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Main v. Tulane University

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

May 7, 2018

SALLY MAIN
v.
TULANE UNIVERSITY

         SECTION: "A" (3)

          ORDER AND REASONS

          JAY C. ZAINEY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment (Rec. Doc. 31) filed by defendant, The Administrators of the Tulane Educational Fund (“Tulane”).[1] Plaintiff Sally Main opposes the motion. The motion, noticed for submission on April 18, 2018, is before the Court on the briefs without oral argument.[2] For the reasons that follow, the motion is GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This is an action brought under federal law by plaintiff Sally Main for age (60) and disability discrimination (post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD) against her former employer, Tulane.[3] Plaintiff began working for Tulane in 1982 as a Senior Curator for the Newcomb Art Gallery on its New Orleans campus. (Rec. Doc. 1, Complaint ¶ 5). Tulane eliminated Plaintiff's position effective July 30, 2015. (Rec. Doc. 31-6, Termination letter 6/24/15). Plaintiff was advised that the decision to eliminate her position was the result of the restructuring of the Newcomb Art Gallery given an assessment received from the American Alliance of Museums. (Id.).

         According to Plaintiff, her difficulties at Tulane began in August 2014 when Tulane hired Dr. Monica Ramirez-Montagut to be the new Director of the Newcomb Art Gallery.[4]Plaintiff noted at the outset that although pleasant enough, Ramirez-Montagut had a totalitarian, authoritative, and uncompromising attitude. (Rec. Doc. 31-2, Main deposition at 88). Plaintiff reported directly to Ramirez-Montagut. But in light of the holiday break in December 2014, and given that Plaintiff was on leave (FMLA and then non-FMLA) from January-June 2015, Ramirez-Montagut only supervised Plaintiff for four months. (Rec. Doc. 31-6, Ramirez-Montagut affidavit ¶ 15).

         In support of her claims Plaintiff has identified certain “discriminatory” incidents that occurred during the time that she reported to Ramirez-Montagut. First, Anne Banos had contacted Plaintiff about putting some art work in the university's president's office. In the past Plaintiff had handled this type of request herself. Plaintiff began to solicit loaner pieces from museums not affiliated with Tulane. (Rec. Doc. 31-2, Main deposition at 119). Ramirez-Montagut found out about this project and demanded that Plaintiff send her Banos's email so that she could handle the request herself. In Plaintiff's opinion Ramirez-Montagut used art pieces that were non-functional.[5] (Id. at 119-20).

         Next, there was an incident involving Sally Kenney and some artwork at the Newcomb dean's house. Kenney, who was Executive Director of the Newcomb College Institute, had contacted Plaintiff to remove the artwork in light of a pending demolition. When the demolition plans changed Kenney demanded to have the artwork replaced. When Plaintiff explained that Kenney would have to pay for additional help to do that, Kenny “lit into [Plaintiff], screaming that she wasn't paying for anything.” (Rec. Doc. 31-2, Main deposition at 123). At this point Ramirez-Montagut got involved and decided to curate the art work herself. Kenney then complained that Plaintiff was rude to her.[6] (Id. at 124-25).

         When asked what part of Ramirez-Montagut's behavior with respect to the Kenney incident was discriminatory, Plaintiff explained that Ramirez-Montagut did not understand people with PTSD. (Rec. Doc. 31-2, Main deposition at 125). “I think she thinks that you can speak to someone any way you want.” (Id.). Plaintiff did not feel that treating others with respect was a priority for Ramirez-Montagut, and Plaintiff perceived that the aggressive, hostile, and nasty behavior just kept escalating.[7] (Id.).

         Next, in late October 2014, Ramirez-Montagut instructed Plaintiff via email to place a Gene Koss sculpture in an outdoor breezeway. (Rec. Doc. 48-1, Main deposition Exh. 11). On November 10, 2014, Ramirez-Montagut sent another email to Plaintiff in which she reprimanded her for not following instructions and directions regarding the location of the Koss sculpture and other matters.[8] (Id.). Plaintiff responded to Ramirez-Montagut with a blistering email in which she defended herself regarding several incidents that she characterized as either not having happened or outside of her control.[9](Id.). Plaintiff closed with, “I am concerned with your repeated use of hostile and disrespectful language in communicating with me. Because of my PTSD diagnosis, I'm asking that you desist from future written and verbal attacks and let's find a way of communicating where questions are asked instead of accusations thrown.” (Id.) (emphasis added).

         When asked what part of Ramirez-Montagut's behavior with respect to this incident was discriminatory, Plaintiff explained that “it's the hostility and the way you speak to people.” (Rec. Doc. 31-2, Main deposition at 132).

         Ramirez-Montagut testified that prior to this email she was not aware that Plaintiff had been diagnosed with PTSD and nothing in the record disputes this assertion.[10](Rec. Doc. 48-2, Ramirez-Montagut deposition at 216). Ramirez-Montagut replied to the email: “[I]n regard to your PTSD diagnosis, if you feel you are in need of a reasonable accommodation related to a potential disability, please contact the Office of Disability Services to file a request for a reasonable accommodation.” (Rec. Doc. 48-1, Main deposition Exhibit 11).

         After receiving this email, Plaintiff did speak with two individuals (Patrick and Shawna) in Disability Services about her difficulties with Ramirez-Montagut but she did not request any particular accommodation. (Rec. Doc. 31-2, Main deposition at 167; 189). Plaintiff recognized that “you can't tell someone how to behave or how to write to you, but [she] just wanted some sort of acknowledgement that [the status quo] wasn't working.” (Id. at 167-68). Plaintiff's preferred outcome or desired “accommodation” was for “things to be less hostile.” (Id. at 168).

         Finally, Plaintiff contends that Ramirez-Montagut made unreasonable demands on her concerning a database of digitized inventory for the gallery. Ramirez-Montagut told Plaintiff that she was not doing enough to complete the project. (Rec. Doc. 31-2, Main deposition at 142). Ramirez-Montagut never attributed this to age or disability, however. (Id.).

         Plaintiff has no direct evidence of discrimination based on age or disability. (Rec. Doc. 31-2, Main deposition at 87, 133, 142). When asked why she believed that Ramirez-Montagut's treatment of her was based on age or disability as opposed to mere personal animosity, Plaintiff explained that Ramirez-Montagut simply does not like old people. (Id. at 132). When asked to explain why she came to that conclusion, Plaintiff elaborated that Ramirez-Montagut is disrespectful, rude, hostile, and angry. (Id. at 133).

         Following her termination Plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC claiming age discrimination, disability discrimination, and retaliation. (Rec. Doc. 48-1, Exhibit 2). The instant complaint followed.

         A jury trial is scheduled to commence on July 16, 2018.

         Tulane now moves for summary judgment on all claims.

         II. DISCUSSION

         Summary judgment is appropriate only if "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, " when viewed in the light most favorable to the non-movant, "show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact." TIG Ins. Co. v. Sedgwick James, 276 F.3d 754, 759 (5th Cir. 2002) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249-50 (1986)). A dispute about a material fact is "genuine" if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Id. (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248). The court must draw all justifiable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Id. (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255). Once the moving party has initially shown "that there is an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's cause, " Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986), the non-movant must come forward with "specific facts" showing a genuine factual issue for trial. Id. (citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e); Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio, 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986)). Conclusional allegations and denials, speculation, improbable inferences, unsubstantiated assertions, and legalistic argumentation do not adequately substitute for specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial. Id. (citing SEC v. Recile, 10 F.3d 1093, 1097 (5th Cir. 1993)).

         When faced with a well-supported motion for summary judgment, Rule 56 places the burden on the non-movant to designate the specific facts in the record that create genuine issues precluding summary judgment. Jones .v Sheehan, Young, & Culp, P.C., 82 F.3d 1334, 1338 (5th Cir. 1996). The district court has no duty to survey the entire record in search of evidence to support a non-movant's position. Id. (citing Forsyth v. Barr, 19 F.3d 1527, 1537 (5th Cir. 1992); Nissho-Iwai Am. Corp. v. Kline, 845 F.2d 1300, 1307 (5th Cir. 1988)).

         A. ...


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