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BEN-KOTEL v. HOWARD UNIVERSITY

August 15, 2001

JOSE BEN-KOTEL, PLAINTIFF,
V.
HOWARD UNIVERSITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Urbina, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

GRANTING THE DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

I. INTRODUCTION

On August 15, 2000, Jose Ben-Kotel ("the plaintiff" or "Mr. Ben-Kotel"), a native of Chile, filed a three-count complaint against Howard University ("the defendant" or "Howard"). In Count I, the plaintiff alleges that Howard violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. ("Title VII") by discriminating against him on the basis of his national origin by not hiring him for a part-time teaching position. Count II sets forth allegations of similar violations of the District of Columbia Human Rights Act, D.C.Code § 1-2501 et seq. ("the DCHRA"). In Count III, the plaintiff claims he has suffered intentional infliction of emotional distress as a result of the alleged discrimination.

On May 18, 2001, Howard filed a motion for summary judgment on all three counts, arguing that Mr. Ben-Kotel has failed to make prima-facie cases of national-origin discrimination under Title VII and the DCHRA, and of intentional infliction of emotional distress.

II. BACKGROUND

In August 1999, the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures ("the Department") at Howard needed to hire teachers to teach some Spanish classes left unassigned because of last-minute resignations of several faculty members. See Mot. for Summ. J. at 4. Dr. Alphonse Frost, the Interim Chairman of the Department at the time, asked Professor Amelia Mondragon, the Coordinator of the Spanish section, to find part-time teachers to teach the unassigned classes. See id. at 2-4; Frost Dep. at 48. Professor Mondragon, in turn, asked Professor Aleida Rodriguez to contact the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Maryland ("UMD") in search of part-time teachers. See id. at 5; Pl.'s Opp'n to Mot. for Summ. J. ("Pl.'s Opp'n") at 2; Mondragon Dep. at 42. Professor Rodriguez called UMD and requested that notes be placed in Teaching Assistants' mailboxes announcing the vacant positions at Howard. See Mot. for Summ. J. at 5. These notes referred interested parties to Professor Rodriguez. See id.

A student at UMD's doctoral program in Spanish, Mr. Ben-Kotel called Professor Rodriguez in response to her inquiry. See Ben-Kotel Dep. at 48. During the telephone conversation, held entirely in Spanish, Professor Rodriguez told Mr. Ben-Kotel to call Professor Mondragon. See id. at 50. In his conversation with Professor Mondragon, also held entirely in Spanish, Professor Mondragon told Mr. Ben-Kotel to send in his resume and to call Dr. Frost. See Mot. for Summ. J. at 5-6; Ben-Kotel Dep. at 52, 54. Mr. Ben-Kotel called Dr. Frost, and during this conversation, held entirely in English, Dr. Frost stated that he needed to interview him. See Mot. for Summ. J. at 6; Ben-Kotel Dep. at 58-59.

Shortly thereafter, Mr. Ben-Kotel had his interview with Dr. Frost. See Mot. for Summ. J. at 6; Ben-Kotel Dep. at 59. During this meeting, also held entirely in English, Dr. Frost gave Mr. Ben-Kotel an application form and told him to submit three references. See Mot. for Summ. J. at 6; Frost Dep. at 49-50; Ben-Kotel Dep. at 70. Accompanied by his wife, Mr. Ben-Kotel personally delivered the completed application to Dr. Frost and discussed, among other things, the classes he would be teaching. See Mot. for Summ. J. at 7; Frost Dep. at 62; Ben-Kotel Dep. at 75. Dr. Frost wanted Mr. Ben-Kotel to teach Intensive Spanish One and Two. See id. Finally, Dr. Frost told Mr. Ben-Kotel to call Paul Logan, the Associate Dean for the Humanities in the College of Arts and Sciences at Howard. See id. at 2, 7; Logan Dep. at 10.

After this second meeting, Mr. Ben-Kotel called Professor Mondragon and told her that his interview with Dr. Frost went well and that Dean Logan would interview him next. See Mot. for Summ. J. at 8; Mondragon Dep. at 61. In response, Professor Mondragon indicated that the interview with Dean Logan would probably be a formality, discussed the textbook used in the Intensive Spanish class, and invited Mr. Ben-Kotel to a faculty meeting. See Ben-Kotel Dep. at 84; Mondragon Dep. at 61.

Soon thereafter, Dean Logan interviewed Mr. Ben-Kotel over the telephone. See Mot. for Summ. J. at 8; Pl.'s Opp'n at 4; Logan Dep. at 60; Ben-Kotel Dep. at 90. This interview was held entirely in English. See Mot. for Summ. J. at 8; Ben-Kotel Dep. at 90. After the interview, Dean Logan expressed concerns about Mr. Ben-Kotel to Dr. Frost. See Mot. for Summ. J. at 11. Specifically, Dean Logan complained that he had difficulty understanding Mr. Ben-Kotel's responses to questions. See id; Logan Dep. at 62-66; Frost Dep. at 76. Dr. Frost agreed. See Mot for Summ. J. at 11. Dean Logan was concerned that students would not understand Mr. Ben-Kotel when he would have to explain Spanish grammar in English and, therefore, told Dr. Frost that he should not go forward with Mr. Ben-Kotel's application. See id.

Dr. Frost called Mr. Ben-Kotel and explained that his application would not move forward because of concerns about his ability to explain Spanish grammar in English. See id. at 12; Frost Dep. at 76-77. According to Mr. Ben-Kotel, however, Dr. Frost told him that his application would not proceed because of his accent. See Pl.'s Opp'n at 5.

Howard states that at this time, it stopped seeking candidates for the part-time position, and that existing faculty juggled their schedules and taught the previously unassigned classes. See Mot. for Summ. J. at 12; Frost Dep. at 84-85.

Believing that he was discriminated against on the basis of his national origin, Mr. Ben-Kotel wrote to Howard seeking reconsideration and clarification of why it had rejected his application. See Pl.'s Opp'n at 6. In response, Dr. Clarence Lee, the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Howard, advised Mr. Ben-Kotel that his letter had been forwarded to Howard's General Counsel. See id.

Receiving no further response from Howard, Mr. Ben-Kotel filed a Complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") and the D.C. Human Rights Commission. See id. at 6-7. The EEOC determined that there was reasonable cause for a discrimination claim under Title VII.*fn1 See EEOC Determination dated February 15, 2000. On June 8, 2000, the EEOC issued a letter giving Mr. Ben-Kotel ...


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