186 F.3d 990 (7th Cir. 1999), 97-3600, Roberts v. Broski

Docket Nº:97-3600
Citation:186 F.3d 990
Party Name:JAMES P. ROBERTS, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. DAVID C. BROSKI, individually and in his official capacity as Interim Chancellor of the University of Illinois, a body politic and an Illinois corporation, Defendant-Appellee.
Case Date:August 04, 1999
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

Page 990

186 F.3d 990 (7th Cir. 1999)

JAMES P. ROBERTS, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

DAVID C. BROSKI, individually and in his official capacity as Interim Chancellor of the University of Illinois, a body politic and an Illinois corporation, Defendant-Appellee.

No. 97-3600

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

August 4, 1999

Argued November 10, 1998

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 96 C 1749--James H. Alesia, Judge.

Page 991

Before COFFEY, MANION and ROVNER, Circuit Judges.

ILANA DIAMOND ROVNER, Circuit Judge.

James P. Roberts served as the Assistant Dean for Administration in the College of Dentistry at the University of Illinois, Chicago (the "university" or "UIC") from 1983 through 1996, when he was terminated. Roberts filed suit against UIC's then-interim chancellor David Broski pursuant to 42 U.S.C. sec. 1983, alleging that Broski discharged him for publicly criticizing budgetary information concerning the university's efforts to recruit minority students. See Mount Healthy City School Dist. Bd. of Educ. v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274, 97 S.Ct. 568 (1977). The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Broski. Roberts v. Broski, 979 F.Supp. 746

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(N.D. Ill. 1997). Because we agree that Roberts failed to produce sufficient evidence that his public remarks were a substantial or motivating factor in his discharge, we affirm.

I.

The UIC maintains an Urban Health Program ("UHP") designed to expand the enrollment, retention, and graduation of under-represented minority students in the university's six health professions colleges, which of course include the College of Dentistry (the "college" or "COD"). Roberts' duties as the college's assistant dean included (among others) recruiting minority candidates for enrollment in the COD. Roberts was also a member of the UIC management team and in that capacity attended meetings of the community advisory council ("CAC"), which cooperated with the UHP in its minority recruitment efforts. Oscar Martinez assisted Roberts with his UHP obligations.

The UHP has a target of fifteen-percent minority enrollment in each of the associated colleges, but after achieving that percentage in 1990, the COD experienced a subsequent drop in minority enrollment that left it well short of that goal. In 1991, 1992, and 1993, there were only one or two African Americans in the first- year classes, for example, and in 1994 and 1995 there were none. Roberts attributed the decline to a nationwide drop in dentistry enrollment and a lack of minority interest in dentistry, coupled with a shortage of grants and scholarships for minority students; but Dr. Alan Anderson, the college dean, was not convinced by his explanation and became dissatisfied with Roberts' recruitment efforts. Anderson's evaluations of Roberts for the 1993-94 and 1994-95 academic years were critical of his performance. Anderson also recommended to Chancellor Broski in both 1993 and 1994 that the university issue Roberts a terminal contract. On both occasions, however, Broski rejected the recommendation and instead asked Anderson to work with Roberts in an effort to improve UHP enrollment.

At a January 25, 1995 meeting of the CAC, Broski called for a reassessment of UHP expenditures to determine whether the best use was being made of the university's limited resources. Broski presented some preliminary data on the monies then being spent by each of the participating colleges and supporting units and indicated that he wanted these figures verified. He also proposed to create a small, volunteer budget advisory committee (comprised of CAC members) that would review these figures and recommend ways in which the existing funds could most profitably be spent to increase the recruitment and retention of minority students. In the discussion that ensued, Roberts expressed concern that some of the figures in Broski's preliminary report were "not only wrong, but grossly wrong." He also complained that the funds allocated to the COD were used entirely to fund the salaries paid to him and Martinez (Roberts' assistant), leaving no money for recruitment; Martinez echoed that view. Broski indicated in reply that this was exactly why he wanted a budget advisory committee to review the expenditures and to determine whether there were other ways of deploying the university's funds that might be more productive.

[T]hat underscores exactly what I am going to ask this budget advisory committee to do, because it seems to me the question that faces us is not a question of absolute dollars. We spend something like $12 million a year on this campus on the recruitment and retention of minority students campuswide, so the commitment--the commitment to the recruitment and retention of minority students campuswide is not--the financial commitment is not in question. The deployment of those resources, however, is. And maybe it's smarter for us to have one person in Dentistry with a bigger expense budget than it is to have two people in Dentistry with no expense

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budget. And I--now that's a very reasonable sort of thing to talk about. And that's the sort of thing I'm going to take up in the Budget Advisory Committee.

R. 76 para. 185. (The meetings of the CAC were tape recorded, which is why we are able to recount Broski's remarks verbatim.)

Pursuant to Broski's suggestion, a CAC budget advisory committee was formed, and that committee presented its report on current UHP expenditures to the CAC on June 8, 1995. The CAC accepted the report and resolved to form a temporary committee that would, in cooperation with the university provost, make proposals for UHP goals, staffing, budget, and expenditures. Later in the meeting, Roberts raised concerns about some of the information included in the already-approved report on the current UHP budget. He questioned the accuracy of some of the expenditures, remarking that the reported figures were "bitching," "did not make sense," and "didn't add up." He questioned whether some of the persons identified in the reports as being affiliated with various UHP activities were actually involved as represented. Roberts also renewed his complaint that "some units don't have a dime to go talk to kids about whatever." Broski took Roberts to be suggesting that the budget committee had "out of whole cloth" created "some fictitious numbers." Broski found these "very serious charges" to be offensive, and he asked the executive director and director of the UHP to recount for the members of the CAC how the budget report had been put together. Roberts said that no such explanation was necessary. Roberts (who is African-American) was not going to argue with "those two Afro-American folk" (i.e., the executive director and director), for he did not believe they had done anything improper with UHP funds, that they were responsible for how those funds were allocated, or that they had anything to do with his own lack of funds for recruitment. At the conclusion of this discussion, the CAC recommended yet another review of UHP budget allocations. Broski subsequently retained an outside minority accounting firm for that purpose.

Soon after the June 1995 meeting of the CAC, Anderson learned that no African Americans and only three Hispanic students had been admitted into the class that would be entering the COD that autumn. Anderson avers that in the face of this information, he concluded that Roberts was not working effectively to recruit more minority students for the dental school and, believing that a dentist might be more efficacious in that role, Anderson decided to recommend for the third year in a row that Roberts be issued a terminal, one-year contract.

Broski decided to accept Anderson's recommendation and terminate Roberts. On August 17, 1995, the university issued a terminal contract to Roberts for the 1995-96 academic year, which...

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