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Barron v. The University of Notre Dame du Lac

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division

March 13, 2015


Page 907

For Katrina Barron, Plaintiff: Colby A Barkes, Jeffrey S Wrage, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Blachly Tabor Bozik & Hartman LLC, Valparaiso, IN.

For University of Notre Dame Du Lac, doing business as Notre Dame University, Defendant: Blake J Burgan, LEAD ATTORNEY, Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP - Ind/IN, Indianapolis, IN; Doreen Canton, LEAD ATTORNEY, Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP - Cin/OH, Cincinnati, OH.

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Plaintiff Katrina Barron alleges that Defendant, the University of Notre Dame du Lac, discriminated against her because she is a woman, and that Defendant retaliated against her for complaining about this discrimination. Defendant moves for Summary Judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. (DE 67.) Plaintiff opposes the motion. For the reasons discussed below, Defendant's Motion is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

A. Factual Background

Plaintiff is a woman who holds a Ph.D. in mathematics. (DE 56-2 at 371.) Defendant hired her as a tenure-track Assistant Professor in the Department of Mathematics in August 2001. (DE 67-2 at ¶ 1.) In fall 2008, Plaintiff applied for promotion to Associate Professor and tenure. ( Id.) Defendant's President, Reverend John Jenkins, denied Plaintiff's request for tenure on May 4, 2009. (DE 71-3.) Because Plaintiff was denied tenure, the next school year was the final year of her contract with Defendant and her faculty appointment would terminate at the end of the spring 2010 semester. ( Id.) At Notre Dame, regular teaching faculty members are only employed for the academic calendar of August through May, but salaries to those employees are paid over twelve months, from July through June.[1] (Leigh Ann Roberts Aff't, DE 72-1, at ¶ 2.)

Gregory Crawford, the Dean of the College of Science (which includes the Math Department), sent Plaintiff a written explanation of the negative decision, as required by the Academic Articles.[2] (DE 71-4; DE 67-2 at 12.) Dean Crawford stated that the Provost's Advisory Committee (" PAC" ) had recommended against awarding tenure because the " quality of [Plaintiff's] teaching did not meet the standard of excellence expected of [tenure candidates]." [3] ( Id.)

The Academic Articles provide that an associate professor should have a doctor's degree or an equivalent professional degree, and should have demonstrated " outstanding teaching ability, growth in knowledge and maturity, salutary influence upon students, and standing among colleagues." (DE 67-2 at 10.) Associate professors are ordinarily required to have notable scholastic achievement demonstrated by significant publication. ( Id.)

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Believing she met these criteria, Plaintiff pursued two, parallel, internal appeals of the tenure denial. One avenue focused on whether the denial of tenure was substantially affected by procedural error, personal bias, or academic freedom issues. (DE 71-6.) The Committee on Appeals determined that there was not enough evidence showing that the decision to deny tenure was affected by one of these subjective factors. ( Id.) The second route is called the " Appendix A" appeals process and applies to reviewing adverse promotion or tenure decisions that are allegedly the product of sex discrimination. (DE 71-2 at 30--31.)

As the foundation of her Appendix A appeal, Plaintiff conducted an independent study of teaching evaluations in the Math Department. She discovered that among assistant professors, the female professors were assigned introductory-level courses at a markedly higher percentage of their total number of courses taught, as compared to the male professors. Plaintiff used this evidence to show Defendant's perception of her teaching qualities was a result of gender discrimination. (DE 71-4.) Plaintiff had a history of receiving low TCE scores from students in introductory level courses. (DE 56-2 at 398--405.) She claimed that these lower evaluations resulted from the disproportional assignment of introductory-level mathematics courses. (DE 71-6.) Instructors in those courses notoriously receive lower student evaluations because many of the students in those classes are not math majors. (DE 71-1 " Pl.'s Dep." at 145--46; DE 56-2 at 404.) She argued that the disproportionate assignment of these low-level courses was the result of gender bias, and therefore, she was denied tenure because of her sex. (DE 71-6.) Plaintiff compiled statistical data to support these claims, and supplied the data to the Committee on Advancement and Promotions. (DE 14-7.)

Among the assistant professors in the Math Department eligible for tenure, from 1999--2009, Defendant granted tenure to eight males and one female. (DE 71-7 at 2.) The sole female, Professor Polini taught six courses, and three of the males, Professors Hind, Misiolek, and Diller, taught fifteen courses before tenure; Plaintiff taught sixteen courses. ( Id.) However, eleven of Plaintiff's sixteen courses were 100-level introductory courses, while Hind and Misiolek each taught five 100-level courses, and Diller taught one 100-level course. ( Id.)

Pursuant to Appendix A of the Defendant's Academic Articles, Plaintiff selected a tenured faculty member from an appointed panel to review her case, and this reviewer decided that the President's decision to deny tenure should be remanded to the PAC to be reconsidered. (DE 71-6.) This remand began in January 2010, but started in the Department of Mathematics Committee on Advancement and Promotion instead of the PAC. (DE 71-6; DE 14-7.)

During the internal appeals process, Plaintiff applied for numerous academic positions outside of Notre Dame. (Pl.'s Dep. at 8.) One of these positions was a full year of research grants from the Max Planck Institute for Mathematics in Bonn, Germany. ( Id. at 11--12.) On December 2, 2009, Max Planck's managing director offered Plaintiff monthly research grants from July 2010 through June 2011, in exchange for Plaintiff's research and collaboration with other research fellows performed at the Institute. (DE 71-5.) Plaintiff did not immediately accept Max Planck's offer because she hoped for an employment opportunity to present itself Stateside. (Pl.'s Dep. at 15--17.) However, Plaintiff was reminded by Associate Provost Donald Pope-Davis's January 5, 2010, letter that it was her last year in

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Defendant's employ unless her Appendix A appeal succeeded. (DE 14-7.) She eventually accepted Max Planck's offer and began arranging to move her family to Germany for the ...

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