United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana
ORDER AND REASONS
VAN MEERVELD UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
the Court is the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by
defendants Southern University System Foundation and Mostafa
Elaasar, as remanded by the United States Fifth Circuit Court
of Appeals on April 4, 2017. In accordance with the Fifth
Circuit's Order, this Court has reconsidered whether
plaintiff Panagiota Heath can survive summary judgment
dismissing her claims that she was subjected to a hostile
work environment on account of her sex (her claim under Title
VII of the Civil Rights Action of 1964) and/or on account of
her sex, race, religion, and national origin (her claim under
28 U.S.C. § 1983) by considering alleged harassment as
early as mid-2011 when she returned to work from a
sabbatical. For the following reasons, the Court finds
that even considering the entire relevant time period as
instructed by the Fifth Circuit, the defendants are entitled
to summary judgment.
“Penney” Heath is a female, a Christian, and a
member of the Greek Orthodox Church. She was born in Greece
and immigrated to the United States after high school. She
began working as a professor of mathematics at Southern
University at New Orleans (“SUNO”) in 1996.
applied for and received tenure as an associate professor in
2001. In opposition to her motion for summary judgment, Dr.
Heath presents letters and emails from students thanking her
for her teaching (some undated, some from 2010). The letters
indicate that Dr. Heath is well respected and loved by her
students for the time and effort she puts into helping them.
relevant time period for this lawsuit begins in the middle of
2011 when Dr. Heath returned from a year-long sabbatical,
taken for health reasons. However, by way of background, the
Court notes that the hostile work environment that forms the
backbone of Dr. Heath's remaining claims is alleged to
have begun long before 2011. According to Dr. Heath, her
problems started when defendant Mostafa Elaasar became chair
of the math department in 2003. Dr. Elaasar is a male, he is
Muslim, and he is of Egyptian decent. Dr. Heath asserts that
in 2003 she was called “crazy” at a faculty
meeting, in 2005 a student was pressured to write a complaint
about Dr. Heath, and in 2008 Dr. Heath was denied a request
for a sabbatical because Dr. Elaasar was not convinced she
was capable of writing a book. In 2005, Dr. Heath wrote a 10
page, single-spaced letter complaining about “several
incidences of harassment and antagonistic behavior
toward” her by Dr. Elaasar and Dr. Omojola (Dean of
Science). (Rec. Doc. 70-11, at 3-12). She also described an
incident where another teacher, Mrs. Davis, called her
“white trash.” But nowhere did she attribute the
purported harassment by Dr. Elaasar and Dr. Omojola to her
sex, race, religion, or national origin. In her deposition,
Dr. Heath described Dr. Elaasar as a radical Muslim, which
she said was based on a conversation he had with her after
Hurricane Katrina when they had to drive to Baton Rouge, in
which he explained that radical Muslims believe that the time
will come when Muslims are going to rise and kill all the
Christians. She admitted she did not feel personally
threatened by this discussion. In 2009, Dr. Heath filed a
lawsuit alleging discrimination on the basis of sex and
national origin. That lawsuit was ultimately abandoned.
evidence submitted by Dr. Heath in opposition to summary
judgment includes an email chain between herself and Dr.
Singleton, a female, African-American professor in the math
department at SUNO. The emails run from February 4, 2010,
through February 11, 2010. Of interest to the issues in this
case, Dr. Singleton's last email to Dr. Heath stated
I have experience a paradigm shift at SUNO going from Dr.
Perry, Chair to Dr. Elaasar, Chair . . . We do have a new
culture of people working for SUNO. . . . Now, I am working
with a different culture of people (mostly males), who has
been known to be dominating to women. This happens often when
working in the sciences. There is a gender differences. . . .
I hate the part of my job but its reality that majority of
males major in sciences and mathemtics. If you are a strong
liberal woman, then your job is going to be tough.
(Rec. Doc. 70-14) (all errors in original). Earlier in the
email chain, Dr. Singleton wrote:
The math unit has a long ways to go. We are the only unit
that has to share the same office . . . . I do not think that
this is a gender issue. It is a math unit issue. No one in
the math unit responded to the biology new hire presentation.
We (math unit) sat and were very quiet and wasted time that
is my opinion. That is not a gender issue.
Id. (all errors in original).
letter dated April 19, 2010, Dr. Heath stated that she would
not participate in any further meetings of the mathematics
department because she is tired of being belittled. She
stated that she was “told that [she is] ‘white
trash;' [she] was told to ‘shut up your mouth so I
can speak damn it;' [and she has] been ignored when [she
is] talking.” (Rec. Doc. 70-12, at 17). She added that
she “was told that Dr. Elassar [sic] does not let me
participate in any meetings such as hiring committees because
‘I talk too much for a woman.'” Id.
In her deposition, Dr. Heath admitted that her knowledge of
this alleged remark came to her indirectly. (Rec. Doc. 67-4,
at 7). She testified that Dr. Omojola told her, “You
know why they don't let you work, participate in
meetings? . . .
you talk too much for a woman.” Id. Dr. Heath
attributes this remark to Dr. Elaasar because Dr. Omojola was
very close with Dr. Elaasar. Id.
in April 2010, Louise Kaltenbaugh, the Director of
Alternative Certification at SUNO wrote Dr. Adegboye, Vice
Chancellor of Academic Affairs, indicating that she had
spoken to Dr. Heath and believed that Dr. Heath was
experiencing professional and personal harassment. (Rec. doc.
70-16, at 1). She asked Dr. Adegboye “to look into this
matter to make sure that Dr. Heath is not being
‘railroaded' due to cultural and gender
noted above, Dr. Heath took a year-long sabbatical from 2010
through 2011 for health reasons. She contends that when she
returned, the harassment continued. She asserts that Dr.
Elaasar did not allow her to participate in committees, teach
courses online, or teach courses above Math 151. She
complains that Dr. Elaasar did not respect her academic
freedom to grade her students according to her judgment. She
says Dr. Elaasar refused to re-assign two classes to her
during the summer semester when her previously assigned
classes were cancelled. She says that after he agreed to
allow her to teach two evening classes in fall 2012, he
changed his mind at the last minute and gave the classes to
another faculty member. She complains that Dr. Elaasar
humiliated her during departmental meetings and did not allow
her to finish talking. She says Dr. Elaasar undermined her to
her students. She says that Dr. Elaasar did not assign her
overload classes, and as a result, she was forced to seek
extra employment in other places. She says that Dr. Elaasar
denied her request to teach in the tutoring lab and isolated
her from everything that went on in the department by working
with the other teachers behind closed doors. She complains
that she was not allowed to write grants although this area
is a specialty for her. She complains that Dr. Elaasar would
not allow her to include in her office hours those hours she
spent teaching two disabled students in another teacher's
office. She says Dr. Elaasar refused to provide the minutes
of department meetings (it is unclear if he refused to
provide these to Dr. Heath, or if he refused to provide them
to anyone). She says that Dr. Elaasar refused to allow her to
teach students who were failing or who needed make up tests
at 7:00 a.m.
Heath conveyed the aforementioned complaints to Dr. Adegboye,
in a letter dated September 19, 2012. (Rec. Doc. 70-17, at
1-3). Notably, the letter makes no reference to her sex,
national origin, race, or religion as a basis for Dr.
Elaasar's actions and inactions. In fact, Dr. Heath
stated that she did “not understand why he holds [her]
back and strives to portrait [her] (sic) as unproductive
faculty while he promotes others.”
undated letter that may have been written in the fall of 2012
by Dr. Heath to Dr. Mokossa, Dean of Science, complains about
an incident where she approached Dr. Elaasar to convey
complaints from her students about their unsatisfactory
experiences in the tutoring lab. (Rec. Doc. 70-17, at 4-5).
Dr. Heath writes that Dr. Elaasar became angry and told her
to “stop misbehaving.” Id. She
complained to Dr. Mokossa that Dr. Elaasar was
“creating a hostile work environment” and that
she had been experiencing “unfair treatment.”
Id. She ...