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Plumbar v. South Texas College of Law

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division

July 3, 2017



          Lee H. Rosenthal Chief United States District Judge.

         Joseph Plumbar started working as an Acquisition and Reference Librarian for the South Texas College of Law in December 2012. In 2014, Plumbar complained to his supervisors that he thought he was being paid less than his white coworkers and asked for an increase. His request was denied. That same year, Plumbar asked that his full-time position be converted to part-time. That request was granted. His part-time duties were primarily to staff a reference desk in the law school's library. In December of that year, his position was terminated. Plumbar sued, alleging that he was paid less than his coworkers because of his race and that his position was terminated based on race and retaliation for his complaint about pay, in violation of Title VII and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. South Texas College of Law responded that it eliminated Plumbar's position based on an anticipated budget shortfall that required cost savings. South Texas asserted that it cut Plumbar's position after examining the demand for reference-desk services during the day and evening hours and learning that the demand was low during the Thursday evening and Saturday hours Plumbar worked.

         After discovery, South Texas College of Law moved for summary judgment, Plumbar responded, and South Texas replied. (Docket Entry Nos. 28, 32, 34). Based on a careful review of the motion, response, and reply; the record; and the relevant law, the court grants South Texas College of Law's summary judgment motion. (Docket Entry No. 28). The reasons for the rulings are set out below, and final judgment is separately entered.

         I. Background[1]

         South Texas College of Law hired Joseph Plumbar in December 2012 to work as an Acquisition and Reference Librarian in the Fred Parks Library. (Docket Entry No. 32, Ex. A at ¶ 1). Plumbar worked full-time until the summer of 2014. (Id. at ¶ 3). His job duties included staffing the library's reference desk, ordering new materials for the library, and maintaining the materials budget. (Id. at ¶ 4;Docket Entry No. 28, Ex. 1 A).

         Sometime in 2014, [2] Plumbar complained about what he perceived as his racially disparate pay. He complained to his direct supervisor, Mary Lippold, Vice President and Director of Library Services.[3] (Docket Entry No. 32, Ex. A at ¶ 7). Lippold told Plumbar to take his complaint to David Cowan, Director of the library at the time. (Id.). Cowan told Plumbar that his pay was set using the American Association of Law Libraries Survey standards, and that his pay was proper considering his job description and responsibilities and his experience as a professional librarian. (Id.). Plumbar asked to meet with Stephen Alderman, Vice President of Human Resources and General Counsel for South Texas College of Law. (Id.; Docket Entry No. 28, Ex. 1 at ¶ 5). During that meeting, Plumbar argued that the American Association of Law Libraries Survey supported an increase in his pay. (Docket Entry No. 28, Ex. 1 at ¶ 5). Alderman disagreed, explaining that Plumbar's position corresponded to several different job categories on the Survey and that his pay was properly set based on those categories. (Id.). Alderman and Plumbar dispute whether Plumbar complained about race discrimination in his pay during this meeting. (Compare Id. with Docket Entry No. 32, Ex. A at ¶ 7). Alderman does not dispute that he knew Plumbar had told Cowan of his belief that his salary-increase request was denied because of his race. (Docket Entry No. 28, Ex.1 at ¶ 6).

         In June 2014, Plumbar asked to reduce his full-time position to part-time so he could concentrate on his private law practice. (Docket Entry No. 28, Ex. 1 at ¶ 7). His request was approved, and Plumbar became a part-time employee in July 2014. (Id.). Plumbar's part-time schedule included staffing the reference desk on Thursday evenings and Saturday during the day. (Id., Ex. 2 at ¶ 8).

         In the summer of 2014, Cowan retired as Director of Library Services. (Id. at ¶ 6). Mary Lippold, Associate Director of Administrator Services, and Monica Ortale, Associate Director of Public Services, were made co-directors of the library until a new director was found. (Id.). In the fall of 2014, South Texas faced a budget shortfall in the coming fiscal year. ((Docket Entry No. 28, Ex. 1 at ¶ 8). Lippold and Ortale were directed to "be conscious of cost savings in every aspect of the library." (Id; Ex. 1A; Ex. 2 at ¶ 7). After reviewing the trends in the demand for library reference services at different times, Lippold and Ortale decided to cut Plumbar's hours from the reference desk because low demand made it unnecessary to provide reference services during those times. (Id., Ex. 2 at ¶ 8). Lippold told Alderman that because of the low demand for the reference librarian's services on Thursday evenings and weekends, she recommended terminating Plumbar. (Id., Ex. 1 at ¶ 8). Alderman approved the decision. (Id.). Plumbar was notified on December 5, 2014 that his position was terminated. (Id. at ¶ 9).

         On June 4, 2015, Plumbar filed a discrimination charge with the EEOC, alleging race discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII. The EEOC issued a right-to-sue letter on October 16, 2015. On January 15, 2016, Plumbar filed this suit. He alleges that he was paid less based on race discrimination and that he was terminated based on both race discrimination and retaliation for complaining about his disparate pay, in violation of Title VII and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. (Docket Entry Nos. 1, 23). South Texas moves for summary judgment on the basis that Plumbar's position was terminated based on budget cuts, a legitimate nondiscriminatory and nonretaliatory reason.[4] The parties' arguments and the record evidence are analyzed under the applicable legal standards.

         II. The Summary Judgment Standard

         "Summary judgment is required when '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.'" Trent v. Wade, 776 F.3d 368, 376 (5th Cir. 2015) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a)). "A genuine dispute of material fact exists when the 'evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.'" Nola Spice Designs, LLC v. Haydel Enters., Inc., 783 F.3d 527, 536 (5th Cir. 2015) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). "The moving party 'bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.'" Id. (quoting EEOC v. LHC Grp., Inc., 773 F.3d 688, 694 (5th Cir. 2014)); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).

         "Where the non-movant bears the burden of proof at trial, the movant may merely point to the absence of evidence and thereby shift to the non-movant the burden of demonstrating by competent summary judgment proof that there is an issue of material fact warranting trial." Id. (quotation marks omitted); see also Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325. Although the party moving for summary judgment must demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, it does not need to negate the elements of the nonmovant's case. Boudreaux v. Swift Transp. Co., 402 F.3d 536, 540 (5th Cir. 2005). "A fact is 'material' if its resolution in favor of one party might affect the outcome of the lawsuit under governing law." Sossamon v. Lone Star State of Texas, 560 F.3d 316, 326 (5th Cir. 2009) (quotation omitted). "If the moving party fails to meet [its] initial burden, the motion [for summary judgment] must be denied, regardless of the nonmovant's response." United States v. $92, 203.00 in U.S. Currency, 537 F.3d 504, 507 (5th Cir. 2008) (quoting Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (en banc)).

         "Once the moving party [meets its initial burden], the non-moving party must' go beyond the pleadings and by her own affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Nola Spice, 783 F.3d at 536 (quoting EEOC, 773 F.3d at 694). The nonmovant must identify specific evidence in the record and articulate how that evidence supports that party's claim. Baranowski v. Hart, 486 F.3d 112, 119 (5th Cir. 2007). "This burden will not be satisfied by 'some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, by conclusory allegations, by unsubstantiated assertions, or by only a scintilla of evidence.'" Boudreaux, 402 F.3d at 540 (quoting Little, 37 F.3d at 1075). In deciding a summary-judgment motion, the court draws all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Connors v. Graves, 538 F.3d 373, 376 (5th Cir. 2008); see also Nola Spice, 783 F.3d at 536.

         III. Analysis A. Employment Discrimination

         1. The ...

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