United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division
NAREATHA L. STUDDARD, Plaintiff,
ALABAMA AGRICULTURAL & MECHANICAL UNIVERSITY, et al., Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
C. BURKE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Nareatha L. Studdard - a former associate professor at
Alabama Agricultural & Mechanical University
(“Alabama A&M”) - alleges that she was
retaliated against for exercising rights guaranteed by the
Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (“FMLA”) .
In particular, plaintiff claims that she suffered an adverse
employment action when certain defendants refused to forward
her 2012 tenure application for review, when it would have
been evaluated under less stringent standards, and
simultaneously requested an extension of her probationary
period. Plaintiff alleges this action caused her to have to
submit her tenure application the next year, when it was
subjected to more stringent criteria, and that this resulted
in the denial of tenure and ultimately her termination from
described in more detail below, the remaining defendants in
this action filed a Motion for Summary Judgment (doc. 112),
along with a supporting brief and evidentiary submission.
Plaintiff filed a response (doc. 123), which the Court
ordered plaintiff to reformat (see doc. 133 (reformatted
response)). The remaining defendants then filed a reply (doc.
129). Therefore, the Motion for Summary Judgment is ready for
review. For the reasons discussed in this memorandum opinion,
the Court will grant the Motion for Summary Judgment.
initiated this action on August 5, 2015, against several
defendants. (Doc. 1). Plaintiff later amended her complaint
(doc. 79). Plaintiff's amended complaint alleges one
count of F MLA retaliation. Plaintiff appears to bring this
count against defendants (1) Alabama A&M; (2) the Board
of Trustees of Alabama A&M (the “Board”); (3)
former governor and president of the Board, Robert Bentley
(“Bentley”) in his official capacity; (4)
individual members of the Board Kevin Ball, Ginger Harper,
John O. Hudson, III, James D. Montgomery, Sr., Dr. Hattie N.
Myles, Chris Robinson, Andre Taylor, Velma J. Tribue, and Dr.
Jerome Williams in their official capacities (collectively,
“the Trustees”); (5) provost and vice president
for Academic Affairs, Dr. Daniel Wims (“Dr.
Wims”), in his official and individual capacity; (6)
president of Alabama A&M, Dr. Andrew Hugine, Jr.
(“Dr. Hugine”), in his official and individual
capacity; (7) dean of the College of Business and Public
Affairs, Dr. Delmonize Smith (“Dr. Smith”), in
his official capacity and as successor to the former dean,
Dr. Amin Sarkar; and (8) the chairman of the Department of
Management, Marketing, and Logistics, Larry McDaniel (“Dr.
McDaniel”), in his individual and official capacity.
(Doc. 79, pp. 2-3).
the filing of the amended complaint, several motions to
dismiss (docs. 80 and 81) were filed. Before the Court
addressed the motions to dismiss, plaintiff voluntarily
dismissed Bentley and the Trustees. (Docs. 85, 86). On March
31, 2017, the Court issued a memorandum opinion (doc. 91)
addressing one of the motions to dismiss (doc. 80); the other
motion to dismiss (doc. 81) was denied as moot. In particular,
the Court dismissed Alabama A&M, the Board, and Dr.
Hugine, Dr. Wims, and Dr. McDaniel in their individual
capacities. (Id. at 20). The Court denied the motion
to dismiss (doc. 80) to the extent that it requested
dismissal of the official-capacity claims against Dr. Hugine,
Dr. Wims, Dr. Smith, and Dr. McDaniel for injunctive relief.
(Id.). Therefore, at this juncture, the FMLA
retaliation claim exists against Dr. Hugine, Dr. Wims, Dr.
Smith, and Dr. McDaniel in their official capacities solely
for injunctive relief. The Court will refer to these three
defendants as “the remaining defendants.”
respect to the following facts, the Court accepts, as true,
any fact not expressly disputed by either party. (Doc. 131;
Doc. 133, p. 7 n.1); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a) (“The court
shall grant summary judgment if . . . there is no genuine
dispute as to any material fact . . . .”).
Plaintiff begins her employment at Alabama A&M
2004 to 2009, plaintiff was employed as an assistant
professor at Arkansas State University. (Doc. 79, p. 7; Doc.
112-10, p. 23 (Studdard Dep., p. 88, lines 4-10); Doc.
124-18, p. 25 (Studdard Aff., Ex. A)). In late 2008 or early
2009, plaintiff ran into Dr. McDaniel, who had been a
professor of hers while she was a student at Alabama A&M,
at a continuing education event. (Doc. 124-18, p. 11
(Studdard Aff., ¶ 27)). Dr. McDaniel encouraged
plaintiff to apply for an associate professor opening in his
department at Alabama A&M. (Id.). Dr. McDaniel
was (and still is) the chair of the Department of Management,
Marketing, and Logistics in the College of Business at
Alabama A&M. (Doc. 112-1, p. 13; Doc. 112-17, p. 2
(McDaniel Aff. ¶ 2)). As a result of her encounter with
Dr. McDaniel, plaintiff applied for the position at Alabama
A&M and was appointed as an associate professor, a tenure
track position, in August 2009. (Doc. 79, p. 7; Doc. 112-1,
p. 12; Doc. 112-10, p. 72 (Studdard Dep., p. 282, lines
time that plaintiff applied for the position at Alabama
A&M, she knew that she would not be approved for tenure
at Arkansas State University. (Doc. 112-10, p. 24 (Studdard
Dep., p. 91, lines 7-16)). Plaintiff has testified that, in
prior years at Arkansas State University, she had been on
track for tenure; however, in her fourth year, she received
notification that she was not on track for tenure. (Doc.
112-10, p. 25 (Studdard Dep., p. 94, lines 6-14)). Plaintiff
states that this was not the reason that she applied for the
position at Alabama A&M. Rather, plaintiff wanted to
teach at a historically black university and be closer to her
mother, among other things. (Doc. 112-10, p. 28 (Studdard
Dep., p. 106, line 10 - p. 107, line 7)).
Description of remaining defendants
Hugine is the president of Alabama A&M and has been in
that position since July 2009. (Doc. 79, p. 6; Doc. 112-1,
pp. 12-13). Dr. Hugine is responsible for making the final
decision with respect to granting tenure to faculty members.
(Doc. 112-1, p. 13; Doc. 112-10, p. 16 (Studdard Dep., p. 59,
Wims is the provost and vice president for Academic Affairs
and Research. (Doc. 112-1, p. 13). Dr. Wims has been in that
position since April 2010. (Doc. 112-15, p. 2 (Wims Aff.,
¶ 2)). Dr. Wims provides administration oversight for
the divisions of Academic Affairs and Research at Alabama
A&M. (Doc. 112-1, p. 13; Doc. 112-15, p. 2 (Wims Aff.,
¶ 3)). Part of Dr. Wims's duties includes reminding
faculty members of their deadlines to apply for tenure. (Doc.
112-1, p. 13; Doc. 112-15, pp. 2-3 (Wims Aff., ¶ 3);
Doc. 112-10, p. 21 (Studdard Dep., p. 79, lines 11-16)). Dr.
Wims also provides recommendations to Dr. Hugine regarding
whether tenure applicants should receive tenure. (Doc. 112-1,
p. 13; Doc. 112-15, pp. 2-3 (Wims Aff., ¶ 3); Doc.
112-10, p. 19 (Studdard Dep., p. 71, lines 8-15)). Dr. Wims
was not plaintiff's direct supervisor. (Doc. 112-10, p.
22 (Studdard Dep., p. 82, lines 2-5)).
McDaniel is the chair of the Department of Management,
Marketing, and Logistics in the College of Business. (Doc.
112-1, p. 13; Doc. 112-17, p. 2 (McDaniel Aff., ¶ 2)).
Dr. McDaniel's responsibilities include providing
evaluations of faculty members and participating in the
submission of tenure materials for faculty members in his
department. (Doc. 112-1, p. 14; Doc. 112-17, pp. 2-3
(McDaniel Aff., ¶ 3)).
Smith is the current dean of the College of Business and
Public Affairs. (Doc. 79, ¶ 9; Doc. 112-1, p. 14). Dr.
Smith's predecessor was Dr. Sarkar, who was, as described
below, involved in some of the events at issue in this
2003 Faculty Handbook and 2011 Faculty Handbook
plaintiff was hired at Alabama A&M, the 2003 Faculty
Handbook was in effect. (Doc. 112-10, p. 68 (Studdard Dep.,
p. 267, lines 2-22)). Under the 2003 Faculty Handbook, a
person appointed as an associate professor would serve a
probationary term of three academic years. (Doc. 112-15, pp.
40, 60 (Wims Aff., Ex. 1)). The 2003 Faculty Handbook stated
that a faculty member may submit an application for tenure in
the fall semester of the final year of the required period
for a certain rank. (Doc. 112-15, p. 61 (Wims Aff., Ex. 1)).
Thus, it appears that an associate professor would apply for
tenure in the fall of the third year of his or her
probationary period. The probationary period could be
extended upon written justification requested by the dean and
department chair and approved by the vice president for
Academic Affairs. (Doc. 112-15, p. 60 (Wims Aff., Ex. 1)). If
tenure was denied, then the faculty member would be given a
one-year notice of termination of service. (Doc. 112-15, p.
61 (Wims Aff., Ex. 1)). The requirements for tenure under the
2003 Faculty Handbook were as follows:
A. Letter of application B. At least two letters of
recommendations from immediate supervisors, chair, and dean.
C. Current curriculum vita.
D. Verification of years of service by the Office of Human
E. A minimum of last three years of continuous membership in
a professional society in discipline.
F. Teaching Portfolio Containing:
1. Course outlines, faculty evaluations, student evaluations
for all courses taught.
2. Development of innovative pedagogical methods and
materials, new courses, major revisions in old courses, etc.
3. Professional development to enhance teaching
G. Scholarly Activities
Publication in refereed journals, scholarly books,
chapters in scholarly books, research reports, attendance at
scientific/professional meetings, reviewer for journal,
proposals, creative works, etc. related to the
Evidence of: Service to the
university by being member/chair of various committees, any
administrative role at the university. Chair of graduate
thesis dissertation committees, service on student advisory
committees, service as a mentor for students/research.
Evidence of: Service to the public
(Doc. 112-15, pp. 61-62 (Wims Aff., Ex. 1) (emphasis added)).
2003 Faculty Handbook was later amended and became the 2011
Faculty Handbook. Under the 2011 Faculty Handbook, the
probationary term for an associate professor was increased to
four academic years. (Doc. 112-16, pp. 45, 74 (Wims Aff., Ex.
2)). By Ap ril 1st of the third probationary year, the Office
of Academic Affairs would notify the candidate of the
requirement to apply for tenure in the next academic year.
(Doc. 112-16, pp. 45-46 (Wims Aff., Ex. 2)). According to the
2011 Faculty Handbook, “[f]aculty not recommended for
tenure [would] be notified that their next year will be their
terminal year.” (Doc. 112-16, p. 46 (Wims Aff., Ex.
2)). Similar to the 2003 Faculty Handbook, the probationary
period could be extended upon written recommendation and
justification by the dean and the department chair and
approved by the provost and vice president of Academic
Affairs. (Doc. 112-16, p. 74 (Wims Aff., Ex. 2)).
requirements for the 2011 Faculty Handbook were as follows:
A. A Letter of Application;
B. At least two letters of recommendation from immediate
supervisors (i.e., chair and dean);
C. The weights given to each of the three areas of faculty
responsibility (teaching, research and service (extension);
D. A current curriculum vitae;
E. Verification of years of service and probationary period
by the Office of Human Resources;
F. Documentation of continuous membership in a professional
learned society to include the last three years at a minimum;
G. Teaching/Advisement Portfolio containing:
1. Course syllabi reflecting student learning outcomes and
course objectives, faculty evaluations, and student
evaluations for all courses taught from the last three years;
2. Demonstration of the use of innovative pedagogical methods
and materials such as development of new courses, infusion of
technology into the instructional program, major revision and
updating of courses to reflect changes in the field;
3. Attendance at professional development activities designed
to improve teaching effectiveness;
4. Successful student advisement and mentoring practices;
5. Assessment of student learning and efforts to modify
courses based ...