Bagic v. University of Pittsburgh, 061119 FED3, 18-2951

Docket Nº:18-2951
Opinion Judge:JORDAN, CIRCUIT JUDGE.
Party Name:SNJEZANA JELACA BAGIC, DDS, Appellant v. UNIVERSITY OF PITTSBURGH; BERNARD J. COSTELLO, DMD, MD, individually, and in his official capacity as Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs of the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine
Judge Panel:Before: SMITH, Chief Judge, JORDAN, and MATEY, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:June 11, 2019
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
 
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SNJEZANA JELACA BAGIC, DDS, Appellant

v.

UNIVERSITY OF PITTSBURGH; BERNARD J. COSTELLO, DMD, MD, individually, and in his official capacity as Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs of the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine

No. 18-2951

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

June 11, 2019

NOT PRECEDENTIAL

Submitted Under Third Circuit LAR 34.1(a) June 3, 2019

On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania (D.C. No. 2-18-cv-0511) District Judge: Hon. Arthur J. Schwab

Before: SMITH, Chief Judge, JORDAN, and MATEY, Circuit Judges.

OPINION [*]

JORDAN, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

Snjezana Bagic appeals the District Court's dismissal of her complaint under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983 alleging ethnic discrimination. For the reasons that follow, we will vacate and remand.

I.

BACKGROUND1

Beginning in 2008, Bagic was an instructor and faculty member at the University of Pittsburgh's School of Dental Medicine (the "University" or "Dental School"). Long before that, in the early 1990s, she had fought in what she calls "the Patriotic War in Croatia." (App. at 79.) At some point after she began working at the University, she came into conflict with her colleague Sean Noonan, an Assistant Professor at the Dental School. Bagic became concerned that Noonan had been "abus[ing] his privileges as a faculty member," so, "on more than one occasion, [she] made complaints and/or informed" her Department Chair about Noonan's actions. (App. at 77-78.) Bagic also personally raised her concerns with Noonan.

As a result of their dispute, "Noonan undertook a settled plan for the purpose of discrediting Bagic and preventing [her] from interfering with his activities." (App. at 78.) To that end, "Noonan falsely stated to several University related individuals that Bagic threatened to kill him." (App. at 79.) Specifically, "Noonan alleged to University personnel that Bagic [had] indicated [that] she had killed before in the war and would kill him." (App. at 79.) And Noonan asked Bagic, in front of University faculty members, if "she was armed[.]" (App. at 79 (quotation marks omitted).)

Noonan's allegations resulted in an investigation, and another faculty member, Bernard Costello, was tasked with investigating the alleged threats. According to Bagic, however, Costello "undertook a biased investigation" "with a predetermined result." (App. at 79.) That bias was in part proven, she says, by handwritten notes from that investigation showing an emphasis on her ethnicity and her time on "the front lines" of the Croatian war. (App. at 81 (quotation marks omitted).) The investigation led to Costello "falsely represent[ing] [to the University] that Bagic had admitted on several occasions to threatening to kill Noonan[.]" (App. at 80.) Following the investigation, the University terminated Bagic's employment.

She then pursued an internal appeal. The hearing panel assigned to the appeal recommended, and the University Chancellor found, that: (1) "[t]he information provided by Costello to [the University] was not reliable;" (2) "Costello's investigation was flawed;" (3) "[t]he Dental School was unable to establish Bagic had threatened to kill Noonan;" (4) "Bagic's termination was unreasonable;" and (5) "Bagic's alleged threats to kill Noonan could not be substantiated." (App. at 81.) Nonetheless, the University refused to reinstate Bagic.

Bagic then filed suit in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, claiming that the University and Costello (the "Defendants") discriminated against her on the basis of her Croatian ethnicity, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981. The Defendants moved to dismiss Bagic's claim and that motion was granted, but Bagic was given leave to...

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