United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
Dr. Reuben Barrett, Plaintiff,
Illinois Community College Dist. No. 515, Board of Trustees of Illinois Community College District No. 515, Susan Solberg, Christa Adam, Marian Kelly, Marie Hansel, and Debra Prendergast, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
S. SHAH, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Reuben Barrett, a biology professor at Prairie State College,
brings Title VII, 42 U.S.C § 1981, and 42 U.S.C. §
1983 claims against the college, its Board of Trustees, and
five employees, alleging race and gender discrimination,
retaliation, and hostile work environment. Defendants move
for summary judgment on Dr. Barrett's claims. For the
reasons discussed below, the motion is granted.
judgment is appropriate if the movant shows that there is no
genuine dispute as to any material fact and he is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A genuine
dispute as to any material fact exists if “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). I construe all disputed
facts in favor of the nonmoving party. Simpkins v. DuPage
Housing Auth., 893 F.3d 962, 965 (7th Cir. 2018).
Prairie State College is governed by defendant Board of
Trustees for Prairie State.  ¶ 5. Defendant Marie
Hansel was the Vice President of Academic Affairs
and Dean of Faculty at Prairie State, beginning in July 2013.
Id. ¶ 8. Defendant Susan Solberg was Dean of
Academic Affairs from 1998 through May 2010. Id.
¶¶ 6, 17. When Solberg became Dean of Liberal Arts
in 2010, defendant Debra Prendergast took over as Dean of
Academic Affairs. Id. ¶¶ 9,
Defendant Christa Adam was a biology professor beginning in
2005 and was coordinator of the biology program from 2010
through 2014. Id. ¶ 7. Defendant Marian Kelly
was a biology professor at Prairie State. Id. ¶
10. Hansel, Solberg, Prendergast, Adam, and Kelly were white
women. Id. ¶¶ 6-10;  ¶ 18.
Plaintiff Dr. Reuben Barrett was a biology professor and had
over 24 years of experience, making him the most senior
member of the biology program.  ¶ 14. During his
time at Prairie State, Dr. Barrett was never placed on
probation or demoted, and his pay and benefits never
decreased. Id. In a performance review in 2000,
Solberg indicated that Dr. Barrett's performance in
collegiality and contributions to the college was
unacceptable. Id. ¶ 15. But because he received
an unacceptable rating in just one category, Dr. Barrett was
not subjected to a full post-tenure evaluation.
The Chair and Coordinator Positions
biology program at Prairie State fell within the natural
sciences department. Id. ¶ 16. There were
around 30-40 full-time faculty in the natural sciences
department and four biology labs. Id. The Dean of
Academic Affairs (first Solberg and then Prendergast)
supervised the biology program and reported to the vice
president. Id. ¶ 17. Each academic program,
including biology, had a coordinator. Id. ¶ 18.
Coordinator positions were in part administrative and
included duties like interviewing adjunct faculty and helping
process lab supply orders. Id. There were no
requirements or qualifications to be a coordinator. 
¶ 18. In exchange for taking on additional
administrative duties, the coordinator received release time,
meaning she could teach fewer credit hours without taking a
pay cut. Id. The amount of release time allotted
depended on the time commitment of the coordinator position.
Id. For example, if a coordinator's
responsibilities took the same time as one three-hour course,
she would teach one fewer three-hour course each semester she
served as coordinator. Id. The dean appointed the
coordinator, and the vice president approved that decision.
Id. ¶ 19. The parties dispute how the
coordinator selection process worked. Defendants assert that
because coordinator was not a sought-after position, the
professors in a program typically discussed who would
volunteer internally and then passed that on to the dean.
See id. Dr. Barrett asserts that the decision was up
to “the unfettered discretion of the dean. [A professor
had] no role in it whatsoever.” See [86-12] at
228:17-22. Coordinators did not have any formal authority
over other faculty members, though in practice, deans
instructed faculty to bring things to the coordinator's
attention before going to the dean.  ¶ 20; 
¶ 3; [86-7] at 398:9-12. Coordinators also signed off on
lab purchase requests, see  ¶¶ 20,
23; [103-3], and lab managers reported to the coordinator as
well as the dean.  ¶ 6.
Dr. Nicholas Halm-Lutterhodt, an African-American professor
in the biology program, and Craig Nelson, another male
biology professor, served as coordinators.  ¶
Though Dr. Barrett acknowledged there were no qualifications
to be coordinator, he believed he was more qualified than
other faculty because he was the most senior, understood
college governance, and had written a course. Id.
¶ 41. The parties dispute the extent to which Dr.
Barrett expressed interest in the coordinator position.
See id. ¶ 42. Defendants assert that Dr.
Barrett had not told anyone he wanted the position since the
1990's, that he never told Solberg, Prendergast, or
Hansel, and that he told Dr. Halm-Lutterhodt that if asked to
be coordinator, he would turn it down. [86-8] at 17:23-19:11.
Dr. Barrett does not dispute that he never told Solberg,
Prendergast, or Hansel he wanted to be coordinator, but
asserts that up until he filed his first EEOC complaint he
consistently complained to Adam, Thurman, Halm-Lutterhodt,
Kouba, and Ladaris that he had not been appointed. [86-12] at
236:7-20. Dr. Barrett also claims that Halm-Lutterhodt and
Kelly told him that the administration (including Solberg,
Prendergast, and Hansel) did not want him to be coordinator.
Id. at 238:15-239:7.
each program (such as biology) had a coordinator, each
department (e.g. natural sciences) had a chair.  ¶
3; [86-12] at 262:6-11. Unlike coordinators, department chairs
were selected by their peers, though a faculty member could
nominate himself for consideration.  ¶ 21. Chairs
were thought of as a “think tank for the deans to get
faculty input into a variety of things, ” and if an
individual in a department had a problem, he was supposed to
raise it with the chair before going to the dean.
Id.;  ¶¶ 3-4. Chairs met with the
dean and the vice president for monthly discussions. 
¶ 21. One of the perks of being chair was getting to
know the vice president and gaining credibility with her.
 ¶ 5. Like coordinators, department chairs received
release time in exchange for the additional work that came
with the chair position.  ¶ 21.
Lab Supplies and Reimbursements
biology courses at Prairie State had lab components.
Id. ¶ 22. To get lab materials and to have the
lab set up for class, professors used a request process that
changed over the years. Id. Most recently,
professors used Microsoft Outlook to send meeting requests to
the lab manager with the date of the lab, the materials
needed, and instructions. Id. Knowing the exact lab
date was especially important when a professor requested live
specimens. Id. The biology program ran about 160
labs per week. Id. The dean received the supply
request list for the entire department and the list did not
indicate which professor made which requests. Id.
¶ 23. If the price of the requested materials exceeded a
certain threshold, the university required a bidding process,
which could create approval problems. Id. Technology
requests were handled differently because they were funded
through a different budget. Id.
Barrett often did not receive requested lab supplies and
equipment for his classes. Id. ¶¶ 24, 35.
For example, he received elodea (a plant) only one or two
times in recent years, and when he did not get live specimens
it interfered with his teaching. Id. ¶ 24;
 ¶ 9. Some of Dr. Barrett's specimens and
models were not replaced, and on certain occasions, someone
threw out student experiments and other materials left in the
lab.  ¶¶ 24, 35. When Dr. Barrett's
supplies were unavailable, he improvised by giving students
worksheets or making up different lessons. Id.
¶ 25. Other biology professors took similar approaches
when they did not receive materials or when the lab was not
set up properly. Id. Though other professors
occasionally dealt with these problems, Dr. Barrett
consistently complained about not receiving supplies. 
¶ 10. Based on his observations and statements from lab
managers, Dr. Barrett believed that white, female professors
got the supplies they requested.  ¶ 39. Despite
these mishaps, Dr. Barrett received positive evaluations from
his deans and positive feedback from students. Id.
Martin set up Dr. Barrett's biology labs, and Dr. Barrett
told her that he did the same labs every semester and to keep
things in stock.  ¶¶ 7-8. One day, Dr. Barrett
spoke with Martin in the cafeteria about his elodea not being
alive. Id. ¶ 25. Martin responded that they
were doing their best to ensure it was, to which Dr. Barrett
told her not to worry because if it was not, he would file
again (which Martin took to mean that he would file another
EEOC complaint). Id.; [86-15] at 111:17-112:1.
Martin complained about this interaction to Prendergast in an
email stating, “I think Dr. Barrett feels that he will
get his way if he creates a hostile work environment and
continues to threaten or attack those around him that do not
conform to his way. I do not agree with this approach and I
also feel that we should not have to tiptoe and/or walk on
eggshells in order to create a peaceful or happy
environment.” Id. Martin told Prendergast she
had ordered the elodea for Dr. Barrett, and Prendergast
apologized and reassured Martin.  ¶ 25; [86-15] at
112:7-15. After learning about this incident, David Cronan
(the executive director of H.R.), the deans, and the vice
president determined that this was an internal issue between
two employees, not a matter of discrimination.  ¶
35. Had Cronan thought an investigation was necessary, he
would have done more. Id.; [86-5] at 57:2-8. But
Cronan did not think administrative procedures required a
meeting, and he did not file any sort of report. 
¶¶ 35-36; [86-5] at 55:6-15, 57:9-12. Cronan told
Martin he would speak with Dr. Barrett to make sure he did
not approach her in that manner in the future.  ¶
Dr. Barrett complained about not receiving his lab supplies,
Solberg asked staff to evaluate the lab manager John
Schmidt's performance.  ¶ 26. Prairie State
addressed different issues with its lab managers (including
Schmidt and Martin) over time, including problems related to
live specimens, setting up labs, and appearing for work.
Id. ¶¶ 26, 27. Dr. Barrett was never
denied lab supplies because of budgetary problems. 
¶¶ 21-23. Prairie State was aware that Dr. Barrett
believed the problems with him getting supplies were ongoing.
Id. ¶ 37. Cronan thought the problems had been
addressed, noting that Dr. Barrett still had complaints, but
that Prairie State had “taken efforts to make every
change that [it] could possibly make” to satisfy his
concerns. Id. ¶ 39. Cronan agreed that it is
not enough for the school to limit or restrict discriminatory
conduct, it must stop the problem altogether. Id.
2014, a cabinet where Dr. Barrett and other professors stored
some of their lab materials was locked, and Dr. Barrett did
not have access to a key.  ¶ 29. Once notified of
the situation, Prendergast contacted the appropriate
department and provided Dr. Barrett with a key within a few
weeks (the parties dispute precisely how long it took).
Id. Prairie State claimed that it was always
reluctant to give out additional keys. Id. Dr.
Barrett asserts that Adam and Prendergast had keys and he did
not. Id. Dr. Barrett filed his first EEOC complaint
about this incident. Id. Prairie State determined
there was insufficient evidence to conclude that
discriminatory animus was involved.  ¶ 36.
State refused to reimburse Dr. Barrett for professional
development expenses.  ¶ 37. Prairie State
reimbursed Dr. Halm-Lutterodt for a trip to Canada and sent
other black male faculty to a training in Florida, though it
did not send Dr. Barrett to that training.
Id. After Solberg denied Dr. Barrett's
request for reimbursement for supplies he purchased, he
stopped submitting reimbursement requests.  ¶ 28.
During his time at Prairie State, Dr. Barrett bought over
$100, 000 in materials for his courses.
Id. In 2002, Dr. Barrett submitted a travel
request form. Id. ¶ 51. Linda Uzureau (the Vice
President of Academic Affairs at the time, see id.
¶ 11) attached a Post-it note to the form, stating
“Susan-Please tell Reuben that we would like to get
these at least a week before the event!”. Id.
Conflicts with Other Employees
Barrett and another professor developed the curriculum,
outline, materials, and lab schedule for Biology 100, all of
which corresponded with a certain textbook.  ¶ 30.
Prairie State submitted courses to the Illinois Articulation
Initiative for approval so that students could transfer the
credits they earned at Prairie State to other schools. 
¶ 24; [86-9] at 39:14-40:18. Some biology professors
wanted to standardize the labs to obviate the need for lab
requests and make things easier on the lab managers. 
¶ 31. When Dr. Barrett objected, the department decided
not to go through with the standardization. Id.
¶ 33. Biology faculty also considered using different
books for Biology 100; it was typical for professors to
evaluate course textbooks regularly to make sure they were
using the best book available for their courses. Id.
¶ 32. When the biology program switched to a different
textbook, Dr. Barrett's students complained that the
chapters listed with his online notes no longer corresponded
to the chapters in the textbook. Id. ¶ 33. The
parties dispute whether Dr. Barrett could have kept using his
preferred course materials. Dr. Barrett says his book was
pulled from the bookstore, and so was no longer available to
his students. See [86-12] at 19:13-16.
addition, Dr. Barrett had to defend his work to his
colleagues, meaning he had to explain what he was doing in
his courses and why he needed certain supplies.  ¶
36. People at Prairie State did not address
Dr. Barrett with the title “doctor.” Id.
¶ 38. They did, however, address Dr. Halm-Lutterodt with
the title, calling him Dr. Nick. Id. According to
Cronan, professors and other employees at Prairie State often
referred to professors by their first names, regardless of
whether the professor was also an accredited
physician.  ¶ 41; [86-20] at
411:4-19. In November 2014, while Solberg was dean, she
emailed Dr. Barrett asking him to allow one of his students
to take her exam early.  ¶ 52. Dr. Barrett felt the
email was hostile because it was outside the scope of
Solberg's job. Id.
2016, another professor, Lee Anne Burrough, called Dr.
Barrett a troublemaker on two separate occasions. 
¶ 49;  ¶ 42. Dr. Barrett reported this to
Human Resources, which opened an investigation. 
¶¶ 12, 49. When investigating a complaint, Cronan
usually spoke with complaining witnesses first, but he spoke
with Burrough before Dr. Barrett because of scheduling
issues, and he did not think this impacted his investigation.
 ¶ 44. Cronan issued a report, crediting
Burrough's account of the events and concluding there was
no evidence of gender-motivated harassment.  ¶ 49.
Cronan noted in his report that Burrough had vehemently
denied calling Dr. Barrett a troublemaker and looking at him
with a menacing look.  ¶ 45. Cronan was struck by
the manner in which Burrough responded to his inquiry.
Id. During the investigation, Cronan viewed a
security videotape of the incident, but the camera was
positioned far away from where the incident had taken place.
Id. Though the footage showed both Burrough and Dr.
Barrett near Dr. Barrett's classroom at the relevant
time, Cronan was unable to tell whose precise version of the
events was accurate. Id. Cronan acknowledged that
the video corroborated some of the facts Dr. Barrett
asserted, but he concluded it was more likely that the
incident was a light-hearted greeting of a colleague than
intentional harassment and that the incident did not violate
Prairie State's policy that employees treat coworkers and
students with respect, courtesy, and professionalism. 
¶¶ 43-44, 47. Cronan also believed Burrough when
she said she had not heard of Dr. Barrett's lawsuits or
EEOC charges, and he did not inquire further. Id.
¶ 46. Cronan admitted his conclusions were based on
speculation. Id. ¶ 47. He offered Dr. Barrett a
meeting with college officials and participation in employee
assistance program and counseled him to avoid any retaliation
against Burrough.  ¶ 49.
a Prairie State employee filed a written complaint alleging
harassment, Lynita Gephardt, the Executive Director of H.R.
at Prairie State before Cronan took over in 2012, expected to
be aware of it so she could investigate.  ¶¶
27-29, 31. When investigating a complaint, Gephardt asked for
the complete story and interviewed the accused as well as any
witnesses. Id. ¶ 31. According to Gephardt, it
would not be an appropriate response, in a he-said she-said
situation, to recommend counseling to the accused and
instruct the complainant not to take any other conduct or
make any further accusations. Id. ¶
33. Gebhardt never recommended counseling
for an accusing party. Id. ¶ 32. If Dr. Barrett