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Bangura v. Howard University

United States District Court, District of Columbia

August 2, 2016

ABDUL KARIM BANGURA, plaintiff,
v.
HOWARD UNIVERSITY, ET AL., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION [DKT. #5]

          RICHARD J. LEON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Abdul Karim Bangura ("plaintiff or "Bangura") is a political science scholar who was born in Sierra Leone and immigrated to the United States decades ago. He alleges that while employed as a faculty member in the political science department at Howard University ("the University") he was discriminated against because of his race, color, religion, and national origin. Compl. ¶¶ 1, 33 [Dkt. #1].[1] While employed as an adjunct faculty member, Bangura applied for a tenure-track position on multiple occasions, never with any success. The University instead gave him the position of "lecturer, " which position he held for eight years before the University declined to renew his contract. Bangura filed suit against Howard University and the three individual decision-makers who were responsible for these employment actions (collectively "defendants"), claiming the actions violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. Compl. ¶¶ 32-34. Bangura also makes two common law claims, for wrongful discharge and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Compl. ¶¶ 35-49. This matter is before the Court on defendants' Motion to Dismiss the complaint in its entirety [Dkt. #5]. Upon consideration of defendants' motion, related briefings, and the entire record of this case, the Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Howard University first hired Bangura as an adjunct faculty member in 1998. He applied for a tenure-track position for the first time in 2006. Bangura was not selected for the position, but nevertheless began a full-time lecturing load in the fall of 2007. According to Bangura, the chair of the political science department assured him at that time that he could continue to be considered for tenure-track positions. Bangura continued to teach full time, intermittently making inquiries about the opportunity to "rectify" his employment status. Compl. ¶ 15.

         In the fall of 2013, Bangura again applied for an available tenure-track position. Id. ¶ 16. Bangura learned however that his name was not on the list of applicants considered by the search committee for that position. Bangura suspected that a non-African/Black professor had discriminated against him by removing his application from the pool. As such, Bangura raised this concern with the University's administration, apparently without resolution. Id. ¶¶ 20-21.

         At the end of the 2013-14 school year, the University informed Bangura that after seven years of full-time teaching without a tenure-track position, his term as a temporary lecturer was due to expire. They did acknowledge, however, that because they had failed to give him the proper notice, they would extend his contract for one additional school year. Bangura claims that he knows of "other faculty" who were "reemployed" by the University even after being employed for over seven years as lecturers. Compl. ¶ 27.

         In February 2015 Bangura applied for another tenure-track position that had become available, notwithstanding the warning he had been given of non-renewal. He claims his name was again not among those that the search committee received. In March 2015 the University informed Bangura that he was not eligible to apply for a tenure-track position because he was terming out as a non-tenured faculty member. Plaintiff contends, however, that there was no such policy memorialized in the University Faculty Handbook at the time.

         In April 2015, Bangura filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") alleging that he was denied a tenure-track position and relegated to the inappropriate rank of lecturer on the basis of his protected characteristics. The EEOC reached no determination as to the complaint, but informed Bangura of his right to sue in June 2015. Within the ninety days specified by the EEOC notice, Bangura filed this suit.

         DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS

         Defendants, in moving to dismiss Bangura's complaint, argue that Bangura is time-barred from bringing Title VII claims based on the adverse employment events that he alleges occurred prior to 2015. As such, defendants contend the only Title VII claim that the Court should review for substance is Bangura's allegation that defendants discriminated against Bangura when they declined to review his application for a tenure-track position in February 2015 and subsequently let his lecturer contract lapse. Defendants argue that this claim does not pass muster under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) because Bangura does not allege any facts that could establish that these adverse employment actions were motivated by Bangura's color, race, or national origin, rather than by legitimate hiring policies or priorities. Finally, if the Court dismisses Bangura's Title VII claims, defendants additionally urge the Court to decline supplemental jurisdiction over the common law claims, as is the court's prerogative under 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

         ANALYSIS

         I. It Is Too Late for Plaintiff to Challenge, Under Title VII, Either His 2007 Designation as a Lecturer or the Outcomes of His 2006 and 2013 Tenure-Track Applications.

         Defendants are correct that plaintiff may not pursue Title VII relief for employment practices that "occurred" more than 300 days before April 2015, when he made a charge of discrimination to the EEOC. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e)(1). Plaintiff argues that the defendants are nonetheless "potentially liable" for acts predating the 300 days, citing National Railroad Passenger Corp. v. Morgan, 536 U.S. 101 (2002), as support. Unfortunately for the plaintiff, that case unequivocally forecloses any Title VII claims based on the events of 2006 through 2013.

         In National Railroad, the Court drew a distinction between discrete employment acts and ongoing hostile work environments, each of which can give rise to Title VII claims. For a discrete employment act, the employer is entitled after 300 days elapse to consider the lawfulness of the act undisputed. Id. at 112 (quoting United Air Lines, Inc. v. -Evans,431 U.S. 553, 558 (1977)). The Court explained that "[d]iscrete acts such as termination, failure to promote, denial of transfer, or refusal to hire are easy to identify" and a plaintiff may "only file a charge to cover discrete acts that 'occurred' within the appropriate time period." Id. at 114. Bangura's attempt to challenge his designation as a lecturer and the outcomes of his 2006 and 2013 tenure-track applications as part of an ongoing discriminatory plan or a hostile work environment that persisted through 2015 is inconsistent with the reasoning in National Railroad. ...


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