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Packer v. Trustees of Indiana University School of Medicine

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

December 22, 2014

DR. SUBAH PACKER Ph.D., Plaintiff,



This matter is before the Court on a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendants Trustees of the Indiana University School of Medicine, and Dr. Michael Sturek ("Dr. Sturek"), in his official capacity (collectively, "IUSM") (Filing No. 113). Plaintiff Subah Packer, Ph.D. ("Dr. Packer") asserts claims against IUSM under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. ("Title VII") for gender discrimination and retaliation; violation of the Equal Pay Act, 29 U.S.C. § 206(d) ("EPA"); breach of contract; and a claim for unpaid wages under the Indiana Wage Claim Statute, Ind. Code § 22-2-9-1 et seq. For the reasons set forth below, IUSM's Motion is GRANTED.


The following facts are not in dispute and are viewed in the light most favorable to Dr. Packer as the non-moving party. Dr. Packer began working for IUSM in 1988, with the formal title of Assistant Scientist/Assistant Professor (Part-Time) in IUSM's Department of Physiology and Biophysics ("Physiology Department"). IUSM is located on the Indianapolis campus of Indiana University ("IUPUI")[1]. In 1994, she was appointed to the tenure-track position of Assistant Professor. In 1999, Dr. Packer unsuccessfully sought tenure. IUSM Dean Craig Brater ("Dean Brater") was opposed to Dr. Packer's initial promotion to Associate Professor and to her grant of tenure. Dr. Packer subsequently filed a grievance, and in 2001 she was awarded tenure and a promotion after a de novo review, over the objection of Dean Brater.

IUSM's three primary missions are education, research and service. IMSU receives a small percentage of funding for its budget from the state, and the remaining operating costs are generated by tuition, payments for clinical services, grants, and gifts. As part of the yearly budgeting process, each department at IUSM receives an allocation from the school that includes funding from various sources. However, the allocation covers only a portion of what is needed to fund the department's activities. For departments that do not have a clinical practice (such as the Physiology Department), the primary source of additional funding is generated from grants from organizations such as the National Institutes of Health ("NIH") and the National Science Foundation. These grants typically include support for both "direct" and "indirect" costs of the research, which includes "out of pocket" expenses and "overhead" expenses, respectively. Since at least 2004, the Chair of the Physiology Department, Dr. Sturek, implemented various compensation systems to reward faculty members who had obtained major grants or made significant efforts to do so. He generally had declined to award merit increases to faculty members who lacked funding and/or who failed to make satisfactory efforts to seek such funding.

Each academic year, the Physiology Department evaluates all its faculty members' performance in the areas of teaching, research, and service. Generally, a faculty member's performance was considered satisfactory overall if he or she either (1) meets the minimum standards for satisfactory performance in all three areas, or (2) has excellent performance in either teaching or research. Within the research requirement, department guidelines had a publication and a funding component. Faculty members were expected to publish a minimum of one research paper as a first or senior author per year, averaged over a three year period. They were also expected to be the principal investigator on an extramurally funded research project, or receive at least 15% salary support as a co-investigator (or via subcontract) on a research project funded by a national research organization. At a minimum, faculty members were required to make significant efforts to secure extramural funding in support of research, as evidenced by the submission of a minimum of two grant applications or revisions per year that received satisfactory scores, and were required to provide evidence of such applications and scores to the Physiology Department Chair.

A. Dr. Packer's Performance Reviews

Sometime after Dr. Sturek became Chair of the Physiology Department, he voiced his desire to have Dr. Packer "out of the department." In conversations with the Interim Dean, Dr. Frederick Pavalko, Dr. Sturek discussed that he thought Dr. Packer would be better suited as a teacher rather than a researcher, because she was not securing external grant funding. (Filing No. 125-2, at ECF p. 14-16). In 2004 Dr. Sturek assigned Dr. Packer a "used" conference room as her only space to be used as both her lab and office. Later, he assigned Dr. Packer to a utility conduit room, as her office. Her lab equipment purchased with her start-up funds and independent grants was put into storage in 2004 and remained in storage.

Dr. Packer received ratings of unsatisfactory on her 2005-06, 2006-07, and 2007-08 evaluations. In 2008, a Review and Enhancement ("R&E") Committee was established to conduct a post-tenure review of Dr. Packer due to her receipt of two consecutive unsatisfactory evaluations from the Physiology Department. The purpose of the R&E process was to identify and assist faculty whose performance has been unsatisfactory, and to provide a structure for the preparation and implementation of development plans to improve performance. The R&E Committee found that Dr. Packer had strong effort and performance in teaching, but was not achieving departmental research funding goals and that her performance in research, although modest with respect to productivity, was minimally satisfactory. (Filing No. 125-11, at ECF p. 5.) The panel wrote that Dr. Packer attempted to sustain activity in her research laboratory and to secure extramural funding, thus her modest level of productivity could not be attributed to lack of effort. (Id.) Ultimately, they found that Dr. Packer devotes significant effort to her professional activities and makes valued contributions to the missions of IUSM and concluded that Dr. Packer did not require the assistance of the R&E Committee. (Filing No. 125-11, at ECF p. 6.)

In 2008-09, Dr. Packer received an overall satisfactory evaluation despite not publishing any research manuscripts or submitting grant applications that received satisfactory scores. The overall satisfactory evaluation was the result of being rated excellent in teaching based upon receiving the national Guyton Educator of the Year Award. However, Dr. Packer again received unsatisfactory evaluations for the 2009-10, 2010-11, and 2011-12 academic years based upon her failure to publish original research manuscripts, failure to submit extramural grant applications, and failure to meet objectives of a performance improvement plan put in place in 2011.

In 2013, Dr. Sturek initiated dismissal proceedings for Dr. Packer, thus she did not receive a formal evaluation for the 2012-13 academic year. IU's Academic Handbook provides that a tenured faculty member may be dismissed for serious personal or professional misconduct. The IUPUI Supplement to the Academic Handbook defines such misconduct to include persistent neglect of duties or persistent failure to carry out the tasks reasonably expected of a person in that position. On July 16, 2013, Dr. Sturek recommended to Dean Brater that IUSM dismiss Dr. Packer because her poor performance amounted to persistent neglect of duties and failure to carry out expected tasks, noting that her performance had been rated as unsatisfactory on six of nine annual reviews, that she failed to comply with several aspects of her 2011 performance plan, and based upon negative student reviews for one of the courses she taught in fall 2011. Dean Brater submitted Dr. Sturek's recommendation and Dr. Packer's response to a three-person Conduct Characterization Committee, and a majority of the committee concluded that Dr. Packer's consistent unsatisfactory performance met the definition of "serious misconduct." On November 22, 2013, Chancellor Bantz notified Dr. Packer that he supported the recommendation for dismissal based on misconduct, specifically persistent failure to meet departmental standards applicable to faculty. He advised Dr. Packer that her effective dismissal date would be December 6, 2013.

B. Dr. Packer's Grievances

Throughout her employment at IUSM Dr. Packer filed several grievances. Her first grievance was filed in 2000 alleging unequal pay and failure to grant her tenure. Dr. Packer's second grievance, again for unequal pay, was filed in 2002 after she alleged she did not receive raises following her grant of tenure and promotion, and for two consecutive research awards in 2001 and 2002. The IUSM Faculty Grievance Committee recommended in Dr. Packer's favor, but she did not receive a pay raise until 2003. In 2010, Dr. Packer filed a complaint with the IUPUI Office of Equal Opportunity ("OEO") and an IUPUI Faculty Grievance, which included complaints about her teaching load, salary, and laboratory space. An independent Faculty Board of Review ("FBR") was appointed to address the grievance. The FBR largely rejected Dr. Packer's allegations of unfairness, including her complaint about inferior laboratory space, finding that the conditions of Dr. Packer's work were not substantially different than other faculty members. Dr. Packer's OEO complaint was separately investigated by Kim Kirkland ...

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