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Wade v. Indiana University School of Medicine

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

July 12, 2019




         This matter is before the Court on a Motion for Summary Judgment filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 by Defendants Indiana University School of Medicine (“IU”), Sheryl Allen (“Allen”), and Abby Klemsz (“Klemsz”) (collectively, “Defendants”) (Filing No. 68), and a Rule 37(b) Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Plaintiff Patricia Ann Wade (“Wade”) (Filing No. 72). After IU terminated her employment, Wade filed this pro se action asserting claims of employment discrimination and retaliation based on her age, sex, and race, and a deprivation of her equal protection and due process rights. Wade brings these claims pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. (“Title VII”), the Civil Rights Act of 1866, 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (“Section 1981”), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 621 (“ADEA”), and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (“Section 1983”).

         After answering the Complaint, the Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. Wade then filed a Rule 37(b) motion for judgment, requesting a default judgment against the Defendants as a sanction for spoliation of evidence. For the following reasons, the Court grants the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment and denies Wade's Rule 37(b) Motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The following facts are not necessarily objectively true, but as required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, the facts are presented in the light most favorable to Wade as the non-moving party. See Zerante v. DeLuca, 555 F.3d 582, 584 (7th Cir. 2009); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986).

         Indiana University is a university of the State of Indiana with its main campus located in Bloomington, Indiana, and a School of Medicine based primarily in Indianapolis. Wade is a white female who was 55 years old when this litigation was initiated. She was hired by IU on July 14, 2008 as a learning specialist in the medical student affairs department (“MSA”) of the School of Medicine. As a learning specialist, Wade's primary responsibility was to provide support to medical and graduate students, including support with student study habits. When Wade was hired, her direct supervisor was Mary Alice Bell (“Bell”) (Filing No. 70-1 at 6-7, 80, 83-84; Filing No. 11 at 3).

         During the course of her employment at IU, Wade had various work performance issues. In May 2012, Bell informed Wade that she had specific performance issues such as sporadic hours that led to not fulfilling the fulltime hours obligation, lack of follow through on projects, lack of initiative and participation, poor judgment, and lack of basic demonstrated knowledge of MSA functioning (Filing No. 70-2). In an effort to address these specific work performance issues Wade was placed on a performance improvement plan from May 29, 2012 through July 27, 2012. The performance improvement plan noted that unsatisfactory improvement could result in corrective action, including termination of employment (Filing No. 70-3). Bell provided the performance improvement plan to Wade during an in-person meeting and discussed the performance issues with her. Wade did not contest any of the issues raised in the performance improvement plan; however, she did not agree with some of the critiques (Filing No. 70-1 at 21-29).

         On November 1, 2012, Bell and Anne Flaherty (“Flaherty”) issued another performance improvement plan to Wade. The second performance improvement plan identified the following areas of concern: active and effective outreach; active engagement within MSA functions; overall judgment, initiative, and ability to prioritize; and supervision and monitoring of statewide tutoring program (Filing No. 70-4). Bell and Flaherty met with Wade to discuss the performance improvement plan. Wade acknowledged that her performance “was still not up to par” and her supervisors were “still not happy.” (Filing No. 70-1 at 31-32).

         Defendant Allen became the associate dean of the MSA department in July 2013. In that role, Allen oversaw and supervised the MSA department. Before becoming the associate dean of the MSA department, Allen was the assistant dean of Diversity Affairs for the School of Medicine. While in the Diversity Affairs role, Allen would send students to the learning specialist in the MSA department (which was Wade) for assistance with personalized study and work plans. On many occasions, students would return to Allen and report that Wade was unhelpful and did not provide the requested assistance (Filing No. 70-5 at 1).

         After becoming the associate dean, Allen met with Wade on several occasions to provide feedback on her work performance. In an informal conversation in early October 2013, Bell told Wade that her concerns about Wade's performance were resolved. However, on October 31, 2013, Allen issued a “second written warning” to Wade for “poor work performance”. The warning referred to an earlier written warning that had been issued in August 2013 and noted that Wade's work performance had not improved. Allen's written warning informed Wade that she needed to improve streamlining the tutor process, identifying “high risk” students, and developing an evaluation form for the learning programs. Wade was warned that if her work performance did not improve she would be subject to further disciplinary action, which could include termination. Allen then met with Wade on or about November 7, 2013, after having issued the written warning (Filing No. 70-6; Filing No. 70-1 at 37-39).

         Wade tried to submit an internal grievance in November 2013 based on “false accusations” about her work conduct. In particular, she met with Allen in December 2013 to discuss the matter, and Allen told Wade that another learning specialist would be hired and Wade would be moved to another building, which happened in January 2014. With the move, Wade's access to an electronic database of student records, necessary for her job responsibilities, was blocked (Filing No. 70-1 at 49-51). A formal written grievance of Wade's November 2013 complaint “didn't go anywhere” because she “didn't file timely.” Id. at 52.

         Defendant Klemsz became Wade's direct supervisor in January 2014 when she was made the assistant dean for academic advising and career mentoring in the MSA department. Klemsz met with Wade on several occasions to discuss performance issues (Filing No. 70-7 at 1).

         In April 2014, Wade filed an internal grievance against Allen and an executive associate dean, alleging age discrimination based on Wade's perception that it looked like they were trying to get rid of all the older, experienced employees in the MSA department. IU conducted an investigation and interviewed approximately thirty people. Thereafter, IU determined the grievance had no merit (Filing No. 70-1 at 52-54; Filing No. 70-5 at 2).

         On December 15, 2014, Wade filed another internal grievance with IU, this time alleging retaliation for filing the April 2014 grievance (Filing No. 70-1 at 61). The retaliation Wade complained of included not being informed of employee development opportunities, lack of a budget, exclusion from work projects or activities, not approving vacation time, hiring another learning specialist without her input, and reclassifying her attendance at a work convention from being a work-related event to vacation time (Filing No. 70-10). IU determined there was not sufficient evidence of retaliation (Filing No. 70-1 at 61-62).

         Earlier in the year, on May 6, 2014, Wade had communicated incorrectly to a medical student that the student had been granted an accommodation for each year of the student's enrollment even though the committee responsible for providing accommodations had granted the student's accommodation for only one year. Wade did not have the authority to approve an accommodation for each year of the student's enrollment. Klemsz first learned of this issue in February 2015 when the student emailed her about the accommodation. On February 27, 2015, Klemsz and a member of the human resources department met with Wade to discuss the incident. Klemsz asked Wade about what had happened and why she had told the student something that was contrary to documentation regarding the student's accommodation. Wade initially denied that she had inappropriately approved the accommodation, but she later acknowledged the incident only after Klemsz presented her with an email addressed to the student from Wade approving the accommodation for four years (Filing No. 70-7 at 1-2).

         Klemsz and a member of human resources met with Wade on March 17, 2015, to discuss her work performance issues. They informed Wade that they had lost trust in her ability to perform her responsibilities. Wade was given the option to resign from her employment at IU with a severance package, or she would be terminated. Wade chose not to resign with the severance package, so IU terminated her employment. On April 2, 2015, Allen sent a termination letter to Wade, notifying her that her employment was terminated effective March 27, 2015. The letter noted that the termination was a result of recent performance-related issues that had been discussed with Wade (Filing No. 70-1 at 62; Filing No. 70-7 at 2; Filing No. 70-8 at 1). Wade was 54 years old at the time of her termination (Filing No. 70-1 at 86). A white female in her late 30s was hired as the new learning specialist following Wade's termination (Filing No. 70-7 at 2).

         Prior to receiving the termination letter, Wade filed an internal grievance regarding her termination. In her grievance, she requested reinstatement and to be place under a different supervisors. She alleged that her termination was in retaliation for her internal grievances filed against Allen. Wade argued that IU did not follow its corrective action policies when handling her termination. She explained that her inaccurate approval of a student's accommodation was an innocent mistake based on Klemsz's negligence. Wade alleged two situations where Allen and Klemsz discriminated against students with disabilities or failed to appropriately accommodate students, yet they were not disciplined by IU. Wade argued that the student accommodation email incident was a pretext for terminating her to retaliate for the prior grievances (Filing No. 70-9). IU investigated the termination grievance and decided that it had no merit (Filing No. 70-5 at 2).

         Wade filed a charge of discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) on September 11, 2015 (Filing No. 70-1 at 120-21). On May 19, 2016, she amended her charge of discrimination with the EEOC (Filing No. 70-11 at 2). Wade asserted charges of age discrimination and retaliation against I U.She noted her IU internal grievances from April and December 2014 and complained that she then was terminated in March 2015 and replaced by someone ten years younger. She explained, “I believe I am being discriminated against in my termination because of my age, 54 . . . and retaliated against for complaining of age discrimination in my termination . . . .” Id. On May 24, 2016, the EEOC issued its Dismissal and Notice of Right to Sue to Wade. Id. at 1.

         On August 24, 2016, Wade filed the instant pro se Complaint, asserting claims pursuant to Title VII, Section 1981, ADEA, and Section 1983 for employment discrimination and retaliation based on age, sex, and race, and a deprivation of her equal protection and due process rights (Filing No. 1). After two years of litigation, the Defendants filed their Motion for Summary Judgment, and Wade filed her Rule 37(b) Motion for Judgment.


         The purpose of summary judgment is to “pierce the pleadings and to assess the proof in order to see whether there is a genuine need for trial.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 provides that summary judgment is appropriate if “the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Hemsworth v., Inc., 476 F.3d 487, 489-90 (7th Cir. 2007). In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court reviews “the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw[s] all reasonable inferences in that party's favor.” Zerante, 555 F.3d at 584 (citation omitted). “However, inferences that are supported by only speculation or conjecture will not defeat a summary judgment motion.” Dorsey v. Morgan Stanley, 507 F.3d 624, 627 (7th Cir. 2007) (citation and quotation marks omitted). Additionally, “[a] party who bears the burden of proof on a particular issue may not rest on its pleadings, but must affirmatively demonstrate, by specific factual allegations, that there is a genuine issue of material fact that requires trial.” Hemsworth, 476 F.3d at 490 (citation omitted). “The opposing party cannot meet this burden with conclusory statements or speculation but only with appropriate citations to relevant admissible evidence.” Sink v. Knox County Hosp., 900 F.Supp. 1065, 1072 (S.D. Ind. 1995) (citations omitted).

         “In much the same way that a court is not required to scour the record in search of evidence to defeat a motion for summary judgment, nor is it permitted to conduct a paper trial on the merits of [the] claim.” Ritchie v. Glidden Co., 242 F.3d 713, 723 (7th Cir. 2001) (citations and quotation marks omitted). “[N]either the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties nor the existence of some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts is sufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment.” Chiaramonte v. Fashion Bed Grp., Inc., 129 F.3d 391, 395 (7th Cir. 1997) (citations and quotation marks omitted).

         When considering the Defendants' summary judgment motion, the Court views the designated evidence in the light most favorable to Wade, as the non-moving party, and draws all reasonable inferences in her favor. Bright v. CCA, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 162264, at *8 (S.D. Ind. Nov. 14, 2013). “However, employment discrimination cases are extremely fact-intensive, and neither appellate courts nor district courts are obliged in our adversary system to scour the record looking for factual disputes.” Id. at *8-9 (citation and quotation marks omitted).

         A document filed pro se is to be liberally construed, and . . . must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007).

However, it is also well established that pro se litigants are not excused from compliance with procedural rules. [T]he Supreme Court has never suggested that procedural rules in ordinary civil litigation should be interpreted so as to excuse mistakes by those who proceed without counsel[.] Further, as the Supreme Court has noted, in the long run, experience teaches that strict adherence to the procedural requirements specified by the legislature is the best guarantee of evenhanded administration of the law.

Loubser v. United States, 606 F.Supp.2d 897, 909 (N.D. Ind. 2009) (citations and quotation marks omitted).

[E]ven pro se litigants . . . must expect to file a legal argument and some supporting authority. A litigant who fails to press a point by supporting it with pertinent authority, or by showing why it is sound despite a lack of supporting authority . . . forfeits the point. We will not do his research for him.

Mathis v. New York Life Ins. Co., 133 F.3d 546, 548 (7th Cir. 1998) (citations and quotation ...

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