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Grant v. The Trustees of Indiana University

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

August 31, 2017

Otis B. Grant, Plaintiff-Appellant,
The Trustees of Indiana University, et al., Defendants-Appellees.

          Argued September 29, 2016

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division. No. l:13-cv-00826-TWP-DML - Tanya Walton Pratt, Judge.

          Before Wood, Chief Judge, and Ripple and Williams, Circuit Judges.


         The University of Indiana South Bend dismissed tenured Professor Otis Grant in 2011 for "serious misconduct" based on misrepresentations in his curriculum vitae. Grant sued the University, Trustees, and several University employees, filing twenty-six claims arising out of his termination. The district court partially granted the defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings and later granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment on the remaining claims.

         On appeal, Grant contends that the district court inappropriately granted summary judgment on five claims. Grant, who is African American, maintains that the University: (1) discriminated against him on the basis of race; (2) retaliated against him for his complaints against two University officials; (3) denied him due process of law; (4) defamed him in the South Bend Tribune; and (5) breached a contract created by the University's handbook. In viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Grant, we find that Grant has failed to produce admissible evidence demonstrating there exists any disputed issue of fact as to these five claims. So we affirm the district court's judgment in the defendants' favor.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Otis Grant was a professor at the University of Indiana South Bend ("IUSB") from 1999 until his dismissal in 2011. During that time, he was granted tenure in the College of Arts and Sciences and won several awards. But in 2008, several students complained to University administration that Grant inappropriately cancelled classes, used obscene language in class, dismissed two students from his course without following proper procedure, and had permitted a non-employee to grade student work and access academic records.

         Executive Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs, Alfred J. Guillaume, Jr., assigned Dean Lynn R. Williams to investigate the complaints. As a result of his investigation, Williams recommended that Grant be denied access to the College of Arts and Sciences travel funds for the fiscal year and a salary increase for 2009-10. Williams also accused Grant of being evasive and refusing to provide information or providing false information during the investigation. Guillaume accepted and implemented the recommended sanctions. Grant then filed an affirmative action complaint with the University's Director of Affirmative Action, alleging Williams took an adverse employment action against Grant because of his race.

         Meanwhile, the students had also reported their concerns to the local newspaper, the South Bend Tribune. The newspaper submitted several open records requests to the University, including two relating to Grant's education and training. Guillaume began collecting records for a response, as the University is subject to Indiana's Access to Public Records Act. In doing so, Guillaume noticed discrepancies in Grant's employment records and attempted to obtain clarification. But Guil-laume's exchange with both Grant and the institutions listed on Grant's application materials only raised more concerns. For example, over the course of his employment at IUSB, Grant had changed the name of the judge for whom he clerked from "Richard M. Wright" to "Richard M. Ritten-band" and changed the name of the institution from which he received a master's degree from the "Gestalt Institute of Psychology" to the "Gestalt Institute in Liverpool."

         A. Faculty Misconduct Review Committee

         Guillaume determined that Grant "misled the university when he applied for a faculty position by falsifying his academic credentials in numerous and significant ways" and repeated such misrepresentations throughout his employment. Guillaume presented his findings to the Faculty Misconduct Review Committee ("FMRC") on September 8, 2009, and recommended that Grant be dismissed for serious personal misconduct. Grant was notified and he responded on October 6, 2009.

         On November 4, 2009, the FMRC issued a written recommendation in which it declined to proceed with a formal hearing, though it noted that the issues were "troubling." The FMRC reasoned that verification of Grant's credentials had been the responsibility of the Search and Screen Committee at the time Grant was hired, and it thought that a hearing was not likely to establish "chronic or substantial incompetence or misconduct" as the charges did not relate to Grant's scholarship or teaching. The FMRC also concluded that, even if the allegations against Grant were true, they could not be the basis for dismissal and removal of Grant's tenure. Six months later, on May 10, 2010, Guillaume submitted a recommendation for Grant's dismissal to IUSB Chancellor Uma Mae Reck based on his strong belief that the FMRC had reached the wrong decision. After that, Guillaume had no further involvement in any employment decisions concerning Grant.

         B. Investigation and Termination

         Reck met with Grant to discuss Guillaume's recommendation for dismissal on September 1, 2010. Grant denied all charges and alleged Guillaume was retaliating against him for filing the affirmative action complaint against Williams. Because of Grant's allegations of discrimination and the contradictory assertions by Guillaume and Grant regarding Grant's credentials, the University, through its counsel, hired an independent investigation firm, Klink & Company ("Klink"). Reck informed Grant in writing that Klink had been retained to conduct its own review of Grant's curriculum vitae ("CV") and application materials. Meanwhile, Grant provided a 42-page response to Reck regarding Guillaume's recommendation for dismissal. However, he did not include any new documentation to substantiate his credentials.

         Reck received Klink's final report on February 22, 2011. Klink noted that Grant had impeded its investigation by failing to provide consent to verify his employment and educational credentials. Klink concluded that many of Grant's credentials were "vague, " "misleading, " or "otherwise incorrect." For example, in his 1998 CV, Grant represented that he was a lecturer or instructor at California State College, Howard University, the Armed Forces Institute, and Boston State College. Grant eventually admitted he did not actually work for these institutions, but rather taught workshops lasting only two or three days on their campuses. But Klink was unable to find any evidence to substantiate Grant's claims that he was a lecturer, instructor, or workshop leader at any of these institutions. Klink detailed several other discrepancies, including Grant's representation at the time of his application that he was ...

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