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Akridge v. Gallaudet University

August 3, 2010

JAMES AKRIDGE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
GALLAUDET UNIVERSITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ricardo M. Urbina United States District Judge

Re Document No.: 23, 36

MEMORANDUM OPINION

GRANTING THE DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter comes before the court on the defendant's motion for summary judgment. The plaintiff is a hearing-impaired African-American male who was employed at Gallaudet University ("the defendant"), an educational institution with programs and services specifically designed to accommodate the hearing-impaired. The plaintiff alleges that the defendant subjected him to a hostile work environment, discriminated against him on the basis of his race and disability and retaliated against him, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq., and the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq. Because the defendant has demonstrated that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that it is entitled to summary judgment, the court grants the defendant's motion.

II. FACTUAL & PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The plaintiff was employed by the defendant for fourteen years, most recently as an Academic Counselor. Compl. ¶ 8. In 2004, the plaintiff applied for the position of Career Center Director ("Director"). Id. ¶ 13. Of the fifty-two applicants who applied for the position, the plaintiff was one of thirteen chosen for an interview by the screening committee. Def.'s Mot. at 13 & Ex. 13. Of the thirteen chosen for an interview, three were African-American and eight were deaf. Id. at 14 & Ex. 13. After the screening committee interviewed the thirteen candidates, Steve Koppi, a non-disabled,*fn1 white male was selected for the position. Def.'s Statement of Material Facts Not in Genuine Dispute ("Def.'s Statement") ¶¶ 32-34; Compl. ¶ 15.

The Director is responsible for assisting students in preparing for future employment or advanced studies, leading the efforts to offer on-campus employment and internships, educating and counseling students regarding career choices, developing relationships with potential employers and facilitating job placement after graduation. Def.'s Mot., Ex. 7. The Director also supervises seven professional staff members and manages the Career Center budget. Id. The job listing for the Director position set forth the following requirements for the position:

Master's degree plus three years progressively responsible experience in counseling, student affairs, human development, guidance, or a closely related field. Two years demonstrated competency in a management/supervisory/coordination capacity. Working knowledge of educational, psychological, social, cultural and vocational aspects of deafness. Knowledge of career and general student development theory at the post-secondary educational level. Experience in program development. Demonstrated ability to collect, organize, synthesize, analyze and present information clearly. Excellent communication skills. Willingness to become fluent in American Sign Language.

Id.

At the time of the interview, the plaintiff was enrolled in the doctoral program in Special Education Administration and Supervision at Gallaudet University. Pl.'s Opp'n at 3; Def.'s Mot., Ex. 19 at 0367 (Pl.'s Resume). Koppi, the selected candidate, had a Master's Degree in College Student Personnel from the University of Maryland. Def.'s Mot., Ex. 19 at 0407 (Koppi Resume).As part of the interview, each candidate had to present a vision plan for the Career Center. Id. at 15. The screening committee members noted that the plaintiff's presentation, which primarily focused on student enrollment and attrition, was weak and did not address the concerns of the Career Center. Id., Ex. 21. In its hiring recommendation, the committee wrote that the plaintiff gave "weak responses" in his interview and had a "negative attitude." Id., Ex. 13. The committee ranked the plaintiff the lowest of the thirteen interviewed candidates, id. at 14 & Ex. 13, and unanimously chose not to hire the plaintiff, stating that "he demonstrated limited knowledge and skills related to career development in a higher education setting, and his performance in his interview reflected his inexperience in the field."Id., Ex. 14 ("Palmer Aff.") ¶ 9; see also id., Ex. 15 ("Moore Aff.") ¶ 9; id., Ex. 16 ("Cook Aff.") ¶ 9.

Koppi, the selected candidate, had a Master's Degree in College Student Personnel from the University of Maryland. Def.'s Mot., Ex. 19 at 0407 (Koppi Resume).The committee ranked Koppi first out of the thirteen interviewed candidates, observing that he was "[h]ighly organized . . . [and had] [e]xcellent experience in career development and administration at [the] post-secondary level[,] . . . [e]xcellent, thorough, up-to-date knowledge of career development theory and practice [and] . . . [s]trong management and budget experience." Id., Ex. 13.

On February 6, 2005, the plaintiff filed a complaint with the D.C. Office of Human Rights ("DCOHR") and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") alleging that the defendant had discriminated against him on the basis of his race and disability.*fn2 Id., Ex. 1 ("Pl.'s EEOC Charge"). The plaintiff also alleged retaliation, noting that in 1998 he had filed an internal race discrimination complaint. Id. On August 18, 2005, the DCOHR concluded that there was "no probable cause" to believe the defendant had for retaliated or discriminated against the plaintiff on the basis of his race or disability. Id., Ex. 2. On November 23, 2005, the EEOC adopted the findings of the DCOHR and issued the plaintiff a Dismissal and Notice of Rights letter ("the right-to-sue letter"). Id., Ex. 3. In his complaint, the plaintiff alleges that he received the right-to-sue letter on December 1, 2005, Compl. ¶ 5; however, he later failed to respond to an interrogatory asking for the specific date on which he received the letter, Def.'s Mot., Ex. 4 ("Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s Interrog. No. 16"). In a subsequent letter to the defendant dated April 13, 2007, the plaintiff stated he received the right-to-sue letter on December 2, 2005. Id., Ex. 5.

On February 27, 2006, the plaintiff commenced this action. See generally Compl. The plaintiff alleges that the defendant intentionally discriminated against him on the basis of his race and disability and retaliated against him in violation of Title VII and the ADA. See generally id. The allegedly discriminatory actions include delaying the plaintiff's employment advancement, failing to award the plaintiff the Director position and condoning retaliatory and hostile behavior directed against the plaintiff after he sought employment advancement. Id. ¶¶ 9, 15, 17. On August 20, 2007, the defendant filed this motion for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff did not commence his lawsuit in a timely manner, failed to exhaust his administrative remedies with respect to his hostile work environment claim, failed to allege any hostile conduct as a matter of law and failed to allege any facts in support of his claim of retaliation. See generally Def.'s Mot. The parties then engaged in mediation, which was ultimately unfruitful.

See, e.g., Minute Order (Sept. 26, 2007); Minute Order (Oct. 3, 2007). The motion has been fully briefed, and the court now turns to the applicable legal standards and the parties' arguments.

III. ANALYSIS

A. Legal Standard for a Motion for Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate when "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Diamond v. Atwood, 43 F.3d 1538, 1540 (D.C. Cir. 1995). To determine which facts are "material," a court must look to the substantive law on which each claim rests. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A "genuine issue" is one whose resolution could establish an element of a claim or defense and, therefore, affect the outcome of the action. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322; Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court must draw all justifiable inferences in the nonmoving party's favor and accept the nonmoving party's evidence as true. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. A nonmoving party, however, must establish more than "the mere existence of a scintilla of evidence" in support of its position. Id. at 252. To prevail on a motion for summary judgment, the moving party must show that the nonmoving party "fail[ed] to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. By pointing to the absence of evidence proffered by the nonmoving party, a moving party may succeed on summary judgment. Id.

The nonmoving party may defeat summary judgment through factual representations made in a sworn affidavit if he "support[s] his allegations . . . with facts in the record," Greene v. Dalton, 164 F.3d 671, 675 (D.C. Cir. 1999) (quoting Harding v. Gray, 9 F.3d 150, 154 (D.C. Cir. 1993)), or provides "direct testimonial evidence," Arrington v. United States, 473 F.3d 329, 338 (D.C. Cir. 2006). Indeed, for the court to accept anything less "would defeat the central purpose of the summary judgment ...


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