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Wanko v. Board of Trustees of Indiana University

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

July 3, 2017

CATHERINE WANKO, Plaintiff,
v.
BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF INDIANA UNIVERSITY, and INDIANA UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF DENTISTRY, Defendants.

          ENTRY ON MOTION TO DISMISS

          TANYA WALTON PRATT, JUDGE United States District Court

         This matter is before the Court on a Motion to Dismiss filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) by Defendants Board of Trustees of Indiana University (“Trustees”) and Indiana University School of Dentistry (“IUSD”) (collectively, “Defendants”). (Filing No. 29.) After being dismissed from IUSD, Plaintiff Catherine Wanko (“Wanko”) filed an Amended Complaint, alleging Defendants violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VI”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000d-7. (Filing No. 28.) Defendants move the Court to dismiss Wanko's Amended Complaint for failure to state a claim. For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS in part and DENIES in part Defendants' Motion to Dismiss.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The following facts are undisputed. Wanko is African-American and a naturalized United States citizen, originally from the Republic of Cameroon, Central Africa. In August 2014, s enrolled as a dental student at IUSD. According to IUSD's policies and procedures, dental students must achieve a score of seventy percent (70%) or higher to pass a course. However, students who score between sixty-five percent (65%) and sixty-nine point nine percent (69.9%) are granted the opportunity to bring their grade back to the satisfactory level of seventy percent (70%). This practice is based on IUSD's “remediation” policy. Students who score below sixty-five percent (65%) are not eligible to remediate a score. All scores earned, including remediated scores, are used to compute a student's cumulative grade point average (“GPA”). In order to be promoted to the next semester and remain in good standing, a student must: 1) maintain a passing or incomplete grade for each course the student is enrolled; 2) maintain a minimum cumulative 2.0 GPA, as well as a semester GPA of 2.0; and 3) maintain acceptable ethical and professional behavior. According to IUSD's policies and procedures, a student may be placed on probation if the student fails to remain in good standing.

         During Wanko's first year of dental school, she received unsatisfactory scores in two courses-Single Tooth Indirect Restorations (“STI”) and Removable Prosthodontics (“RP”). In STI, Wanko scored below a sixty-five percent (65%), therefore, she was not eligible to remediate the class. Wanko's RP score met the requirements for remediation and in the summer of 2015, Wanko successfully remediated RP by scoring seventy-one percent (71%) on the course examination. By the end of her first year, Wanko achieved a minimum cumulative GPA of 2.0.

         Despite Wanko remediating the RP class and maintaining a 2.0 GPA, IUSD required that she retake her entire first year curriculum. After repeating her first year curriculum, Wanko successfully passed all but one of her courses-STI. Wanko scored a sixty-five percent (65%) in STI, but IUSD did not offer her the opportunity to remediate. Instead, the Dental Student Progress Committee decided to dismiss Wanko from IUSD. Wanko appealed to the Faculty Counsel Appeals Committee, as well as to the Dean, who both affirmed the decision to dismiss her from dental school.

         On February 6, 2017, Wanko filed an Amended Complaint, alleging Defendants discriminated against her on the basis of her race and national origin in violation of Title VI. (Filing No. 28). Wanko specifically argues that Defendants forced her to retake her entire first year curriculum and dismissed her from IUSD without offering remediation or probation, because of her race and national origin. Defendants move to dismiss Wanko's Amended Complaint for failure to state a claim. (Filing No. 29).

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) authorizes a defendant to move to dismiss a complaint that fails to “state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). When deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court construes the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, accepts all factual allegations as true, and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Tamayo v. Blagojevich, 526 F.3d 1074, 1081 (7th Cir. 2008). However, courts “are not obliged to accept as true legal conclusions or unsupported conclusions of fact.” Hickey v. O'Bannon, 287 F.3d 656, 658 (7th Cir. 2002).

         While a complaint need not include detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff has the obligation to provide the factual grounds supporting his entitlement to relief; and neither bare legal conclusions nor a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will suffice in meeting this obligation. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Stated differently, the complaint must include “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Hecker v. Deere & Co., 556 F.3d 575, 580 (7th Cir. 2009) (citation and quotation marks omitted). To be facially plausible, the complaint must allow “the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Defendants move to dismiss Wanko's Amended Complaint for failure to state a claim under Title VI. Title VI provides: “[n]o person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000d.

         To establish a prima facie case of discrimination under Title VI, Wanko must demonstrate that she: (1) is a member of a protected class; (2) met the school's legitimate educational expectations; (3) suffered an adverse educational action; and (4) received worse treatment than that of similarly situated students not in the protected class. Brewer v. Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois, 479 F.3d 908, 921 (7th Cir. 2007) (citations omitted).

         Defendants do not dispute that Wanko is a member of a protected class, or that she suffered an adverse educational action. However, Defendants contend that Wanko did not perform satisfactorily at IUSD to meet their legitimate expectations, and there is no similarly situated student outside of the protected ...


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