Woodruff v. Athens State University
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Abdul K Kallon on 5/23/2016. (AVC)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
CATHY L. WOODRUFF,
ATHENS STATE UNIVERSITY,
2016 May-23 PM 01:33
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
Civil Action Number
Cathy L. Woodruff (“Woodruff”) pursues this case against Athens State
University (“Athens State”) under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title
VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. Doc. 1. Woodruff alleges that Athens State
discriminated against her on the basis of her gender when it failed to promote her
in April 2013 and May 2014, and that Athens State retaliated against her for filing
a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) when it
failed to promote her in May 2014. Id. Athens State has moved for summary
judgment, doc. 14. Based on a review of the evidence and the law, the court finds
that Woodruff has failed to present sufficient evidence to support her claims and
that Athens State’s motion is due to be granted.
SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD OF REVIEW
Under Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is
proper “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact
and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” “Rule 56 mandates
the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon
motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the
existence of an element essential to that party’s case, and on which that party will
bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322
(1986) (alteration in original). The moving party bears the initial burden of proving
the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Id. at 323. The burden then shifts to
the nonmoving party, who is required to “go beyond the pleadings” to establish
that there is a “genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 324 (citation and internal quotation
marks omitted). A dispute about a material fact is genuine “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).
The court must construe the evidence and all reasonable inferences arising from
it in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Adickes v. S. H. Kress &
Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970); see also Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255 (all justifiable
inferences must be drawn in the non-moving party’s favor). Any factual disputes
will be resolved in the non-moving party’s favor when sufficient competent
evidence supports the non-moving party’s version of the disputed facts. See Pace
v. Capobianco, 283 F.3d 1275, 1276, 1278 (11th Cir. 2002) (a court is not required
to resolve disputes in the non-moving party’s favor when that party’s version of
events is supported by insufficient evidence). However, “mere conclusions and
unsupported factual allegations are legally insufficient to defeat a summary
judgment motion.” Ellis v. England, 432 F.3d 1321, 1326 (11th Cir. 2005) (per
curiam) (citing Bald Mountain Park, Ltd. v. Oliver, 863 F.2d 1560, 1563 (11th Cir.
1989)). Moreover, “[a] mere ‘scintilla’ of evidence supporting the opposing party’s
position will not suffice; there must be enough of a showing that the jury could
reasonably find for that party.” Walker v. Darby, 911 F.2d 1573, 1577 (11th Cir.
1990) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252)).
Athens State hired Woodruff, a Caucasian female, in 2000 as a teacher-inresidence and promoted her to assistant professor in 2001 in the Elementary
Education Department. Doc. 15-1 at 12, 50. Athens State promoted Woodruff to
associate Professor in May 2015. Doc. 15-7 at 8. At issue here are Woodruff’s
unsuccessful applications for promotion to associate professor in 2013 and 2014.
As a prerequisite for promotion, Athens State requires at least seven years of
teaching experience at Athens State, with credit of up to three years given for
teaching at another university. Doc. 15-1. For the 2012 and 2013 years in which
Woodruff applied for promotion, Woodruff, who holds a doctorate in early
childhood education, satisfied this prerequisite because she started teaching at
Athens State in 2001. Doc. 15-1 at 52–53.
Once a professor applies for promotion, she is required to follow certain
procedures. Doc. 15-3 at 5. First, she must compile a portfolio of her teaching
career at Athens State. Id. at 7. This portfolio consists of sections dedicated to:
teaching effectiveness, student advising and involvement, research and scholarly
activities, institutional service, and professional and community service. Id. Next, a
promotion committee, comprised of nine professors from the three colleges,
convenes in the fall and examines the portfolio of each candidate. Doc. 15-3 at 5.
The committee then grades each portfolio on a one-hundred point scale, and
eliminates any candidate that scores less than 80. Id. at 10. Following this, the
committee determines which of the remaining professors it will recommend for
advancement and makes a recommendation to their respective faculty dean, who
then makes a recommendation to the Provost. Doc. 15-2 at 15. The Provost
considers the recommendations of the promotion committee and the faculty dean
before submitting a memorandum containing his final recommendation to the
President, who is responsible for the final decision. Id.
The first decision Woodruff challenges is her application for promotion in 2012
for the 2013-2014 school year, which Athens State denied in February 2013. Doc.
15-1 at 85. After successfully navigating the promotion committee, which
recommended her, doc. 15-3 at 15, Woodruff’s dean, who is female, determined
that Woodruff’s scholarship was too weak to qualify her for promotion in that
cycle, id. at 20–21. In light of the dean’s determination, the Provost decided not to
support Woodruff’s promotion and did not recommend her to the President. Id.
Woodruff applied unsuccessfully again for promotion in 2013 for the 20142015 school year. Doc. 1 at 2. Woodruff again successfully cleared the promotion
committee. Doc 15-5 at 31. However, although the committee ultimately
recommended her, she again received mixed support from the committee. Id. Also,
similar to 2012, she lacked the support of both of her current and former deans, all
of whom are female. Id. at 25–29. Accordingly, the Provost again decided not to
support her promotion, citing his concern over these mixed reviews. Id. at 37.
Woodruff alleges that Athens State discriminated against her because of her
gender when it failed to promote her in 2013 and 2014 (Count I), and that it
retaliated against her for engaging in protected activity by failing to promote her in
2014 (Count II). The court addresses these contentions below.
A. Discrimination Claim (Count I)
Woodruff alleges that gender discrimination factored in Athens State’s
failure to promote her to associate professor in 2013 and 2014. As she puts it,
Athens State’s decision was “fully or substantially motivated by [her] sex.” 1 Doc.
In light of her contentions, the court will treat the claim as a mixed motive claim. Mixed motive and single motive
claims are different theories of discrimination. Unlike a case wherein the plaintiff alleges that discriminatory animus
motivated her treatment, see, e.g., Fong v. School Bd. of Palm Beach Cty. Fla., 590 F. App’x 930, 933 (11th Cir.
2014), a mixed motive case is one where a plaintiff alleges “both legitimate and illegitimate reasons motivated the
1 at 3. To survive summary judgment on a mixed motive claim, 2 a plaintiff “need
only produce evidence sufficient to convince a jury that: (1) the defendant took an
adverse employment action against the plaintiff; and (2) [a protected characteristic]
was a motivating factor for the defendant’s adverse employment action.” Quigg v.
Thomas County School Dist., 814 F.3d 1227, 1239 (11th Cir. 2016) (internal
citations omitted). Where, as here, Woodruff challenges a decision made by a
board, she “can succeed on a mixed-motive claim if she demonstrates that
‘discriminatory input,’ such as sex or gender-based bias, factored into the board’s
‘decisional process.’” Id. at 1241 (citing Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, 490 U.S.
228, 272 (1989)). Woodruff has failed to make this showing.
Specifically, Woodruff has produced no evidence demonstrating that sex or
gender-based animus factored in the promotion decisions. For example, there is no
evidence before the court that the members of the 2013 or 2014 promotion
committees3 made any remarks or statements that indicate that their decisions were
decision.” Desert Palace, Inc. v. Costa, 539 U.S. 90, 93 (2003). However, even if Woodruff is pursuing a single
motive claim, her claim still fails because of her failure to establish a prima facie case or to rebut Athens State’s
articulated reasons—i.e., that it did not promote Woodruff due to lack of support from her dean and low scores on
her evaluations. Doc. 14 at 30; see also Texas Dept. of Community Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 252–253
(1981); Chapman v. AI Transport, 229 F.3d 1012, 1031 (11th Cir. 2000).
Athens State contends that Woodruff has failed to exhaust her administrative remedies and that the court can
dismiss Woodruff’s claims on these grounds. Doc. 14 at 17. This contention focuses on the EEOC charge Woodruff
filed on January 24, 2014—well after the 180 period from the promotion denial—and is based on Athens State’s
contention that the intake questionnaire Woodruff filled out in September 2013 does not rise to the level of a charge.
Although Woodruff does not challenge this argument, in light of Wilkerson v. Grinnell Corp., 270 F.3d 1314, 1321
(11th Cir. 2001), which holds that an intake questionnaire may constitute a charge for Title VII purposes when the
circumstances are such that it is clear the charging party intended to activate the administrative process, the court
will assume that Woodruff can establish that she intended to activate the charge filing process.
The 2012-2013 committee consisted of five female and four male members, doc. 15-3 at 13, and the 2013-2014
committee had six female and three male members, id. at 34.
motivated, in part, by impermissible discriminatory animus. In fact, Woodruff
admits that she does not even know if the committees recommended her for
promotion—they did—or what criteria they used. Doc. 15-1 at 31–32. Likewise,
Woodruff has presented no evidence that her department deans (all of whom are
female) and the Provost, i.e., the individuals who rejected the committee’s
recommendation and decided instead not to recommend Woodruff for promotion,
harbored any gender bias against females. In fact, the only “evidence” of gender
discrimination Woodruff points to is her belief that “several men have been
promoted outside of the process.” Doc. 15-1 at 32–33. However, this contention is
unsubstantiated and is not based on any relevant specific facts about these men.
For example, Woodruff does not know their qualifications or whether, unlike her,
they had the support of their deans.4 Id. Moreover, Woodruff has provided no
evidence to counter Athens State’s proffered evidence that six of the twelve
individuals it promoted to associate professor from 2009 to 2012 were female,
including three females in Woodruff’s department. Doc. 15-7 at 8. In short, the
court has nothing before it to support Woodruff’s contention that gender animus
factored in the decisions she challenges. Therefore, the court finds that Woodruff’s
“conclusory allegations without specific supporting facts have no probative value”
and are insufficient to defeat summary judgment. See, e.g., Evers v. General
Athens State promoted the men in question (Mike Essary, Prentice Chandler, and Sean Busick), doc. 15-1 at 32, in
2011 and 2012, doc. 15-7 at 7–8. All three held a teaching position in a different department than Woodruff and
reported to a different dean. Doc. 15-7 at 5–6. Because promotion decisions depend in part on whether the candidate
has the support of her dean—which all three had—, doc. 15-2 at 15, they are not similarly situated to Woodruff and
are not proper comparators. See Jones v. Gerwens, 874 F.2d 1534, 1541 (11th Cir. 1989).
Motors Corp., 770 F.2d 984, 987 (11th Cir. 1985). Accordingly, Woodruff’s claim
for sex discrimination is due to be dismissed.
B. Retaliation Claim (Count II)
In Count II, Woodruff alleges that Athens State retaliated against her for
filing an EEOC charge in February 2014 by failing to promote her in May 2014.
As a threshold matter, the court disagrees with Athens State’s contention that this
claim is administratively barred. Although Woodruff did not raise a retaliation
claim in her EEOC charge, “a plaintiff’s judicial complaint is limited by the scope
of the EEOC investigation which can reasonably be expected to grow out of the
charge of discrimination.” Alexander v. Fulton Cty., Ga., 207 F.3d 1303, 1332
(11th Cir. 2000) (internal citations omitted and emphasis added). The facts alleged
in the original charge would reasonably support an EEOC investigation into
retaliation stemming from the initial charge. See, e.g., Baker v. Buckeye Cellulose
Corp., 856 F.2d 167, 169 (11th Cir. 1988). Still, Woodruff’s claim fails because
she has not established a causal connection between her protected expression and
the alleged adverse employment action. See McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green,
411 U.S. 792 (1973). First, a three month gap between the protected activity and
the alleged adverse conduct is insufficient to establish a causal connection. See
Higdon v. Jackson, 393 F.3d 1211, 1220-21 (11th Cir. 2004). Second, even if the
court finds that Woodruff can establish the temporal proximity, her claim still fails
because Woodruff failed to demonstrate that the relevant parties—the deans and
Provost who failed to recommend her—had knowledge of her protected activity.
See Brungart v. BellSouth Telecommunications, Inc., 231 F.3d 791, 799 (11th Cir.
2000); Durley v. APAC, Inc., 236 F.3d 651, 658 (11th Cir. 2000). Without
evidence of the requisite knowledge, no credible basis exists for this court to find
that retaliatory animus may have factored in the deans and Provost’s decision not
to recommend Woodruff for promotion. Alternatively, summary judgment is
warranted because Woodruff failed to rebut Athens State’s articulated reasons for
the decision not to promote her in May 2014. See, e.g., Wilson v. B/E Aerospace,
Inc., 376 F.3d 1079, 1087 (11th Cir. 2004) (once an employer articulates a nondiscriminatory reason for the employment action, the plaintiff must “meet it head
on and rebut it.”).
For all these reasons, the motion for summary judgment is due to be granted. A
separate order granting this motion and dismissing this case will be issued
DONE the 23rd day of May, 2016.
ABDUL K. KALLON
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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