Muslow v. Bd. of Supervisors of La. State Univ. & Agric. & Mech. Coll.

Decision Date14 April 2020
Docket NumberCIVIL ACTION NO. 19-11793 SECTION M (2)
PartiesKATHERINE MUSLOW AND MEREDITH CUNNINGHAM v. BOARD OF SUPERVISORS OF LOUISIANA STATE UNIVERSITY AND AGRICULTURAL AND MECHANICAL COLLEGE, THOMAS SKINNER, LARRY HOLLIER, AND JON HARMAN
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Louisiana
ORDER & REASONS

Before the Court is (1) a motion to strike and for protective order,1 and (2) a partial motion to dismiss plaintiffs' amended complaint,2 both filed by defendants Board of Supervisors of Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College (the "LSU Board"), Thomas Skinner, Larry Hollier, and Jon Harman (collectively, "Defendants"). Plaintiffs Katherine Muslow and Meredith Cunningham (collectively, "Plaintiffs") oppose both motions.3 Defendants reply in support of their motions.4 Having considered the parties' memoranda, the record, and the applicable law, this Court issues this Order and Reasons.

I. BACKGROUND
A. Factual Background

Plaintiffs were formerly employed with the LSU Board as attorneys. The LSU Board oversees and manages Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College ("LSU") institutions across Louisiana, including its campuses in Baton Rouge ("LSU (BatonRouge)") and the LSU Health Sciences Center in New Orleans ("LSU (New Orleans)").5 Until recently, Skinner was Vice President of Legal Affairs and General Counsel at LSU (Baton Rouge). Hollier is Chancellor, and Harman Vice Chancellor, Administration and Finance at LSU (New Orleans).6 Also until recently, Muslow was "General Counsel" to LSU (New Orleans) and reported directly to Hollier.7 Before her employment at LSU (New Orleans), she served as its outside counsel. Likewise, until recently, Cunningham was employed as staff attorney at LSU (New Orleans) and reported to Muslow.8

According to Plaintiffs, in 2017, LSU (New Orleans) conducted a market study to assess the equity of its salary structure (the "Study").9 Due to her part-time status, Cunningham was deemed ineligible for a salary assessment under the Study,10 but Muslow, who was a full-time employee, did have her salary assessed.11 Plaintiffs allege that the Study showed that Muslow's salary was well below the "minimum" for the paygrade assigned to her position, despite having worked for LSU (New Orleans) for decades.12 According to Plaintiffs, sometime after this information was provided, Muslow learned that, as a result of the Study, Hollier, with Harman's concurrence, intended to increase her salary, but only to a level that still fell below the minimum for the relevant paygrade.13 Plaintiffs allege that Hollier and Harman intended to similarly treat the only other female direct-report to Hollier.14 Muslow allegedly then confronted Hollier in a face-to-face meeting during which Muslow "explicitly advised Hollier that gender pay disparitiesexisted at LSU (New Orleans)," that despite knowledge of these disparities, Hollier was not acting to ameliorate them, and that "those persistent disparities posed a risk to the institution."15 Hollier subsequently agreed to raise Muslow's salary to the minimum level for her paygrade.16

Plaintiffs allege that the Study, which they did not view in whole in 2017, but did so in October 2018 after they "received and responded to a public-records request," shows "dramatic" wage disparities between male and female employees - disparities which they allege are vastly understated due to exclusion of categories of compensation paid in 2017 only to men.17 They allege that the LSU Board, Hollier, and Harman took no action to correct these disparities, but rather aggravated them by increasing the salaries of Plaintiffs' male counterparts in October 2018, but not raising Plaintiffs' pay.18

Plaintiffs allege that in December 2018 they were notified that all existing legal positions at LSU, including theirs, would be consolidated under a single Office of General Counsel (the "OGC") at LSU (Baton Rouge).19 Around this time, according to Plaintiffs, a new position entitled "Deputy General Counsel" was created for Carlton "Trey" Jones, who had originally been hired in 2017 for the position of "Managing Attorney" at LSU (Baton Rouge).20 For this new position, Jones's salary would be raised, "purportedly as compensation for 'supervising' Muslow and Cunningham, as well as attorneys at other LSU campuses."21 Plaintiffs allege that despite their own qualifications for this position, they were not given the opportunity to apply for it, nor were other members of the LSU community or the general public. In January 2019, Plaintiffs met with Skinner and Jones, who reiterated their prior representations to Plaintiffs that their positions atLSU (New Orleans) would remain unchanged other than their consolidation under the OGC.22 That same month, Plaintiffs received emails from the OGC's business manager, welcoming them and providing them with steps to set them up within the LSU (Baton Rouge) human resources system, for which Plaintiffs provided the requested information.23 Plaintiffs allege that before they completed this process, they received employment contracts executed by Skinner for their respective positions with the same salaries they had been paid to date.24

On February 15, 2019, Plaintiffs wrote to Skinner asking that, before signing the contracts, "their salaries be reviewed and raises given to bring their compensation in line with those of their male counterparts at LSU (New Orleans)," stating that they had been discriminated against on the basis of their gender through disparate pay practices at the institution.25 According to Plaintiffs, rather than responding, the next business day, Skinner rescinded the contracts "'pending further review' on the pretext that Plaintiffs had not signed them," even though "neither Plaintiff had been given a deadline within which to execute the contracts" and there was no need for such contracts, since Plaintiffs had already transitioned over to the OGC.26 Plaintiffs allegedly then met with Hollier, who told them that their "jobs were 'moving to Baton Rouge' because Plaintiffs 'had not responded' to [the] OGC's offers of employment," to which Plaintiffs replied that they had indeed "responded to the 'offers'" and had completed the steps required by LSU (Baton Rouge) human resources to move to the OGC.27 On March 1, 2019, Hollier and Skinner allegedly notified Plaintiffs in separate writings that their positions at LSU (New Orleans) would be "retired" effective June 30, 2019, and equivalent positions would be advertised to the public.28

On March 26, 2019, Plaintiffs filed charges of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the "EEOC"), and on March 28, 2019, they gave notice of the charges to Skinner, Hollier, Harman, Jones, and other LSU administrators who had also been copied on the March 1, 2019 notices.29 On March 29, 2019, Hollier mailed certified letters, dated March 25, 2019, to Plaintiffs' home addresses, stating that Plaintiffs' positions would be eliminated and their employment terminated, effective June 30, 2019.30 A few days before June 30, 2019, Defendants allegedly "'extended' Muslow's employment to July 15 for pretextual reasons."31 Plaintiffs allege that the "real reason" was that June 30, 2019, was eight days before Muslow would become eligible to retire under the Teacher's Retirement System of Louisiana ("TRSL") plan, in which she was enrolled during her LSU (New Orleans) employment, and so Defendants were avoiding denying her these benefits "for litigation purposes."32 Finally, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants recently selected Muslow's replacement, who is "a younger, less-experienced white man."33

B. Procedural Background

Plaintiffs commenced this suit against Defendants on July 22, 2019.34 In response to Defendants' previous motion to dismiss,35 Plaintiffs amended their complaint.36 Accordingly, the Court dismissed Defendants' original motion to dismiss as moot.37

In the amended complaint, which remains the operative complaint, Plaintiffs claim: (1) gender discrimination, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e, et seq. ("Title VII"), against the LSU Board; (2) retaliation, in violation of Title VII,against the LSU Board; (3) gender discrimination, in violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. §§ 1681, et seq. ("Title IX"), against the LSU Board; (4) retaliation, in violation of Title IX, against the LSU Board; (5) gender discrimination, in violation of the Equal Pay Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 201, et seq. ("EPA"), against all Defendants; (6) retaliation, in violation of the EPA, against the LSU Board, Hollier, and Skinner; (7) gender discrimination, in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against Harman, Hollier, and Skinner; and (8) retaliation, in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments, pursuant to § 1983, against Hollier and Skinner.38 As relief, Plaintiffs seek (1) a declaratory judgment that the acts and practices complained of are in violation of federal law; (2) a permanent injunction preventing Defendants from engaging in any further unlawful conduct or practices; (3) prospective injunctive relief in the form of, inter alia, reinstatement to their former positions; (4) reinstatement to their former positions or front pay in lieu thereof; (5) lost wages, including back pay, front pay, and lost fringe benefits; (6) liquidated damages under the EPA; (7) compensatory damages; (8) punitive damages against Harman, Hollier, and Skinner in their individual capacities; (9) attorney's fees, expenses, and costs; (10) prejudgment and postjudgment interest; and (11) any other legal and equitable relief as the Court deems just and proper.39

II. PENDING MOTIONS
A. Motion to Strike and for Protective Order

Plaintiffs attached several exhibits to their amended complaint. Defendants first request that the Court strike exhibit D,40...

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