Weeks v. Tex. A&M Univ.

Decision Date21 February 2018
Docket NumberCIVIL ACTION NO. 3:16-CV-191
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Texas
PartiesKELLY WEEKS, Plaintiff, v. TEXAS A&M UNIVERSITY Defendant.

Plaintiff, Kelly Weeks, filed suit against the Texas A&M University System on July 19, 2016. Weeks' Original Complaint alleged that Texas A&M University at Galveston, his employer, had discriminated against him under Title VII. Weeks asserts theories of hostile work environment, discrimination, and retaliation under Title VII. Dkt. 1.

On September 8, 2016, Weeks filed his Amended Original Complaint, naming two separate Defendants—the "Texas A&M University System at Galveston" and "Texas A&M University." Dkt. 8. In his Amended Complaint, Weeks alleges that he is a male over the age of 40 years old, and that he was an Assistant Professor at the Galveston campus of Texas A&M University from 2008 to 2014. Weeks alleged his "work record was near perfect" and that he received positive reviews and merit raises, but that his employer nonetheless engaged in a pattern and practice of giving preference to female professors, "while specifically holding male counterparts to a higher standard without a legitimate business reason."

The allegations in the Amended Complaint are rather difficult to follow, but it appears that Weeks alleges that he was discriminated against during the process of awarding promotions and tenure because of his gender; that he was treated differently in employment decisions because he is male; and that he was fired because he is male. Specifically, Weeks alleges that, on February 21, 2014, he was informed that he was denied tenure and that his employment would be terminated in the near future. Weeks further contends that that he was then "constructively terminated" on June 20, 2014. He alleges that he was placed "in a hostile work environment and discriminated and retaliated against" based upon his gender and because he "voic[ed] his opposition to the disparate and less favorable treatment." Weeks also alleges that he filed a complaint with the EEOC, that the EEOC issued him a right to sue letter, and that he had filed suit within 90 days from receipt of that letter.

On October 11, 2016, Defendant "Texas A&M University System" filed a motion to dismiss the Amended Complaint. Dkt. 12. Texas A&M University System asserted that Weeks' claims against it should be dismissed because 1) it is entitled to immunity under the Eleventh Amendment; and 2) Weeks failed to state a claim for discrimination or retaliation under Title VII against it because Weeks was actually employed by "Texas &M University at Galveston," not the larger "Texas A&M University System" itself.

According to the docket sheet of this case, Weeks did not formally request the issuance of summons on either Defendant until October 25, 2016. Dkt. 14, 15. On November 1, 2016, Weeks filed a return of service stating that service had been made upon "John Sharp, Chancellor, Texas A&M University System" on October 31, 2016, Dkt. 16,and upon "Michael K. Young, President, Texas A&M University" on October 31, 2016, Dkt. 17. On December 29, 2016, both Defendants "Texas A&M University System" and Defendant "Texas A&M University" filed a joint motion to dismiss Weeks' Amended Complaint. Dkt. 25. That motion contended that Weeks' claims should be dismissed because Weeks failed to serve either Defendant within the 90-day period required by Rule 4 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and because Weeks failed to "commence this action against Defendant TAMU within the 90-day statutory limitations period." Weeks then filed a motion asking this Court to retroactively extend the deadline for service of process in this case. Dkt. 31.

Both sides have now filed their motions for summary judgment, each providing a considerable amount of summary judgment evidence and briefing in support. After due consideration of the motions, and the responses, the summary judgment record, and the applicable case law, the Court finds that there is no genuine dispute of material fact on Weeks' claims of discrimination, retaliation, and hostile work environment, and that Defendants' motions for summary judgment should be GRANTED and Week's motion should be DENIED.

A. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986); Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994).A genuine dispute of material fact exists if the "evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Royal v. CCC & R Tres Arboles, L.L.C., 736 F.3d 396, 400 (5th Cir. 2013) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986)). The Court "must view all facts and evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party." Feist v. La., Dep't of Justice, Office of the Att'y Gen., 730 F.3d 450, 452 (5th Cir. 2013) (quoting Juino v. Livingston Par. Fire Dist. No. 5, 717 F.3d 431, 433 (5th Cir. 2013)).

If the summary judgment movant produces evidence tending to show that there is no genuine dispute of material fact, the nonmovant must then direct the court's attention to evidence in the record sufficient to establish the existence of a genuine dispute of material fact for trial. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 321-323. The nonmovant must "go beyond the pleadings and by [his] own affidavits, or by depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions on file, designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue of material fact for trial." Giles v. General Elec. Co., 245 F.3d 474, 493 (5th Cir. 2001), citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. Further, the party opposing summary judgment is required to identify specific evidence in the record and to articulate the precise manner in which that evidence supports his claim. Ragas v. Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co., 136 F.3d 455, 458 (5th Cir. 1998). "If the nonmoving party fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to its case and on which it will bear the burden of proof at trial, summary judgment must be granted." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23.

Importantly, summary judgment cannot be defeated through "[c]onclusional allegations and denials, speculation, improbable inferences, unsubstantiated assertions, andlegalistic argumentation." Oliver v. Scott, 276 F.3d 736, 744 (5th Cir. 2002). Additionally, allegations in a plaintiff's complaint are not evidence. Wallace v. Texas Tech Univ., 80 F.3d 1042, 1047 (5th Cir. 1996) ("[P]leadings are not summary judgment evidence."); Johnston v. City of Houston, Tex., 14 F.3d 1056, 1060 (5th Cir. 1995) (for the party opposing the motion for summary judgment, "only evidence—not argument, not facts in the complaint—will satisfy the burden"), citing Solo Serve Corp. v. Westown Assoc., 929 F.2d 160, 164 (5th Cir. 1991); see also Douglass v. United Servs. Auto. Ass'n, 79 F.3d 1415, 1429 (5th Cir. 1996) (en banc) ("[C]onclusory allegations, speculation, and unsubstantiated assertions are inadequate to satisfy the nonmovant's burden."); Grizzle v. Travelers Health Network, Inc., 14 F.3d 261, 268 (5th Cir. 1994) (noting that an employee's "self-serving generalized testimony stating her subjective belief that discrimination occurred ... is simply insufficient to support a jury verdict in plaintiff's favor"); Int'l Shortstop, Inc. v. Rally's, Inc., 939 F.2d 1257, 1266 (5th Cir. 1991) ("Summary judgment, to be sure, may be appropriate, '[e]ven in cases where elusive concepts such as motive or intent are at issue, ... if the nonmoving party rests merely upon conclusory allegations, improbable inferences, and unsupported speculation." (quoting Medina-Munoz v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., 896 F.2d 5, 8 (1st Cir. 1990)) (alteration in original)).

Further, as noted above, parties have the obligation to specifically point out the evidence upon which they rely. Rule 56(c)(1) provides that "[a] party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by . . . citing to particular parts of materials in the record." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c)(1)(A); Am. Fam. Life Assur. Co. ofColumbus v. Biles, 714 F.3d 887, 896 (5th Cir. 2013). Under Rule 56(c)(3), "[t]he court need consider only the cited materials, but it may consider other materials in the record." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c)(3). The Fifth Circuit has explained that, "Rule 56 does not impose upon the district court a duty to sift through the record in search of evidence to support a party's opposition to summary judgment." Adams v. Travelers Indem. Co. of Conn., 465 F.3d 156, 164 (5th Cir. 2006); see also Nissho-Iwai Am. Corp. v. Kline, 845 F.2d 1300, 1307 (5th Cir. 1988) (concluding that a deposition "was never made part of the competent summary judgment record before the district court" because the party opposing summary judgment "failed to designate, or in any way refer to, the deposition as the source of factual support" for its response to the summary judgment motion).

When parties file cross-motions for summary judgment, courts are to "review 'each party's motion independently, viewing the evidence and inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.'" Cooley v. Housing Authority of City of Slidell, 747 F.3d 295, 298 (5th Cir. 2014) (quoting Ford Motor Co. v. Tex. Dep't of Transp., 264 F.3d 493, 498 (5th Cir. 2001)).

B. Title VII

Title VII prohibits an employer from discriminating based on "race, color, religion, sex, or national origin." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). Title VII also provides that it is unlawful for employers to retaliate against employees who have opposed discrimination or who have participated in actions that are considered "protected activities" ...

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