with brief in support (ECF No. 73). Defendants filed a brief in response (ECF No. 76). Accordingly, the motions are ripe for disposition.

I. Background

The following background is taken from the Court's independent review of the motion for summary judgment, the filings in support and opposition thereto, and the record as a whole.

A. Factual Background

1. The Parties

CalU is one of fourteen constituent universities of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education ("PASSHE") operated by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. See 24 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 20-2002-A, et seq. CalU maintains a Department of Art and Design within its College of Liberal Arts which is located primarily in Vulcan Hall and Coover Hall on the college campus. During the relevant time period, the Department of Art and Design included the following ten faculty members: Professor Greg Harrison, Department Chair; Professor Laura DeFazio; Professor Richard "Duke" Miecznikowski; Associate Professor Maggy D. Aston; Associate Professor R. Scott Lloyd; Associate Professor Todd Pinkham; Assistant Professor James B. Bove; Assistant Professor Robert Meyers; Instructor Susan Mohney; and Instructor Cara Snyder. Several of these faculty members allegedly constituted distinct cliques within the Department. See, e.g., Dep. Tr. of Barnhart, Defs.' Ex. D-86 at 29, ECF No. 55-14 ("My perception would be that Harrison, Miecznikowsk, Bove, Lloyd, [and] Maggy Aston, would have seen [DeFazio] as being in the same camp with Robert [Meyers] and with Todd Pinkham").

Plaintiff, Meyers is a professional graphic designer. He graduated from Bowling Green State University in 1981 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts and from Kent State University in 1997 with a Masters of Fine Arts. Since the completion of his undergraduate education, Meyers worked in the advertising and graphic design fields and operated his own firm for roughly the last twenty-five years. After he obtained his graduate degree in the field of graphic design/visual communication arts, Meyers taught courses at the University of Akron, Rochester Institute of Technology, and Robert Morris University. While teaching part-time at Robert Morris University in 2008, Meyers sought and obtained a tenure-track faculty position at CalU in the Department of Art and Design where he began teaching as an Assistant Professor the following Fall term. Over the course of his career, Meyers has obtained many professional and academic accolades which include recognition by juried design contests and various publications.

2. Faculty Review

All faculty members at PASSHE schools are union members and represented by the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties ("APSCUF"). PASSHE and APSCUF have entered into a series of Collective Bargaining Agreements ("CBA(s)") to govern the terms of faculty employment at all fourteen institutions. The relevant CBA is dated October 11, 2007. See Defs.' Ex. D-2, ECF No. 55-1.

Under the CBA, all full-time, tenure track faculty members are subject to a five-year probationary period during which they receive a one yearlong appointment contingent on annual renewal/non-renewal reviews. The reviews are conducted on several levels by a department evaluation committee, the department chair and the school dean, all of whom assess a probationary faculty member's performance in three broad categories: effective teaching and fulfillment of professional responsibilities; continuing scholarly growth; and service contribution to the University and/or community. Department faculty members also peer review classroom teaching as part of this review process. The CBA affords probationary faculty members limited grievance rights for the first five years.

In the Department of Art and Design, the evaluation committee is comprised of three to four faculty members who are selected at random and approved by a vote during an annual summer retreat. According to Meyers, Harrison would instead hand-select members of committees charged with evaluating individual faculty members and call for a blanket vote to ratify his decision irrespective of the CBA forbidding such a process.

a. Evaluation for Renewal 2008-2009

Meyers' first year evaluation committee, comprised of Snyder, Lloyd and Mohney, issued its report in January 2009. The report made no specific recommendation as to renewal but concluded as follows:

Professor Meyers is meeting [the committee's] expectations with regard to all aspects of performance review mandated by the [CBA]. An area identified by the committee as one that merits attention is the new Typography course. The committee recommends that Professor Meyers merge additional technology into his pedagogy in order to complement traditional techniques. In summary, we are pleased to recognize the contributions of a valued new colleague.

Defs.' Ex. D-8 at 4, ECF No. 55-3. The report also includes several positive observations regarding Meyers' teaching effectiveness, creative research and professional activity, and service to the Department, university, and community. See, e.g. id. at 2, ECF No. 55-3 at 28 ("Faculty observations of Mr. Meyers' classroom performance are very positive. They note the rapport he has established with his students in his brief time here, his professionalism, and his ability to teach students to emphasize both concept and craft in their work.").

Harrison issued the Chair's Evaluation Report on February 10, 20009 in which he concurred with the evaluation committee. Moreover, Harrison agreed that Meyers had "[met] his expectations with regard to all aspects of performance review." Defs.' Ex. D-12 at 1-2, ECF No. 55-3 at 40-41. Harrison did, however, observe that "[s]tudent evaluations of Mr. Meyers teaching are mixed but many are quite positive."[1] Id.

Dr. Michael L. Hummel, then-Acting Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, apparently viewed the evaluations far more negatively and contacted Harrison to voice his difference of opinion. As Harrison recounts, Hummel asked him "are you crazy? Why are you writing this? And [Hummel] said [that he had] never seen any worse evaluations in [his career]. He says, I can't believe you want to renew this guy's contract, and he was angry." Defs.' Ex. D-83 at 201-202, ECF No. 55-11. Nevertheless, on February 12, 2009, Hummel submitted his evaluation which recommended that CalU renew Meyers' contract for the 2009-2010 academic year.

In his evaluation, Hummel reported that he found Meyers' "first year endeavors in the area of teaching, research and service to be satisfactory." Defs.' Ex. D-13 at 1, ECF No. 55-3. Hummel also made the following observation with regard to Meyers' teaching:

Teaching is primary to what we do here. The reviews of your chair and your peers suggest that you are meeting the standards in this area. Your committee reports that you are meeting the expectations in the areas of teaching. They also recognize that you need to make adjustments with the Typography course to better serve the students. Your chair concurs with the assessment of the committee that you are meeting the standards. The chair comments on the varied student evaluations, as being both positive and negative, and mentions the positive verbal comments provided by your students. Your students consistently provide favorable reviews of your teaching. The majority of your students are exceedingly satisfied with your work as their professor. The most constant concern expressed in student evaluations reflects the need for clearer instruction, better use of time and more interaction with students. However, I am certain that you will make adequate adjustments.

Id. Hummel did comment positively on Meyers' significant accomplishments in the area of service and his pursuits in the area of scholarship.

On April 1, 2009, then-CalU President Angelo Armenti, Jr. offered Meyers a contract for the 2009-2010 academic year. Much like Hummel, Armenti commented that he "would also encourage [Meyers] to follow this advice [ i.e., to make some adjustments in your teaching in order to better serve its students] and to work closely with [the] Dean and Professor Harrison in this regard." Defs.' Ex D-14 at 1, ECF No. 55-3. Meyers later accepted the contract.

b. Evaluation for Renewal 2009-2010

Meyers' second year evaluation committee, composed of Bove, Pinkham and Snyder, issued its report on November 1, 2009. As to Meyers' teaching effectiveness, the committee assessed that "[he] is doing a good job of educating our student[s] and fulfilling the university mission of building careers. His focus on teaching students the skills necessary to navigate good design is appreciated as our graphic design program builds." Defs.' Ex. D-16 at 1, ECF No. 55-4. The committee reached similar conclusions in the areas of scholarly and creative growth and service, concluding as follows: "Meyers is an important member of our Department of Art & Design. His dedication to teaching, scholarly activity and service meets the [D]epartment's expectations. He has proven to be an asset to the expanding graphic design program." Id. at 2.

Harrison issued the Chair's Evaluation Report on November 1, 2009 in which he concurred with the evaluation committee's report in the area of teaching and commended Meyers in the areas of scholarly grown/creative activity and service. Harrison also commended Meyers on his "enthusiasm and dedication to teaching, scholarly activity, and departmental service." Defs.' Ex. D-22 at 1-2, ECF No. 55-4. Similarly, Harrison concluded that "Meyers has quickly become a very important member of the Department of Art and Design." Id.

Dean Hummel struck a somewhat different cord in his December 1, 2009 letter to Meyers. Relying on his assessment of the student evaluations, Hummel observed that

[a]n estimated 50% of the students in [Meyers'] ART 428-01 course would not recommend you to other students. A large percentage of the responses in all evaluated categories were neutral to negative in nature. I was very concerned about the lack of positive assessments for this particular course. While your ART 127-01 course was somewhat more positive in nature, the ART 262 course had a significant number of neutral to negative responses to your work in the classroom. Overall, you received too many neutral and negative responses in your courses for me to consider your classroom work to be satisfactory. I mentioned this problem in your last evaluation. You clearly stated for your teaching goals in your self-assessment that you will address this problem; however, the problem still seems evident. I highly recommend that you review your course student evaluations, seek guidance from your chair and improve on this area of responsibility for next year.

Defs.' Ex D-23 at 1, ECF No. 55-4. Further, Hummel applauded Meyers in the areas of service and scholarship and recommended that CalU renew his contract for the 2010-2011 academic year. See id. ("Reflecting on all that you have achieved thus far this year, it is my pleasure to recommend to the Provost and to the President that your contract be renewed....").

On December 14, 2009, Meyers sent Hummel a letter in which he addressed the critique of his teaching. To summarize, Meyers highlighted that his colleagues found his teaching methods satisfactory, that a neutral assessment is not a negative assessment, that his students had to adjust to a different teaching style, and that his students came to appreciate the aspects of design which he stressed based on his professional ...

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