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Lohrasbi v. Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Springfield Division

November 29, 2015

ARDESHIR LOHRASBI, Plaintiff
v.
BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS, Defendant

         Decided: November 28, 2015.

          For Ardeshir Lohrasbi, Plaintiff: Jonathan T Nessler, LEAD ATTORNEY, LAW OFFICES OF FREDERIC W NESSLER & ASSOC, Springfield, IL.

         For University of Illinois, sued as Board of Trustees of University of Illinois, University of Illinois, University of Illinois, Springfield, University of Illinois, sued as Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois at Springfield, Defendants: Charles R Schmadeke, J William Roberts, HINSHAW & CULBERTSON, Springfield, IL; Geri Lynn Arrindell, SANDBERG PHOENIX & VON GONTARD PC, St Louis, MO.

          OPINION

         SUE E. MYERSCOUGH, J.

         Before the Court is Defendant Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois's Renewed and Revised Motion for Summary Judgment (d/e 37), pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 56. The MOTION is GRANTED because Plaintiff Ardeshir Lohrasbi's claim is time-barred and the doctrine of equitable tolling does not apply.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On June 24, 2013, Plaintiff filed a Complaint in this Court against the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois (" Defendant" ). Plaintiff claims he suffered adverse employment actions based on Defendant's decisions to serve him with a notice of trespass, to place him on administrative leave pending an evaluation of his fitness to work, and to deny him the status and benefits of Professor Emiritus. These decisions, Plaintiff alleges, were discriminatory actions motivated by Plaintiff's race and national origin.

         Plaintiff is a citizen of the United States who was born in Iran. Plaintiff suffers from essential tremors, a medical condition causing him to shake. In 1980, he began working at the University of Illinois at Springfield and, in 1986, he was made a tenured professor. Plaintiff's last position at the University of Illinois at Springfield was Associate Professor of Business Administration in the College of Business. The Springfield campus is part of the University of Illinois system, 110 ILCS 327/40-5, which is governed by Defendant, the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois, 110 ILCS 327/40-5.

         In June of 2011, Plaintiff decided to retire and entered into a Resignation Agreement with Defendant, to be effective December 30, 2011. Plaintiff voluntarily signed the agreement on June 16, 2011. Defendant, through the Dean of the College of Business and Management, Ron McNeil, signed the agreement on June 17, 2011. In consideration of Plaintiff's retirement, Defendant agreed to pay Plaintiff a one-time payment of $21,345, as well as compensation for other research and teaching commitments previously made by Plaintiff. The Resignation Agreement contained an integration clause stating that " No amendment, modification or alteration of this Agreement shall be binding unless in writing, dated subsequent to the date hereof, and duly executed by both parties hereto." Def. Renewed and Revised Mot. Summ. J. (d/e 37-23) at 11-12.

         On June 27, 2011, Dean McNeil wrote a letter to Plaintiff advising him that McNeil would inform the Chair of the Department of Business Administration that McNeil was recommending Plaintiff for emeritus status and that McNeil would endorse a recommendation from the Department for such status. Def. Renewed and Revised Mot. Summ. J. Exh. (d/e 37-23) at 16. Additionally, the letter advised Plaintiff that " [i]t is the College's plan and commitment" for Plaintiff to continue to teach three sections per year, an option for Professors Emeriti. Id. The letter was signed by both Dean McNeil and Plaintiff.

         In August of 2011, Plaintiff communicated to Dean McNeil on at least two occasions that Plaintiff would like to delay his retirement or otherwise continue to teach in the spring because of impending financial issues concerning a potential recurrence of his wife's cancer. Dean McNeil notified Interim Provost Lynn Pardie of Plaintiff's wishes to delay retirement via memorandum on two occasions. Provost Pardie later informed Dean McNeil that the University could not grant Plaintiff's request because the University would not alter the resignation agreement and faculty members cannot be rehired within 60 days of retirement. It is unclear when Plaintiff was notified of the University's decision.

         On November 14, 2011, Plaintiff was discussing the pending decision regarding his retirement with Dean McNeil's assistant, Patty Sanchez. At one point during the conversation, Ms. Sanchez heard Plaintiff use the phrase " maybe a machine gun," though she was unaware of the context of the comment. Plaintiff maintains he was referring to people using guns to commit suicide, as, earlier that day, he had attended a celebration of life for his friend and mentor Dennis Camp who had shot himself. Ms. Sanchez did not feel threatened or concerned by the comment or the conversation at the time. Over the following weekend, Ms. Sanchez determined she should report Plaintiff's comments. Ms. Sanchez reported the comment to the University's Attorney Mark Henss.

         As a result of Ms. Sanchez's reporting the comment, Chief of the University Police, Donald Mitchell initiated a report and assigned Officers Jerry Kuchar and Amanda Baughman to follow up. During an interview with Plaintiff regarding the incident, Chief Mitchell asked Plaintiff three questions regarding the " machine gun" statement. Chief Mitchell asked Plaintiff if Plaintiff made the utterance " maybe a machine gun?" and Plaintiff responded that he did not recall or that he did not know what the Chief was talking about. It is not clear whether Chief Mitchell provided any context for the question, such as when or to whom Plaintiff allegedly made the utterance. Chief Mitchell asked Plaintiff if he owned a gun, and Plaintiff responded that he did not and that his culture did not allow for the possession of a gun except in war. Chief Mitchell asked Plaintiff if he felt like he wanted to hurt someone or himself, and Plaintiff responded that he did not and he would not kill himself because his wife had cancer and his family would be left with nothing. According to Chief Mitchell, his officers asked several other questions, and Plaintiff told officers about the situation surrounding his retirement. Def. Renewed and Revised Mot. Summ. J. Exh. (d/e 37-16) at 6-8. Chief Mitchell stated that, during the interview, Plaintiff appeared to be nervous, trembling, and sweaty, that his voice went up and down, and Plaintiff could not stay focused on the conversation. Id. at 5-7.

         Based upon the statement reported by Ms. Sanchez, his interview with Plaintiff, and the recent history of school shootings nationally, Chief Mitchell decided to issue Plaintiff a " Notice of Trespass" because Chief Mitchell believed that Plaintiff was potentially a danger to the University community. On November 28, 2015, after discussing the " machine gun" comment, the University Administration also decided to investigate. Dean McNeil was asked to evaluate Plaintiff's behavior. Dean McNeil ran into Plaintiff in the hallway later that day. The details of the encounter are disputed, but Dean McNeil stated that he found Plaintiff's behavior concerning and reported as much to Provost Pardie. Dean ...


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