United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division
E. Payne Senior United States District Judge
matter is before the Court on DEFENDANT VIRGINIA UNION
UNIVERSITY'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (ECF No. 70). By
the ORDER of May 11, 2017 (ECF No. 149), the Defendant's
Motion was granted in part and denied in part. The reasons
for that Order are set forth below.
Union University (VUU) is an historically black college and
university (HBCU). In 2012, Luminita Dragulescu, a white
female, was hired to be an Assistant Professor of English in
the Department of Languages and Literature
("L&L") of VUU's School of Humanities and
Social Sciences ("SHSS"). She served in that
position from 2012 to 2015, accepting renewed one-year offers
of employment each year during that time. On March 24, 2016,
Dragulescu received notice that her contract would not be
renewed for the following term.
alleges that the decision not to renew her contract, as well
as a reprimand that she received in 2015, was racially
motivated in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act
of 1964. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2 (a) (1) . VUU has moved for
summary judgment on both claims. In evaluating VUU's
motion, the Court must view any disputed "facts and all
justifiable inferences arising therefrom in the light most
favorable" to Dragulescu, the non-moving party.
Foster v. Univ. of Maryland-E. Shore, 787 F.3d 243,
246 (4th Cir. 2015).
was hired in 2012 by Eveyln Davis (a black female), the chair
of the L&L Department at the time. Dragulescu began
teaching in the fall of 2012. Almost immediately, VUU began
receiving student complaints about her, including one
incident in October of 2012 in which nineteen students signed
a complaint against her. (Def. Mot., Ex. 8). Although she has
not disputed these complaints were made, Dragulescu contends
that she was not informed of "virtually all" of
them, nor told that they would jeopardize her job security.
(Def. Mot. 3, PI. Resp. 3). These complaints notwithstanding,
Dragulescu's contract was renewed for the 2013-2014
2014, issues arose between Dragulescu and Davis. Dragulescu
agrees that she was asked to encourage students to
participate in "Constitution Day" at VUU and
politely refused, that she was instructed to spend two of
their office hours each week at the VUU Writing Center and
refused to do so, and that she resisted Davis in the process
of selecting a common text for English classes. (Def. Mot.
4-5, PI. Resp. 4). Davis eventually responded by issuing
Dragulescu a formal reprimand, chastising her for various
incidents and expressing the hope that she would "make a
genuine attempt to become a better colleague by working with
and not against the department." (Def. Mot., Ex. 14).
believed this reprimand was unwarranted,  and sought relief
from Linda Schlichting, the outgoing dean of SHSS.
Schlichting (a white female) concluded that the reprimand was
inappropriate and overly harsh, especially compared to the
disciplinary actions taken against other faculty in the past
who had committed more serious offenses. (PI. Resp., Ex.
2). Therefore, Schlichting instructed Davis to have the
reprimand removed from Dragulescu's file. Id. On
March 6, 2014, Davis recommended Dragulescu for non-renewal.
(Def. Mot., Ex. 17). Davis was overruled, and
Dragulescu's contract was once again renewed, this time
for the 2014-2015 term. Around the same time, Davis was
promoted to a new position within VUU, Shannan Wilson (a
black female) became the new chair, and Michael Orok (a black
male) became the new dean of SHSS.
the 2014-2015 term, there were more student complaints about
Dragulescu. (Def. Mot. 4). She also continued to decline to
devote any hours to the Writing Center, Id.
Dragulescu maintains that she was not informed of most of the
student complaints, and that Writing Center hours had become
something less than mandatory by sometime in the spring of
2014. (P1. Resp. 5).
January of 2015, Dragulescu procured on behalf of VUU and the
SHSS a substantial grant from the National Endowment of the
Humanities ("NEH"). Orok's personal assistant,
Tracy Lucas (a black female), was placed in charge of
administering the grant funds within SHSS. Around this same
time, Dragulescu received an invitation to present one of her
papers at a conference at Oxford, and began seeking funding
for the trip. At some point in March of 2015, Orok informed
Dragulescu that he hoped to be able to contribute $200
towards her trip.
April of 2015, the SHSS conducted a search for a new history
professor. Dr. Raymond Hylton (a white male professor)
emailed Orok seeking to be the chairperson of the search
committee for the position, and requested that Dragulescu and
several others be on the committee. The overall composition
of the committee requested by Hylton would have included four
white professors (including Dragulescu) and two black
professors. In response to the request, Lucas emailed Orok
directly, stating that "Dr. Dragulescu is a no-no
because you need to split her and Hylton up." (Pi.
Resp., Ex. 13). She also requested that Orok "throw some
different people up in there; mainly African Americans,
" and offered her own suggestions. Id. Orok did
not respond to the Lucas email, but he ultimately organized a
committee that had four black professors and two white
professor (and did not include Dragulescu). Dragulescu cites
this sequence of events as part of the evidence of Orok's
racial animus towards white individuals.
April 30, 2015, Terry Hinton, then a professor at VUU, claims
to have had a conversation with Orok in which Orok stated
that Dragulescu was having an affair with Hylton, that her
office "smelled like feet, ass, and sex, " and that
he considered Dragulescu nothing but a "white trailer
trash whore." (Def. Mot., Ex. 57). Orok denies ever
making these statements, but Hinton claims that he wrote down
the quotations at the time. Id. He also claims that,
at some point in 2016, he destroyed his handwritten notes
after preserving in electronic form. (Def. Mot., Ex. 58).
Hinton was terminated for cause by VUU, sued it for
discrimination in response, and accepted a lifetime ban from
the campus as part of the settlement in that action. (Def.
Mot., Exs. 56, 58).
than a week after this alleged incident, on May 4, 2015, Orok
held a meeting with Dragulescu and Wilson to discuss a recent
student complaint. On May 1, 2015, Dragulescu had returned a
paper to a student that included comments such as
"that's a ridiculous statement How could you support
it?!!"; "This shows your ignorance on the
topic!"; "Please revise this for logic!!";
"You just state the obvious!"; "You obviously
don't know what climax of a narrative is!";
"You don't seem to have heard anything I talked to
you!!" (Def. Mot., Ex. 21). The student had become upset
at these comments, and he and his mother had complained to
his faculty advisor, Julie Malloy (a white female). Malloy
immediately alerted Wilson and Orok, who promptly requested a
meeting with Dragulescu to discuss the matter.
meeting, Orok and Wilson spoke with Dragulescu about the
incident, assured her that they did not believe she intended
her editorial comments to be offensive in any way to the
student, and requested that Dragulescu apologize to the student
and her mother for the misunderstanding. (Def. Mot. 7, Pi.
Resp. 5-7) . Orok also explained that VUU was an HBCU, and
allegedly suggested that Dragulescu did not perceive why her
comments had offended the student because she did not
understand black culture and the impact that such language
would have coming from a white professor to a black student
at an HBCU. (PI. Br. 6). The parties agree that Orok did not
expressly order Dragulescu to apologize, nor tell her that
her job would be in any jeopardy if she refused. Id.
Dragulescu declined to apologize.
immediately after the meeting, Dragulescu received an email
from Lucas (on Orok's behalf) informing her that the $200
Orok had previously pledged towards her Oxford trip would not
be available. Then, the next day, Dragulescu received a
written reprimand from Orok ("Orok Reprimand") that
she now alleges constitutes an independent adverse action
Orok Reprimand focused on the incident with the student's
paper, but also "recognize[ed] that this was not the
first time that students complained about your aberrant and
negative behavior in the class." (Def. Mot., Ex. 24). In
the document, Orok warned Dragulescu that the "refusal
to follow my instructions is inappropriate and amounts to
insubordination, [sic] subsequent actions such as this will
not be tolerated." Id. The reprimand also
counseled Dragulescu that her "continuous refusal to
follow administrative directions is professionally
irresponsible and may lead to additional personnel
actions." Id. Following VUU's prescribed
procedure, Dragulescu initiated a formal grievance in
5, 2015, Wilson formally recommended that Dragulescu's
contract not be renewed. Wilson's recommendation cited
concerns about Dragulescu's interactions with students
and her refusal to comply with the suggestions of superiors.
(Def. Mot., Ex. 26). Orok responded by requesting further
documentation of Wilson's concerns. (Def. Mot. 8). Wilson
provided Orok with various student complaints, as well as
documentation of Dragulescu's interactions with Davis
(including the reprimand Schlichting had ordered rescinded).
Id. Orok concurred with Wilson, and issued his own
recommendation that Dragulescu's contract not be renewed.
(Def. Mot., Ex. 27). Dragulescu contends that several of the
complaints ultimately included in this process were
specifically solicited by Wilson from students. (PI. Resp.
parties dispute how VUU leadership responded to the Orok and
Wilson recommendations, but both sides agree that
Dragulescu's contract was ultimately renewed for the
2015-2016 term. VUU President Claude Perkins explained that
he wished to give Dragulescu another opportunity to improve,
(Def. Mot., Ex. 28), but Dragulescu contends that she was
renewed only because any contrary decision would have
violated an internal VUU policy to give 45 days notice before
any non-renewal decision. Dragulescu also claims ...