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Dowdell v. Community College of Philadelphia

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

June 9, 2017

BRARAILTY DOWDELL Plaintiff
v.
COMMUNITY COLLEGE OF PHILADELPHIA Defendant

          MEMORANDUM OPINION INTRODUCTION

          NITZA I. QUIÑONES ALEJANDRO, J.

         Plaintiff Brarailty Dowdell (“Plaintiff”) filed an employment discrimination action based on race and gender against Defendant Community College of Philadelphia (“Defendant”), his current employer, pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) and 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (“§ 1981”). Presently before this Court is Defendant's motion for summary judgment to which Plaintiff filed an opposition, Defendant filed a reply, and Plaintiff filed a sur-reply. [ECF 21, 22, 23, 26, respectively]. The issues presented in the motion for summary judgment have been fully briefed by the parties and are ripe for disposition. For the reasons stated herein, the motion for summary judgment is granted.

         BACKGROUND

         In his complaint, which was filed on December 24, 2015, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant discriminated against him on the basis of his race and gender when Defendant failed to hire him for a full-time faculty position in Defendant's English Department. [ECF 1].[1] Specifically, Plaintiff asserts Title VII claims for: intersectional race and gender discrimination (Count One); race discrimination (Count Three); and gender discrimination (Count Four); and a race and gender discrimination claim under § 1981 (Count Two).

         As is required at the summary judgment stage, this Court will consider all relevant facts in this matter in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, i.e., Plaintiff. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). The facts relevant to Plaintiff's tenure with Defendant are summarized as follows:[2]

Plaintiff, an African American male, is currently employed by Defendant on a part-time basis in the Learning Lab tutoring students. (Pl.'s Br., [ECF 22-2], at 1) (citing Tr. of Pl.'s June 20, 2016 Deposition [ECF 22-3] at 6, 10-12, 19-20). Prior to joining Defendant, Plaintiff received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Fisk University and a Master's of Science degree in Film with a concentration in screenwriting from Boston University. (Id.). Plaintiff's thesis was a screenplay for Train Ride, which became his first feature film.[3] (Id. at 1-2) In 1999, after Plaintiff had graduated, Boston University changed its graduate Film degree to a Master's of Fine Arts degree; and, in 2015, it added a Screenwriting sub-discipline, not previously offered. (Id. at 2).
In 2003, Plaintiff began his employment with Defendant as an adjunct professor in the English Department. (Id.). Plaintiff remained in this position for three or four years, before working as a tutor in Defendant's Learning Lab in 2006, tutoring students primarily in English courses. (Id.). In 2012 or 2013, Plaintiff taught a Scriptwriting course, considered a course in the English Department. (Id.). Plaintiff notes that Defendant has advertised Plaintiff on Facebook, poster board, and Defendant's February 2014 Report for Reaccreditation, and has also recognized him as “Accomplished Faculty.” (Id. at 2-3).
In 2005, Plaintiff applied for a full-time faculty position in the English Department. (Id. at 3).[4] Plaintiff interviewed with Dr. Judith Gay, Vice President of Academic Affairs, and Dr. Sharon Thompson, Dean of Liberal Arts and Associate Vice President of Academic Affairs. (Id.). Dr. Gay is an African American woman, and Dr. Thompson is a Caucasian woman. (Id.). At the time, Dr. John Howe was the English Department Chair and Doug Swauger was the Hiring Committee Chair. (Id.). Of the 207 applicants for the full-time position, forty were interviewed, and of those interviewed, eighteen were recommended to the English Department Chair, and eight were hired, none of whom were African American men. (Id.). No reason was given for Plaintiff's non-hiring. (Id.).
In December 2014, Defendant posted a full-time faculty position for an English Generalist professor for the Fall 2015 semester in Defendant's English Department. (Def.'s Br. at 2; [ECF 21-2]). The posting indicated that a “Master's or Ph.D. degree in English, Composition, or closely-related field [is] required. The MFA degree will also be considered.” [ECF 21-2 at 2]. For an English Generalist position, “closely-related fields” are those that:
involve advanced study in language, literature, developmental English or reading. Closely related fields are: Rhetoric, Composition, Reading, American Studies, Literature, Humanities, Classics, Communications, the M.F.A in Creative Writing and certain other M.F.A and master's degrees depending on inclusion of literary study and whether the applicant has a credible undergraduate degree in English.
The normal expectation for closely-related degrees is that either the degree is earned in a humanities department from a graduate school of Arts and Sciences, with methods of study approximating those used in the study of English, or that the degree is earned in an education department, with the focus on developmental English studies not administrative duties. The closely-related field must include a significant attention to the English language, its structure, history or the works of art produced in English. Degrees which lack these elements are unacceptable.

[ECF 22-13 at Ex. S at 2].

         On December 14, 2014, Plaintiff applied for the full-time English Generalist vacancy position announcement, (Pl.'s App., [ECF 21-6], at 1), despite not having a Master's or Ph.D. degree in English or Composition, an advanced degree in Rhetoric, Composition, Reading, American Studies, Literature, Humanities, Classics, or Communications, or a Master's of Fine Arts. On his application, Plaintiff identified his Master's of Science in Film as a “Master's” in “Screenwriting/Film.” (Pl.'s App. at 3).

         Defendant received 376 applications for the announced English Generalist position. (Def.'s Br. at 4). The hiring process consisted of the following: the Human Resource Department performed an initial review of the materials received based on the applicant's self-reporting to determine who met the minimum required qualifications. (Id. at 4-5). As to Plaintiff's application, the Human Resources Department concluded that he “[m]ay meet minimum qualifications.” (Id. at 5; Pl.'s Br. at 5); [ECF 21-10 at 6]. The list of screened candidates was reviewed by the Director of Diversity and Equity to ensure that minority applicants were represented, and then forwarded to the Hiring Committee to select candidates for a first round of interviews. (Def.'s Br. at 5). The Hiring Committee reviewed the forwarded applications and selected the candidates to interview. (Id.). Three members of the Hiring Committee recommended Plaintiff for advancement, four voted “maybe, ” and one member noted that Plaintiff may have a “degree issue.” [ECF 21-11 at 9; ECF 21-12 at 4].

         The Hiring Committee recommended thirteen candidates for a second interview before Girija Nagaswami, the English Department Chair, and Joseph Kenyon, the Assistant Chair. [ECF 21-13 at 3]. Of those referred, six candidates were considered “First Tier, ” because they received unanimous support from the Hiring Committee, and seven were considered “Second Tier, ” because they lacked unanimous support. (Def.'s Br. at 6); [ECF 21-11 at 9; ECF 21-13 at 3]. Of the thirteen candidates selected for the second interview, Plaintiff was ranked twelfth. [ECF 21-13 at 3].

         After the second round of interviews was completed, Ms. Nagaswami sent Drs. Gay and Thompson a memorandum indicating that ten of the thirteen candidates, including Plaintiff, in Ms. Nagaswami's opinion, were qualified for the position. [ECF 21-14 at 2]. In an October 20, 2016 declaration submitted with Defendant's motion, Ms. Nagaswami indicates that the Spring of 2015 was her first experience interviewing candidates as Chair of the English Department, and at the time she recommended Plaintiff to proceed to the third round of interviews with Drs. Gay and Thompson, she had not reviewed Plaintiff's graduate level coursework. [ECF 21-15 ¶ 4-5]. After discussing Plaintiff's academic transcript with Drs. Gay and Thompson and reviewing the relevant descriptions of the courses Plaintiff had taken, Ms. Nagaswami concluded that Plaintiff did not meet the minimum qualifications, namely, he did not have either a Master's degree in English, a M.F.A degree, or a degree in a closely-related field. (Id. ¶ 6-10).

         Deans are encouraged to check candidate's academic transcripts to ensure that the candidates recommended for further interviews meet the minimum requirements. [Tr. of Dr. Gay August 12, 2016 Deposition, [ECF 21-4], at 16-17, 72]. Before conducting Plaintiff's third interview, Drs. Gay and Thompson reviewed his academic transcript and discovered that Plaintiff did not have a Master's degree in Film and Screenwriting, as represented in his application, but instead had a Master's of Science degree in Film. (Pl.'s App. at 4) [ECF 21-17 at 2].[5] Based on their findings, Plaintiff would only be qualified for the English Generalist position if he had a degree in a closely-related field. [ECF 21-2 at 2].

         Prior to delving further into Plaintiff's academic transcript to determine if he met the minimum qualifications, Drs. Gay and Thompson proceeded with his scheduled interview. [Tr. of Dr. Thompson August 26, 2016 Deposition, [ECF 21-5], at 89:15-23]. To ensure fairness in the process, Drs. Gay and Thompson used a set list of questions for all candidates during the third round of interviews. (Id. at 95:16-24); [ECF 21-18 at 2]. Using these questions, Drs. Gay and Thompson asked Plaintiff about his grading system, theories on assessments in student learning, and his familiarity with developments in the English discipline, all of which Plaintiff struggled to describe and explain. [Tr. of Dr. Thompson August 26, 2016 Deposition, [ECF 21-5], at 99:4-100:6]. The questions did not include any inquiries on Plaintiff's educational credentials.

         Following Plaintiff's interview, Drs. Gay and Thompson both reviewed Plaintiff's academic transcript to determine if he had completed more than eighteen credits of graduate level work in English, literature, developmental English, or reading. (Id. at 15:3-16); [Tr. of Dr. Gay August 12, 2016 Deposition, [ECF 21-4], at 54].[6] Dr. Gay downloaded the current course descriptions at Boston University to see if the course numbers and/or course names that were similar to the courses Plaintiff took twenty years earlier potentially involved the study of English, literature, developmental English, or reading. [Tr. of Dr. Gay August 12, 2016 Deposition, [ECF 21-4], at 37-39]. Dr. Gay testified that she “thought if [she] could find the course numbers and some evidence that there was work that might be considered comparable to what [the] English composition description - job description was, that [Defendant] should count that and then [she] might have a basis for moving [Plaintiff] forward.” (Id. at 31). Ultimately, Dr. Gay concluded that Plaintiff did not have more than eighteen credits at graduate level work in English, literature, developmental English, or reading. (Id. at 39). Both Drs. Gay and Thompson concluded that Plaintiff did not have a degree in a closely-related field, did not meet the minimum requirements for the position, and could not be recommended for the English Generalist position. (Id. at 5-6); [Tr. of Dr. Thompson August 26, 2016 Deposition, [ECF 21-5], at 8].

         Of the applicants interviewed by Drs. Gay and Thompson, only two were not recommended for hire: Plaintiff and Alexandra Fields, a Caucasian woman, who also did not have a Master's degree in English or in a closely-related field. [ECF 21-9 ¶ 12].[7]The educational credentials and racial backgrounds of the seven candidates recommended for hire are as follows: two were African American women, one had a Ph.D. in English, and the other had a M.F.A. in Creative Writing (a closely-related field); two were Caucasian men, [8] one had a Master's of Arts in English and the other had a Master's of Fine Arts in Nonfiction Writing; two were Caucasian women, both with a Master's of Arts in English and one also with a Ph.D. in English; and one was a Caucasian/Asian/Pacific Islander woman with a Ph.D. and Master's of Arts in English.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (“Rule”) 56 governs the summary judgment motion practice. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. Specifically, this rule provides that summary judgment is appropriate “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Id. A fact is “material” if proof of its existence or non-existence might affect the outcome of the litigation, and a dispute is “genuine” if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. Under Rule 56, the court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Galena v. Leone, 638 F.3d 186, 196 (3d Cir. 2011).

         Rule 56(c) provides that the movant bears the initial burden of informing the court of the basis for the motion and identifying those portions of the record which the movant “believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). This burden can be met by showing that the nonmoving party has “fail[ed] to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case.” Id. at 322.

         After the moving party has met its initial burden, summary judgment is appropriate if the nonmoving party fails to rebut the moving party's claim by “citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations . . ., admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials” that show a genuine issue of material fact or by “showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute.” See Rule 56(c)(1)(A-B). The nonmoving party must “do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). The nonmoving party may not rely on “bare assertions, conclusory allegations or suspicions, ” Fireman's Ins. Co. of Newark v. DuFresne, 676 F.2d 965, 969 (3d Cir. 1982), nor rest on the allegations in the pleadings. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. Rather, the nonmoving party must “go beyond the pleadings” and either by affidavits, depositions, answers to interrogatories, or admissions on file, “designate ‘specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Id.

         DISCUSSION

         As stated, Plaintiff contends that Defendant unlawfully discriminated against him in violation of Title VII and § 1981 when Defendant denied Plaintiff the English Generalist position because of his race, gender, or the combination of the two.[9] Defendant moves for summary judgment on ...


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