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Doucet v. University of Cincinnati

July 19, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: District Judge Susan J. Dlott


This matter comes before the Court on Defendant University of Cincinnati's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. #10.) For the reasons below, the Motion is GRANTED.


Plaintiff and French national Nathalie Doucet sued the University of Cincinnati ("UC") in March 2005, claiming she was subjected to national-origin employment discrimination and retaliation for protesting that discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. (Doc. #1.) UC now moves for summary judgment on both Doucet's claims.

A. Factual Background*fn1

In September 2001, Doucet began working as an Assistant Professor in the UC School of Design's Fashion Design Program. (Doc. #10-6 at 3 ¶ 28; doc. #14 at 2 ¶ 28.) Doucet was initially appointed for a three-year term, with contract renewal contingent on her successful completion of UC's faculty reappointment, promotion and tenure ("RPT") process. (Doc. #10-6 at 2 ¶ 13, 3 ¶ 29-30; doc. #14 at 2 ¶¶ 13, 29-30.) Doucet's appointment letter from UC stated that this review process would be conducted during the spring of Doucet's second teaching year, or spring 2003, but that Doucet was also expected to meet with the School of Design Director within three months of her appointment and annually thereafter "to review [her] prospective and actual performance, plans for continued professional growth, and RPT criteria and procedures." (Doc. #19 Ex. 1 at 1.) It also stated that Doucet's "mix of teaching, research and service responsibilities" would be "arranged" between Doucet and the Director. (Id. at 2.)

1. School of Design RPT Review Process and Criteria

The RPT process begins with a faculty applicant's submission of a dossier of work to a committee within her school -- in Doucet's case, the School of Design -- which then issues a written recommendation on the application. (Doc. #10-6 at 2 ¶¶ 14, 16; doc. #14 at 2 ¶¶ 14, 16.) Further reviews are conducted by School of Design Director Robert Probst; a college-level RPT committee; School of Design Dean Judith Koroscik, and UC's Provost. (Doc. #10-6 at 1-2 ¶¶ 4, 7, 15; doc. #14 at 1-2 ¶¶ 4, 7, 15.) While the Provost ordinarily makes the final decision on contract renewal and reappointment, applicants may request hearings before the University Faculty Grievance Committee ("UFGC"), which issues written recommendations to UC's President. (Doc. #10-6 at 2-3 ¶ 15, 20-21; doc. #14 at 2 ¶¶ 15, 20-21.) The UC President retains the discretion to reject UFGC's recommendations, however, and has testified that the grievance procedure is not an appropriate forum for attacking the more "qualitative aspects" of RPT reviews. (See, e.g., Doc. #17 Ex. 2 (Deposition of UC President Nancy Zimpher) at 27; see also Doc. #19 Exs. 41, 43.) UC faculty also receive annual performance reviews during their contract terms. (Doc. #10-6 at 5 ¶ 42; doc. #15 at 3 ¶ 42.)

The School of Design's RPT criteria analyze faculty "performance in five distinct areas of activity," further defined as follows:

1. Teaching Effectiveness

Teaching effectiveness is the ability to transfer concepts, to develop skills and to cultivate critical thinking and judgment. Teaching effectiveness is demonstrated by improvement in a student's knowledge, skill and understanding. The assessment of teaching effectiveness is provided by a combination of student and course evaluation[s], peer evaluations, and letters of recommendation by teaching colleagues, letters from previous students, and letters of recommendation by teaching colleagues, letters from previous students, and a review of student performance by the Chairperson and/or the School Director. Advising and consulting with students is a required part of teaching effectiveness.

2. Scholarship and Research

Scholarship and Research revolve around the pursuit of knowledge and understanding relevant to the fields of Art and Design. Investigation or experimentation aimed at the discovery and interpretation of facts, revision of accepted theories or concepts in light of new facts, or practical application of such new or revised theories or concepts.

3. Creative Work/Professional

Creative work is that work which defines, encloses or expands the field through the creation of artifacts and should be an extension of principle concern. Faculty members may choose from among a variety of possibilities of professional involvement or practice as a means of consolidating a particular set of ideas.

4. Service

The School of Design recognizes 6 potential areas of service:

* University

* College

* School

* Program

* Professional

* Community

Service to these 6 areas should involve not only the commitment of time and energy to the maintenance of existing or new programs, but also should entail a unique contribution which is related to a faculty member's knowledge, skills and experience. (Declaration of Judith Korosick (hereinafter "Korosick Dec."), Doc. #10-2, Ex. G at 4.) The criteria document lists, as examples of "recognized criteria" for "Research/Scholarship/Creative Activity," "Group show participation" and "Lectures." (Id. at 6.)

While the criteria document clearly designates "teaching effectiveness" as the "primary focus" for faculty, it anticipates that "each faculty member will exhibit varying involvements within the remaining areas" of activity and states that "[t]he degree of participation in these areas as well as the specific focus within each area is to be determined by the faculty member and should be a point of discussion in the annual review for non-tenured faculty." (Id. at 4-5.) The document cautions that "[a]n area as complex and sensitive as reappointment, promotion and tenure consideration cannot be specified so thoroughly that it includes every potential criteria variation" and that "[t]hese guidelines therefore present a general definition . . . which should be interpreted on an individual basis." (Id. at 4.) It further notes that "[t]erms such as Scholarship, Creative and Professional will understandably vary in interpretation and combination." (Id. at 5 (emphasis in original).)

2. Doucet's 2001-2002 and 2002-2003 Academic Performance Reviews

In September 2001, during Doucet's first quarter at UC, Doucet met with School of Design Director Probst and was told that the School's RPT criteria included evidence of satisfactory teaching and growth in one or more of the areas of scholarship and research, creative and professional work, and service. (Doc. #10-6 at 4 ¶¶ 32-33; doc. #14 at 2-3 ¶¶ 32-33; Deposition of Nathalie Doucet, January 18, 2006 (hereinafter "Doucet Dep.") at 38-39.) Doucet has testified that around this time, Probst became aware of her plans to organize a "Tandem Series" of "conversations" or exchanges between international fashion figures. (Doucet Dep. at 38-39; see also id., Ex. 7 at 2 (characterizing Series).)*fn2

In April 2002, Doucet and Probst met again, this time in the company of Doucet's faculty mentor John Hancock, to discuss her research plans. (Doc. #10-6 at 4 ¶¶ 36-37; doc. #14 at 3 ¶¶ 36-37.) Hancock's written summary of that meeting, which Doucet reviewed, indicates that Probst told Doucet that the RPT criteria were really "rather loose and open, allowing faculty in these diverse disciplines to find their own way, and their own kind of interests, work, and effort." (Doucet Dep. at 41 and Ex. 6 at 1; doc. #10-6 at 4 ¶ 38; doc. #14 at 3 ¶ 38.) The summary also indicates, however, that Probst told Doucet her "first priority in the School should be teaching and getting comfortable in the context of the [Fashion Design] Program, its mission and its faculty." (Doucet Dep. Ex. 6 at 1.) With respect to Doucet's research efforts, Hancock indicates that Probst told Doucet that certain "remarks made around the time of [her] hiring (about the interest in international connections and Parisian networks and so on) were sincere, although these connections are not enough in themselves; they need to be used to build up an area of expertise, activity, with outcomes for research and/or teaching." (Id.)*fn3 The summary also reflects that Probst attempted to clarify how Doucet's "international network [could] be used to produce real research; producing a series of articles and teaching content out of the issues and topics that are involved in the work of these famous people, and also eventually when there are funds, inviting them for visits at UC." (Id. at 2.)

Hancock concluded his summary with the following observations:

[A]fter we talk some more, there should be future meetings with [Probst], especially your annual review meetings, where you should expect to build, with [Probst's] help and approval, a specific "map" of future activities appropriate for tenure. . . . There needs to be a shared understanding very early about what combination of research, publication, entrepreneurship, networking outcomes, and so on (as well as teaching effectiveness), are best, in consideration of your skills and interests, and the expectations for the discipline of [Fashion Design]. (My other advice is still that we need to find out more about the [Fashion Design] expectations, associations, meetings, publications, and so on, that you should be aiming for; Robert couldn't help with that one, so who can? We need clarity, in advance, about what will be understood as evidence of "leadership in the field" or a "contribution to the discourse".) (Id.)

In late spring 2002, Doucet and Probst met a third time for Doucet's first annual review. In the "Research/Creative/Professional Activity" section of her review paperwork, Doucet stated that she was coordinating the United States' selection for the 2002 International Competition of Young Fashion Designers of Paris; serving as president of a new "Arts of Fashion" nonprofit foundation "to promote young international talents by organizing competitions, exhibitions, meetings, debates"; and planning to launch a "Carte Blanche" series of exhibitions as well as the aforementioned "Tandem Series." (Doucet Dep., Ex. 7 at 2.) She also stated that she had applied for funding for two "sessions of trends and forecasting presentations" and obtained funding or otherwise planned to attend several fashion conferences, festivals, and presentations. (Id.) In the "Service" section of her paperwork, Doucet stated that she had organized a business meeting on behalf of the Department and "introduced" Department programs to several schools in Paris; attended or served as committee members for fashion shows and competitions; escorted a student and Department coordinator to shows, festivals, or studios; served as a guest speaker for a trade course; and secured a donation for the Department. (Id. at 3.)

Probst's remarks in the "Comments" section of Doucet's review paperwork read, in their entirety, as follows:

Professor Doucet has gained familiarity with the program of Fashion Design and Product Development. In her first year she has focused primarily on the development of syllabi and course structures.

Efforts in the area of research/creative/professional activity have been initiated and seem promising.

The coming academic year should be used to begin the development of a direction and a focus in the categories of Scholarship and Research, Creative Work and/or Professional Work in preparation for the first Reappointment Review. (Id. at 4 ; see also doc. #10-6 at 5 ¶ 47, doc. #14 at 3 ¶ 47.)

In June 2003, Probst and Doucet met for Doucet's second annual review. (See, e.g., Doucet Dep. Ex. 34 (review paperwork).) Probst's written comments to this second review are far longer, and include the list of what he describes as "various issues related to [Doucet's] performance regarding next academic year." (Id.) The list includes the following comments:

* Research/Creative/Professional Activity: Contributions to the body of knowledge in the discipline, demonstrated through publications, lectures, presentations, exhibitions. Recognized as an authority in the field through peer reviews.

* Service: Academic committee participation on various levels is encouraged, programs, school, college, university. Plus in addition involvement in the professional community is desired, local, regional, national and international arenas.

(Id.) Probst's list also includes a number of entries on coursework and advising, but those entries concern primarily curriculum and evaluation issues and do not directly criticize -- let alone recommend any substantive changes to -- Doucet's teaching style. (Id.)

Doucet signed her review paperwork, but also attached a commentary protesting Probst's comments as devoid of any "guidance, supportive advice, or any positive suggestion in regard of Teaching, Research and Service." (Id.) She also complained that Probst's summary did not accurately reflect "what was said and ...

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