Vanasco v. National-Louis University

Decision Date27 February 1998
Docket NumberNATIONAL-LOUIS,No. 97-1717,97-1717
Citation137 F.3d 962,1998 WL 81458
Parties76 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. (BNA) 629, 72 Empl. Prac. Dec. P 45,207, 124 Ed. Law Rep. 525 Lourdes C. VANASCO, Plaintiff-Appellant, v.UNIVERSITY, Defendant-Appellee.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Seventh Circuit

Timothy M. McLean (argued), Heroux, Clingen, Callow, Wolfe & McLean, Wheaton, IL, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Robert E. Arroyo (argued), Jackson, Lewis, Schnitzler & Krupman, Chicago, IL, for Defendant-Appellee.

Before CUMMINGS, COFFEY and RIPPLE, Circuit Judges.

RIPPLE, Circuit Judge.

Lourdes Vanasco was an instructor of English as a second language at National-Louis University ("the University"), a private institution of higher learning in Evanston, Illinois. In September 1992, Mrs. Vanasco's second application for tenure was denied by the University. At that time, Mrs. Vanasco was fiftyeight years old. After receiving a right to sue letter from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), Mrs. Vanasco brought this action under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA") alleging that the University denied her application for tenure because of her age. In addition, Mrs. Vanasco alleged that the University denied her application for tenure in retaliation for her filing an age discrimination complaint with the EEOC after her first application for tenure was denied in 1990. The district court granted the University summary judgment on both claims. For the reasons set forth in the following opinion, we affirm the judgment of the district court.


National-Louis University is a private institution of higher learning with its main campus in Evanston, Illinois. There are three colleges within the University: the College of Education, the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Management and Business. There are four levels of faculty at the University ranging from instructor (the lowest position) to professor (the highest position). From 1983 to 1993, Mrs. Vanasco was employed as a full-time instructor of English as a second language in the University's Language Institute, a department within the College of Arts and Sciences.

Tenure decisions at the University are made by two separate faculty committees. Within each college, on an annual basis, faculty members elect colleagues to the College's promotion and tenure committee ("CPTC"). In addition, faculty members of each college also elect colleagues to serve on the institutional promotion and tenure committee ("IPTC") which considers all applications for promotion or tenure from faculty at the University. The CPTC and the IPTC review the dossiers submitted by applicants Mrs. Vanasco first applied for tenure during the 1989-90 academic year. Only one of the eight other full-time faculty in the Language Institute wrote a letter in support of her tenure application; 1 moreover, several other faculty members wrote letters recommending that her application be denied. 2 Both the CPTC and the IPTC recommended against granting tenure to Mrs. Vanasco. Accordingly, the University decided to deny Mrs. Vanasco's tenure application.

and letters of recommendation. As a matter of policy, the University grants tenure selectively. Indeed, an award of tenure indicates "recognition by the trustees, the administration and faculty colleagues of a high level of academic achievement and quality of service" to the University. R.9, Kapela Aff., Ex. C.

Mrs. Vanasco then filed charges of age discrimination with the EEOC. She also filed an internal grievance with a faculty appeals committee ("FAC"). Under the University's system, the FAC's review of tenure decisions is limited to procedural problems. The 1990-91 FAC recommended that Mrs. Vanasco's grievance be sustained because it believed that the composition of the tenure committees was improper, the criteria for tenure were unclear and there were no guidelines for the submission of tenure dossiers. Based on these findings, the appeals committee recommended that the University give Mrs. Vanasco another year to apply for tenure. Both the IPTC and CPTC disagreed with the appeals committee's findings, but the University ultimately decided to offer Mrs. Vanasco a full-time teaching contract for the 1991-92 and 1992-93 academic years so that she could be reconsidered for tenure.

Mrs. Vanasco reapplied for tenure during the 1991-92 academic year. At that time, none of the other faculty members at the Language Institute wrote a letter in support of Mrs. Vanasco's tenure application. 3 Once again, Mrs. Vanasco's colleagues voiced concern about her qualifications. Both the CPTC and the IPTC voted unanimously to reject Mrs. Vanasco's application. Mrs. Vanasco again filed an internal grievance and the 1992-93 FAC again found procedural errors in the handling of Mrs. Vanasco's tenure application. However, on this occasion, the University decided to uphold the decisions of the tenure committees and denied Mrs. Vanasco's application for tenure. Accordingly, the University notified Mrs. Vanasco that her employment contract for the 1992-93 academic year was a terminal contract. At the time of this decision, Mrs. Vanasco was 58 years old.

After the University rejected her appeal, Mrs. Vanasco again filed charges with the EEOC alleging that the University discriminated against her because of her age with respect to its denial of her second tenure application and that it retaliated against her for filing her 1990 EEOC charge. Mrs. Vanasco received a right to sue letter from the EEOC and brought this suit pursuant to that letter. On February 5, 1997, the district court granted the University's motion for summary judgment on Mrs. Vanasco's age discrimination claim on the ground that she was unable to present evidence sufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact on the issue of pretext. The district court also granted the University's motion for summary judgment on Mrs. Vanasco's retaliation claim on the ground that she was unable to present evidence sufficient to establish a prima facie case of retaliatory discharge.


We conduct plenary review of a district court's entry of summary judgment.

                See Bahl v. Royal Indem.  Co., 115 F.3d 1283, 1289 (7th Cir.1997).  However, we are obliged to review the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and to draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor.  See id.   We shall uphold a grant of summary judgment only when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to the interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."  Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c).  " 'This standard is applied with added rigor in employment discrimination cases, where intent and credibility are crucial issues.' "  Sample v. Aldi Inc., 61 F.3d 544, 547 (7th Cir.1995) (quoting Sarsha v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 3 F.3d 1035, 1038 (7th Cir.1993)).  Nonetheless, "[i]f the non-moving party bears the burden of proof on an issue, ... that party may not rest on the pleadings and must instead show that there is a genuine issue of material fact."  Id. Moreover, "the mere existence of some alleged dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment;  the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact."  Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).  Indeed, to avoid summary judgment, the nonmovant bears the burden of setting forth "specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial."  Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e).  "A dispute about a material fact is 'genuine' only if a reasonable jury could render a verdict for the non-moving party 'if the record at trial were identical to the record compiled in the summary judgment proceeding.' "  Griffin v. City of Milwaukee, 74 F.3d 824, 827 (7th Cir.1996) (quoting CSX Transp., Inc. v. Chicago & North Western Transp.  Co., 62 F.3d 185, 188 (7th Cir.1995)).  In this case, Mrs. Vanasco submits that there are genuine issues of material fact concerning both her age discrimination claim and her retaliatory discharge claim

Under the ADEA, employers are prohibited from discriminating on the basis of age against employees who are at least forty years old. See 29 U.S.C. §§ 623(a), 631(a). "To succeed on a discrimination claim under the ADEA, a plaintiff must show that her termination or other adverse employment action would not have occurred 'but for' her employer's motive to discriminate on the basis of her age." Fuka v. Thomson Consumer Elecs., 82 F.3d 1397, 1402 (7th Cir.1996). The plaintiff may prove her case in one of two ways--through direct evidence or via the indirect burden-shifting method of McDonnell Douglas v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973). See Fuka, 82 F.3d at 1402. "Under either method, summary judgment is improper if the plaintiff offers evidence from which an inference of age discrimination may be drawn." Id. at 1402-03.

In this case, Mrs. Vanasco has not come forward with direct evidence of age discrimination, but instead has presented her case using the burdenshifting method. In order to establish an ADEA prima facie case, Mrs. Vanasco must show that she is within the protected age group, that she was qualified for tenure, that she was denied tenure and that a substantially younger employee was granted tenure. See O'Connor v. Consolidated Coin Caterers Corp., 517 U.S. 308, 311-13, 116 S.Ct. 1307, 1310, 134 L.Ed.2d 433 (1996); see also Namenwirth v. Board of Regents of the Univ. of Wis. Sys., 769 F.2d 1235, 1240 (7th Cir.1985) (discussing requirements of prima facie case in discrimination case involving denial of tenure), cert. denied, 474 U.S. 1061, 106 S.Ct. 807, 88 L.Ed.2d 782 (1986). If Mrs. Vanasco is able to establish a prima...

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