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Hatcher v. Board of Trustees of Southern Illinois University.

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

February 18, 2015

LAURA J. HATCHER, Plaintiff,
v.
BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF SOUTHERN ILLINOIS UNIVERSITY, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

NANCY J. ROSENSTENGEL, District Judge.

Pending before the Court is a motion for summary judgment filed by Defendant Board of Trustees of Southern Illinois University ("the Board") on September 9, 2014 (Doc. 81). The Board contends that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on Plaintiff Laura Hatcher's claim of gender discrimination, which is the only claim remaining in this case. Dr. Hatcher filed a brief in opposition to the motion for summary judgment (Doc. 86), and the Board filed a reply brief (Doc. 89). After the motion was fully briefed by the parties, the Court heard oral arguments at a hearing on January 20, 2014, and the motion was taken under advisement. For the reasons set forth below and those stated on the record, the motion for summary judgment is granted.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Southern Illinois University at Carbondale ("the University") hired Laura Hatcher in July 2006 as a non-tenured Assistant Professor in the Political Science Department in the College of Liberal Arts (the "COLA"). In the fall of 2011, Dr. Hatcher was considered for promotion to Associate Professor with tenure. If she was denied tenure, her employment with the University would end.

The tenure review process at the University is a multi-level, sequential process. The tenure candidate is first evaluated by the tenured faculty and the chairperson of the respective department, followed by the COLA Promotion and Tenure Committee ("the COLA Committee"), the Dean of the COLA, and the Provost and Vice Chancellor of the University. At each level, the previous recommendations are reviewed and an independent evaluation is conducted. Candidates are evaluated in three categories: scholarship, teaching, and service. Only the scholarship category is at issue here. In this category, the quantity and quality of the candidate's publications, professional activities, and funded research activities are assessed (Doc. 82-4, p. 3).

The tenured faculty in the Political Science Department voted 4-2 in favor of tenure and promotion for Dr. Hatcher. Her department chair, Roger Clinton, strongly recommended tenure and promotion. He submitted a written summary of the Department's vote and his recommendation to the COLA Committee. Neither party submitted this report to the Court as evidence.

The COLA Committee's vote on Dr. Hatcher was split: 5-4 in favor of tenure and 4-5 against promotion. Darren Sherkat, the Chair of the COLA Committee, submitted a written summary of the Committee's recommendation to Dean Kimberly Kempf-Leonard (Doc. 82-11). He indicated that the Committee had concluded that Dr. Hatcher had demonstrated excellence in teaching and service, but not in research (Doc. 82-11). In particular, she lacked publications in high-profile venues and mainstream political science venues ( Id. ).

Dean Kempf-Leonard then recommended denying both tenure and promotion to Dr. Hatcher (Doc. 86-1). She agreed with the COLA Committee that Dr. Hatcher had demonstrated excellence in teaching and service, but not in research ( Id. ). She explained that Dr. Hatcher "has produced high quality, important work, but of insufficient volume and in venues that are unlikely to bring her work much visibility beyond a small group of professionals who work in her same narrow area. I believe she spent too much time presenting her work, and too little time seeing it to successful publication in peer-reviewed outlets." ( Id. ).

Provost and Vice Chancellor John Nicklow then denied tenure and promotion for Dr. Hatcher in a letter dated March 1, 2012 (Doc. 82-13). Provost Nicklow explained that although Dr. Hatcher had "established a satisfactory record of performance with respect to teaching and service, [she had] not demonstrated the same level of performance with respect to research and creative activity in [her] field." ( Id. ). He further explained that "the lack of peer-reviewed publications is troublesome and is not consistent with the level of work expected for promotion and tenure" and that the "mixed reviews" from external reviewers "confirm my assessment that your limited scholarly activity and circumscribed impact are below that expected at this stage in your probationary period." ( Id. ).

While Dr. Hatcher was denied tenure and promotion, two of her male colleagues from the Department of Political Science were promoted to Associate Professor with tenure: Roudy Hildredth and Stephen Bloom (Doc. 82-14). Both Hildredth and Bloom received positive recommendations at each level of the tenure review process ( see Docs. 82-14 through 82-18).

After Dr. Hatcher received the letter from the Provost denying her tenure and promotion, she filed a grievance with the University's Judicial Review Board ("the JRB"). On October 18, 2012, the JRB issued its Recommendation, sustaining in part and rejecting in part, Dr. Hatcher's grievance (Doc. 82-19). The JRB sided with Dr. Hatcher and concluded that Provost Nicklow violated the procedures outlined in the operating papers of the Political Science Department and the COLA as well as the University's policies and procedures (Doc. 82-19). In particular, Provost Nicklow did not explain in detail how he reached his decision and why he reversed the Political Science Department's recommendation on Dr. Hatcher (Doc. 82-19). The JRB found "serious procedural errors" and recommended overturning the negative decision of Provost Nicklow and promoting Dr. Hatcher to Associate Professor with tenure (Doc. 82-19).

Chancellor Rita Cheng then reviewed the JRB's recommendation, which she accepted in part and rejected in part ( see Doc. 82-21). She agreed that Provost Nicklow's letter denying Dr. Hatcher tenure did not contain adequate detail, however, she found that there was no evidence that the lack of detail changed the outcome of Dr. Hatcher's promotion and tenure decision ( Id. ). As such, Chancellor Cheng concluded that the remedy of granting tenure was too drastic for a procedural violation, and instead, she directed the Provost to rewrite his letter to Dr. Hatcher and provide a detailed analysis regarding his decision to deny her tenure and promotion ( Id. ). Provost Nicklow issued a revised letter on December 12, 2012 (Doc. 82-22). Dr. Hatcher's employment with the University ended on May 15, 2013 (Doc. 82-23).

Dr. Hatcher filed a discrimination charge with the EEOC on October 3, 2012, and she received her right-to-sue letter on March 12, 2013 (Doc. 1-1). She ...


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