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Shanmugavelandy v. University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center

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

August 7, 2019

SRIRAM SARAVANAN SHANMUGAVELANDY Plaintiff,
v.
UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS M.D. ANDERSON CANCER CENTER, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND OPINION

          Lee H. Rosenthal Chief United States District Judge

         Sriram Saravanan Shanmugavelandy, representing himself, has sued the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, alleging that the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center discriminated against him based on his national origin (Asian Indian) and his sex (male) by denying him a promotion; retaliated against him for asserting rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act; and harassed him severely enough to create a hostile work environment.

         The M.D. Anderson Cancer Center has moved to dismiss the amended complaint, arguing that sovereign immunity bars Shanmugavelandy's claims and that he has not alleged enough facts to state a claim. Shanmugavelandy has responded. (Docket Entry Nos. 52, 56). The M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and Shanmugavelandy filed supplemental briefs, as permitted by the court. (Docket Entry Nos. 55, 60). After a careful review of the complaint and amended complaint and the documents attached to it, the motion and response, the supplemental briefs, and the applicable law, the court grants the motion to dismiss, with prejudice and without leave to amend, because amendment would be futile. An order of dismissal is separately entered. The reasons are explained below.

         I. Background

         The facts are drawn from the allegations of Shanmugavelandy's initial and amended complaints, accepted as true for this motion, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission documents that are attached, referred to, and central to, the complaints. Collins v. Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, 224 F.3d 496, 498-99 (5th Cir. 2000).

         From April 2015 to May 2017, Shanmugavelandy worked as a research assistant for the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, in Dr. Nikki Millward's lab. Shanmugavelandy was the only Asian-Indian male working as a research assistant in the lab. In 2016, Shanmugavelandy asked for a promotion to obtain a stronger basis for permanent resident status, based on his “extraordinary ability.” 8 C.F.R. § 204.5(h). Shanmugavelandy also needed the promotion “to increase [his] pay so that [he] could pay [his] [i]mmigration attorney bill.” (Docket Entry No. 51 at 2). Shanmugavelandy alleges that in May 2016, he “was specifically told . . . that the department would be able to promote [him].” (Docket Entry No. 1 at 10). Shanmugavelandy also began applying for other positions at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

         In September 2016, Shanmugavelandy attended a department meeting during which promotions were announced. Shanmugavelandy did not receive a promotion, but a “Korean male Research Assistant” and a “Taiwanese female Senior Research Assistant” did. (Id. at 10). Shanmugavelandy alleges that he had “more research experience and journal publications” than these individuals; he has published a paper with the Korean male; and the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center did not promote any Indian males. (Id.; Docket Entry No. 51 at 4). When the Korean male was promoted, Shanmugavelandy “realized that [he had] been played by everyone and misled.” (Docket Entry No. 51 at 4).

         Shanmugavelandy met with Dr. Millward, the department chair, after the department meeting. She told him that he could not receive “a promotion or salary increase because she would not be able to guarantee [his] job in the long run if [he were] promoted or given a raise.” (Docket Entry No. 1 at 10). She also told Shanmugavelandy that he could not receive a “two level[]” promotion “because of institutional policies.” (Docket Entry No. 51 at 2). Shanmugavelandy alleges that these explanations did not make sense because research assistants had been promoted in the past, and because some unidentified person had told him in May, three months earlier, that he would be promoted. (Docket Entry No. 1 at 10).

         Around the same time, Shanmugavelandy alleged, an administrator at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center posted a scene from the movie “Second Hand Lion” on a social-media website. (Docket Entry No. 51 at 3). Shanmugavelandy “felt offended” and thought that the clip had been directed at him, apparently because it referred to “outsider[s].” (Id.). In November 2017, after Shanmugavelandy received an “excellent” annual performance evaluation, he still did not receive a promotion or salary increase. (Docket Entry No. 58-1 at 2-5; Docket Entry No. 1 at 10). According to Shanmugavelandy, Dr. Millward told him that he had “done an exceptional job[, ] but there was no increment and/or promotion for [his] performance.” (Docket Entry No. 60 at 2).

         Shanmugavelandy “began to suspect” that his applications for other M.D. Anderson Cancer Center positions “had been rejected for improper and discriminatory reasons.” (Docket Entry No. 1 at 10). The M.D. Anderson Cancer Center had stated that Shanmugavelandy was welcome to apply for other positions, but his manager, Marcia Richard, and a Dr. Bratip later told him to “stop applying for jobs with [the] MD Anderson Cancer Center” and to “apply at other institutions in Houston.” (Id.). Shanmugavelandy's telephone discussions with M.D. Anderson Cancer Center employees about his employment applications were deleted while he was on vacation. (Id.). Shanmugavelandy suspected that the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center “intentionally blocked [his] applications for other internal positions for discriminatory reasons.” (Id.).

         Shanmugavelandy alleges two other workplace incidents. The first concerned his decision to park in a “short term / visitor” spot. (Docket Entry No. 51 at 2). When Shanmugavelandy parked his car there, “people from [his] department left notices saying that this [is] not a parking lot, ” but “other employe[e]s also had parked in that area . . . for the whole day and they were not given any notice.” (Id. at 2). The second incident was a meeting he had with Dr. Le Roux and her husband, Dr. “Dawid” Schellingerhout. (Id. at 3). It is unclear from the initial and amended complaints whether Dr. Le Roux or Dr. Schellingerhout worked in the same department or lab as Shanmugavelandy. Shanmugavelandy alleges that these doctors “targeted” him by asking: “whether [he] was talking to one of [Dr. Le Roux's employees]”; “if people in [Dr. Le Roux's] lab interact with each other when she is not around”; and “other questions which made [him] humiliated and scared.” (Id.). Shanmugavelandy understood these questions as “saying [he had] misbehaved” and as “two person[s] from the same country talk[ing] about their personal li[ves].” (Id.). Shanmugavelandy “resigned” a “day or two” after this meeting, in May 2017, because he “was scared, ” and because of Dr. Le Roux's “unrelenting effort to fix [him].”[1] (Id.; Docket Entry No. 60 at 3). According to Shanmugavelandy, this meeting “aggravated the situation where [he] was already targeted and isolated in the department.” (Docket Entry No. 51 at 3).

         Shanmugavelandy filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in July 2017. (Id. at 9). He alleged that the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center discriminated against him based on his national origin and sex by denying him a promotion. (Id.). He did not assert retaliation or harassment claims, but his factual recitation did allege that the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center had created a hostile work environment. The EEOC dismissed Shanmugavelandy's charge in May 2018, finding no evidence of discrimination based on national origin or sex. (Docket Entry No. 36-1).

         In August 2017, Shanmugavelandy sued the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in the Northern District of Illinois, asserting discrimination, retaliation, and a hostile work environment. (Docket Entry No. 1). He alleged that the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center's actions caused him stress and weight gain, contributing to a diabetes diagnosis. Shanmugavelandy moved to have an attorney appointed, but the court denied the motion, finding that he could afford an attorney based on his salary. (Docket Entry Nos. 4, 13). The M.D. Anderson Cancer Center moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, and Shanmugavelandy responded. (Docket Entry Nos. 16-17). The court granted the motion and transferred the case to the Southern District of Texas, where the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center has its principal place of business. (Docket Entry No. 25).

         The M.D. Anderson Cancer Center moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim, Shanmugavelandy did not respond, and the court dismissed his claims, without prejudice and with leave to amend. (Docket Entry Nos. 36, 47). Shanmugavelandy filed an amended complaint alleging additional facts. (Docket Entry No. 51). The M.D. Anderson Cancer Center moved to dismiss the amended complaint, arguing that sovereign immunity bars Shanmugavelandy's claims and that Shanmugavelandy has not made a prima facie showing of discrimination, a hostile work environment, or retaliation. (Docket Entry No. 52). The M.D. Anderson Cancer Center filed a supplemental brief, at the court's ...


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