United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
E.K. PRATTER United States District Judge
her employment in the human resources department at the
University of Pennsylvania Health Systems was terminated,
Andrea Sessoms sued the Trustees of the University of
Pennsylvania under various theories of employment
discrimination. Her Complaint was filed on June 13, 2016 and
promptly assigned to this Court's docket. Since the
initiation of the litigation various procedural events have
taken place, including an initial pretrial conference, a
discovery dispute that was resolved in part during a
telephone conference with the Court, and oral argument on a
defense summary judgment motion. She has now filed a motion
for recusal, reportedly after learning that the Court has
taught classes at the University of Pennsylvania Law School,
an institution also under the fiduciary umbrella of the
Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania. For the reasons
set forth herein and discussed at a hearing on the motion on
May 22, 2017, during which counsel had an additional
opportunity to argue on his client's behalf, the Court
will deny the motion.
Sessoms first contacted Chambers to raise the issue of the
Court's Penn Law connection by telephone on May 15, 2017.
By this point in the litigation, there had been a number of
earlier opportunities for counsel to do so. Counsel was
instructed to outline his concerns in writing. Counsel
submitted a letter later that day, requesting a telephone
conference. The Court declined the request for a phone
conference. On May 19, 2017, Ms. Sessoms filed the pending
motion for recusal, citing both 28 U.S.C. § 144 and 28
U.S.C. § 455. Under 28 U.S.C. § 144:
Whenever a party to any proceeding in a district court makes
and files a timely and sufficient affidavit that the judge
before whom the matter is pending has a personal bias or
prejudice either against him or in favor of any adverse
party, such judge shall proceed no further therein, but
another judge shall be assigned to hear such proceeding.
28 U.S.C. § 455:
a) Any justice, judge, or magistrate judge of the United
States shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which
his impartiality might reasonably be questioned.
(b) He shall also disqualify himself in the following
(1) Where he has a personal bias or prejudice concerning a
party, or personal knowledge of disputed evidentiary facts
concerning the proceeding . . .
(4) He knows that he, individually or as a fiduciary, or his
spouse or minor child residing in his household, has a
financial interest in the subject matter in controversy or in
a party to the proceeding, or any other interest that could
be substantially affected by the outcome of the proceeding .
28 U.S.C. § 455(a), (b). The two statutes overlap, in
that 28 U.S.C. § 455(b)(1) “entirely duplicate[s]
the grounds of recusal set forth in § 144.”
Liteky v. U.S., 510 U.S. 540, 548 (1994).
Ms. Sessoms argues that because the Court is an adjunct
professor at Penn Law, the Defendant Trustees of the
University of Pennsylvania is therefore the Court's
employer, which in turn creates a “personal bias or
prejudice” in favor of the Defendant. Ms. Sessoms cites
to an order in Foundation for Worldwide International
Student Exchange v. Doan, No. Civ. 2:12-02006 (E.D. Cal.
Nov. 21, 2012), which quotes the Guide to Judiciary Policy,
Compendium of Selected Ethics Advisory Opinions, § 3.4-3
as saying “[a] judge who teaches at a law school should
recuse from all cases involving that educational institution
as party.” That section says, in its entirety:
(a) A judge who teaches at a law school should recuse from
all cases involving that educational institution as party.
The judge should recuse (or remit) from cases involving the
university, as well as those involving the law school, where
the judge's impartiality might reasonably be questioned
in view of the size and cohesiveness of the university, the
degree of independence of the law school, the nature of the
case, and related factors. Similar factors govern recusal of
judges serving on a university ...