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Balas v. Reveley

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division

August 8, 2017

W. TAYLOR REVELEY, IV, et al., Defendants.


          John A. Gibney, Jr. United States District Judge

         Longwood University ("Longwood") denied tenure to Ayse Nilgun Balas, a woman of Turkish ethnicity and national origin who taught marketing in the College of Business and Economics (the "CBE"). According to Longwood, it denied Balas's tenure application based on the quality of her scholarship and teaching. According to Balas, Longwood denied her tenure application based on her national origin and her opposition to national origin discrimination.

         Balas has sued for discrimination and retaliation under 42 U.S.C. § 1981. The defendants[1] have moved for summary judgment. Because Longwood denied Balas tenure for a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason (i.e., her scholarship and teaching), Balas's claims fail. Accordingly, the Court will grant the defendants' motion for summary judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Longwood, a state-supported university, typically hires new faculty members for five-year probationary periods. Within the CBE, all probationary faculty members receive reviews each fall, and all faculty members receive reviews each spring. In the fall, both the relevant department chair and a Promotion and Tenure Committee (the "P&T Committee")[2] conduct a review of all probationary faculty members, and each makes a recommendation on whether to renew the faculty member's contract. The reviews focus on three areas: teaching, scholarship, and service. Following the fifth year review, the probationary faculty member may apply for tenure. The department chair and the P&T Committee again both review the applicant and submit separate recommendations to the Dean of the CBE. The Dean then submits a recommendation to the Provost, who then submits a recommendation to the Board of Visitors. The Board of Visitors makes the ultimate decision on tenure applications.

         In 2009, Longwood hired Balas for a five-year probationary period as an assistant professor of marketing in the CBE. Longwood renewed her contract after years one (2009 to 2010) and two (2010 to 2011).

         In year three (2011 to 2012), John Gaskins, Balas's department chair, reviewed Balas in the fall and the spring. In November 2011, Gaskins reviewed Balas as a probationary faculty member and recommended that Longwood renew her contract. In this review, Gaskins included the following comment:

One area for potential improvement is in the speech patterns in your presentation. Your command of the vocabulary and grammar is excellent, and your accent does not interfere with comprehension, but the cadence and inflections in your speech patterns might be difficult for some to follow. I suggest that you might video record some of your presentations and/or seek vocal coaching.

(Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 10.) In May 2012, Gaskins conducted the annual faculty evaluation for Balas. He rated her teaching as "Satisfactory, " but rated her scholarship, service, and overall performance as "Needs Improvement." In the comments, Gaskins wrote that "[l]ittle progress has been made ... in addressing the cadence and inflection issues cited earlier. As we discussed, I am concerned that you may not be projecting sufficient presence in the classroom." (Gaskins Dep. Ex. 6.)

         In late May 2012, Balas met with Paul Barrett, Dean of the CBE. Dean Barrett told Balas that Longwood would not renew her contract after the 2012-2013 school year. In this meeting, Dean Barrett told Balas "that he was issuing a terminating contract because [Balas was] 'not a good fit' with the College." Barrett, however, did not provide "any written explanation of how a 'good fit' is defined." (Am. Compl. Ex. 2.) Longwood issued Balas a terminating contract in June 2012. Balas signed the terminating contract, but added a statement that Dean Barrett, Department Chair Gaskins, and others had unlawfully discriminated against her. Balas appealed the terminating contract to the Faculty Status and Grievance Committee (the "FSGC") who, in September 2012, recommended reversing the decision to issue the terminating contract. Dean Barrett and the Provost affirmed the findings of the FSGC and reappointed Balas for another year.

         In Balas's fourth year at Longwood (2012 to 2013), in November 2012, the P&T Committee unanimously recommended that Longwood renew Balas's contract for another year. In his separate fall review, Department Chair Gaskins expressed "grave reservations" about recommending Balas's continued appointment. Longwood renewed Balas's contract.

         In July 2013, Gaskins conducted the annual faculty evaluation for Balas. He included a comment that Balas displayed a disrespectful attitude by failing to use the prescribed forms for her annual report. Balas responded by letter to Gaskins (copying Dean Barrett and the President of Longwood) complaining about Gaskins's comment and saying that it was (1) discriminatory and (2) retaliatory for Balas having won her appeal with the FSGC.

         In Balas's fifth year (2013 to 2014), the P&T Committee met in October 2013 to review Balas as a probationary faculty member. At that time, Claire La Roche, Cheryl Adkins, Glenn Dardick, and Raymond Brastow made up the P&T Committee. According to Dardick, at the same time as a discussion of faculty members with foreign accents, including Balas, La Roche said that some faculty members did not "fit in" at Longwood.[3] La Roche also shared that she had received complaints from students that could not understand Dr. Balas. When questioned about these comments by Dardick, however, La Roche did not elaborate. La Roche also raised concerns about Balas's grading curve and research publications, but did not raise similar concerns about another faculty member under evaluation. The P&T Committee voted two-two to renew Balas's contract.

         Also in October 2013, Gaskins conducted his review of Balas as a probationary faculty member. He rated her teaching as average, her service as satisfactory, and her number of publications as good, but expressed concerns about the quality of the publication outlets. Gaskins commented that Balas had made "little progress in addressing the concerns I expressed last year relating to collegiality and commitment to the institution." (Gaskins Dep. Ex. 15.) Gaskins recommended that Longwood not renew Balas's contract.

         In November 2013, in response to Gaskins's review, Balas asked Gaskins to reconsider his recommendation. Gaskins responded with a letter explaining why his recommendation remained unchanged. Balas then asked Gaskins to recuse himself from her tenure-track process, stating that: "your outlook toward me is devoid of ...

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