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Strong v. Grambling State University

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Monroe Division

March 25, 2015

AVAINE STRONG
v.
GRAMBLING STATE UNIVERSITY, ET AL

MEMORANDUM RULING

DONALD E. WALTER, District Judge.

Before the court are two motions filed by the defendants: (1) the "Motion for Summary Judgment Regarding Claims against GSU Employee Defendants, " [Doc. 78];[1] and (2) the "Motion for Summary Judgment Regarding Claims against Grambling State University, Board of Supervisors for the University of Louisiana System, and Board Members, " [Doc. #79].[2] Plaintiff Avaine Strong ("Strong") opposes the motions. [Docs. ##83, 84, 92]. Because the motions are nearly identical and address substantially the same issues, the court will address them simultaneously.[3] For the following reasons, both motions are GRANTED.

I. BACKGROUND

Strong, an African-American male, is a professor of Mathematics and Physics at Grambling State University ("Grambling"). He began his career at Grambling as a visiting professor in January 2001, and was thereafter hired as an assistant professor in the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science. [Doc. #84, p. 1]. In 2006, he was named the head of the Department of Physics. Id. He attained tenure in 2007. Id.

In 2011, Strong was named the interim head of the newly-merged department of Mathematics and Physics. Id. Strong did not receive a raise, nor did he receive extra-services pay. Id. The administration cited budgetary constraints and the fact that Strong was already a department head as justifications for his salary remaining unchanged. Id. Strong filed an administrative grievance in an effort to raise his pay, but was unsuccessful. Id. In a separate grievance, Strong successfully secured the payment of a previously unpaid $5, 000.00 cash prize in connection with an "Excellence in Teaching" award that Strong had won. Id.

Strong stepped down as interim department head in August 2012 in protest over the amount of his compensation relative to his workload. Id. at 1-2. Thereafter, he continued to work full-time as a tenured professor at Grambling, and he is still working in that capacity today. [Doc. #78-1, p. 1 at ¶ 1; Doc. #84-1, p. 1, at ¶ 1].

On December 13, 2012, Strong filed a discrimination complaint against Grambling with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). [Doc. #78-7, p. 111]. Therein, he claimed that he was discriminated against during his term as interim department head. Strong alleged that an unnamed Grambling professor was offered to head the department permanently at a higher salary than that which Strong received. According to Strong, the alleged offer disproved the administration's justifications for Strong's lower salary. Id. Strong further claimed that two female professors were offered higher salaries as "coordinator of english" than the salary Strong received as interim department head. Id. Strong asserted that the foregoing actions were based on his status as a black male and were also taken in retaliation for his grievances. Id. Finding no evidence of discrimination, the EEOC denied Strong's claim, and issued a notice of rights letter on February 7, 2013. [Doc. #1, p.7]. The instant suit was timely filed on April 30, 2013. [Doc. #1].

Strong's complaint, as amended, makes numerous vague assertions against a litany of defendants. [Doc. #23]. Generally, Strong claims to have been grossly mistreated by the Grambling administration, whose actions were then ratified by the University of Louisiana System Board of Supervisors ("the UL System Board"). Strong argues that the mistreatment amounted to a violation of his constitutional rights. Strong references "unlawful discriminatory practices (including sexual), negligence, gross negligence, harassment (hostile environment), illegal hiring and promotion practices, payroll fraud, violation of equal pay, retaliation, violation of due process, deprivation of honest services, and conspiracy." [Doc. #23, p. 2]. He specifically claims that the defendants' collective actions violated 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983, 1985, 1986, & 1988; Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et. seq. ); the Equal Pay Act (29 U.S.C. § 206(d)(1)); and 18 U.S.C. § 1346. Id.

Strong particularly focuses on the actions of defendant Connie Walton ("Walton"), who is the Dean of Grambling's College of Arts & Sciences and Vice President/Provost of Academic Affairs. Id. at 6-7. Walton supervised several departments, including Strong's, during the time period in question. In the instant suit, Strong claims that Walton specifically discriminated because he is a heterosexual black male. Id. at 7. In other words, Strong alleges that Walton, in conjunction with all other named defendants, provides preferential treatment to women and homosexuals. Id. He further complains that Walton's retaliatory actions and statements show that she "has a propensity and a history of vindictiveness." Id.

In total, plaintiff seeks nearly $8 million in compensatory damages, punitive damages, attorneys' fees, interest, and costs. Id. at 15. He also demands that "positions be revisited, vetted, and filled according to fairness, competency, qualifications, and that salaries be awarded based on qualifications and experiences." Id. Finally, he requests that defendants "restore Plaintiff's respect, good name, and reputation throughout and within the Grambling community." Id.

Defendants now move for summary judgment, claiming immunity and a complete lack of evidence supporting any of Strong's claims.

II. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) directs that a court "shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." A fact is "material" if it may affect the outcome of the suit under governing law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute is "genuine" if there is sufficient evidence so that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for either party. Id. The court must "review the facts drawing all inferences most favorable to the party opposing the motion." Reid v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 784 F.2d 577, 578 (5th Cir. 1986) (citing United States Steel Corp. v. Darby, 516 F.2d 961 (5th Cir. 1975)).

The moving party bears the initial responsibility of informing the court of the basis for its motion and identifying those parts of the record that it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine dispute as to any material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986); Lawrence v. Univ. of Tex. Med. Branch at Galveston, 163 F.3d 309, 311 (5th Cir. 1999). The moving party need not produce evidence to negate the elements of the non-moving party's case, but need only point out the absence of evidence supporting the non-moving party's case. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325; Lawrence, 163 F.3d at 311.

Once the moving party carries its initial burden, the burden then falls upon the non-moving party to demonstrate the existence of a genuine dispute as to a material fact. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). This burden is not satisfied with some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, by conclusory or unsubstantiated allegations, or by a mere scintilla of evidence. Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (per curiam) (citations omitted). The non-moving party "must go beyond the pleadings and designate specific facts in the record showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Wallace v. Texas Tech. Univ., 80 F.3d 1042, 1047 (5th Cir. 1996) (citations omitted).

Pursuant to Local Rule 56.1, the moving party shall file a short and concise statement of the material facts as to which it contends there is no genuine issue to be tried. Local Rule 56.2 requires that a party opposing the motion for summary judgment set forth a "short and concise statement of the material facts as to which there exists a genuine issue to be tried." All material facts set forth in the statement required to be served by the moving party "will be deemed admitted, for purposes of the motion, unless controverted as required by this rule." LR 56.2.

III. DISCUSSION

After due consideration, the court finds that summary judgment is warranted. As discussed below, Strong's claims are wholly unsupported and meritless.

A. Claims against Grambling, the UL System Board, and the Individual Defendants in their Official Capacities

Strong has sued Grambling State University, the UL System Board, the individual board members acting in their official capacities, and several Grambling employees in their official capacities. [Doc. #23, p. 13]. As a preliminary matter, the court must determine whether ...


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