United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
MADELINE HUGHES HAIKALA UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
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. 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
Rule 12(b)(6) Standard
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).
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.
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, ¶
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).