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V. Erika Smith v. Lakeland Community College

November 8, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Dan Aaron Polster


Before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. # 33) on Plaintiff's race discrimination claims, which are the only claims that remain pending in this case.


Lakeland Community College, which is located in Kirtland, Ohio, hired Erika Smith, an African-American woman, in August 2006 as a full-time English Generalist. Smith's duties included teaching English courses, developing curriculums, providing academic assistance to students, maintaining office hours, and furthering her professional development by attending conferences and working on committees. Her job was designated "full-time tenure track faculty" but was subject to a probationary contract. She was supervised by the Dean of Arts and Humanities.*fn1

Under a probationary contract, if an administrator becomes aware of a deficiency in a teacher's performance, the administrator must work with the teacher to overcome the deficiency. If a decision is made not to renew the contract for the following academic year, the College must notify the teacher in writing by April 1. The teacher can then appeal the decision to the Board of Trustees. After serving for four years under a probationary contract, faculty members are eligible for tenure.

Smith began teaching in the fall of 2006. In her first semester she taught American literature, multicultural literature, and two sections of English 1111, an introductory composition course. Although her first-semester courses were selected for her, Smith believed that as a generalist she would have complete autonomy in subsequent semesters to choose which courses to teach. At her deposition she stated, "I could teach anything." (Doc. # 32, at 15). For the spring 2007 semester, Smith chose to teach one section of multicultural literature and three sections of English 1111. Smith received high marks on her first annual performance review and was rated outstanding by her students and colleagues. (Doc. # 35-1).

Smith's second annual review took place in July 2008. The review was conducted by Dean Donald Killeen, who had assumed the position of Dean a few months earlier. Dean Killeen's two-page review of Smith was positive overall and noted Smith's success with the students. The review did, however, offer suggestions for the upcoming 2008--09 year. The first suggestion was written as follows:

You have done an admirable job in developing your approach to ENGL 1111. My concern is that it is time to broaden your repertoire of courses since you were hired into the English generalist position two years ago. I would like to see you take on ENGL 1110 and ENGL 1120 over [the] next two or three regular semesters in addition to the two literature courses that you have been working on. I believe that having a broader background will increase your value to the college and your colleagues.

(Doc. # 32-15, at 2). Smith had indeed been narrowing her range of courses. In addition to choosing three ENGL 1111 courses for the spring 2007 semester, she chose seven sections of ENGL 1111 and only one section of multicultural literature for the 2007--08 academic year. (See. Doc. # 32-15).

Smith did not heed Dean Killeen's suggestion to broaden her repertoire of courses and signed up for three sections of ENGL 1111 for the Spring semester 2009. Upon learning this, Dean Killeen emailed Smith:

I was just looking over the schedule for spring 2009 and note that you have signed up for three ENGL 1111. I want to remind you that I have asked you to broaden your repertoire of courses and that this should start with the spring semester. If you need to chat about this please see me. (Doc. # 32-16). Smith replied:

As I have done since my second semester here, I am exercising my right [to] choose which courses I want to teach. Therefore, I will be teaching three English 1111s in spring 2009. Perhaps, in the future, I will choose a different teaching load. Then again, perhaps, I won't. Now that all has been laid bare, it is my hope that this issue has been resolved. (Id.). A few days later, Dean Killeen asked to speak with Smith. They met, and Dean Killeen memorialized the discussion in a letter dated November 10, 2008:

[Y]ou reinforced that you planned to stick by your e-mail and that you would not change your schedule as I have advised you to do....As your supervisor, I have the right to craft a schedule for you. Since taking this action would go against my leadership style, I do not plan to exercise this right and will leave your schedule as is for spring. Please know that your decision to go against my advice and your e-mail response to me will have consequences. (Doc. # 32-19, at 2).

Although Dean Killeen did not alter Smith's Spring semester schedule, Smith's defiance was met with consequences in January when the President of the College sent her a non-renewal letter: "Please be advised that the College has decided not to renew your appointment as a faculty member at the conclusion of ...

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