218 F.3d 365 (5th Cir. 2000), 98-60784, Vadie v Mississippi State University

Docket Nº:98-60784
Citation:218 F.3d 365
Party Name:AHMAD A. VADIE, Doctor, Plaintiff-Appellee-Cross-Appellant, v. MISSISSIPPI STATE UNIVERSITY; ET AL, Defendants, MISSISSIPPI STATE UNIVERSITY, Defendant-Appellant-Cross-Appellee.
Case Date:July 05, 2000
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
 
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Page 365

218 F.3d 365 (5th Cir. 2000)

AHMAD A. VADIE, Doctor, Plaintiff-Appellee-Cross-Appellant,

v.

MISSISSIPPI STATE UNIVERSITY; ET AL, Defendants,

MISSISSIPPI STATE UNIVERSITY, Defendant-Appellant-Cross-Appellee.

No. 98-60784

IN THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS, FIFTH CIRCUIT

July 5, 2000

Page 366

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Appeals from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi

Before JOLLY and DeMOSS, Circuit Judges, and DOWD,[*] District Judge.

DOWD, District Judge:

Mississippi State University ("MSU") appeals from the final judgment entered against it on October 1, 1998, following a jury verdict in favor of Ahmad A. Vadie ("Dr. Vadie") in this Title VII case alleging intentional discrimination and retaliation, and from the district court's December 3, 1998, denial of a motion for judgment as a matter of law or, in the alternative, for a

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new trial.1 Dr. Vadie appeals the district court's order of December 10, 1998, denying him reinstatement.2

I

Dr. Vadie was born in Iran but obtained a masters degree in chemical engineering and a doctorate in petroleum engineering from the University of Texas.3 In 1982, he accepted a position at MSU and eventually became a tenured full professor in the Department of Petroleum Engineering.4

In 1993, MSU's Board decided to close the Department of Petroleum Engineering effective in 1995. MSU had a policy which permitted displaced faculty members to be considered for open faculty positions in other departments. Department heads were responsible for making final recommendations to the Dean, typically based on faculty input.5

In April 1993, due to the announced retirement of three professors, that number of faculty positions opened up in the Department of Chemical Engineering.6 Dr. Vadie applied and, in a letter to the department head, Dr. Donald Hill, dated May 3, 1993, the chemical engineering faculty recommended Dr. Vadie for selection, along with Drs. Rogers and Sparrow.7 Dr. Hill testified that he was surprised by the letter because prior to its receipt he had not detected support for Dr. Vadie. He sought out each faculty member and asked if the letter was "a mandate to hire Dr. Vadie." He testified that "the answer was a resounding no." R5:176. Later, at a faculty meeting to discuss the recommendations, no one spoke up on Dr. Vadie's behalf.8 Believing that he did not actually have full faculty support for Dr. Vadie, Dr. Hill thereafter recommended only Rogers and Sparrow to the Dean of the College of

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Engineering and to the Vice President of Academic Affairs. Both Rogers and Sparrow were given positions. On May 20, 1993, Dr. Vadie was notified by letter from Dr. Hill that he had not been chosen but that, pursuant to MSU policy, his application would be held for further consideration.9

Dr. Rebecca Toghiani, a member of the chemical engineering faculty,10 testified that after the first two hiring decisions had been made, it came to the attention of the faculty "that [its] recommendation had been questioned." R6:234. The faculty (except for Dr. Hill) then wrote a letter to Robert Altenkirch, Dean of the College of Engineering. The letter, dated September 20, 1993, indicated the faculty's "unanimous agreement that they followed the guidelines outlined in the relocation procedure, that they are satisfied that they had maximum input into the process, and accept the decision of the administration to hire or not hire the internal faculty recommended as possible candidates in the letter of May 3, 1993 to Dr. Hill." R6:241-242;D-29.11

On April 22, 1994, the faculty of the Chemical Engineering Department, including Dr. Hill, again wrote to Dean Altenkirch expressing concern that it was not being appropriately heard with respect to whether or not Dr. Vadie should join that faculty. The faculty emphasized its desire for highly qualified colleagues and that, because of friendships and their need to remain anonymous and bypass personal embarrassment, it had been their intent that the final recommendations for the position openings be made by Dr. Hill. The faculty stated clearly that it did not want Dr. Vadie in the chemical engineering program and that his presence would be "highly counterproductive." It further clarified that "being minimally qualified is not tantamount to being minimally acceptable." D-21.

Ultimately, Dr. Vadie was not selected for any of the three positions that had become vacant in April 1993. In fact, in June 1994, the final position was filled by Dr. Nancy Losure, an external applicant, who was hired as an assistant professor.12 It is not disputed that Dr. Vadie's qualifications were superior to those of Dr. Losure.13

Dr. Vadie appealed to MSU's Board which, on November 17, 1994, sent him a letter reporting that it had unanimously voted to support the University's decision. The letter stated that "the matter is now final." P-10. The November 1994 newsletter of MSU's chapter of the American Association of University Professors, The Advocate, reported the non-selection and indicated that Dr. Vadie had told The Advocate "that he will now seek a remedy in the courts." P-19.

On January 24, 1995, Dr. Vadie filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") alleging that MSU had not selected him for any of the vacant positions because of his race and/or national origin.

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He filed this lawsuit in June 1995, having received his right-to-sue letter.

By letter dated April 24, 1995, Dr. Vadie was offered a position as Senior Research Engineer in the Water Resources Research Institute at MSU, effective May 16, 1995. This was a funded research position which was full-time but non-tenured.14

In August of 1995, a Chemical Engineering Department faculty member died. This faculty member had possessed a doctorate in chemical engineering. According to MSU, the loss of the decedent's expertise in the department necessitated hiring someone who also had a doctorate in chemical engineering.15 Although not possessing the requisite degree, Dr. Vadie sought the position.16 He is of the view that, in order to purposefully disqualify him, the qualifications for this position were changed from requiring merely a degree in "a related area" to requiring a Ph.D. in chemical engineering.17 The faculty screening committee did not recommend Dr. Vadie for the position and it was ultimately filled by Dr. Mark Zappi, an Hispanic, who was hired as an associate professor.

On November 27, 1995, Dr. Vadie filed his second EEOC complaint charging that MSU had not selected him for the 1995 vacancy either because of his national origin or in retaliation for his having filed the first EEOC charge and this lawsuit.18

The case was tried to a jury which returned verdicts in Dr. Vadie's favor, finding that MSU did not hire him in the Chemical Engineering Department because of his race or national origin and because of retaliation.19 The jury awarded $350,000 in compensatory damages "for emotional pain, suffering, inconvenience, or mental anguish." R4:799. Because of the statutory caps on compensatory damages, 42 U.S.C. § 1981a(a)(1) & (b)(3)(D), the district judge subsequently reduced this award to $300,000.20

MSU filed a post-judgment motion for judgment as a matter of law and/or for a new trial. This motion was denied. Dr. Vadie filed a post-judgment motion for reinstatement to a position at MSU. This motion was also denied. Both parties appealed.

II

On appeal, MSU contends that the district court erred in denying its motions for judgment as a matter of law made at the close of Dr. Vadie's case, at the close of all

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the evidence, and after the verdict was returned, at which time it alternatively sought a new trial. MSU first argues that Dr. Vadie's claim of discrimination with respect to the 1993 faculty positions was time-barred. MSU further asserts that, in any event, it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law because none of Dr. Vadie's claims were supported by sufficient evidence. Finally, MSU contends that the compensatory damages award was excessive. Dr. Vadie, on the other hand, appeals the district court's denial of his motion for reinstatement.

A

We begin with the question of the timeliness of Dr. Vadie's claim as to the 1993 position openings. Title VII requires persons claiming discrimination to file a charge with the EEOC within 180 days after the allegedly discriminatory practice occurs. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e). The period begins to run from the time the complainant knows or reasonably should have known that the challenged act has occurred. Hamilton v. General Motors Corp., 606 F.2d 576, 579 (5th Cir. 1979), reh'g denied, 611 F.2d 882 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 447 U.S. 907, reh'g denied, 449 U.S. 913 (1980).

MSU argues that the alleged adverse employment action occurred in May 1993 when Dr. Vadie was first notified of his non-selection. Since his EEOC charge was not filed until January 1995, MSU is of the view that it was not timely. Both the district court and Dr. Vadie used November 17, 1994, the date of the letter from MSU's Board, as the date which started the 180-day clock running. We conclude that neither MSU nor the district court selected the correct date.

Dr. Vadie received a letter from Dr. Hill dated May 20, 1993, which stated: "We appreciated the opportunity to discuss with you an available faculty position in the Department of Chemical Engineering. While we are unable to extend an offer to you at this time, we will continue to consider your application along with those of other candidates, unless you indicate a desire for us not to do so." P-8. At the time, MSU had been considering only internal candidates, such...

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