Wilder v. Stephen F. Austin State Univ.

Decision Date02 August 2021
Docket Number9:20-CV-00040-ZJH
Citation552 F.Supp.3d 639
Parties Ann WILDER, Plaintiff, v. STEPHEN F. AUSTIN STATE UNIVERSITY, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Texas

Tanner Gerald McClure Franklin, Franklin Law Firm PLLC, Etoile, TX, for Plaintiff.

Amy Snow Hilton, Matthew Tyler Bohuslav, Tanya Robinson, Office of the Attorney General of Texas, Austin, TX, for Defendant.

ORDER

Zack Hawthorn, United States Magistrate Judge

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), FED. R. CIV. P. 73, and order of the District Court, this matter is before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge for all proceedings and entry of judgment in accordance with the consent of the parties. Pending before the court is a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 47) by Plaintiff Ann Wilder, Ph.D. Also pending before the court are Defendant Stephen F. Austin State University's ("SFA") Motion to Exclude Evidence of Damages (Doc. No. 53) and Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 54).

This is an employment discrimination case. Dr. Wilder claims that SFA paid her less than a similarly situated male professor. Further, Dr. Wilder alleges that SFA retaliated against her for reporting the pay disparity by refusing to renew her contract. SFA proposes gender-neutral reasons for the difference in pay, and SFA insists that it offered Dr. Wilder a terminal contract due to numerous complaints lodged against her.

There are genuine disputes of material fact about whether SFA discriminated against Dr. Wilder on the basis of her sex, and whether SFA's nondiscriminatory justifications are valid. Accordingly, the motions for summary judgment are denied with respect to all but one of Dr. Wilder's claims. SFA is only entitled to summary judgment on Dr. Wilder's disparate treatment claims that are not based on the decision to issue her a terminal contract. Dr. Wilder's claims for wage discrimination, unlawful termination, and retaliation survive. Lastly, SFA's motion to exclude evidence of certain damages is granted, with the caveat that SFA's request to strike an expert's opinion is denied.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

SFA's School of Social Work ("SSW") is housed within the College of Liberal and Applied Arts. The SSW is home to approximately fifteen full-time faculty members. At SFA, full-time professors are either tenured or probationary. Probationary faculty members receive annual contracts for each academic year, but SFA can decide not to renew a faculty member's contract "for any lawful reason or no reason."

In September of 2014, Dr. Wilder began working in the SSW as an Assistant Professor. That was a full-time, tenure-track (probationary) position. When she was hired, Dr. Wilder did not yet have her doctoral degree; she received her Ph.D. in Sociology in the Spring of 2016. At all relevant times, her direct supervisor was Dr. Emmerentie Oliphant (female). Dr. Freddie Avant (male) served as the Director of the SSW, and Dr. Brian Murphy (male) served as the Dean of the College of Liberal and Applied Arts.

Over the next several years, Dr. Wilder received a number of complaints from students and faculty. In November of 2017, six students filed a harassment complaint against Dr. Wilder, prompting SFA to investigate. Dean Murphy investigated the complaint and concluded that Dr. Wilder's behavior inside and outside the classroom was unprofessional and hostile. Dean Murphy recommended to the Provost, Dr. Steven Bullard (male), that SFA dismiss Dr. Wilder. Dr. Wilder appealed that decision to the Discrimination Review Board. While her appeal was pending, she was temporarily suspended from teaching, and her office was moved to the library. The Discrimination Review Board ultimately reversed, finding that her behavior did "not rise to the level of harassment" as defined by SFA. The Board, however, recommended that the SSW handle the matter internally as Dr. Wilder may have behaved inappropriately for a faculty member.

Prior to the start of the 2016-2017 academic year, SFA hired Jose Carbajal, Ph.D. (male) as a tenure-track Assistant Professor in the SSW. When SFA was hiring Dr. Carbajal, Dr. Avant noticed that four Assistant Professors were making less than the $55,000-$65,000 available for Dr. Carbajal's position. Those professors were Dr. Wilder (female)—$53,425; Dr. Kara Lopez (female)—$53,525; Kristin Bailey-Wallace (female)—$51,500; and Dr. James Morris (male)— $53,435. Dr. Avant sent an email to administrators regarding this potential pay disparity. Dr. Avant asked if it would be possible to pay Dr. Carbajal approximately $56,000 and use the remaining funds in the budget to pay the rest of the Assistant Professors that same salary. That request was denied. Dr. Carbajal was hired at a salary of $58,000. The following table reflects the salaries of Dr. Carbajal and Dr. Wilder while at SFA.

Academic Year Dr. Wilder's Salary Dr. Carbajal's Salary
2014-2015 $52,000 N/A
2015-2016 $53,425 N/A
2016-2017 $54,425 $58,000
2017-2018 $54,425 $58,000
2018-2019 $55,695 (rejected) $58,000
2019-2020 N/A $62,103

Dr. Wilder claims that she raised the issue of unequal pay to her supervisor, Dr. Oliphant, in March of 2018. On June 19, 2018, Dr. Wilder filed a complaint with SFA's human resources department ("HR"). HR notified Dr. Bullard just a few days later. Dr. Bullard assigned an independent investigator—Dr. Timothy O. Bisping, Dean of the Business College—to look into Dr. Wilder's complaint. Dr. Bisping investigated her claim, and he prepared a report that attempted to explain the difference in pay. First, he stated that more funds were available in the budget when Dr. Carbajal was hired because Dr. Carbajal replaced a tenured professor, whereas Dr. Wilder replaced a probationary professor. Second, Dr. Carbajal already had his Ph.D. when he was hired, had prior teaching experience at SFA, and held a certification which Dr. Wilder lacked.1 Third, Dr. Bisping noted that both Dr. Wilder (female) and Dr. Morris (male) were hired at the same time, at the same starting salary. Accordingly, Dr. Bisping recommended dismissing Dr. Wilder's complaint about unequal pay.

Dr. Bullard accepted that recommendation, and on July 24, 2018, Dr. Bullard signed a terminal contract for Dr. Wilder. That meant Dr. Wilder was offered a final contract to teach during the 2018-2019 academic year, but her contract would not be renewed after that school year. On August 8, 2018, Dean Murphy notified Dr. Wilder that she would be receiving a terminal contract. Dr. Wilder refused to accept the terminal contract and resigned from SFA. She accepted a contract to work as an Assistant Professor at Carlow University for the 2018-2019 academic year. Her salary there was approximately $58,088. She went on to work for the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center at an hourly rate which approximates to $63,420 annually.

While Dr. Wilder contends that SFA issued her the terminal contract in retaliation for reporting the pay disparity between herself and Dr. Carbajal, SFA claims she was effectively let go due to the numerous complaints about her behavior.

II. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On April 22, 2021, Dr. Wilder filed a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment with respect to her unequal pay claims under the Equal Pay Act. Doc. No. 47. SFA filed a response (Doc. No. 57), and Dr. Wilder replied (Doc. No. 59). On April 30, 2021, SFA filed a Motion to Exclude Evidence of Damages. Doc. No. 53. Dr. Wilder responded (Doc. No. 56), and SFA replied (Doc. No. 61). On April 30, 2021, SFA also filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. Doc. No. 54. Dr. Wilder filed a response (Doc. No. 58), SFA filed a reply (Doc. No. 62), and Dr. Wilder filed a sur-reply (Doc. No. 63).

III. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

Summary judgment is proper 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). A genuine dispute about a material fact exists if the evidence is sufficient for a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). A fact is material when it is relevant or necessary to the outcome of the case. Id. The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating that there are no genuine disputes of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986) ; Harvill v. Westward Commc'ns, LLC , 433 F.3d 428, 433 (5th Cir. 2005). The movant must support its assertion by "citing to particular parts of materials in the record ... or showing that the materials cited do not establish the ... presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c)(1)(A)-(B).

"If the moving party fails to meet this initial burden, the motion must be denied, regardless of the nonmovant's response." Little v. Liquid Air Corp. , 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994). "If the movant does, however, meet this burden, the nonmovant must go beyond the pleadings and designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Id. at 1075. The nonmovant cannot satisfy its burden with conclusory allegations, unsubstantiated assertions, or only a scintilla of evidence. Id. 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, 106 S.Ct. 2548.

The court resolves any doubts and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp. , 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986) ; United States ex rel. Longhi v. United States , 575 F.3d 458, 465 (5th Cir. 2009). But the court "may not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence." Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods. , 530 U.S. 133, 150, 120 S.Ct. 2097, ...

To continue reading

Request your trial
4 cases
  • Muslow v. Bd. of Supervisors of La. State Univ. & Agric. & Mech. Coll.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of Louisiana
    • May 24, 2022
    ...reason for the adverse action was merely a pretext for the real, discriminatory purpose.'” Wilder v. Stephen F. Austin State Univ., 552 F.Supp.3d 639, 661 (E.D. Tex. 2021) (quoting Gee, 289 F.3d at 345). For the reasons stated in Section III(C), Plaintiffs have not established pretext. On m......
  • Tex. Southmost Coll. v. Hernandez
    • United States
    • Texas Court of Appeals
    • January 26, 2023
    ...in front of a customer, and the other employee was terminated for sexual harassment); cf. Wilder v. Stephen F. Austin State Univ., 552 F.Supp.3d 639, 658-59 (E.D. Tex. 2021) (finding professors were similarly situated where students filed similar complaints against each, but one received an......
  • Fed. Trade Comm'n v. Neora LLC
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Texas
    • August 2, 2021
    ... ... Johnson, III, Foley & Lardner LLP, Austin, TX, Jay Varon, Pro Hac Vice, Foley & Lardner LLP, ... Nor did Shire state that allegations of past conduct can never be considered ... ...
  • Allen v. Miss. Dep't of Pub. Safety
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Mississippi
    • September 26, 2022
    ...to the plaintiff to establish that the employer's stated reason is pretextual.” Id. at 467; Wilder v. Stephen F. Austin State Univ., 552 F.Supp.3d 639, 654 (E.D. Tex. 2021) (“Essentially, the court will always consider pretext if the analysis gets that far, but the burden never shifts back ......
1 firm's commentaries

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT