361 F.3d 610 (11th Cir. 2004), 02-16486, Stavropoulos v. Firestone

Docket Nº:02-16486.
Citation:361 F.3d 610
Party Name:Carol STAVROPOULOS, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Evan FIRESTONE, W. Robert Nix, et al., Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:February 25, 2004
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

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361 F.3d 610 (11th Cir. 2004)

Carol STAVROPOULOS, Plaintiff-Appellant,


Evan FIRESTONE, W. Robert Nix, et al., Defendants-Appellees.

No. 02-16486.

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

February 25, 2004

Page 611

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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David C. Ates, Kirwan, Parks, Chesin & Miller, P.C., Atlanta, GA, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

George P. Shingler, Casey, Gilson & Williams, Annette M. Cowart and Bryan Keith Webb, Georgia Dept. of Law, Atlanta, GA, for Defendants-Appellees.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia.

Before EDMONDSON, Chief Judge, and DUBINA and COX, Circuit Judges.

COX, Circuit Judge:


Plaintiff, Carol Stavropoulos, appeals the district court's entry of summary judgment for the Defendant Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia ("Board") on her claim that the Board violated the anti-retaliation provision of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a). She also appeals the summary judgment for Defendants Evan Firestone and William Squires on her 42 U.S.C. § 1983 First Amendment retaliation claim. We affirm.


In 1993 the University of Georgia hired Stavropoulos as an assistant professor in the School of Art for the Art Education Program. In 1993 and 1994 she received excellent job performance ratings.

As an untenured assistant professor, Stavropoulos was employed pursuant to a one-year contract. The senior faculty of the School of Art votes each year on whether to renew the contracts of its untenured assistant professors. This vote, however, is not necessarily binding. The dean and assistant dean of the School of Art have the power to override the faculty vote. And, an assistant professor has the right to appeal a vote of non-renewal by filing a grievance with the University's faculty senate, which also can override the non-renewal vote.

During the fall semester of 1994, Defendant Firestone, Director of the School of Art, selected Stavropoulos and five other professors to screen applicants and to recommend a candidate to fill a computer artist position. After reviewing the applications for the job, Plaintiff and another committee member, Dr. Bradley Tindall, believed that a female candidate, Dr. Ann Marie LeBlanc, was the best qualified. The majority of the committee, however, favored hiring Dr. David Kaufman, who was already employed in the School of Art. Because Stavropoulos believed that the majority had begun the process intending to hire Dr. Kaufman, she felt that they

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were treating Dr. LeBlanc's application unfairly. She voiced her concerns about this perceived unfairness, and, on one occasion, did so by yelling and shaking her fist at her fellow committee members. The committee ultimately voted, four-two, to recommend Dr. Kaufman for the job, with Stavropoulos and Dr. Tindall casting the dissenting votes.

In March 1995 the committee presented its recommendation to the faculty of the School of Art. Dr. Tindall presented his and Stavropoulos's view that Dr. LeBlanc was the most qualified candidate. The faculty voted to hire Dr. Kaufman. Afterwards, Dr. Tindall and Stavropoulos told Director Firestone that they were going to file a minority report with the Dean of the School of Art. The report, which they filed immediately, detailed Dr. LeBlanc's qualifications, and asserted that as most of the faculty members in the computer field were men, hiring Dr. LeBlanc, a woman, would promote diversity and encourage minorities.

In response to the report, Director Firestone sent a memorandum to Stavropoulos and Dr. Tindall. In the memo, Director Firestone expressed his disapproval of the report, as the committee acted only as an advisory body. Firestone sent copies of the memo to the dean and the assistant dean of the art school.

Shortly after the faculty vote and the minority report, Dr. LeBlanc sent a letter to the University's Legal Affairs Department, stating that she may have been the victim of gender discrimination in the selection of the computer artist. Stavropoulos assisted Dr. LeBlanc by asking a faculty member in the University's Womens' Studies Department to help with Dr. LeBlanc's complaint. Director Firestone learned that Stavropoulos had provided this assistance.

Stavropoulos again received excellent performance evaluations in 1995. In June 1995, however, the faculty voted not to renew Stavropoulos's contract. Several of the faculty members who voted for non-renewal stated that they voted this way because Stavropoulos was not collegial but was insulting and hostile to her fellow faculty members. When Stavropoulos learned of the vote, she complained to the dean of the School of Art about the vote. In response to Stavropoulos's complaints, the associate dean met with Director Firestone. The associate dean asked Director Firestone for documentation of Stavropoulos's uncollegial behavior. To provide this documentation, Director Firestone solicited and compiled letters written by faculty members discussing Stavropoulos's behavior and job performance. Firestone provided this file of letters to the dean and associate dean. After reviewing the file and the records of the faculty's non-renewal proceedings, the deans decided to reject the faculty vote as unsupported by Stavropoulos's performance ratings. Thus, Stavropoulos was given an employment contract for the 1995-96 academic year. At no time during this process had the University terminated Stavropoulos or otherwise informed her that her contract had not been renewed.

In March 1996 Stavropoulos for the first time received a negative performance evaluation. Around this time, Stavropoulos was due for a third-year review, an evaluation conducted at the end of every tenure-track teacher's third year which examines how that teacher is progressing towards being awarded tenure.1 Director Firestone

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chose the four review committee members; he chose three of the four members of the review committee from outside the Art Education Program to avoid any appearance of bias against Stavropoulos. Defendant Squires was chosen as the chairman of the committee.

When the third-year review committee convened in April 1996, Director Firestone charged them with their duties; he opened the charge with "welcome to the committee from hell." (R.3-132 at Ex. F at 199.) He also charged them to review everything regarding Stavropoulos's teaching, research, and service. Though this initially included the file of letters compiled by Firestone, the dean's office clarified that the committee could not consider those letters. The dean's office also made clear that Stavropoulos would be given the opportunity to respond to her review.

Chairman Squires gave the faculty the opportunity to be interviewed by the committee, and gave Stavropoulos the opportunity to give the committee information on her job performance. Stavropoulos alleges that Firestone encouraged faculty members to relate to the committee their negative experiences with Stavropoulos. Firestone submitted to the committee a memo recounting his version of the facts of Stavropoulos's involvement with Dr. LeBlanc's discrimination claim.

Chairman Squires prepared a memorandum entitled "Understanding the Role Played by Illness Relative to Carol Stavropoulos's Performance of Her Duties as a Faculty Member," (R.3-132 at Ex. W) in which Squires opined that Stavropoulos suffered from a mental illness which affected her ability to work with other faculty members. When the committee interviewed Stavropoulos, some members of the committee asked her about her mental health and about certain mental-health prescription drugs she may have taken. Stavropoulos told the committee that she did not suffer from a mental illness; when she made this assertion, Chairman Squires became visibly angry. The third-year review committee's report, published to the faculty on May 27, 1996, stated: "Although it has been mentioned to the committee as an exacerbating factor in her working relationships with others, Dr. Stavropoulos denies that illness has ever in any way compromised her performance as a faculty member." (R.3-132 at Ex. X at 6.)

In June 1996 the faculty met to consider whether to renew Stavropoulos's employment contract for another year. The third-year review committee presented its report. The report discussed Stavropoulos's public anger and hostility toward other faculty members; Stavropoulos's giving "A's" to all of her students in one full calendar year, which called into question the reliability of her positive student course evaluations; Stavropoulos's resistance to learning and following procedures, both of which resulted in inaccurate guidance and advice to students; and Stavropoulos's holding classes in her home rather than on campus. The report concluded: "The committee agreed that Dr. Stavropoulos is making good progress toward achieving promotion and tenure in the area of research. However, persistent and ongoing problems in the areas of teaching and service are jeopardizing Dr...

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