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Abuelyaman v. Illinois State University

June 9, 2010


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


Now before the Court is Defendant Illinois State University's Second Motion in Limine. For the reasons set forth below, the motion [#73] is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.


Abuelyaman was employed by Defendant Illinois State University's ("ISU") School of Information Technology 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. The IT School's Faculty Status Committee ("SFSC") annually evaluates probationary, tenure-track faculty members, and makes recommendations on reappointment, tenure and promotion, and pay raises. Student evaluations are considered by the SFSC when it does its own evaluation of faculty members. The 2006 SFSC members made the decision not to reappoint Abuelyaman, and he was told in a letter dated March 16, 2006, that he would not be reappointed past May 15, 2007.

Abuelyaman brought suit against ISU claiming retaliation and discrimination on the basis of his race, national origin, and religion. ISU's motion for summary judgment was granted on Abuelyaman's discrimination claim. The parties now proceed to trial on Abuelyaman's retaliation claim. In its second motion in limine, ISU seeks to bar from use at trial performance evaluations and performance rankings for various professors, exhibits regarding the termination of some professors, and documents pertaining to the search for a Telecommunications Management Professor in 2005.


ISU initially states that it is willing to concede that every performance evaluation or performance ranking for the years 2004, 2005 and/or 2006 was dated January 31st. ISU otherwise takes issue with Abuelyaman's attempt to add 70 plus exhibits regarding faculty members who are not similarly situated to him for time periods during which Abuelyaman was never evaluated. ISU goes on to argue the timing of such decisions regarding tenure, promotion, and decisions not to reappoint faculty members in their first few years at ISU are not relevant to any inquiry before the Court. ISU's Faculty Appointment, Salary, Promotion, and Tenure Policies (hereinafter "Policy Handbook"), Appendix 1, sets forth schedules for various actions to be taken by the University. See Dft's Second Motion in Limine, Exh. 1.

The Calendar for Reappointment provides that probationary faculty non-reappointment notification must be made not later than March 1st for professors in their first academic year of service, not later than December 15th of the second year of academic service, or at least 12 months before termination of appointment after two or more years of service. Dft's Exh. 1, p. 53. The Calendar for Performance Evaluation Review provides that SFSC recommendations for performance evaluation must be reported to the candidate by February 1st in each year that the faculty member is performance-evaluation eligible. Id. at 55. A faculty member must be informed of his or her cumulative post-tenure review evaluation by February 15th. Id. at 55-56.

I. Plaintiff's Exhibits 35 and 36*fn1

ISU argues that Abuelyaman's exhibits 35 and 36, Dr. Zeta's 2004 Performance Evaluation and termination letters, are not relevant to the limited question of when notification of non-reappointment decisions were given to probationary faculty members because the University was required to provide Dr. Zeta with less notice than it must provide Abuelyaman. ISU further argues that the use of exhibit 36 would lead to a mini-trial on whether it was appropriate to terminate Dr. Zeta, and the exhibit is not otherwise relevant.

Abuelyaman argues that he seeks to introduce exhibit 35 to show that ISU had a normal practice to warn and counsel professors prior to deciding to terminate them. The use of different wording in Dr. Zeta's 2004 Performance Evaluation as compared to Abuelyaman's performance evaluations does not make it relevant and admissible for the purpose of arguing to the jury that the 2006 SFSC had no plans to terminate Abuelyaman until his complaints about discrimination escalated. He highlights a portion of Dr. Zeta's 2004 performance evaluation where the SFSC wrote that his insufficient teaching performance "could lead to [his] termination as a faculty member" and where the SFSC suggested he contact the Center for Advancement of Teaching in order to improve. Plf's Exh. B, p. 1. Abuelyaman received an annual Performance Evaluation each year he was employed by ISU, and in those evaluations he was encouraged to improve, and was given suggestions at to how to do so. Ultimately, as ISU contends, to allow the jury to consider Dr. Zeta's 2004 Performance Evaluation and termination letters poses a substantial risk that the jury will focus on the collateral, irrelevant issue of whether Dr. Zeta was improperly terminated. Abuelyaman's Exhibits 35 and 36 are therefore barred from use at trial.

II. Exhibits Involving Different SFSC Members

Defendant argues that evidence of various professors' annual performance evaluations and performance rankings should be barred because they were not similarly situated to Abuelyaman and many of the evaluations were conducted by a different SFSC than the one which voted to not reappoint Abuelyaman in 2006. Abuelyaman argues that these exhibits are relevant because they give insight into what the IT School values when rating professors, and gives insight into the language the evaluations use. He further explains that the evaluations give insight into the extent to which tenured, non-tenured, Assistant, Associate, and full Professors are evaluated similarly and differently. Abuelyaman's attempt to introduce the evaluations and rankings for the latter purpose is likely to mislead the jury and confuse them as to what the relevant issues are in this case.

The "value system" of the IT School Abuelyaman discusses, however, is somewhat relevant to one of the remaining issues of whether Abuelyaman was terminated by the 2006 SFSC as a result of engaging in protected activity. At a minimum, to be relevant to the remaining issues in this case, the performance evaluations, rankings, and other decisions discussed in the various exhibits must have been conducted by the same SFSC that decided to terminate Abuelyaman in 2006. Therefore, Exhibits 17, 32, 37-40, 47-50, 53-56, 59-62, 65-68, 70-73, 76-77, 79-80, 82-85, 88-89, 92-95, 98-101, 104-107, and 111-113 ...

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