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Abdelmageed v. Board of Supervisors

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

September 8, 2017

ZAKARIA ABDELMAGEED
v.
BOARD OF SUPERVISORS OF THE SOUTHERN UNIVERSITY SYSTEM

         SECTION I

          ORDER & REASONS

          LANCE M. AFRICK UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiffs Zakaria Abdelmageed (“Abdelmageed”) and Habbiburrahman Ansari (“Ansari”) are Muslim academics who filed this lawsuit alleging that they were denied employment at the Southern University of New Orleans (“SUNO”) on the basis of their religion[1] in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. R. Doc. No. 1, at 5. Before the Court is defendant's motion for summary judgment. R. Doc. No. 20. For the following reasons, the motion is granted.

         I.

         Summary judgment is proper when, after reviewing the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits, the court determines that there is no genuine dispute of material fact. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. “[A] party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The party seeking summary judgment need not produce evidence negating the existence of material fact, but need only point out the absence of evidence supporting the other party's case. Id.; Fontenot v. Upjohn Co., 780 F.2d 1190, 1195 (5th Cir. 1986).

         Once the party seeking summary judgment carries its burden, the nonmoving party must come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine dispute of material fact for trial. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). The showing of a genuine issue is not satisfied by creating “‘some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, ' by ‘conclusory allegations, ' by ‘unsubstantiated assertions, ' or by only a ‘scintilla' of evidence.” Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (citations omitted). Instead, a genuine issue of material fact exists when the “evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). “Although the substance or content of the evidence submitted to support or dispute a fact on summary judgment must be admissible . . ., the material may be presented in a form that would not, in itself, be admissible at trial.” Lee v. Offshore Logistical and Transp., LLC, 859 F.3d 353, 355 (5th Cir. 2017) (quotation omitted).

         The party responding to the motion for summary judgment may not rest upon the pleadings but must identify specific facts that establish a genuine issue. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. The nonmoving party's evidence, however, “is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in [the nonmoving party's] favor.” Id. at 255; see also Hunt v. Cromartie, 526 U.S. 541, 552 (1999).

         II.

         Title VII makes it unlawful for an employer “to fail or refuse to hire . . . any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's color, religion, sex, or national origin.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). A plaintiff may prove a Title VII violation by using either direct or circumstantial evidence. Laxton v. Gap, Inc., 333 F.3d 572, 578 (5th Cir. 2003). When, as here, circumstantial evidence is used, the three-part, burden-shifting framework established in McDonnell Douglas v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973), applies. Id.

         Under the McDonnell Douglas framework, the plaintiff must first establish a prima facie case of discrimination. Id. If the plaintiff can make a prima facie case, a presumption of discrimination arises, and the defendant bears the burden of producing a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for its employment decision. Id. If the defendant provides such a reason, the burden shifts back to the plaintiff, who, at the summary judgment stage, must raise a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether the defendant's proffered reason is merely pretext for discrimination. See Medina v. Ramsey Steel Co., Inc., 238 F.3d 674, 680 (5th Cir. 2001).

         To establish a prima facie case of discrimination, “[t]he plaintiff must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that [he] applied for an available position for which [he] was qualified, but was rejected under circumstances which give rise to an inference of unlawful discrimination.” Texas Dep't of Cmty. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 253 (1981). For example, in a failure-to-hire case such as this, a plaintiff may establish a prima facie case of discrimination by showing that “(1) he belongs to a protected class; (2) he applied for and was qualified for a position for which applicants were being sought; (3) he was rejected; and (4) a person outside of his protected class was hired for the position.” See Burrell v. Dr. Pepper/Seven Up Bottling Grp., Inc., 482 F.3d 408, 411 (5th Cir. 2007). This burden “is not onerous.” Burdine, 450 U.S. at 253.

         Likewise, when faced with a prima facie case, a defendant employer has the rather light burden of rebutting the presumption of discrimination by pointing to any legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for its actions. “This burden . . . is only one of production, not persuasion, involving no credibility assessments.” Russell v. McKinney Hosp. Venture, 235 F.3d 219, 222 (5th Cir. 2000). “The defendant need not persuade the court that it was actually motivated by the proffered reasons. It is sufficient if the defendant's evidence raises a genuine issue of fact as to whether it discriminated against the plaintiff.” Burdine, 450 U.S. at 254 (citation omitted).

         If the employer provides a sufficient explanation for its hiring decision, it then falls to the plaintiff to “produce substantial evidence indicating that the proffered legitimate nondiscriminatory reason is a pretext for discrimination.” Laxton, 333 F.3d at 578 (emphasis added). In producing such evidence, the plaintiff “must rebut each nondiscriminatory reason articulated by the employer.” Id.

         A plaintiff may establish pretext “either through evidence of disparate treatment or by showing that the employer's proffered explanation is false or ‘unworthy of credence.'” Id. However, “[e]vidence that the proffered reason is unworthy of credence must be enough to support a reasonable inference that the proffered reason is false; a mere shadow of doubt is insufficient.” Bauer v. Albemarle Corp., 169 F.3d 962, 967 (5th Cir. 1999) (quotation omitted). Hence, “[i]n response to motions for summary judgment, it is . . . incumbent upon the non-moving party to present evidence-not just conjecture and speculation-that the defendant . . . discriminated against plaintiff on the basis of [his protected status].” Grimes v. Texas Dep't of Mental Health and Mental Retardation, 102 F.3d 137, 140 (5th Cir. 1996) (emphasis added).

         IV.

         This case contains two distinct allegations of employment discrimination. The first involves both Abdelmageed and Ansari and relates to SUNO's hiring practices in mid-2014. The second involves only Ansari and relates to SUNO's hiring practices in late 2014 and early 2015. The Court considers each in turn.

         A.

         In May 2014, Abdelmageed and Ansari each applied for one of three open, tenure-track assistant professor positions in the Department of Natural Sciences at SUNO. The initial search was conducted by a hiring committee made up of professors from the department. During the course of the search, two Muslim professors, Ibrahim Ekaidi and Bashir Atteia, were removed from the committee for improperly sharing candidate evaluations and submitting nearly identical feedback.[2]

         Following Ekaidi and Atteia's removal from the committee, the scores of the remaining professors were tabulated, and twelve candidates were ranked. See R. Doc. No. 20, Exhibit J. Abdelmageed and Ansari placed third and second, respectively. The committee recommended both for an interview.

         The hiring committee scores and recommendations were then submitted to the department chair, Murty Kambhampati, who proceeded to conduct a second, independent review of the candidates. Kambhampati evaluated the candidates based on their letters of interest; letters of recommendation; academic transcripts; curricula vitae; and field of specialty. Kambhampati assigned numeric scores ranging from one to five for each category and ranked the candidates based on the totals. See R. Doc. No. 20, Exhibit E. In this ranking, Abdelmageed and Ansari placed fifth and sixth, respectively. Interviews were extended to James Bolton, Mark Chee, Olabisi Ojo, and Tristan Kimbrell-the four individuals ranked highest by Kambhampati. R. Doc. 20, Exhibits E & P. Abdelmageed and Ansari were not interviewed or hired. Bolton, Ojo, and Kimbrell were ultimately recommended to SUNO's chancellor for hire. R. Doc. No. 20, Exhibit Y.

         Abdelmageed and Ansari allege that this hiring process resulted in unlawful discrimination against them. SUNO denies any discriminatory intent and avers that its hiring practices were ...


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