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Bryson v. Chicago State University

September 19, 1996




Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 93 C 7040 James B. Zagel, Judge.

Before COFFEY, RIPPLE, and DIANE P. WOOD, Circuit Judges.

DIANE P. WOOD, Circuit Judge.



Emily Bryson is a tenured full professor at Chicago State University. She claimed, in a lawsuit brought under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. secs. 2000e-2(a), et seq., that she had been the victim of quid pro quo sexual harassment inflicted by then-Provost Chernoh Sesay. She also raised claims of hostile environment sexual harassment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and sexual assault and battery, but she does not pursue them on appeal. The district court granted summary judgment to Chicago State University, Sesay, and the other defendants named in the suit, on the ground that Bryson failed adequately to demonstrate that she had lost any tangible employment benefit as a result of her rejections of Sesay. Because we conclude that the record reveals genuine issues of fact on this point, we reverse and remand for further proceedings.


In an appeal from the denial of summary judgment, our review is de novo, and we take the facts in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. See, e.g., Vitug v. Multistate Tax Comm'n, 88 F.3d 506, 511 (7th Cir. 1996); Fuka v. Thomson Consumer Electronics, 82 F.3d 1397, 1402 (7th Cir. 1996); Mlsna v. Unitel Communications, Inc., 41 F.3d 1124, 1127 (7th Cir. 1994). Our recital of the background proceeds from that perspective.

Bryson joined the Chicago State faculty in January 1980, to work as a Bibliographic Instruction Librarian in the Library and Learning Resources Center. She was awarded tenure in 1983, and she attained full professor rank in 1990. From November 1989 to June 1990, Bryson was assigned the "in-house title" of "Special Assistant to the Dean" of Library and Learning Resources (LLR). In that capacity, she performed various administrative duties for the Acting Dean of LLR, Joshu Patel. In-house titles are used by Chicago State to designate additional responsibilities that faculty members undertake. They are not administrative titles, in the sense that the titles "assistant professor," "dean," or "provost" are, but they are important nonetheless. Faculty members enjoying an inhouse title have that title reflected in the University Directory, and it is commonly used in addressing the individual in written correspondence. Furthermore, in-house titles are important for professional advancement, according to the testimony of several witnesses for Bryson, including Dr. Sherri Coe-Perkins, Dr. Patricia Atherton, and Thomas Vaughn.

Bryson continued to hold her title as Special Assistant to the Dean during the academic year 1990-91, when she performed those tasks for Acting Dean Annie Moore. At that time, she had significant administrative responsibilities, including managing and evaluating 65 student workers, responsibility for two library budgets, and generating and coordinating statistical information. In addition, Bryson served on both ad hoc and standing committees at the University. She was a member of the prestigious Budget Committee, which is an advisory committee that reviews the budget and makes recommendations for the entire university. She was also on the Assessment Committee and the Retention Committee, two assignments made by appointment by the President or the Provost. In addition, she was on the Strategic Planning Committee, the Council of Faculties, the Executive Advisory Council to the Dean of the Library, and the Library Faculty Personnel Committee. Thomas Vaughn and CoePerkins both testified in depositions that service on committees allows a faculty member to gain credentials and qualifications and directly affects career advancement. Bryson herself also testified that even after a faculty member earns full tenure and promotion, a professor is still evaluated in the areas of research, creativity, and service; committee assignments form a critical part of the latter consideration.

The Board of Governors of State Colleges and Universities has an Administrative Fellowship Program, which is designed for faculty members who have the potential for leadership in administration. Participants are selected carefully from among those who have demonstrated significant administrative skills, and only one person per year from each constituent institution in the system is chosen as a Fellow. Bryson was the lucky person from Chicago State for the academic year 1991-92. She spent her fellowship at Eastern Illinois University, under the mentorship of the President of that university, Dr. Stanley Rives. At the end of that year, she returned to Chicago State. It was upon her return that her problems with Dr. Sesay, the Provost, reached the point of tangible changes in her employment position. This happened, she alleged, because she refused his repeated sexual overtures to her, which we now recount.

Chernoh Sesay was appointed Provost and Vice-President of Academic Affairs at Chicago State in July 1990. The Provost has full control and responsibility over faculty affairs at the university; he reports directly to the President. Sesay knew Bryson and supported her in her successful bid for an Administrative Fellowship. In January 1991 (after her selection but before she began her Fellowship), he began to make sexually suggestive and derogatory comments to her and to attempt to engage in improper physical contact with her. For example, in December 1990 at the President's Christmas party, Sesay approached Bryson, caressed her shoulders, pushed his body against hers, and whispered "when are you going to come over and start cooking for me?" Bryson jerked away and retorted, "I don't cook for anybody." In February 1991, while both Sesay and Bryson were visiting Governor's State (another campus in the system), Sesay asked Bryson to get into his car and go back to his hotel with him, so that they could "relax." Bryson refused. On numerous other occasions, he also suggested that they "relax" together, but she consistently rejected him. Several times in his office, he tried to kiss her. Once, in May 1991, he asked her into his office to discuss a library-related matter, but when she stood up to leave, he ran his hand up her dress and fondled her behind.

Sesay's inappropriate behavior continued during Bryson's fellowship at Eastern Illinois University. At a President's function in October 1991, he approached Bryson and asked, "Why aren't you going to let me up into your room? Let's go relax. I have something big to show you." Her rejections continued, however, and when in May 1992 he again asked her to come to his room to "relax" and she again refused, he warned her, "You had better do what I say or you're going to be sorry."

In June 1992, Bryson met with Chicago State President Dolores E. Cross to discuss her return. She said that she intended to return to her old position of Special Assistant to the Dean. Cross then called Sesay into the meeting. Sesay told her that the administrative title of "Special Assistant to the Dean" had never existed and that she had never performed those duties. Bryson interpreted this to mean that if she did not give in to his advances, she would have to work her way back up again. Sesay also told Bryson that all her tasks of special assistance to the dean had been reassigned to other people, and that she would be returned to bibliographic instruction work, her entry level position in 1980. Guy Craft, the Dean of LLR, told Bryson the next day that he had been instructed by his supervisors to "put [her] back as bibliographic instruction librarian."

Upon her return to Chicago State, although her work assignment "units" reflected the same number devoted to special assistance tasks as before, both her job description and her actual duties were diminished. By January 1993, all her special assistance responsibilities were deleted from her assignment. She filed a grievance with her union, which had the effect of permitting her to continue performing the disputed administrative tasks pending the outcome of the proceeding. In the end, she retained her duties as Special Assistant to the Dean, but she lost her in-house title. She also found herself frozen out of the university's administrative committees, even though appointments were made on an annual basis to most of them. She was denied reappointment to the Budget ...

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