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Smiley v. Columbia College Chicago

November 2, 2010

SURIYA H. SMILEY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COLUMBIA COLLEGE CHICAGO, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Samuel Der-yeghiayan, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter is before the court on Defendant Columbia College Chicago's (Columbia) motion for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, we grant the motion for summary judgment.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Suriya H. Smiley (Smiley) alleges that she is of Palestinian national origin and Arab ancestry, who allegedly worked for Columbia as a part-time faculty member in the Radio Department for 14 years. In December 2008, Stephanie Downs (Downs), the Assistant Director of Student Affairs, allegedly notified Smiley that a student (Complaining Student) had made a written complaint about Smiley (Student Complaint). Smiley claims that she met with Downs and that although Downs questioned Smiley about the complaint, Downs refused to provide Smiley with the details of the Student Complaint. Smiley then allegedly received a notification from Department Chair Barbara Calabrese (Calabrese) informing Smiley that she was found in violation of the charges brought against her. On January 16, 2009, Smiley allegedly met with Assistant Provost Louise Love (Love) and Calabrese, and they informed Smiley that she had been accused of making anti-Semitic remarks. Smiley contends that at the meeting, she denied the allegations made against her. At the conclusion of the meeting, Love and Calabrese allegedly indicated that they would conduct an investigation, but on the next day, Love allegedly sent Smiley a letter informing her that her employment was terminated. Smiley contends that she was not properly apprised of Columbia's Anti-Discrimination and Harassment policy that she allegedly violated. Smiley also claims that other students confirmed that Smiley never made the alleged anti-Semitic remarks and that Columbia's reason for her termination was a pretext in order to discriminate against Smiley because of her national origin and race.

Smiley includes in her complaint a claim for national origin discrimination brought pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (Count I), a Title VII race discrimination claim (Count II), and a claim for race discrimination brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (Section 1981) (Count III). Columbia moves for summary judgment on all claims.

LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate when the record, viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, reveals that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Smith v. Hope School, 560 F.3d 694, 699 (7th Cir. 2009). In seeking a grant of summary judgment, the moving party must identify "those portions of 'the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any,' which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)(quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)). This initial burden may be satisfied by presenting specific evidence on a particular issue or by pointing out "an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case." Id. at 325. Once the movant has met this burden, the non-moving party cannot simply rest on the allegations in the pleadings, but, "by affidavits or as otherwise provided for in [Rule 56], must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e). A "genuine issue" in the context of a motion for summary judgment is not simply a "metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). Rather, a genuine issue of material fact exists when "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Insolia v. Philip Morris, Inc., 216 F.3d 596, 599 (7th Cir. 2000). In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court must consider the record as a whole, in a light most favorable to the non-moving party, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255; Bay v. Cassens Transport Co., 212 F.3d 969, 972 (7th Cir. 2000).

DISCUSSION

A plaintiff bringing a Title VII claim can defeat a defendant's motion for summary judgment under the direct method of proof or the indirect method of proof. Darchak v. City of Chicago Bd. of Educ., 580 F.3d 622, 630 (7th Cir. 2009). At the summary judgment stage, courts generally apply the same analysis to Section 1981 claims that is applied to Title VII claims. Humphries v. CBOCS West, Inc., 474 F.3d 387, 403 (7th Cir. 2007)(stating that courts "generally have applied the same prima facie requirements to discrimination claims brought under Title VII and section 1981"); Keri v. Board of Trustees of Purdue University, 458 F.3d 620, 641 n.5 (7th Cir. 2006)(stating that "both Title VII and § 1981 employ the same analysis").

I. Direct Method of Proof

Columbia contends that Smiley cannot defeat the instant motion under the direct method of proof. In order to defeat a defendant's summary judgment motion under the direct method of proof, a plaintiff must show through direct or circumstantial evidence that there are "'triable issues as to whether discrimination motivated the adverse employment action.'" Darchak v. City of Chicago Bd. of Educ., 580 F.3d 622, 631 (7th Cir. 2009)(quoting Nagle v. Vill. of Calumet Park, 554 F.3d 1106, 1114 (7th Cir. 2009)(citation omitted); see also Stephens v. Erickson, 569 F.3d 779, 787 (7th Cir. 2009)(stating that "[a] plaintiff may also prevail 'by constructing a convincing mosaic of circumstantial evidence that allows a jury to infer intentional discrimination by the decisionmaker")(internal quotations omitted).

In the instant action, Columbia has shown that it acted based on the Student Complaint, which charged Smiley with making anti-Semitic remarks, engaging in potentially sexually harassing conduct, and humiliating the Complaining Student. Smiley has not pointed to direct evidence of unlawful discrimination. She has not pointed to sufficient evidence to show that there are triable issues as to whether discrimination motivated the termination of her employment. Smiley has also failed to point to sufficient circumstantial evidence to create a convincing mosaic of evidence that indicates unlawful discrimination. Thus, Smiley cannot proceed under the direct method of proof.

II. Indirect Method of Proof

Columbia also contends that Smiley cannot defeat the instant motion under the indirect method of proof. Under the indirect method of proof, a plaintiff must first make out a prima facie case by establishing that "(1) she is a member of a protected class, (2) she met her employer's legitimate job expectations, (3) she suffered an adverse employment action, and (4) similarly situated employees outside of the protected class received more favorable treatment." Everroad v. Scott Truck Systems, Inc., 604 F.3d 471, 477 (7th Cir. 2010)(citing Lucas v. PyraMax Bank, FSB, 539 F.3d 661, 666 (7th Cir. 2008)). If the plaintiff establishes a prima facie case, the burden shifts to the employer to present a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for the adverse employment action. Id. If the employer offers such an explanation, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to show that the given reason was a pretext for unlawful discrimination. Id.

A. Prima Facie Case

In regard to the prima facie case, it is not disputed that Smiley belongs to a protected class and suffered a material adverse employment action when her employment was terminated. Columbia contends, however, that Smiley was not meeting her employer's legitimate non-discriminatory expectations and that Smiley has not pointed to a ...


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