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Liue v. The Board of Trustees of University of Alabama

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division

June 19, 2017

RICHARD LIEU, Ph.D., Plaintiff,



         Plaintiff Richard Lieu, Ph.D. is a tenured professor at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. In this lawsuit, Dr. Lieu contends that the defendants discriminated and retaliated against him because of his race, national origin, and color. Dr. Lieu asserts Title VII claims against the Board of Trustees for the University of Alabama. Dr. Lieu asserts an individual capacity 42 U.S.C. § 1983 equal protection claim against Dr. Christine Curtis, the Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), Dr. Curtis asks the Court to dismiss Dr. Lieu's claim against her.[1] For the reasons stated below, the Court grants the motion to the extent that Dr. Lieu asserts a § 1983 retaliation claim. The Court denies the motion with respect to Dr. Lieu's § 1983 discrimination claim.

         I. Rule 12(b)(6) Standard

         Rule 12(b)(6) enables a defendant to move to dismiss a complaint for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss tests the sufficiency of a complaint against the “liberal pleading standards set forth by Rule 8(a)(2).” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). Pursuant to Rule 8(a)(2), a complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). “Generally, to survive a [Rule 12(b)(6)] motion to dismiss and meet the requirement of Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2), a complaint need not contain ‘detailed factual allegations, ' but rather ‘only enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Maledy v. City of Enterprise, 2012 WL 1028176, *1 (M.D. Ala. March 2012) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 570 (2007)). “Specific facts are not necessary; the statement need only ‘give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'” Erickson, 551 U.S. at 93 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

         When evaluating a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a district court accepts as true the allegations in the complaint and construes the allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Brophy v. Jiangbo Pharms. Inc., 781 F.3d 1296, 1301 (11th Cir. 2015). Therefore, the Court presents the facts that follow in the light most favorable to Dr. Lieu, recognizing that the defendants may dispute many of the factual allegations and that discovery may enable the defendants to challenge Dr. Lieu's factual allegations later in this action.


         Dr. Lieu was born in Hong Kong when it was a British dependent territory. (Doc. 8, ¶ 11). He became a naturalized American citizen in 2002, and he holds dual citizenship in the United States and the United Kingdom. (Doc. 8, ¶ 12).

         The University of Alabama in Huntsville hired Dr. Lieu in 1995. (Doc. 8, ¶ 11). In 2001, Dr. Lieu became a tenured associate professor. In 2005, he became a full professor. In 2008, Dr. Lieu became a distinguished professor in the university's physics department. In 2013, the university selected Dr. Lieu over two other candidates to serve a four-year term as the chair of the school's physics department. (Doc. 8, ¶ 13).

         As chair of the physics department, Dr. Lieu recruited Dr. Ally Bizhu Jiang to fill a lecturer's position at the university. (Doc. 8, ¶ 16). Dr. Jiang is a Chinese citizen. The physics department selected Dr. Jiang as the top candidate for the position. (Doc. 8, ¶ 16). The university failed to petition for Dr. Jiang's work visa in time for her to start work by the date provided in her contract with the university. (Doc. 8, ¶ 17). Therefore, Dr. Jiang did not have her work visa by the time classes began, and Dr. Sundar Christopher, the university's Dean of Science, withdrew Dr. Jiang's offer because she did not appear for work. (Doc. 8, ¶¶ 15, 17).

         Dr. Lieu spoke to Dr. Christopher and “contested” the decision to withdraw Dr. Jiang's offer. (Doc. 8, ¶ 18). On October 16, 2014, soon after Dr. Lieu complained about the university's decision to rescind Dr. Jiang's offer of employment, Dr. Curtis emailed Dr. Lieu. The email stated that the university “will not hire anyone from overseas. We [the University] have sufficient talent in the United States to fill lecturer positions.” (Doc. 8, ¶ 19). Dr. Curtis copied University of Alabama in Huntsville's President, Dr. Robert Altenkirch, on the email. (Doc. 8, ¶ 19). After Dr. Lieu received Dr. Curtis's email, he continued to complain to Dr. Christopher and Dr. Curtis about the university's failure to hire Dr. Jiang and the university's new purported policy of hiring only individuals born in the United States to fill lecturer positions. (Doc. 8, ¶ 20).

         On January 21, 2015, Dr. Christopher and Dr. Curtis removed Dr. Lieu from his position as the physics department chair “without following the procedures for such an action stipulated in the [f]aculty [h]andbook.” (Doc. 8, ¶ 21). At the time, Dr. Lieu had over two and a half years left on his contract to serve as chair of the physics department. (Doc. 8, ¶ 21). As a result of the demotion, Dr. Lieu experienced “a substantial pay cut.” (Doc. 8, ¶ 21). The university replaced Dr. Lieu with a Caucasian. (Doc. 8, ¶ 22).

         One month after Dr. Christopher and Dr. Curtis removed Dr. Lieu as the physics department chair, Dr. Curtis and an associate provost met with Dr. Lieu. (Doc. 8, ¶ 23). During the meeting, Dr. Curtis told Dr. Lieu that she was upset that Dr. Lieu “just wouldn't take ‘no' for an answer with regard to Dr. Jiang.” (Doc. 8, ¶ 23). Dr. Curtis indicated that Dr. Lieu's “defense of Dr. Jiang was a reason for his dismissal” as the physics department chair. (Doc. 8, ¶ 23). Dr. Curtis offered no other reason for removing Dr. Lieu as the chair of the physics department. (Doc. 8, ¶ 23). Also during the meeting, Dr. Curtis presented Dr. Lieu with a letter of resignation. Dr. Curtis asked Dr. Lieu to sign the letter in exchange for monetary compensation. (Doc. 8, ¶ 23). Dr. Lieu did not sign the letter of resignation. (Doc. 8, ¶ 23). The lecturer position for which Dr. Lieu recruited Dr. Jiang remains vacant. (Doc. 8, ¶ 23).

         Based on these allegations, Dr. Lieu contends that Dr. Curtis discriminated and retaliated against him in violation of his equal protection rights. (Doc. 8, ¶¶ 31-38).

         III. ...

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