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Obotetukudo v. Clarion University of Pennsylvania

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

April 2, 2015



JOY FLOWERS CONTI, District Judge.

I. Introduction

This matter is before the court upon a motion to dismiss (ECF No. 40) filed on behalf of defendant Clarion University of Pennsylvania ("Clarion University"). This court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. For the reasons set forth below, the motion to dismiss will be granted in part and denied in part.

II. Factual Background

As Plaintiff is proceeding pro se, the factual allegations in his complaint are to be construed liberally.[1] Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). The plaintiff, Dr. Solomon Williams Obotetukudo ("Dr. Obotetukudo" or "Plaintiff"), is a naturalized citizen of Nigerian ancestry. (ECF No. 39 ¶ 1.) From 1994 through 2011, Dr. Obotetukudo was employed as an assistant professor of speech communication and theatre at Clarion University, one of the fourteen academic universities comprising the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education ("PASSHE"). (Id. ¶¶ 3, 8, 19.) Dr. Obotetukudo earned tenure at the university in 1999. (Id. ¶ 5.)

Throughout his employment at Clarion University, Dr. Obotetukudo was a staunch advocate for increased hiring and retention of minority faculty members. For example, Dr. Obotetukudo hosted an "All-Minority Scholars Conference" in the spring of 2000 to provide minority faculty from around the country with an opportunity to present scholarly papers. (Id. ¶ 27.) In March 2001, Dr. Obotetukudo organized a meeting of Clarion University's academic deans to highlight options the university could consider to increase the diversity of the tenured staff. (Id. ¶ 34.) Dr. Obotetukudo contends that officials at Clarion University viewed these activities as "confrontational" and "rabble rousing" and responded by subjecting Dr. Obotetukudo to "negative evaluation and pervasive and intensive scrutiny of everything and anything [he] did in and out of the campus of Clarion University." (Id. ¶¶ 34, 36.)

Dr. Obotetukudo cites a host of discriminatory and retaliatory acts that he believes were intended to punish him for speaking out. For example, Dr. Obotetukudo applied for a promotion from assistant to associate professorship in 2001, 2002, and 2005. (Id. ¶¶ 46, 47, 58.) On each occasion, Clarion University officials denied the requested promotion and refused to meet with Dr. Obotetukudo to discuss their decision. (Id. ¶¶ 46-47, 58-59.) He also contends that the university subjected him to a series of "Interim Performance Evaluations" between October 23, 2001, and May 15, 2011, that were implemented for the sole purpose of impugning his professional achievements and damaging his academic reputation. (Id. ¶¶ 36, 62, 137.) Finally, Dr. Obotetukudo contends that the university denied his request for a sabbatical leave in 2011 despite his being "highly favored with a fifth place ranking on a list of fifteen (15) applicants." (Id. ¶ 63, 80e, 171, 225.)

In addition to the discrete employment acts described above, Dr. Obotetukudo contends that Clarion University officials routinely engaged in or orchestrated conduct that exposed Dr. Obotetukudo to retaliation and a hostile working environment. These activities include the following:

• On April 18, 2009, the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Clarion University stated to Dr. Obotetukudo: "You are a disgrace to your ethnicity, race, yourself, the University and the Department. You are a liar. Sol you are lying. I am going to recommend to the University that you be terminated. I was a Speech Communications professor for twenty-five years. You are not teaching the students theory. The students are not learning anything from you." (Id. ¶ 209.)
• Throughout the fall of 2011, Clarion University embedded students in Dr. Obotetukudo's classes who were "hired, paid, and subsidized as student spies to snoop, sneak, [and] spy around" in order to harass and intimidate him and disrupt his classes. (Id. ¶¶ 212-13, 215-16.) These students acted as informants and "secret agents" for the university's administration in order to turn "a learning environment... into a snooping theatre of the absurd and non-dignifying, and an investigatory Gestapo." (Id. ¶ 216.)
• Dr. Andrew Lingwall, an associate professor in Dr. Obotetukudo's department, once wrote a bad evaluation of Dr. Obotetukudo and refused to shake his hand or discuss the evaluation with him. (Id. ¶ 217.)
• On April 28, 2008, Dr. Scott Keuhn, another professor in the Department of Communications, stated: "Sol, you are as short as ape. Is that how short people from your part of Nigeria are?" (Id. ¶ 218.)
• On March 29, 2009, someone broke into Dr. Obotetukudo's office and stole his grade book. (Id. ¶ 221.)
• Dr. Obotetukudo's office did not have a functioning heating system for approximately three months during the fall of 2011 despite his repeated requests to have it repaired. (Id. ¶ 223.)
• Dr. Obotetukudo's office telephone did not work throughout portions of the 2011 academic year. (Id. ¶ 226.) Dr. Obotetukudo suggests that Clarion University delayed repairing his phone to create an impression that he was professionally irresponsible and perpetuate the notion that he "does not know how to operate the phone system on his desk because of his ethnicity." (Id.)
• Dr. Obotetukudo contends that he "had more computer breakdowns and malfunctions than any other faculty in the history of Clarion University." (Id. ¶ 228.)
• During the summer of 2009, Clarion University embedded "five female faculty members" in a computer training session with Dr. Obotetukudo in order to "fraternize" with him for the purpose of trying to induce him into acting "improperly" towards them. (Id. ¶ 230.) Dr. Obotetukudo also generally alleges that Clarion University "coordinated activities of women in Clarion" for the purpose of inducing him into improper behavior that could be used against him. (Id. ¶ 231.)
• In 2009, a female Latin American faculty member informed Dr. Obotetukudo that she had taken her children for a visit to her ancestral home in Latin America and that her children had benefited from the experience. She then suggested that Dr. Obotetukudo might enjoy doing the same with his own children. (Id. ¶ 231.)
• Throughout the summer of 2011, Clarion University engaged "its network of spies and agents" to harass Dr. Obotetukudo and his wife "everywhere along the Eastern seaboard of United States from New York through North Carolina; and into the hinterlands of the United States as far and wide as Colorado, Arizona, Utah, Nebraska, and Iowa, in the form of police profiling, hotel rooms [sic] invasions and searches, telephonic communications interceptions, auto vandalisms, airport harassing routines, intrusive searches, luggage checking and security alerts, and luggage seizures." (Id. ¶ 167.)
• On July 30, 2011, Dr. Obotetukudo's home in Southern California was raided by ten Fontana City police officers in the middle of the night. (Id. ¶ 169.) Dr. Obotetukudo attributes this incident to agents of Clarion University acting "in cahoots with the Mayor of Fontana, and the Fontana Chief of Police." (Id.)
• Officials at Clarion University embedded "Christian and Muslim students" in Dr. Obotetukudo's classes to gauge his religiousness and report back to the administration concerning the content of his courses. (Id. ¶¶ 247, 250.) Clarion University also implanted "wives and daughters of preachers and pastors" in his classes because he was seen as "a conveyor of satanic phrases and a proselytizer of satanic order" by the university's administration. (Id. ¶ 251.)
• On or about December 23, 2011, while staying at a Best Western hotel in San Francisco to celebrate his son's birthday, Dr. Obotetukudo contends that his family was suddenly surrounded by "a coterie of persons... from Grove City College, and the University of Pittsburgh with Steelers T-Shirts, and specific identification accessories" indicating that they were from Pennsylvania.[2] (Id. ¶ 83.) Dr. Obotetukudo contends that these individuals made "deliberate and conscious efforts to ensure Plaintiff knew who they were and from where they came, " including "signs of hostility and intimidation or gloating, directed at the Plaintiff and his family." (Id.) He contends that they were acting at the direction of Clarion University "in a show of solidarity to the State and specific universities in the region, like Duquesne University [the Alma Mater to the Clarion University Chief of Public Safety and Campus Security], and Grove City College, " and to "monitor Plaintiff's movements across the United States" and "impeach Plaintiff's credibility as a married family man." (Id.)

In August 2010, Dr. Obotetukudo filed discrimination charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") against Clarion University with respect to the hostile working conditions described above and the unfair interim performance evaluations.[3] (Id. ¶ 146.) In retaliation for those charges, Dr. Obotetukudo contends that Clarion University set in motion a plan to find a pretext for his termination. (Id. ¶ 151.)

On October 29, 2011, Dr. Obotetukudo administered a quiz in one of his classes. (Id. ¶ 63b.) A female student asked him for "some answers on the quiz, " to which he responded, "You are bright, intelligent, beautiful, and an ambitious girl. You have a lot to offer. You can do it [the quiz] by yourself. I like you to succeed." (Id.) Later that day, the student "stalked" him around campus and inquired about his weekend plans. (Id.) After learning that the student would be visiting friends at Penn State University that weekend, Dr. Obotetukudo advised her, "Be careful at Penn State University. It is a bigger campus. Take care of yourself." (Id.) He also requested that the student "[r]emember to tell your advisors the context in which I told you, You are a beautiful girl, ' else they will say I am harassing you." (Id.).

On November 17, 2011, Dr. Obotetukudo sent that same student an email noting her absentmindedness and nonengagement in class and offering "words of consolation" to improve her mood. (Id. ¶ 63f.) On November 30, 2011, the student showed up in class without a topic selected for a speech. (Id. ¶ 63j.) After struggling to find a topic, the student walked out of the classroom and slammed the door. (Id.)

On December 1, 2011, that student and a friend met with Dr. Myrna Kuehn, the Chair of the Department of Communications, and alleged that "Dr. O hit on me." (Id. ¶ 63k.) The following day, December 2, 2011, the student returned to Dr. Obotetukudo's class, but refused to apologize for slamming the door on November 30. (Id. ¶ 63 l. ) After class, she returned to Dr. Kuehn and explained that Dr. Obotetukudo had said "I like you more than that" in response to ...

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