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Ojose v. Youngstown State University

United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

March 29, 2018

BOBBY OJOSE, Plaintiff,


          Benita Y. Pearson, United States District Judge.

         Pending before the Court is Defendants Marcia Matanin, James Tressel, Martin Abraham, Charles Howell, Kevin Reynolds, Cynthia Kravitz, and Ken Learman's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. ECF No. 48.[1] Plaintiff Bobby Ojose has responded. ECF No. 67. Defendants have filed a reply. ECF No. 68. The Court converts Defendants' motion from a Rule 12 motion to a Rule 56 motion. For the reasons that follow, the Court grants Defendants' motion in part.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff, an African-American, began working as an Assistant Professor in Youngstown State University's Department of Teacher Education in July 2013. ECF No. 39 at PageID #: 297. During that time, he published a book, wrote four peer-reviewed articles, and gave multiple conference presentations. Id.

         During all relevant times, Defendants' roles at YSU were as follows. Dr. Marcia Matanin chaired the Department of Teacher Education at YSU. Charles Howell was Dean of the Beeghly College of Education at YSU. (The Department of Teacher Education is part of the Beeghly College of Education.) Howell reported to Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Martin Abraham, who, in turn, served under President James Tressel. Kevin Reynolds was YSU's Chief Human Resources Officer. Cynthia Kravitz was director of YSU's Office of Equal Opportunity and Policy Development. Ken Learman chaired YSU's Professional Conduct Committee.

         A. SPA Report

         As part of his work at YSU, Plaintiff participated in drafting the 2013-14 SPA Report that YSU professors submitted to the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. Id. at PageID #: 298. In September 2015, Marcia Matanin, chair of the Department of Teacher Education and a contributor to the SPA Report, initiated charges against Plaintiff with the Professional Conduct Committee for falsifying data in the SPA Report. Id. Plaintiff alleges that Matanin met with Charles Howell and Ken Learman, chair of the Professional Conduct Committee. Id.

         On December 14, 2015, the Committee issued its final report, finding that “there was sufficient evidence to support the allegation of “creation and falsification” of assessment data provided in a formalized Specialized Professional Association (SPA) report to the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM).” ECF No. 48-12 at PageID #: 428. The Committee found that “[t]here was evidence that an addendum used to create assessment data was provided in the SPA report, but no evidence of how the addendum was implemented on any cohort of students.” Id. Additionally, the Committee found evidence that Plaintiff submitted those materials to Matanin on August 18, 2015, but there was no evidence that Plaintiff was “instructed, encouraged, or coerced into creating assessment data that did not exist.” Id.

         On January 8, 2016, Plaintiff submitted a letter of appeal to Tressel. ECF No. 67-102. On February 3, 2016, Learman asked Tressel if Plaintiff had appealed the Professional Conduct Committee's report. Tressel, in turn, asked Abraham to respond to Learman's question. ECF No. 67-109. The following day, Abraham wrote to Learman that “[t]o the best of our knowledge, Prof. Ojose has not filed an appeal.” Id. at PageID #: 1491.

         B. Evaluations

         As part of the review process in the Department of Teacher Education, the department chairperson evaluates the professors in the department. In each evaluation, the chairperson rates the professor on three categories: teaching, scholarship, and university service. In each category, the chairperson assigns the professor one of five ratings: “very weak, ” “weak, ” “satisfactory, ” “strong, ” and “very strong.”

         In his evaluation for the 2014-15 academic year, Plaintiff received ratings of “weak” in teaching, “strong” in scholarship, and “satisfactory” in university service. ECF No. 48-2 at PageID #: 388. Matanin explained that three students contacted her to discuss issues regarding Plaintiff related to his communication, professionalism, and grading. Id. at PageID #: 389. One student engaged in a dispute with Plaintiff regarding handing in an assignment. The student mistakenly claimed she submitted the assignment, when in reality, the email was stuck in her outbox. ECF No. 48-3 at PageID #: 408. She described the mix-up as a “simple technology error.” Id. Plaintiff, on the other hand, characterized the episode as “a plain case of a student lying, ” and told the student that he “get[s] uncomfortable when students tell stupid lies.” ECF No. 48-3 at PageID #: 408-09 (emphasis omitted).

         In addition, Plaintiff summarized evaluation data on twelve individuals, three African-American and nine Caucasian. ECF No. 67-6. Eleven of those individuals received evaluations from the chairperson. No Caucasian professor received a rating below “satisfactory, ” and each of the three African-American professors received at least one rating of “weak.” Two of the African American professors, Deborah Graham and Betty Green, each received one rating of “very weak.” No African American professor received a rating of “very strong, ” whereas seven of eight Caucasian professors received at least one rating of “very strong.”

         On October 8, 2015, Plaintiff emailed a letter to Tressel and Abraham, in which he claimed that Matanin was giving him lower scores on his evaluations than similarly-situated Caucasian professors and that Howell and Matanin were trying to make him the fall guy for the SPA report. ECF No. 48-7. Abraham forwarded the email to Cynthia Kravitz, director of YSU's Office of Equal Opportunity and Policy Development. ECF No. 48-8.

         C. Resignation

         Ojose was not a tenured member of the YSU faculty. He was, however, a probationary employee, on the tenure track. Prior to applying for tenure, a tenure-track employee must complete a pre-tenure review. ECF No. 67-2 at PageID #: 646-47. Plaintiff planned to turn in the paperwork to begin his pre-tenure review by February 2016. ECF No. 67-3.

         On October 28, 2015 Howell informed Plaintiff that he intended to recommend that Plaintiff not be reappointed as a tenure-track employee. ECF No. 67-4. On November 1, 2015, Plaintiff emailed various individuals a copy of his letter of resignation. ECF No. 67-5. The resignation was effective at the end of the 2015-16 Academic Year. Id. at PageID #: 655. The day after Plaintiff emailed the letter, Kevin Reynolds, Chief Human Resources Officer at YSU, accepted Plaintiff's resignation. ECF No. 48-10.

         Subsequently, Plaintiff filed this action. In his Second Amended Complaint, Plaintiff brings seven claims. ECF No. 39. Count I is a Due Process claim. Counts II and III are Equal Protection claims. Counts IV through VII allege violations of Ohio law. Plaintiff brings this action against seven Defendants: Matanin, Howell, Tressel, Abraham, Reynolds, Kravitz, and Learman.

         Defendants have filed an Answer (ECF No. 46) and a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (ECF No. 48).

         II. Conversion to a Motion for Summary Judgment

         The Court exercises its authority under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d) to treat Defendants' Rule 12 motion as one for summary judgment under Rule 56. The Court informed the parties during the November 13, 2017 telephonic status conference that, based on discussions had so far, it was considering converting Defendants' motion. The status conference occurred before briefing on the motion was complete. Plaintiff eventually filed a memorandum in opposition which included 122 exhibits. Following Plaintiff's opposition, Defendants filed their reply. Defendants chose not to attach any documentary evidence to its reply (or seek leave to supplement its motion), even though the Court had indicated that it was considering converting the motion and Plaintiff had attached voluminous amount of documents in its response. Thus, the Court has met Rule 12(d)'s requirement that the parties receive “a reasonable opportunity to present all the material that is pertinent to the motion.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d).

         III. Standard of Review

         Summary judgment is appropriately granted when the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show “that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); see also Johnson v. Karnes, 398 F.3d 868, 873 (6th Cir. 2005). The moving party is not required to file affidavits or other similar materials negating a claim on which its opponent bears the burden of proof, so long as the movant relies upon the absence of the essential element in the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The moving party must “show that the non-moving party has failed to establish an essential element of his case upon which he would bear the ultimate burden of proof at trial.” Guarino v. Brookfield Twp. Trustees., 980 F.2d 399, 403 (6th Cir. 1992).

         Once the movant makes a properly supported motion, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to demonstrate the existence of genuine dispute. An opposing party may not simply rely on its pleadings. Rather, it must “produce evidence that results in a conflict of material fact to be resolved by a jury.” Cox v. Ky. Dep't. of Transp., 53 F.3d 146, 150 (6th Cir. 1995). The non-moving party must, to defeat the motion, “show that there is doubt as to the material facts and that the record, taken as a whole, does not lead to a judgment for the movant.” Guarino, 980 F.2d at 403. In reviewing a motion for summary judgment, the court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party when ...

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