Barbara Richardson v. Wayne State University, et al
OPINION filed : AFFIRMED, decision not for publication. Julia Smith Gibbons and Raymond M. Kethledge (Authoring), Circuit Judges and The Honorable Robert M. Dow , Jr., U.S. District Judge for the Northern District of Illinois, sitting by designation.
NOT RECOMMENDED FOR FULL-TEXT PUBLICATION
File Name: 14a0760n.06
UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT
WAYNE STATE UNIVERSITY, et al.,
Oct 02, 2014
DEBORAH S. HUNT, Clerk
ON APPEAL FROM THE
UNITED STATES DISTRICT
COURT FOR THE EASTERN
DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
Before: GIBBONS and KETHLEDGE, Circuit Judges; DOW, District Judge.*
KETHLEDGE, Circuit Judge. Barbara Richardson sued Wayne State University for age,
race, and disability discrimination and for retaliating against her for complaining about that
discrimination. After discovery, the district court granted summary judgment to Wayne State.
Richardson is a 70-year old African-American woman who suffers from asthma and
allergies. For many years, she worked at Wayne State’s College of Engineering as a Budget
Analyst. In that role, she was responsible for generating budgets for faculty grants, tracking
expenditures, and approving expenses, among other duties.
On a few occasions, Richardson requested a promotion to the same pay grade as Karen
Wilson and Charlene Brain, two white employees who worked at Wayne State. She also asked
The Honorable Robert M. Dow, Jr., United States District Judge for the Northern District of
Illinois, sitting by designation.
Richardson v. Wayne State
for a better-ventilated office so that her asthma and allergies would flare up less often. Wayne
State denied both requests. Richardson also asserts that, in 2009, the Dean of Research called
her “little lady” and told her the “problem with you, Barbara, is that you are old.”
The record in this case makes clear, as a matter of law, that from May 2010 to October
2011, Richardson was absent without permission more than a dozen times. When she did show
up, she often did little work; and the work she did was often of poor quality. She missed
deadlines, racked up a backlog of unfinished projects, and made numerous errors. Richardson
also disobeyed her supervisors. On one occasion, a Wayne State administrator told her to move
offices, but she refused to do so. On many others, her supervisors told her not to work overtime,
but she did so anyway. She also failed to complete her activity log each week despite multiple
warnings and formal reprimands.
In November 2011, Wayne State sent Richardson a letter warning her that she would be
fired if she did not comply with Wayne State’s rules. After receiving that letter, Richardson
failed to complete her activity log eight more times, repeatedly stayed at work after closing, and
missed several deadlines. In January 2012, Wayne State fired her.
In April, Richardson filed this lawsuit under the ADA, ADEA, Title VII, and Michigan
In support of her ADA claim, Richardson contends that Wayne State should have
accommodated her asthma and allergies by giving her a better-ventilated office. In support of
her ADEA claim, she says that her supervisors were hostile toward her because of her age. As
for her two Title VII claims, she asserts that Wayne State paid her less than it did white
employees, and that it fired her because of her race. She also asserts that Wayne State retaliated
against her after she complained about her treatment.
Richardson v. Wayne State
Wayne State moved for summary judgment, arguing that, because it is a public
university, sovereign immunity barred Richardson’s ADA and ADEA claims. Wayne State
argued that it was also entitled to judgment on her Title VII claims because no reasonable juror
could find that it discriminated against her because of her race or retaliated against her. The
district court granted the motion. This appeal followed.
We review the district court’s grant of summary judgment de novo. Hunter v. Valley
View Local Schools, 579 F.3d 688, 690 (6th Cir. 2009). As an initial matter, the parties dispute
whether Richardson’s ADA and ADEA claims are barred by sovereign immunity. Two cases
from the Supreme Court make clear that they are. See Board of Trustees of the University of
Alabama v. Garrett, 531 U.S. 356 (2001); Kimel v. Florida Board of Regents, 528 U.S. 62
(2000). Richardson argues those cases were wrongly decided, but we cannot overrule the
Supreme Court. Thus, the district court correctly granted summary judgment on these claims.
The parties agree that Richardson’s Title VII claims are not barred by sovereign
immunity. One of those claims is based on Richardson’s allegation that she was paid less than
white employees. To avoid summary judgment, Richardson must present evidence that would
allow a jury to find, among other things, that she was paid less than white employees who were
“similarly situated.” See Ercegovich v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co., 154 F.3d 344, 352 (6th
Cir. 1998). Richardson alleges that she was paid less than two white employees, Brain and
But those employees undisputedly had different titles and different duties than
Richardson did, and thus they were not similarly situated. Hence the district court correctly
granted summary judgment on Richardson’s disparate-pay claim.
As for her wrongful-termination claim, Richardson cannot proceed if Wayne State had a
legitimate, non-pretextual reason for firing her. See Johnson v. Kroger Co., 319 F.3d. 858, 866
Richardson v. Wayne State
(6th Cir. 2003). Here, Wayne State offers numerous such reasons: that Richardson was absent
without permission, that her work was of low quality, that she missed deadlines, and that she
repeatedly disobeyed her superiors. Richardson points to no evidence that would allow a jury to
find that those reasons were pretextual. Thus, the district court correctly granted summary
judgment on Richardson’s wrongful-termination claim.
Finally, Richardson’s retaliation claims under the ADA and ADEA are barred by
sovereign immunity. See supra at 3. As for her retaliation claim under Title VII, Wayne State
offered a legitimate, non-pretextual reason for firing her. Thus, her retaliation claim fails for the
same reason as her wrongful-termination claim.
615 F.3d 481, 492-93 (6th Cir. 2010).
The district court’s judgment is affirmed.
See Spengler v. Worthington Cylinders,
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