United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
LAURA J. HATCHER, Plaintiff,
BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF SOUTHERN ILLINOIS UNIVERSITY, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
J. ROSENSTENGEL United States District Judge.
Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 132) filed by Defendant
Board of Trustees of Southern Illinois University is pending
before the Court. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion
for Summary Judgment is denied.
and Procedural Background
Laura Hatcher was a non-tenured associate professor in the
political science department at Southern Illinois University
(the University) in 2012, when she was denied tenure and lost
her teaching position. (Doc. 133, pp. 3-8). In the years
leading up to her tenure review (specifically from July 2006
to September 2011), Dr. Hatcher's annual work evaluations
were consistently positive. Hatcher v. Board of Trustees
of Southern Illinois Univ., 829 F.3d 531, 535 (7th Cir.
tenure review process at the University is a multi-level,
sequential process. The tenure candidate is first evaluated
by the tenured faculty and chairperson of the respective
department, followed by the College of Liberal Arts'
Promotion and Tenure Committee, the Dean of the College of
Liberal Arts, and then the Provost and Vice Chancellor of the
University. Id. At each level, the previous
recommendations are reviewed, and an independent evaluation
is conducted. Candidates are evaluated in three categories:
scholarship, teaching, and service. (Doc. 82-4, pp. 2-3).
Hatcher's tenure review process began positively. First,
the political science department voted 4-2 in favor of tenure
and promotion, resulting in department chair Roger Clinton
making a positive recommendation to the College of Liberal
Arts. Id. The tenure committee for the College of
Liberal Arts gave Dr. Hatcher a mixed recommendation that
consisted of a 5-4 vote in favor of tenure but a 5-4 vote
against promotion. (Doc. 82-11, p. 1). This recommendation
was communicated to the dean of the College of Liberal Arts,
Kimberly Kempf-Leonard. (Doc. 82-11, p. 1). Dean
Kempf-Leonard both evaluated the committee's
recommendation and conducted her own independent review.
(Doc. 86-1). Dean Kempf-Leonard ultimately recommended Dr.
Hatcher not receive tenure or promotion, and she conveyed
this conclusion and her reasoning to Provost John Nicklow.
(Doc. 86-1, p. 1). Provost Nicklow reviewed Dr. Hatcher's
tenure dossier for himself and made a recommendation to Dr.
Cheng against awarding Dr. Hatcher tenure or promotion. (Doc.
82-13, p. 1).
April 12, 2012, after Dr. Hatcher received a letter from the
Provost informing her of his recommendation against tenure
and promotion, she filed a grievance with the
University's Judicial Review Board (JRB). (Doc. 133, p.
6). On October 3, 2012, Dr. Hatcher also filed a charge with
the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleging
the real reason the University denied her tenure and
promotion was her gender. (Doc. 133, p. 6). Fifteen days
later, the JRB issued its unanimous report concluding Provost
Nicklow had violated the procedures outlined in the operating
papers of the Political Science Department and the College of
Liberal Arts, as well as the University's policies and
procedures. (Doc. 82-19, p. 10). In particular, the JRB found
Provost Nicklow did not explain in detail how he reached his
decision and why he reversed the Political Science
Department's recommendation in favor of Dr. Hatcher.
(Doc. 82-19, pp. 10-11). Based on its finding of
"serious procedural errors, " the JRB recommended
overturning the negative decision of Provost Nicklow and
promoting Dr. Hatcher to Associate Professor with tenure.
(Doc. 82-19, p. 12).
to the JRB's report and recommendations, and
approximately eight weeks after Dr. Hatcher filed her EEOC
charge, Dr. Cheng recommended the board deny promotion and
tenure to Dr. Hatcher. (Doc. 82-21, p. 1).
Hatcher filed this lawsuit against the Board on April 26,
2013, alleging gender discrimination in violation of Title
VII of the Civil Rights Act, a retaliation claim based on the
First Amendment, and two retaliation claims based on Title
VII. (Doc. 2). This Court granted the Board's motions to
dismiss on Dr. Hatcher's Title VII and First Amendment
claims (Doc. 70), as well as the Board's motion for
summary judgment on her gender discrimination claim (Doc.
Hatcher appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for
the Seventh Circuit. (Doc. 99). The Court of Appeals affirmed
this Court's decision to dismiss Dr. Hatcher's gender
discrimination claim, First Amendment retaliation claim, and
one of her Title VII retaliation claims, Hatcher,
829 F.3d at 538-42, but reversed and remanded this
Court's dismissal of Dr. Hatcher's claim alleging
retaliation for filing of her EEOC charge. Id. The
Court of Appeals reasoned that since filing an EEOC charge is
a protected activity under Title VII and Dr. Hatcher
indisputably suffered an adverse employment action, discovery
on the issue of causation was appropriate. Id. at
the close of discovery, the Board filed the pending Motion
for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 132). Dr. Hatcher filed a timely
Response in Opposition (Doc. 135), and the Board filed a
Reply (Doc. 136).
judgment is proper only where the moving party can
demonstrate that no genuine issue of material fact exists and
the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477
U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Ruffin-Thompkins v. Experian
Information Solutions, Inc., 422 F.3d 603, 607 (7th Cir.
2005). All facts and reasonable inferences must be construed
in favor of the non-moving party. Blow v. Bijora,
Inc., 855 F.3d 793, 797 (7th Cir. 2017) (citing
Calumet River Fleeting, Inc. v. Int'l Union of Operating
Eng'rs, Local 150, AFL-CIO, 824 F.3d 645, 647-48
(7th Cir. 2016)). The Seventh Circuit has clearly stated
motions for summary judgment in discrimination cases must be
decided with particular care, given "they often turn on
questions of credibility and intent." Veprinsky v.
Fluor Daniel, Inc., 87 F.3d 881, 893 (7th Cir. 1996).
Thus, only where the evidence is merely colorable or not
significantly probative is summary judgment proper.
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242,
249-50 (1986). The judge's role at summary judgment is
not to weigh the evidence or assess the facts, but simply to
determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.
Id. at 259. The question is can there be only one
reasonable conclusion based on the evidence, or could
reasonable minds differ? Id. at 250-511.
state a claim for Title VII retaliation, a plaintiff must
show she suffered an adverse employment action because of a
statutorily protected activity. Castro v. DeVry Univ.
Inc., 786 F.3d 559, 564 (7th Cir. 2015). In short, the
plaintiff must prove a causal link between the protected
activity she engaged in and the adverse employment action.
Id. The causal link required in this context is
but-for causation. Univ. of Tex. Sw. Med. Ctr. v.
Nassar, 133 S.Ct. 2517, 2534 (2013); Hobgood v. Ill.
Gaming Bd., 731 F.3d 635, 643 (7th Cir. 2013). The
relevant question is whether "the record contains
sufficient evidence to permit a reasonable fact finder to
conclude that retaliatory motive caused the discharge."
Lord v. High Voltage Software, Inc., 839 F.3d 556,
563 (7th Cir. 2016).
circumstantial evidence of a retaliatory motive is used to
prove causation, the employer may show the employee would
have suffered the adverse employment action even absent the
protected activity. Lord, 839 F.3d at 564. If the
employer can make such a showing, then no but-for causation
exists. Id. The employee can always attack the
proffered justification as pretext, however, and if material
issues of fact regarding pretext exist, summary judgment
should be denied. Id.
it is uncontested that filing a charge with the EEOC is a
protected activity and that denial of tenure is an adverse
employment action. Thus, the only issue before the Court is
whether there is sufficient evidence to present to a jury the
question of whether the denial of Dr. Hatcher's tenure
was in retaliation for her EEOC charge.