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Clark v. Board of Regents of University System of Georgia

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Augusta Division

March 20, 2017

JANICE C. CLARK, DPM, Plaintiff,
v.
BOARD OF REGENTS OF THE UNIVERSITY SYSTEM OF GEORGIA, Defendant.

          ORDER

          J. RANDAL HALL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Presently before the Court is Defendant's motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 34.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendant retaliated against her in violation of Title VII. Defendant argues that it had legitimate, non-retaliatory reasons for firing Plaintiff, and that Plaintiff has not provided sufficient evidence to rebut its non-retaliatory reasons. The Court DENIES Defendant's motion.

         I. Background

         A. Plaintiff's Employment

         Plaintiff began work for Defendant in August 2009 as a Podiatrist and Assistant Professor of Orthopedics. On March 8, 2010, Dr. Douglas Miller, Dean of the School of Medicine, offered to renew Plaintiff's contract for the 2010-2011 academic year. Dr. Miller made his offer on the recommendation of Plaintiff's immediate supervisor, Dr. Norman Chutkan, Chairman of the Department of Orthopedics.

         In April 2010, Plaintiff complained to Solomon Walker, the Director of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity Employment, about race and sex discrimination. Plaintiff complained about the clinic in general, but she specifically named Mark Lewis, the Department Administrator, as a particular cause for concern. According to Plaintiff, Mr. Walker told her he would speak with Dr. Chutkan about the complaint. On May 5, 2010, Dr. Chutkan, Mark Lewis, and Susan Norton, Vice President of Human Resources, met with Plaintiff to discuss several performance issues. Dr. Chutkan outlined the performance issues in a written memo. They included:

- Failure to complete patient notes in a timely manner which resulted in management being unable to bill for services rendered by Plaintiff - Two missed meetings with Dr. Chutkan
- Failure to arrive at the Lake Oconee clinic on a date when Plaintiff had patients scheduled
- Allegations that Plaintiff might have attempted to get reimbursement for a business trip from multiple sources
- Failure to adequately communicate with residents and other faculty members

         The next day, Plaintiff met once more with Mr. Walker to discuss filing a complaint about race and sex discrimination. On May 7, 2010, Ms. Norton met with Mr. Walker to discuss HR issues. Ms. Norton's agenda for the meeting included a discussion of Plaintiff. In her deposition, Ms. Norton claimed that she probably only wanted to discuss what she perceived as Plaintiff's rude behavior during their meeting on May 5, but she could not recall whether they discussed the discrimination complaints made by Plaintiff to Mr. Walker.

         On May 14, 2010, Ms. Norton emailed Mr. Lewis to discuss not renewing Plaintiff's contract for the 2011-2012 fiscal year. In the same email, she also discussed the possibilities of rescinding Plaintiff's offer for the 2010-2011 term, but determined that such a move would be too administratively difficult. In response, Mr. Lewis asked Ms. Norton how they should communicate their decision not to renew Plaintiff's contract. By May 26, Mr. Lewis sent a draft non-renewal letter to Dr. Chutkan. Dr. Chutkan testified that he made the decision to fire Plaintiff on either May 26 or June 30. (Dr. Chutkan bases his testimony on written memoranda and some confusion exists as to when Dr. Chutkan actually relayed his decision to Dean Miller.) In August 2010, Defendant informed Plaintiff it would not renew her contract for the 2011-2012 fiscal year.

         On October 27, 2010, Plaintiff, still in Defendant's employ, filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. By November 2010, she had already begun to look for new employment in anticipation of her contract ending in June 2011. Despite applying to over fifty institutions, and receiving several interviews, Plaintiff could not get a job. As soon as the potential employers checked her references, they ceased discussions with her. Suspicious, she contracted with a company to conduct a reference check. When the company called Dr. Chutkan to inquire about Plaintiff in November 2011, he stated, "It was a mistake to list me [as a reference] . I can tell you that. . . . She filed a few complaints against me. . . . One was regarding discrimination." (Doc. 38 at 15.)

         Plaintiff remained unemployed for a year after her contract with Defendant ended. In July 2012, Plaintiff finally gained employment as a podiatrist with the federal government working for Indian Health Services in Zuni, New Mexico - population 6, 302 persons as of the 2010 census. Indian Health Services had been trying to hire a podiatrist for two years, and Plaintiff accepted its offer of $109, 000 per year. Her compensation, not including other benefits, had been $135, 000 under Defendant's employ.

         Since her initial EEOC charge in October 2010, Plaintiff has made three amended charges. On January 28, 2011, Plaintiff formally amended her charge to include retaliation claims related to Defendant's decision not to renew her contract. On June 6, 2012, Plaintiff amended her EEOC charges to include retaliation claims related to negative references she ...


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