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Wang v. University of Texas at El Paso

United States District Court, W.D. Texas, El Paso Division

May 16, 2018

YONG DONG WANG, Plaintiff,



         Presently before the Court is Defendants University of Texas at El Paso ("UTEP") and Dr. Chunqiang Li's ("Dr. Li") "Motion for Summary Judgment" ("Motion") (ECF No. 31) filed on April 2, 2018. Therein, Defendants request that the Court grant summary judgment in their favor on each of Plaintiff Yong Dong Wang's ("Dr. Wang") claims and dismiss the case with prejudice. Mot. at 22. For the reasons that follow, the Court GRANTS Defendants' Motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Dr. Wang is a Chinese national who was employed by UTEP as a postdoctoral research scientist in El Paso, Texas. Am. Compl. at 1, ECF No. 25. UTEP is a state university located in El Paso, Texas. Id. Dr. Li is an Associate Professor of Physics at UTEP. Mot, Ex. A ¶ 2. After receiving grants in 2014, UTEP and Dr. Li sought to hire a postdoctoral research scientist. Id. ¶ 4. Dr. Wang applied for the position, and after evaluating his credentials, Dr. Li offered him the job. Id. Dr. Wang began his postdoctoral appointment at UTEP in March 2015, and Dr. Li, satisfied with his performance, renewed his term for another year in August 2015. Id. ¶¶ 5-6.

         However, during the spring of 2016, Dr. Li and Dr. Wang's working relationship began to sour. Id. Dr. Li states that Dr. Wang's performance declined significantly and that he was unable to present his research findings or answer questions during the weekly team meetings. Id. Further, in April 2016, according to Dr. Li and Aurelio Paez, a Ph.D. student at UTEP, Dr. Wang acted aggressively, unprofessionally, and disrespectfully toward Dr. Li during a weekly team meeting. Id. ¶ 11; Mot., Ex. C ¶ 4. Dr. Li affirms that Dr. Wang's angry and aggressive demeanor continued during a meeting in his office after the weekly team meeting. Mot., Ex. A ¶ 11.

         Prior to his term expiring in August 2016, Dr. Wang approached Dr. Li about the renewal of his postdoctoral appointment. Id. ¶ 12. According to Dr. Li, he told Dr. Wang that he was only going to renew his term for three months, through the end of November 2016, to allow Dr. Wang to finish his experiment because Dr. Wang's performance was severely lacking. Id. Nevertheless, Dr. Li states that following more angry and aggressive behavior at the November 4 team meeting, he barred Dr. Wang from working in the lab. Id. ¶¶ 13-14.

         However, Dr. Wang's version of events differs greatly from Dr. Li's. Dr. Wang alleges that Dr. Li promised to help him get his HI B Visa and represented the term of appointment as being for three years at the time of hiring, without explaining that the term was renewable at the discretion of UTEP each year. Am. Compl. at 2. Further, Dr. Wang asserts that Dr. Li managed him differently after he notified Dr. Li that he was being baptized, including trying to shorten the term of his employment and treating him differently at the team meetings. Id. at 2-3. For example, Dr. Wang contends that Dr. Li berated him at the November 4 team meeting for his demeanor not being submissive enough and his performance. Id. at 3. Finally, Dr. Wang alleges that Dr. Li fired him after the November 4 team meeting. Id.

         On November 7, Dr. Wang stopped reporting to work. Mot., Ex. B ¶ 3. On November 10, Dr. Wang indicated to UTEP's Office of Human Resources that he sought to file a complaint against Dr. Li and that his relationship with Dr. Li had changed after an incident at their church. Id. Subsequently, Dr. Wang submitted his formal resignation to UTEP on November 17 via email, [1] but UTEP continued to pay him through the end of his appointment term later that month. Id.¶ 17.

         On or about February 17, 2017, Dr. Wang filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") alleging discrimination on the basis of his national origin and religious beliefs. Am. Compl. at 3-4. On March 20, the EEOC issued Dr. Wang a right-to-sue letter because it was unable to resolve the dispute. Id. at 4. Dr. Wang then filed a complaint in the 448th District Court of El Paso County, Texas, alleging claims for discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act (the "TCHRA"), codified in Chapter 21 of the Texas Labor Code; breach of contract; and defamation. Not. Removal, Attach. 3 at 5-6, ECF No. 1. On July 7, Defendants removed the cause to this Court on the basis of federal-question jurisdiction. Not. Removal at 1-2.

         II. STANDARD

         Summary judgment is appropriate 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." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). "A genuine dispute of fact exists when evidence is sufficient for a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the non-moving party, and a fact is material if it 'might affect the outcome of the suit.'" Willis v. Cleco Corp., 749 F.3d 314, 317 (5th Cir. 2014) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477U.S. 242, 248 (1986))). In deciding whether a genuine dispute as to any material fact exists, a trial court considers all of the evidence in the record and "draw[s] all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party" but "refrain[s] from making credibility determinations or weighing the evidence." Turner v. Baylor Richardson Med. Ctr., 476 F.3d 337, 343 (5th Cir. 2007) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Instead, the court "only 'give[s] credence to the evidence favoring the nonmovant [and] that evidence supporting the moving party that is uncontradicted and unimpeached, at least to the extent that that evidence comes from disinterested witnesses.'" Orr v. Copeland, 844 F.3d 484, 490 (5th Cir. 2016) (second alteration in original) (quoting Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150-51 (2000)).

         Procedurally, the party moving for summary judgment "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." E.E.O.C. v. LHC Grp., Inc., 773 F.3d 688, 694 (5th Cir. 2014) (alterations in original) (quotation marks and citation omitted). When the nonmoving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the moving party may satisfy this responsibility by "point[ing] out the absence of evidence supporting the nonmoving party's case." Latimer v. Smithkline & French Labs., 919 F.2d 301, 303 (5th Cir. 1990); see also Boudreaux v. Swift Transp. Co., 402 F.3d 536, 544-45 (5th Cir. 2005).

         If the moving party succeeds, "the onus shifts to the nonmoving party to 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." LHC Grp., 173 F.3d at 694 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). However, the nonmoving party "cannot defeat summary judgment with conclusory allegations, unsubstantiated assertions, or only a scintilla of evidence." Davis v. Fort Bend Cty., 765 F.3d 480, 497 n.20 (5th Cir. 2014) (quotation marks and citation omitted).


         In the instant case, Dr. Wang has asserted claims for discrimination under Title VII and the TCHRA, breach of contract, and defamation. Am. Compl. at 4-5. Defendants ask the Court to grant summary judgment in their favor on each of Dr. Wang's claims and dismiss the case with prejudice. Mot. at 22. As an initial matter, Defendants have notified the Court that Dr. Wang did not respond to their requests for admissions. Id. at 7. Thus, Defendants argue that the requests should be deemed admitted. Id. Dr. Wang concedes that he did not respond to the requests for admissions, but cites his lack of understanding of the law and difficulties with the English language as why his failure should not be held against him.[2] Resp. at 2, ECF No. 32. In accordance with Fifth Circuit precedent, the Court deems the requests admitted. See Hulsey v. State of Tex., 929 ...

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