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Miller v. Sam Houston State University

United States District Court, S.D. Texas

September 30, 2019

Audrey Miller, Plaintiff,
Sam Houston State University, Defendant.



         1. Introduction

         A university denied tenure to a female professor. The professor filed a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and initiated an internal grievance proceeding with the university. The university did not renew her employment contract.

         The professor sued under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq., and the Equal Pay Act of 1963, 29 U.S.C. §206(d). The university moved for summary judgment, and the professor responded. The motion for summary judgment will be granted.

         2. Facts

         Plaintiff Audrey Miller (Miller) began working at Sam Houston State University (SHSU) in August 2007 as a tenure-track Assistant Professor in the Clinical Doctoral Program (Clindoc Program) in the Department of Psychology and Philosophy. The Clindoc Program required doctoral students to complete at least seven semesters of hands-on practicum training with live clients and a year-long pre-doctoral internship. Miller, along with approximately ten core faculty members of the Clindoc Program, was assigned to supervise students working with live clients. The Director of Clinical Teaching, Mary Alice Conroy (Conroy), was responsible for assigning students to practice sites.

         In 2010, Miller approached Conroy with data she had compiled on the division of student supervision workload among the Clindoc Program faculty. Miller complained about her workload. Conroy responded that faculty members were expected to redistribute the workload among themselves if necessary. (See 70-2 at 26-27) Miller also approached Department Chair Chris Wilson (Chair Wilson) about the issue. Chair Wilson did not furnish Miller with relief.

         Leading up to her tenure review, in several instances Miller was advised to recuse herself or was removed from faculty oversight committees. For example, in May 2012, Miller raised a concern that a student's dissertation draft was not ready for defense due to a defect in a core hypothesis. (See 84-13) Again in January 2013, Miller objected to a student's proposal to change procedures relating to the security of forensic psychological reports. (See 85-9) In each case, Miller's opinions were met by other faculty members' disagreement, including those who were senior to her. (See 84-16)

         Two faculty committees, Department Promotion and Tenure Advisory Committee (Department Advisory Committee) and College of Humanities and Social Sciences Dean's Advisory Committee on Promotion and Tenure (Dean's Advisory Committee), recommended tenure decisions for faculty members in the Clindoc Program. (See 70-7 at 3-6) Rody Miller (R. Miller) chaired both committees.

         On February 18, 2012, and May 2, 2012, R. Miller sent letters to both Dean John de Castro (Dean de Castro) and Chair Wilson summarizing the Department Advisory Committee's review of Miller's work in 2011. (70-17 at 8-9, 75-8 at 3-4) The February 2012 letter stated that Miller's behavior "has eroded her colleagues' willingness to rely on her" and that her actions have been "disadvantageous to students." (70-17 at 8.) The letter cited an instance where she was removed from a dissertation committee due to "disruption[] of student mentoring and training." (Id.) The May 2012 letter reported that Miller "lack[s] in collaborative and attentive generosity, " that she is "egocentric" in using communal resources, and that she counts her contribution to supervising student work as "overloads." (75-8 at 3-4.) Miller responded by sending an e-mail to the Department Advisory Committee faculty members, voicing her objections to the letter and requesting guidance on how she can meet the committee's expectations. [82-12] She also met with R. Miller to discuss the impact of the letter on her tenure application. (See 80-14)

         Miller submitted her application for promotion to Associate Professor with tenure for external review on October 22, 2012, and for internal review on January 3, 2013. (33 at 2) At that time, the Department of Psychology had nineteen tenure-track psychology faculty, including thirteen males and six females. (74-1 at 10)

         On February 5, 2013, R. Miller sent a third letter to Chair Wilson, outlining the Department Advisory Committee's concerns that Miller's collegiality had not improved. (70-17) The letter stated that Miller exhibited "obstinacy and inflexibility" that impeded student research, "thin-skinned spitefulness" directed to students, and "disrespect for her colleagues' expertise, and defensive disregard of their advice." (70-17 at 2) As examples of Miller's behavior, R. Miller stated that on four occasions, Miller's actions caused problems with students, including a risk of delay or an actual delay in a student's dissertation defense. (Id. at 2-3) R. Miller also wrote that other Clindoc Program faculty members had expressed their unwillingness to work with Miller. (Id. at 3)

         On March 27, 2013, SHSU's Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Jaimie Hebert ("Provost Hebert") sent Miller a letter stating that her tenure application had been denied. (70-17 at 12) Miller filed a complaint with the EEOC and the Texas Workforce Commission ("TWC") on May 20, 2013. (70-19) On or around July 12, 2013, SHSU denied Miller a merit increase in salary for the year 2013-14. (87-19) Her employment with SHSU expired on May 31, 2014. (33 at 3) She filed . this lawsuit on September 28, 2015. (1)

         3. Summary Judgment

         A. Legal standard

         Summary judgment is proper when, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant, "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 a judgment as a matter of law." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 [1986]; see Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). A dispute about a material fact is "genuine" if the evidence would allow a reasonable jury to find in favor of the non-movant. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         If the movant meets its burden and points out an absence of evidence on an essential element of the non-movant's case, on which the non-movant bears the burden of proof at trial, the non-movant must then present competent summary judgment evidence to support the essential elements of her claim and demonstrate that there is a genuine issue of material fact for trial. National Ass'n of Gov't Employees v. City Pub. Serv. Board, 40 F.3d 698, 712 (5th Cir. 1994). The non-movant may not rely merely on allegations, denials in a pleading, or unsubstantiated assertions that a fact issue exists, but she must offer specific facts showing the existence of a genuine issue of material fact concerning every element of her causes of action. Morris v. Covan World Wide Moving, Inc., 144 F.3d 377, 380 (5th Cir. 1998); see Brandon v. Sage Corp., 808 F.3d 266, 270 (5th Cir. 2015) (requiring more than "metaphysical doubts as to the material facts").

         Conclusory allegations unsupported by evidence cannot overcome summary judgment. National Ass'n of Gov't Employees, 40 F.3d at 713; Eason v. Thaler, 73 F.3d 1322, 1325 (5th Cir. 1996). "[T]he mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment." Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 247-48 (emphasis original); see State Farm Life Ins. Co. v. Gutterman, 896 F.2d 116, 118 (5th Cir. 1990). "Nor is the 'mere scintilla of evidence' sufficient; 'there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff.'" Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 252. The Fifth Circuit requires the non-movant to submit "significant probative evidence." Gutterman, 896 F.2d at 118. "If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted." Thomas v. Barton Lodge II, Ltd., 174 F.3d 636, 644 [5th Cir. 1999) (citing Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 249-50).

         B. Deficiencies in Miller's summary judgment evidence

         To show that there is a genuine fact dispute, the party must cite to "particular" parts of the record that contain admissible evidence. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). It is unreasonable to expect the court to "wade through the record in an effort to sift out a material factual dispute." See Phillips Med. Capital, LLC v. P&L Contracting, Inc., No. 2:10CV92-DAS, 2011 WL 13217913, at *2 (N.D. Miss. Nov. 21, 2011).

         Miller's response is 246 pages long and refers to a 128-page declaration, along with more than 250 exhibits. (See 74-89) Despite its length, much of Miller's response relies on unsubstantiated assertions that the court cannot consider. See Morris, 144 F.3d at 380. Her declaration is full of speculative accusations, irrelevancies, and hearsay. She has incorporated thousands of pages of documents by reference. It would take months for the court to rule on every single evidentiary problem in Miller's response and summary judgment evidence. For this reason alone, the court finds that Miller has failed to demonstrate the existence of a factual dispute.

         That being said, the court has endeavored to find and consider the evidence that is most favorable to Miller's case. The court still finds that Miller has not shown the existence of a genuine issue of material fact.

         4. Title VII

         The law makes it unlawful for an employer "to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, ...

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