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Miller v. University of Houston System

United States District Court, S.D. Texas

September 30, 2019

Audrey Miller, Plaintiff,
University of Houston System and University of Houston - Downtown, Defendants.



         1. Introduction

         A female professor sought employment with a university after being denied tenure at another institution. The university denied her employment. The professor sued the university, claiming that the university engaged in retaliation prohibited by Title VII. The university moved for summary judgment. It will be granted.

         2. Facts

         Plaintiff Audrey Miller (Miller) was a tenure-track professor at Sam Houston State University (SHSU). SHSU denied her tenure. Miller filed a complaint against the school with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Texas Workforce Commission on May 20, 2013. Miller's employment with SHSU expired in May 2014.

         The parties stipulate to these facts about Miller's interactions with Defendant University of Houston - Downtown (UH). (22, 27) On December 8, 2013, Miller applied for employment with UH as a tenure-track Assistant Professor of Psychology. Around January or February 2014, UH's Psychology Department Chair Jeffrey Jackson (Chair Jackson) and College of Humanities & Social Sciences Dean DoVeanna Fulton [Dean Fulton) approved twenty candidates for telephone interviews, . including Miller. On March 17, 2014, members of the faculty search committee interviewed Miller on campus. During the interview, Miller told the chair of the committee, Ruth Johnson (Committee Chair Johnson) that she was denied tenure at SHSU because "[she] was a woman and because [she] had raised concerns about the mistreatment of women in the department at SHSU before applying for tenure." (59-1 at 8)

         In internal emails dated April 4, 2014, Committee Chair Johnson notified Chair Jackson that Miller was a finalist. (27 at 2) In a separate email to Chair Jackson, Committee Chair Johnson noted that Miller was a "#2 candidate." [Id.)

         Around April 4, 2014, Committee Chair Johnson emailed Miller about UH's request to contact SHSU's department chair, Chris Wilson ("Wilson"). On April 7, 2014, Chair Jackson had a phone call with Wilson. Chair Jackson did not contact other candidates' former employers. On April 8, 2014, Wilson sent an email to Chair Jackson explaining that some of Miller's issues at SHSU could have been caused by other tenured faculty members with difficult personalities.

         UH notified Miller on April 29, 2014, that she did not get the job. Miller filed a complaint with the EEOC and the TWC against UH on October 23, 2014. She filed this lawsuit against UH on October 6, 2015.

         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, ...

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