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Branson v. St. Elizabeth School of Nursing

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana

June 5, 2017




         The Plaintiff, Shavonn Branson, alleges that the St. Elizabeth School of Nursing (the School) discriminated against her on the basis of her African-American race when it dismissed her as a student. The School maintains that the reason for the dismissal was the Plaintiff's failure to meet its academic requirements, and has moved for judgment as a matter of law in its favor. The Plaintiff alleges that the School's stated reason is a pretext for race discrimination.

         Because the Plaintiff has not presented the Court with sufficient evidence on which a reasonable jury could rely to find in her favor, the Court will grant the School's Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 30].


         On October 1, 2015, the Plaintiff filed a Complaint against the School, alleging that she was subjected to race discrimination in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d, et seq. (Count 1), and 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (Count 2). In Count 3, the Plaintiff alleges that the School subjected her to a hostile learning environment in violation of Title VI. Finally, Count 4 alleges that the School was in breach of a contract when it required that she achieve a minimum passing score that was higher than when she first applied for and was accepted to the School's nursing program.

         On February 14, 2017, the School filed its Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 30] requesting judgment as a matter of law on all of the Plaintiff's claims. The Plaintiff responded [ECF No. 40], but did not address the breach of contract claim or make reference to a hostile educational environment or § 1981.[1] The Plaintiff's sole argument was that a jury should decide whether her dismissal violated Title VI because it was based on her race.

         The Defendant filed a Reply Brief [ECF No. 43], in addition to a Motion to Strike [ECF No. 44] directed at the Declaration Under Oath of Shavonn Branson [ECF No. 41-2]. The Declaration, which the Plaintiff had attached as evidence in opposition to the Motion for Summary Judgment, contains no signature. Both the signature and the date lines have been left blank.


         The School is a private religious affiliated institution that provides education to students in nursing. The Plaintiff first attended classes in the School's nursing program in August 2011. When she enrolled, the Plaintiff received a copy of the Student Nurse Handbook. The title page of the 2011-2012 Handbook advised students of the following:

         The Nursing Program reserves the right to change requirements in the program related to completion, prerequisites, course requirements, program requirements/policies, fees, tuition, scheduling, etc. A student who has discontinued program studies for a full semester or more is regarded as re-entering the School of Nursing when resuming studies and will be held to the requirements current at re-entrance. (Jezierski Aff. ¶ 22, ECF No. 31-2 at 67.) The School's Faculty Governance Committee has the authority to change school policies and procedures.

         On January 9, 2014, John R. Jezierski (Deacon Jezierski), the Director of the School of Nursing, disseminated by email the announcement of a new policy. Pursuant to this policy change, effective January 8, 2014, a student who failed to achieve a “C” or “P” passing grade or better in a required nursing major, non-nursing, clinical nursing or nonclinical nursing course would be allowed to repeat that course. Failure to achieve a “C” or “P” passing grade on a second attempt of the same course would result in dismissal from the program major in nursing. The School considers a withdrawal from a course as failing the course.

         On March 21, 2014, Deacon Jezierski sent an email announcing a change to the grading and graduation requirements that had been approved by the Faculty Governance Committee. Pursuant to the policy, the passing standard for nursing major courses was changed from 75% to 80% effective August 4, 2014. The email also informed students that to achieve a passing grade, a student must have an overall rounded test average of 80% in a course and achieve an overall final course grade of 80%. All students, including the Plaintiff, were notified that the new passing standard would commence on the first day of the 2014-2015 academic year.

         The Plaintiff's academic record while at the School includes various terms of probation. Her transcript also contains a “W” grade for two classes she withdrew from during the 2013-2014 Fall Term. One of the classes the Plaintiff received a “W” in was Complex Deviation Health Class Nursing 344A (NUR 344). The Plaintiff also audited a class during the 2013-2014 Fall Term.

         Classes for the 2013-2014 Spring Term began on January 13, 2014. The Plaintiff was enrolled in NUR 344 for this term, but withdrew during the drop/add period so that no grade was recorded. The Plaintiff audited courses ...

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