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Diane M. Phillips v. Argosy University

February 13, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer


Plaintiff Diane M. Phillips (hereinafter "Plaintiff" or "Phillips") brought this pro se employment discrimination case against Defendant Argosy University (hereinafter "Defendant" or "Argosy"), where Plaintiff has been a student and a job candidate. Without enumerating her claims in separate counts, Plaintiff alleges in her Second Amended Complaint that Defendant has discriminated against her on the bases of sex, race, religion, national origin, and disability by refusing to hire her. She invokes a host of relevant statutes, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C. § 2000e); 42 U.S.C. § 1981; the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (42 U.S.C. § 12112); and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (29 U.S.C. § 623). Defendant now moves for summary judgment, arguing that the undisputed facts show that Phillips is unable to prove any of her claims. For the reasons explained here, the motion is granted.


Local Rule 56.1 Statements

This court requires a party seeking summary judgment to submit a statement of the undisputed material facts that support judgment in favor of the moving party as a matter of law.

L.R. 56.1(a). The party opposing the motion must then submit a concise response, addressing "each numbered paragraph in the moving party's statement, including, in the case of any disagreement, specific references to the affidavits, parts of the record, and other supporting materials relied upon[.]"L.R. 56.1(b)(3). In the case of a denial, the nonmoving party must cite "specific evidentiary materials justifying the denial." Malec v. Sanford, 191 F.R.D. 581, 584 (N.D. Ill. 2000). The parties themselves must identify the record evidence; district courts are not required "to scour the record looking for factual disputes." Waldridge v. Am. Hoechst Corp., 24 F.3d 918, 921-22 (7th Cir. 1994). District courts have broad discretion in enforcing Local Rule 56.1, Judson Atkinson Candies, Inc. v. Latini-Hohberger Dhimantec, 529 F.3d 371, 382 n.2 (7th Cir. 2008), and are entitled to expect strict compliance with the rule. Ammons v. Aramark Uniform Servs. Inc., 368 F.3d 809, 817 (7th Cir. 2004) (collecting cases). This is true even in the case of pro se litigants. Tressel v. Combined Ins. Co. of Am., No. 01 C 6231, 2003 WL 1626528, at *4 (N.D. Ill., Mar. 27, 2003) (citing McNeil v. United States, 508 U.S. 106, 113 (1993)).

Despite being warned about the requirements of the Local Rule (Def.'s Notice to Pro Se Litigant Opposing Mot. for Summ. J. [69]), Phillips's response to the Defendant's 56.1 statement is insufficient, both procedurally and substantively. Plaintiff has filed a single document in response to the motion, incorporating her legal arguments and her factual responses, often without citations to record evidence.*fn1 A district court may limit its analysis of the undisputed facts on summary judgment "to evidence that is properly identified and supported in the parties' statements." Bordelon v. Chicago Sch. Reform Bd. of Trs., 233 F.3d 524, 529 (7th Cir. 2000). In light of Plaintiff's unrepresented status, the court has construed her submission generously, but where Defendant's proposed facts are adequately supported by the record and not effectively challenged, they are presumed true.


Plaintiff Diane M. Phillips is an "American born Black woman" who was 57 years old at the time of the allegations in her complaint. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 4-5.) She is also a Christian and a breast-cancer survivor. (Id. ¶ 4.) Phillips was admitted to the Doctor of Business Administration ("D.B.A.") program at Argosy University's Chicago Campus in January of 2009, but did not begin attending classes until March of that year. (Id ¶¶ 6, 23.) Argosy is a for-profit university with nineteen locations in thirteen states, including Chicago and Schaumburg, Illinois, and conducts on-line operations as well. (Id.¶ 3.) Argosy employs or has employed professors who are African-American, female, over age forty, Christian, American, and disabled. (Id. ¶¶ 32-37).

In November 2008, Phillips met with Dr. Mary Callahan, the dean of the Graduate School of Business at the Argosy campus in Chicago, to discuss employment opportunities within Argosy. (Id. ¶ 7.) Dr. Callahan did not mention any specific job openings, but Phillips recalls that Dr. Callahan said that she "might" have a position available the next spring or summer, and that she "would see" if there were any job openings at the "beginning of the semester." (Phillips Dep., Ex. 1 to Def.'s 56.1, at 100:18-19.) At the time of this meeting, Dr. Callahan had no hiring authority in any department outside of the Graduate School of Business at Argosy's Chicago campus. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 13.) Dr. Callahan did instruct Plaintiff to send her resume materials to Argosy's online program for possible employment in that program, and in December 2008, Phillips did so. (Id. ¶ 14.) There was no response to Ms. Phillips's submission for almost two years. Then on July 11, 2010, Ms. Phillips received an automated mass e-mail solicitation from Dr. William Nowlin, the Assistant Dean for Business at Argosy, inviting all persons who had submitted resumes to complete a questionnaire presenting their credentials and interests. (Id. ¶¶ 15-16.)*fn2 Dr. Nowlin had no hiring authority for the Argosy online program. (Id. ¶ 17.)*fn3

To obtain a position as an adjunct professor in the D.B.A. program at Argosy's Chicago campus, an applicant must either hold a D.B.A. degree, have completed "substantial coursework toward [a] D.B.A. degree," have significant employment experience in the field in which the applicant seeks to teach, or have documented recognition of excellence in that field. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 8.) The hiring process requires that, for a position as an adjunct professor in any program at Argosy University, the applicant must first interview with the program chair for the relevant department. (Id. ¶ 18.) In the next step of the process, the department chair would direct human resources staff to contact the candidate regarding administrative matters such as pre-employment screening and salary discussions. (Id. ¶ 18.) At the time of her meeting with Dr. Callahan in November of 2008, Phillips did not hold a D.B.A. degree from any university (Id. ¶¶ 9-10), and considered herself a beginner in business and finance at the time she started the D.B.A. program at Argosy. (Phillips Dep. 89:22-90:3; 176:1-6.)

Phillips also applied for a position as Associate Director of Training/Assistant Professor at the Argosy Schaumburg campus at some point during 2008-09. (Id.¶ 20.) To qualify for this position, an applicant needed a doctoral degree in clinical psychology, which Plaintiff did not possess. (Id. ¶¶ 9, 22.) Dr. Joel Carazzo, Director of Clinical Training in that program, explained that by the time Ms. Phillips submitted her application, the position had already been filled.

(Carazzo Dec. ¶ 5, Ex. 7 to Def.'s 56.1.)

While Phillips was a student in the D.B.A. program in the spring of 2009, Argosy administrators received word that she had "verbally accost[ed]" a campus security guard on two occasions. (Id. ¶ 25.) Argosy deemed this behavior a violation the University's Ethical Code of Conduct, rendering Plaintiff subject to sanctions, including expulsion from Argosy. (Id. ¶ 26.) After a hearing and appeal process, Campus President Dr. C. Ronald Kimberling approved and notified Phillips of the decision to dismiss her from Argosy in August of 2009. (Id. ¶ 28.) Phillips disagrees that she was guilty of the conduct charged or that it was ...

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