United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
the Court are Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment
(Doc. 29), Plaintiff's Response in Opposition thereto
(Doc. 33), and Defendants' Reply to Plaintiff's
Response in Opposition (Doc. 35). Upon consideration of the
Parties' submissions, the Motion is GRANTED.
a former temporary professor at West Chester University
(“WCU”), a public state university, sued WCU and
Defendant Jerome Williams, the chairman of the WCU Department
of Languages and Cultures (“Department”).
Plaintiff alleges that Defendants retaliated against her for:
(1) reporting Defendants' alleged intentional violation
of a provision of a collective bargaining agreement relating
to the treatment of temporary professors, and (2) filing an
employment grievance with WCU and then later filing suit
against Defendants. Defendants filed the present Motion for
Summary Judgment seeking judgment on these two counts.
professors are divided into three categories: tenured,
tenure-track, and temporary. Defs.' Mem. of Law in Supp.
4, ¶¶ 4-6. A professor is considered temporary if
the professor is hired on a semester-to-semester basis or on
a year-to-year basis. Defs.' Mem. of Law in Supp. 4,
¶ 4. Temporary professors are further divided into two
categories: (1) temporary full-time professors who teach at
least four courses per semester, and (2) temporary part-time
professors who teach less than four courses per semester.
Williams Dep. 35. Temporary professors are also known as
adjunct professors. Pl.'s Mem. in Opp'n 22, ¶ 3.
Temporary professors' teaching schedules are determined
by the deans of the various university departments upon
consideration of any scheduling recommendations made by the
various department chairpersons. Vermeulen Dep. 22-23. At the
time the issues in this case arose, the chair of the
Department was Defendant Williams, and the Dean of the
College of Arts and Sciences, of which the Department is a
part, was Dean Lori Vermeulen. Id. at 19.
collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) that
governs the relationship between WCU and a union known as the
Association of Pennsylvania State College and University
Faculties (“APSCUF”), temporary full-time
professors have certain rights. Defs.' Mem. of Law in
Supp. 5, ¶ 12. In particular, Section 11(G) of the CBA,
[A] full-time, temporary faculty member, who has worked at a
University for five (5) full, consecutive academic years in
the same department, shall be placed in the tenure-track
status, if recommended by the majority of the regular
department faculty in accordance with the procedure developed
by that department faculty.
Defs.' Mem. of Law in Supp. 5, ¶ 12; Pl.'s Mem.
in Opp'n 22, ¶ 12. Eligibility for a Section 11(G)
conversion vote does not guarantee that the eligible
temporary professor will, in fact, receive a positive vote
recommending conversion to tenure-track status. Shearn Dep.
46:16-20. Department chairs are also members to the CBA and
their responsibilities and duties are similarly defined under
the CBA. Pl.'s Mem. in Opp'n 29, ¶ 85.
In Summer 2013, Plaintiff Meets With The Union To Discuss
Frustrations Regarding Her Employment And Rights Under The
2013, Plaintiff, who, by that time, had been a temporary
Spanish professor at WCU for several years, met with local
APSCUF President Lisa Millhous to discuss, among other
things, the fact that a new instructor to the Department had
been selected, over Plaintiff, to teach summer courses that
Plaintiff had requested to teach. Shearn Dep. 37-39. In light
of her not having been selected to teach a number of summer
courses, Plaintiff wished to clarify her understanding of the
process by which courses are assigned to temporary
professors, as well as to learn about her rights, if any,
under the CBA. Id. Plaintiff explained that she
contacted Millhous because:
I [had] reached out to Mr. Williams and requested summer
teaching assignments . . . . I was confused to learn that a
new adjunct (with no prior history in our department) had
been hired and that he/she was given four summer courses.
Numerous incidents occurred consecutively that brought me to
the union president, Lisa Milhaus. I was interested in
understanding how our chair arrives at his decisions and what
rights, if any, were afforded to me, a temp faculty member.
She listened to my issues and told me about article 11G of
the CBA and that departments were implementing this article.
Pl.'s Mem. in Opp'n Ex. M, at 3.
also explained that by the time of her meeting with Millhous,
was not responding to [Plaintiff] at all. And at that point,
like I knew-and it was happening to a lot of us. A lot of
weird things were happening . . . changes in our schedules,
and you know, not teaching classes that we had previously
taught. So I basically wanted to know . . . well how was this
decided how do they bring somebody out from another . . .
place somebody that they don't even know and- you know,
and bring them in to teach all of these open classes.
Dep. 38-39. After this meeting, Plaintiff reached out to the
other temporary professors in the Department to gauge their
interest in a potential informational meeting with Millhous
to discuss temporary professor rights under the CBA,
including, among other things, Section 11(G). Pl.'s Mem.
of Law in Opp'n 22, ¶ 19.
In Early Fall 2013, Union Representatives Meet With Adjuncts
To Answer Questions About The CBA
September, 2013, as a result of Plaintiff's reaching out
to other temporary professors, Millhous and Dr. Jen Bacon,
another professor and union representative, met with a group
of temporary professors. Pl.'s Mem. in Opp'n 22,
¶ 21. The purpose of the meeting was to answer any
questions that the temporary professors might have had
regarding their rights and responsibilities under the CBA.
Shearn Dep. 52 (testifying that the meeting took place for
“a lot of different reasons. There were a lot of people
that were, you know, coming up on 11-G, too. So yeah . . . it
was basically just to spread that knowledge. And of course,
people . . . you know, were . . . very, very surprised
that-that it even existed”).
the meeting, Bacon allegedly approached Defendant Williams to
discuss “the adjuncts, including WCU's Article
11(G) Policy.” Pl.'s Mem. in Opp'n 8, ¶
39. Meanwhile, in early Fall 2013, the Dean of the College of
Arts and Sciences, Lori Vermeulen, approved a Department
program aimed at hiring several new tenure-track faculty
members. Pl.'s Mem. in Opp'n 23, ¶ 27; see
also Shearn Dep. 62:3-4. Ultimately, a number of Spanish
professors and a German tenure-track professor were hired.
Shearn Dep. 62:3-4; Williams Dep. 90:20-24.
In December 2013, Defendant Williams Announces The Hiring Of
Tenure-Track Faculty And The Effect On Available Courses For
about November 26, 2013, Defendant Williams emailed the
Department's adjunct professors to schedule a meeting to
discuss the impact that the hiring of these new tenure-track
professors would have on the Department. Pl.'s Mem. in
Opp'n 24, ¶ 28. The meeting ultimately took place in
early December (“December Adjuncts Meeting”).
Pl.'s Mem. in Opp'n 9, ¶ 43. At the meeting,
Defendant Williams announced that the Department would be
hiring new tenure-track faculty members and that the hiring
would result in a reduction in the number of courses
available for adjunct professors to teach. See
Pl.'s Mem. in Opp'n Ex. M, at 3 (providing that it
was Plaintiff's recollection that Defendant Williams
explained that the “55 courses normally available to
Spanish adjuncts would be reduced to 15”); Williams
Dep. 118:18 (testifying that “many of the adjuncts
would be reduced”).
December Adjuncts Meeting, and for the first time, Professor
Theresa Mehringer-another professor in the Department-asked
Defendant Williams directly about the Department's
position regarding Section 11(G). See Shearn Dep. 54
(providing that Plaintiff did not directly discuss Section
11(G) with Defendant Williams until the December Adjuncts
Meeting); Pl.'s Mem. in Opp'n 11, ¶ 52; Shearn
Dep. 63 (recalling that Mehringer, and not Plaintiff, stated
“‘What about article 11G? We have people who
qualify for conversion'”). In response to
Mehringer's inquiry, Defendant Williams explained that
the Department “did not honor article 11G, that new
people with skills that we don't currently employ is what
the department wants.” Pl.'s Mem. in Opp'n, Ex.
M, at 3. The temporary professors “couldn't believe
it.” Shearn Dep. 59:3-13. They were shocked to learn
that the Department would not implement Section 11(G).
Id. At that time, there was no further
“follow-up by either Mehringer or by [Plaintiff] in
response to Defendant Williams' remarks on Section 11(G).
Id. at 59:12.
Adjunct Professors' Teaching Schedules Released;
Plaintiff Receives One Fewer Class Than Prior
this meeting, on December 23, 2013, teaching schedules for
the Spring semester were released and showed that two people,
Theresa Mehringer and Plaintiff, had a reduced schedule
relative to the prior semester. Vermeulen Dep. 82; Shearn
Dep. 123. As a result of the reduction of Plaintiff's
schedule from a full to a partial load, Plaintiff no longer
qualified for certain benefits. Pl.'s Mem. in Opp'n
12, ¶ 61. Though she was unaware that she would have
qualified for a Section 11(G) conversion vote at that time,
her reduced schedule also resulted in her loss of eligibility
for a Section 11(G) conversion vote. Id.
Plaintiff Viewed The Reduction In Her Course Load As
Retaliation Prompting Plaintiff To Seek Assistance From The
seeking help within the Department to increase her teaching
load from partial to full, without success, Plaintiff
contacted Dean Vermeulen. Shearn Dep. 144-45. The two met and
Plaintiff expressed her frustration with her reduced course
load and also reported what had transpired during the
December Adjuncts Meeting between Defendant Williams and the
adjuncts. Id. Following this meeting, Dean
Vermeulen, however, chose not to increase Plaintiff's
schedule because Dean Vermeulen had reviewed the Department
schedule for all adjuncts and it appeared that the classes
were generally evenly distributed. Pl.'s Mem. in
Opp'n 26, ¶ 40. Further, Dean Vermeulen reasoned
that increasing Plaintiff's course load would reduce
course loads for other temporary professors. See Id.
(admitting that “Dean Vermeulen did not change
[P]laintiff's schedule to add another class because she
saw that more than one person had less than a full-time
schedule, that the classes for temporary faculty seemed
evenly distributed and if she changed [P]laintiff's
schedule then someone else would have less than a full-time
on a partial schedule, Plaintiff remained employed by WCU
through Fall 2014 semester as she taught a course in
WCU's Women's Studies Department. Shearn Dep. 191-92.
Plaintiff Files An Employee Grievance; Plaintiff Files A
2014, Plaintiff filed an employee grievance against WCU.
Pl.'s Mem. in Opp'n 26, ¶ 41; id. at
14, ¶ 74; id. at Ex. M. Among other things,
Plaintiff focused her grievance on the adverse changes to her
employment status and her frustration with the
Department's apparent disregard for her efforts to
improve WCU. See generally Pl.'s Mem. in
Opp'n, Ex. M. In her grievance, Plaintiff asserted:
I have learned through the years that I am expected to take
what I am given and be thankful that I have four classes and
can afford to receive medical benefits for my family
. . . .
I have been declined support from my chair to advance
professionally and serve my department . . . . Refusal to
support [my] efforts, or any effort to advance myself for
that matter, became clear during the summer, 2013
. . . .
[Defendant Williams] did not thank us for our years of
service while he was telling us that new faculty members