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Spencer v. Virginia State University

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

January 30, 2018

ZOE SPENCER, Plaintiff,
v.
VIRGINIA STATE UNIVERSITY, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION (GRANTING MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT)

          HENRY E. HUDSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Dr. Zoe Spencer ("Plaintiff) filed this suit against Defendant Virginia State University ("VSU") and Defendant Dr. Keith T. Miller ("Dr. Miller") (collectively "Defendants"), alleging that Defendants violated the Equal Pay Act, 29 U.S.C. § 206(d), et seq., and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq., in the course of various employment actions taken against Plaintiff. (2d Am. Compl., ECF No. 44.) This matter is now before the Court on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 74), filed on October 24, 2017.

         All parties filed memoranda supporting their respective positions. (ECF Nos. 76-78.) The Court dispensed with oral argument because the facts and legal contentions were adequately presented in the materials before it, and oral argument would not have aided in the decisional process. E.D. Va. Local Civ. R. 7(J). On November 28, 2017, the Court issued an order granting Defendants' motion and dismissing Plaintiffs action with prejudice (ECF No. 87), and further identified that the Court would subsequently file a memorandum opinion explaining its reasoning. This reasoning is set forth below.

         I. BACKGROUND

         At the outset, the Court notes that Plaintiffs Memorandum in Opposition to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment ("Memorandum in Opposition, " ECF No. 77) fails to include a specifically captioned section listing all material facts as to which she contends are genuinely in dispute, as required by E.D. Va. Loc. Civ. R. 56(B)[1] and consistent with Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). Instead, Plaintiff has set forth her own version of the material facts without identifying the facts among those cited by the Defendants that she disputes. Under the Local Rules, a court in this situation may accept those facts identified by the movant as undisputed to be admitted, as well as assume admitted those facts not disputed by reference to the record. E.D. Va. Loc. Civ. R. 56(B); see JDS Uniphase Corp. v. Jennings, 473 F.Supp.2d 705, 707 (E.D. Va. 2007). Despite Plaintiffs failure to comply with the plain language of Local Rule 56, the Court has made a reasonable effort to discern which material facts are genuinely disputed by examining the citations to the record in Plaintiffs Memorandum in Opposition. Where appropriate, however, the Court reserves the right to consider Defendants' statement of facts as undisputed, as permitted by the Local Rules and Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e).

         The Court has concluded that the following factual recitation represents the undisputed material facts for the purpose of resolving the summary judgment motion:

         VSU is organized into six colleges, which are further divided into various departments. (Palm Decl. ¶ 12, ECF No. 76-1; Kanu Decl. ¶ 5, ECF No. 76-2.) Two of the six colleges are the College of Education and the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. (Palm Decl. ¶ 12.)

         The College of Education focuses on the preparation of educational professionals. (Corley Decl. ¶ 4, ECF No. 76-3.) It is divided into five departments, including the Department of Educational Leadership, which is a combination of the former Department of Administrative and Organizational Leadership and the Department of Doctoral Studies. (Id. ¶ 6.) The Department of Educational Leadership's senior-level preparation program aims to teach students how to lead a school that is both effective and efficient. (Id. ¶ 7.) Further, the department's doctoral program allows as many as twelve graduate-level students to pursue a Doctorate in Educational Administration and Supervision. (Id.)

         The College of Humanities and Social Services is divided into nine departments, two of which are the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice ("Sociology") and the Department of Mass. Communications and Communications Services ("Mass Communications"). (Kanu Decl. ¶¶ 5-6, 8.) The Department of Sociology contains both bachelor's and master's degree programs. (Id. ¶ 7.) The Department of Mass. Communications allows students to specialize in several areas, including public relations. It offers a Bachelor of Arts in Mass. Communications, which requires all students to complete an internship in a professional setting. (Id. ¶ 9.) Further, the Department of Mass. Communications promotes the professional expertise of its faculty and staff in numerous areas including public relations. (Id. ¶ 11.)

         Plaintiff earned her master's degree in Social Work in 1992 and earned her Ph.D. in Sociology in 2005, both from Howard University. (2d Am. Compl. ¶ 37.) She began as an Assistant Professor in the Sociology Department at VSU in 2008 before she was promoted to Associate Professor in 2010 and granted tenure in 2013. (Id. ¶ 38; Spencer Dep. 115:8-10, ECF No. 77-10.) In the fall of 2013, VSU allowed Plaintiff to teach in China for a semester, during which time she received her regular salary and a $10, 000 stipend. (Spencer Dep. 313:19-315:2; 2d Am. Compl. ¶ 101.) Provost Weldon Hill was among the individuals at VSU that signed off on both Plaintiffs tenure and her request to teach abroad. (Spencer Dep. 115:11-20, 314:15-315:2.) Plaintiff was promoted to Full Professor in 2017. (Id. at 213:10-12.)

         From 2011 to 2013, Plaintiffs salary was $68, 500 per academic year. (2d Am. Compl. ¶ 50.) Plaintiffs salary increased to $70, 040 from 2013 to 2016. (Id.) Her current salary as a full professor is $71, 441. (Id.) Amongst the salaries for the other full professors in the Sociology Department, Plaintiffs salary is the same as that of one male professor, higher than those of one male and one female professor, and lower than those of one male and one female professor. (Spencer Dep. 218:11-219:4.) During her time as an Associate Professor, Plaintiffs salary similarly fell in the middle of the salaries of her colleagues at the same rank. (Kami Decl. ¶ 13.)

         Throughout her tenure at VSU, Plaintiff has taught several different undergraduate courses in the Sociology Department, such as Sociology of Marriage and Family, Social Psychology, and Contemporary Hip Hop and the Prison Industrial Complex, and one graduate-level course. (2d. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 41-45.) Plaintiff estimates that she works approximately thirty hours per week. (Spencer Dep. 52:2-9.) Plaintiff has never served in an administrative capacity either at VSU or any other entity. (Id. at 240:1-2.)

         In 2014, VSU denied Plaintiffs request for her salary to be raised to the pay-level of Colonel Cortez Dial and Dr. Michael Shackleford. (Hill Dep. 267:17-269:4.) VSU made this decision after determining that Plaintiffs salary was in the middle of those similarly ranked professors within her department. (Id.) Dr. Joyce Edwards, the chair of Plaintiff s department, recommended that Plaintiff receive a salary increase. (Edwards Dep. 164:21- 165:16.) However, Dr. Edwards acknowledged that the denial was likely due to VSU's concern that increasing Plaintiffs salary would lead to a domino effect amongst all faculty members at the associate professor rank. (Id.)

         Dial's educational background includes a Bachelor of Science degree in Communication Science from Northern Illinois University in 1974, a Master of Science degree in Education from University of Southern California in 1978, a MBA from Webster University in 1985, and a Doctorate in Education from VSU in 2013. (Dial Dep. 14:8-13, 164:21-165:15; Exs. 1-4, ECF No. 76-6.) Dial joined the Army in 1974, and during his service he held several different positions in public affairs and personnel. (Id. at 47:1-6; Def. Supp. Resp. 1st Int. ¶ 15, ECF No. 76-7.) He was promoted to full colonel in 1997 before ultimately retiring in 2003. (Dial Dep. 47:7-8, 132:16-18.)

         Following Dial's retirement from the Army, VSU hired him as Director of Residence Life. (Id. at 21:8-11.) In 2004, Dial began serving as VSU's Chief of Staff, and he held that position until June 2014. (Id. at Ex. 6.) As Chief of Staff, Dial fulfilled several administrative and supervisory roles under the direction of VSU's president. (Def. Supp. Resp. 1st Int. ¶ 8.) During his time as Chief of Staff, Dial also taught several courses at VSU such as an undergraduate course in mass communications and a graduate-level course titled Crisis Communications. (DialDep. 160:1-4, 160:22-162:3.) In the summer of 2013, Dial informed the President of VSU that he intended to step down as Chief of Staff to pursue teaching opportunities. (Id. at 170:6-12.)

         After Dial announced his interest in teaching, the Chair of the Mass. Communications Department, Dr. Ishmail Conway, approached him and said "We'd really like you to stay here for one more year at least." (Id. at 170:13- 22.) Ultimately, Dial accepted a position as a term-appointed Associate Professor in the Mass. Communications Department. (Id. at 170:6-14, 192:15-18; Kanu Decl. ¶ 14.) The position came with a nine-month contract that paid $105, 446, which was 75% of the twelve-month salary he received as Chief of Staff. (Def. Supp. Resp. 1st Int. ¶ 6.) From 2016 to 2017, his salary increased to $107, 556. (2d Am. Compl. ¶ 67.) Dial's salary as a term appointment exceeded the salaries of many tenured faculty at VSU, male and female, and it was higher than that of all other faculty within the Sociology Department. (Kanu Decl. ¶ 14.)

         From 2014 to 2017, Dial taught six semesters of courses at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, such as Crisis Communications, Graduate Media Internship, Media Management, and Special Topics in Media. (2d Am. Compl. ¶¶ 60-63.) Dial also performed tasks such as advising students and assisting student groups, promoting the Mass. Communications Department to Army Logistics University at Fort Lee, working with the NCO academy at Fort Lee, and serving as the coordinator of the Mass. Communications Department Internship Program. (Dial Dep. 186:19-189:4; Def. Supp. Resp. 1st Int. ¶ 20.) In this capacity, he helped create an internship with Minor League Baseball, and further developed, maintained, and reviewed internship sites. (Dial Dep. 189:1-2; Def. Supp. Resp. 1st Int. ¶ 20.) Dial left the faculty at the end of the 2017 academic year. (Dial Dep. 237:12-18.)

         Shackleford's educational background includes a bachelor's degree in Business Administration from VSU in 1972, a MBA from Florida Institute of Technology in 1977, and a Doctorate in Education from George Washington University in 2003, which included completing a dissertation on the "Impact of Remedial Math on Retention and Graduation Rates at an HBCU." (Shackleford Dep. 13:9-15, 16:8-9, ECF No. 77-11.) Shackleford served in several leadership positions in the Army prior to retiring in 1996. (Id. at 33:16-35:9, 55:5-11.)

         Following his retirement from the Army, Shackleford joined VSU as Executive Director of Enrollment Management where he worked to grow enrollment through recruitment and retention. (Id. at 55:1-4, 19:9-14.) In 2004, Shackleford became the Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management and later the Vice President for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management. (Id. at 36:22-37:11.) In that position, Shackleford oversaw several components of the VSU administration including the division related to Judicial Affairs/ Student Conduct, Residence Life, Student Counseling, and Student Organization/ Greek Life. (Def. Supp. Resp. 1st Int. ¶ 14.)

         In early 2014, Shackleford indicated that he wanted to pursue teaching or work in another capacity at VSU. (Shackleford Dep. 113:16-199:8.) Defendant Dr. Miller, then-president of VSU, [2] approached Shackleford about remaining at VSU in order to help change the student culture. (Id. at 115:3-116:4.) Ultimately, Shackleford accepted a position as a term-appointed Associate Professor in Doctoral Studies for the 2014-2015 school year. (Shackleford Dep. 123:1-124:2, 184:3-12; Hill Dep. 88:8-20, ECF No. 77-8.) The position came with a nine-month contract that paid $119, 738, which was 75% of the twelve-month salary he received in his administrative position. (Shackleford Dep., Ex. 9, ECF No. 76-9; Hill Dep. 114:17-115:18.) Shackleford's salary as term-appointed Associate Professor in Doctoral Studies exceeded that of many tenured faculty at VSU, both male and female. (Corley Decl. ¶ 8.)

         Shackleford taught students at the graduate level, specifically in the education administration doctoral program. (Shackleford Dep. 124:16-126:2, 188:18-21.) One of his primary tasks was to reduce the backlog of doctoral students that had formed due to understaffing. (Id. at 125:3-7.) In this capacity, he helped steward doctoral students through the dissertation phase of their degree, which involved helping with selecting dissertation topics, planning the collection of research data, and providing feedback and guidance to assist with completion of the students' dissertation defense. (Id. at 188:19-21.) Additionally, he served as the co-coordinator for the College of Education Internship Program and as a recruitment officer for the Department of Doctoral Studies, which involved making presentations at schools across the state. (Id. at 184:3-12; 217:13-21; Def. Supp. Resp. 1st Int. ¶ 21.) Given these various commitments, Shackleford's typical day ran from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. and often required working seven-day weeks. (Shackleford Dep. 147:2-16.)

         The procedures followed in hiring both Dial and Shackleford deviated from the procedure typically utilized by VSU, but VSU had a practice of prorating the salary of an administrator to a nine-month salary when that administrator moved to the faculty. (Hill Dep. 80:1-41, 115:1-6, 140:9-22; see also Mem. Opp. Sum. J. ¶ 19.) VSU utilized a "simple arithmetic calculation" in setting the salaries of Shackleford and Dial as Associate Professors at 75% of their prior salaries as administrators. (Hill Dep. 272:9-15, 277:8-11.) Further, Provost Hill believed that this practice was followed by institutions of higher education across the Commonwealth. (Def. Supp. Resp. 1st Int. ¶ 6.) A regression analysis performed by Dr. Joseph I. Rosenberg found that both comparators were paid more than their similarly situated peers-both male and female. (Rosenberg Dep. 79:10-21, ECF No. 76-10.) Further, Dr. Rosenberg's analysis did not show pay disparity at a "statistically significant level of males over females by school." (Id. at 183:13-184:10.)

         In addition to her claims of an illegal pay disparity, Plaintiff claims that Defendants took actions that constituted retaliation in violation of the EPA and Title VII. Plaintiff presented the VSU administration with a report on gender-based pay inequity at VSU in April 2012 and further gave a copy of the report to VSU Board Member Terone Green in November 2012. (Spencer Dep. 254:19-255:15.) Following Plaintiff s presentation, the VSU administration took various steps to further investigate and resolve the concerns highlighted by the report, including allotting over $450, 000 for pay increases. (Hill Dep. 182:19-183:4, 185:10-15.)

         The majority of the alleged materially adverse employment actions involve VSU's Provost, Weldon Hill. (See generally 2d Am. Compl.) Plaintiff alleges that in May 2012 "Provost Hill intentionally delayed signing [Plaintiff]'s paperwork for her Summer School pay." (2d Am. Compl. ¶ 92.) The delay was caused by Plaintiffs department chair missing a submission deadline due to inadvertently overlooking an email. (Hill Dep. 195:17-19.) In an attempt to accommodate Plaintiff and expedite her receipt of payment, the President of VSU suspended electronic deposit for everybody so that paper checks could be picked up. (Hill Dep. 196:3-5.)

         Plaintiff alleges that in December 2012, "Provost Weldon Hill refused to sign [Plaintiff]'s time sheet in a manner that would have afforded her the opportunity to be paid in time for the holiday break." (2d Am. Compl. ¶ 93.) In response to a board member inquiring about this delay, Provost Hill made derogatory comments about Plaintiff. (Green Dep. 100:10-101:15, ECF No. 77-13.) In the past, Hill had signed paperwork preferentially. (Edwards Dep. 139:7-11, ECF No. 77-9.) VSU and Hill also had a general culture of retaliation if you got on their bad side. (Id. at 183:1-5.) A lengthy email exchange identifies that the initial delay in Plaintiffs payment was due to her department chair, Joyce Edwards, not realizing that a form requiring her signature was attached to an email. (Green Dep., Ex. 3 at 8-17.) Plaintiff experienced a "consistent problem" with receiving her payments throughout her time at VSU. (Id. at 11.) At various points throughout the email exchange, it is unclear which corresponding party actually had Plaintiffs payment paperwork. (Id.; Spencer Dep. 262:15-263:1.) Provost Hill arranged a meeting with the parties involved in the exchange in order to address the payment delay issue. (Green Dep., Ex. 3 at 8-9.)

         Plaintiff alleges that the VSU Provost's Office encouraged a student to file a complaint against Plaintiff with the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) and then failed to support Plaintiff through the OCR investigation. (2d Am. Compl. ¶¶ 98-99.) Plaintiff stated "I just assume" when asked how she knew that Provost Hill was behind the student filing the complaint. (Spencer Dep. 304:5-8.) Provost Hill was instrumental in the student being able to participate in commencement exercises despite not having the requisite credit hours to graduate. (Id. at 306:7-312:21.)

         Plaintiff alleges that Provost Hill referred to her as a "troublemaker" and made a veiled threat against her, saying: "A wise person taught me a long, long time ago, that, 'If you get dragged into a game you do not wish to play, then play the end-game.'" (2d Am. Compl. ¶¶ 90, 94-97.) Plaintiff was told that Provost Hill called her a "troublemaker" but never personally heard him do so. The moniker was, however, used jokingly by her colleagues in the VSU faculty. (Spencer Dep. 264:15-265:8; Edwards Dep. 80:3-6.) The statement Plaintiff believed to be a veiled threat was utilized frequently by Provost Hill as a colloquialism for "just tell me what it is you want. I'm not going to play the game leading up to it." (Hill Dep. 239:2-6.)

         Plaintiff contends that Defendants denied her request for a salary adjustment to the pay-level of Dial and Shackleford in September 2014. (2d Am. Compl. ¶¶ 103-111.)

         Plaintiff also claims that Defendants failed to bar a student from taking Plaintiffs classes or take any action in response to a threat assessment Plaintiff submitted against a stalking student in August 2015. (2d Am. Compl. ¶ 117.) Upon receiving Plaintiffs information about the threat assessment, VSU forwarded it to the police. (Spencer Dep. 336:18-337:11.) The Vice Provost suggested that the class be taught by somebody other than Plaintiff, and Dr. Joyce Edwards ultimately taught the class. (Edwards Dep. 181:2-7.) Plaintiff did not request that VSU remove the student from her class in order to allow her to teach it nor did she request that VSU take any further action with respect to that student. (Id. at 180:17-181:18.)

         Plaintiff further maintains that she was slated to give a speech during freshman orientation in January 2016, but Defendants removed her name from the list. (2d Am. Compl. ¶ 118.) Plaintiff states that certain unidentified students told her that the VSU administration took her off a list of speakers. (Spencer Dep. 355:4-358:20; Edwards Dep. 70:11-72:6.)

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The standard of review for summary judgment motions is well settled in the Fourth Circuit. Pursuant to Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is appropriate "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 411 U.S. 242, 247 (1986); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The relevant inquiry in a summary judgment analysis is "whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so onesided that one party must prevail as a matter of law." Anderson, 411 U.S. at 251-52. In reviewing a motion for summary judgment, the court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Id. at 255.

         Once a motion for summary judgment is properly made and supported, the opposing party has the burden of showing that a genuine dispute exists. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 415 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986). "[T]he mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48. Indeed, summary judgment must be granted if the nonmoving party "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).

         To defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party must rely on more than conclusory allegations, "mere speculation, " the "building of one inference upon another, " the "mere existence of a scintilla of evidence, " or the appearance of "some metaphysical doubt" concerning a material fact. Lewis v. City of Va. Beach Sheriffs Office, 409 F.Supp.2d 696, 704 (E.D. Va. 2006) (citations omitted). The court cannot weigh the evidence or make credibility determinations in its summary judgment analysis. Williams v. Staples, Inc., 372 F.3d 662, 667 (4th Cir. 2004).

         In analyzing motions for summary judgment, it is important to keep in mind that a material fact is one that might affect the outcome of a party's case. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; JKC Holding Co. LLC v. Wash. Sports Ventures, Inc.,264 F.3d 459, 465 (4th Cir. 2001). Whether a fact is considered to be "material" is determined by the substantive law, and "[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; see also Hooven-Lewis v. Caldera,249 F.3d 259, 265 (4th Cir. 2001). A "genuine" issue concerning a material fact only arises when the evidence, viewed in the light ...


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