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Abuelyaman v. Illinois State University

November 13, 2009

ELTAYEB ABUELYAMAN PLAINTIFF,
v.
ILLINOIS STATE UNIVERSITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael M. Mihm United States District Judge

ORDER

Now before the Court is Defendant Illinois State University's ("ISU") Motion for Summary Judgment. For the reasons set forth below, ISU's motion for summary judgment on Plaintiff's discrimination claim is GRANTED and its motion for summary judgment on Plaintiff's retaliation claim is DENIED.

JURISDICTION

The Court has jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1343, as the claims asserted in the Amended Complaint present federal questions under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.

BACKGROUND

Eltayeb Abuelyaman ("Abuelyaman") was employed by Defendant ISU's School of Information Technology ("IT School") from the fall of 2001 until the fall of 2006 as a probationary, tenure-track Associate Professor. He was the only non-tenured Associate Professor in the IT School. He is of Yemeni and Saudi Arabian descent, and is Muslim.

ISU recognizes three ranks of tenured and tenure-track probationary faculty members: Assistant Professor (lowest rank), Associate Professor (intermediate rank), and Full Professor (highest rank). The probationary period for a tenure-track faculty member is six years. Non-tenured faculty members are hired on one year contracts, renewed once members of the IT School's School Faculty Status Committee ("SFSC") vote to reappoint. The SFSC must, specifically, annually evaluate all tenure-track faculty members, make recommendations regarding pay raises, evaluate applications for tenure and promotion, and recommend whether probationary faculty members should be reappointed. The SFSC evaluates all faculty members in three areas: teaching, scholarly and creative productivity, and service. The particular schools of ISU set their own percentages for the three categories; the IT School assigns 50% to teaching, 40% to scholarly productivity, and 10% to service. Additionally, the IT School uses student evaluations as another way to evaluate its faculty members. The SFSC is comprised of at least three faculty members and the Director of the particular school serves as an ex officio voting member and Chairperson of the Committee. The 2005-2006 SFSC members who made the decision not to reappoint Abuelyaman included Dr. Beta, Dr. Alpha, Dr. Gamma, and Dr. Terry Dennis ("2006 SFSC").*fn1

During the five years that Abuelyaman was employed by ISU, his service performance ranked 15th out of 15 in 2001, low for 2002, average for 2003, Level 2 of four levels (4 being highest) for 2004, and second to lowest of five levels for 2005. In Abuelyaman's January 2005 Annual Performance Review, he received a Level 1 in teaching, Level 2 in scholarly productivity, and Level 2 in service. In his last Annual Performance Review in January of 2006, he received a "Meritorious" (five categories used - Acceptable, Effective, Meritorious, Excellent, Outstanding) in teaching, "Meritorious" in scholarly productivity, and "Effective" in service. Abuelyaman was told in a letter dated March 16, 2006, that the 2006 SFSC had voted against his reappointment past May 15, 2007.

Abuelyaman received standard and performance increment raises in the years prior to his non-reappointment. Other IT School faculty members also received pay increases in the years immediately prior to their non-reappointment. In January of 2006, mid-year salary adjustments targeted faculty of outstanding merit whose salaries fell furthest below peer group averages. Funds were distributed following the 2006 SFSC members' input. Each of the faculty members who received the mid-year adjustment were tenured, Full Professors with better performance evaluation histories than Abuelyaman's. The 2006 SFSC also determined pay increases for IT School faculty for the 2006-2007 school year. Abuelyaman received the lowest salary increase for the 2006-2007 school year (the last year he would be employed by ISU).

Though the yearly evaluation letters sent from the SFSC to IT School faculty members served to notify those professors who needed to improve their performance, some faculty were given additional suggestions. Drs. Zeta, Theta, and Eta were told of courses they could take to improve their performance, but Abuelyaman received no such notification. When it came to two other tenure-track probationary faculty members (Caucasians from America), both had completed the six-year probationary period before being terminated. However, Dr. Zeta (Black, foreign-born non-Muslim) was terminated before he completed his probationary period. Similarly, Abuelyaman had not yet completed his probationary period at the time he learned his contract with ISU would not be renewed in his fifth year with Defendant.

In the spring of 2004, Abuelyaman and Drs. Alpha and Beta were members of a search committee in place to hire a new director for the IT School. Dr. Terry Dennis, a Caucasian from America, was hired as Director of the IT School in 2004. Dr. Dennis was actively involved in the SFSC evaluation process from the beginning of his employment as Director of the IT School. On more than one occasion, Abuelyaman complained directly to Dr. Dennis about what he perceived as discrimination by both IT School faculty members and students of ISU against foreign-born faculty of color. Specifically, he believed that the student evaluations were unfairly considered by the SFSC given the perceived student bias. Abuelyaman voiced his concerns about the student evaluations at a general faculty meeting and suggested alternative means of evaluating faculty, such as classroom visits by members of the SFSC. The SFSC discussed alternative methods of evaluation at its January 2006 meeting, but ultimately decided to stay with student evaluations as the primary means of evaluating teaching. At Abuelyaman's request, members of the 2006 SFSC visited his classes to observe him and did not give him any negative feedback.

On October 4, 2007, Abuelyaman filed his Amended Complaint alleging retaliation and discrimination on the basis of his race, national origin, and religion. Defendant ISU has now moved for summary judgment. The matter is fully briefed and this Order follows.

DISCUSSION

Summary judgment should be granted where the "pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). The moving party has the responsibility of informing the Court of portions of the record or affidavits that demonstrate the absence of a triable issue. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The moving party may meet its burden of showing an absence of material facts by demonstrating "that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." Id. at 325. Any doubt as to the existence ...


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