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Wu v. Northeast Ohio Medical University

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Tenth District

June 25, 2019

Jiashin Wu, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Northeast Ohio Medical University, Defendant-Appellee.

          APPEAL from the Court of Claims of Ohio No. 2017-00564JD

         On brief:

          Fan Zhang, Ltd., and Fan Zhang, for appellant.

         Argued:

          Fan Zhang.

         On brief:

          Dave Yost, Attorney General, and Velda K. Hofacker, for appellee.

         Argued:

          Velda K. Hofacker.

          DECISION

          LUPER SCHUSTER, J.

         {¶ 1} Plaintiff-appellant, Jiashin Wu, Ph.D., appeals from a judgment of the Court of Claims of Ohio granting the motion for summary judgment filed by defendant-appellee, Northeast Ohio Medical University ("NEOMED"). For the following reasons, we affirm.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         {¶ 2} In June 2017, Dr. Wu initiated this action against NEOMED alleging claims of breach of contract, discrimination, retaliation, and harassment. These claims arose from Dr. Wu's employment with NEOMED that began in January 2014 and ended in June 2017.

         {¶ 3} In January 2014, Dr. Wu began to work as a consultant in NEOMED's College of Pharmacy in conjunction with the recruiting and hiring of his wife, Min You, Ph.D., as department chair, associated dean for research, in the College of Pharmacy's Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences. Pursuant to the consulting agreement, NEOMED paid $7, 500 per month to Dr. Wu to assist Dr. You in the transfer of her research laboratory and enterprise to NEOMED's campus. In September 2014, Dr. Wu became a non-tenure track associate professor in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, with an annual base salary of $90, 000. As a faculty member, Dr. Wu's direct supervisor would have been the department chair, but because Dr. Wu's wife held that position at the time he was hired, the vice dean of NEOMED's College of Pharmacy, Richard Kasmer, Pharm.D., J.D., was Dr. Wu's direct supervisor. In addition to being an associate professor, Dr. Wu was appointed as the director of both international collaboration and research services in the College of Pharmacy. In those administrative roles, Dr. Kasmer also served as Dr. Wu's direct supervisor. In February 2015, Steven Schmidt, Ph.D., replaced Dr. You as the department chair. As a faculty member and director of research services, Dr. Wu began to report to Dr. Schmidt, and for his duties as the director of international collaboration, Dr. Wu continued to report to Dr. Kasmer.

         {¶ 4} In the fall of 2015, NEOMED's College of Pharmacy leadership decided to create a research focus area, the college's first, concerning neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and aging. As the department chair and associate dean of research, Dr. Schmidt was tasked with determining how to best align and allocate existing resources in connection with the creation of the new research focus area. Dr. Schmidt determined that almost all department faculty members were either tenure track, nontenure track with grant funding, or had skills that aligned with the new research focus area. The exception was Dr. Wu, who was a non-tenure track professor, was funded by the college, and had an area of expertise (cardiology) that did not align with the research focus area. Dr. Schmidt also found that Dr. Wu's teaching and service efforts could be fulfilled by other faculty. Thus, Dr. Schmidt concluded that the college funds financing Dr. Wu's employment should be reallocated to support and implement the new research focus area. Consequently, Dr. Schmidt advised Dr. Kasmer that the dean of the college, Charles Taylor, Pharm.D., should issue to Dr. Wu a notice of non-reappointment pursuant to NEOMED's bylaws, effectively terminating Dr. Wu's employment.

         {¶ 5} After receiving Dr. Schmidt's input, Dr. Kasmer recommended to Dr. Taylor that a notice of non-reappointment be issued to Dr. Wu. In Dr. Kasmer's memorandum to Dr. Taylor on the subject, he agreed with Dr. Schmidt's assessment of the situation, noting that Dr. Wu's skills and expertise did not align with the strategic direction of the college. Dr. Kasmer also noted that Dr. Wu's efforts in support of international collaboration were no longer necessary because that initiative had been elevated from the college to university level, and that his role in research services became unnecessary upon Dr. Schmidt's hiring as the department chair and associate dean of research. Further, before Dr. Kasmer made the recommendation of non-reappointment, he approached multiple department chairs and senior faculty to see if there remained a need for Dr. Wu's services within the university. None responded that Dr. Wu's services were needed. Dr. Taylor accepted Dr. Kasmer's recommendation and issued a notice of non-reappointment to Dr. Wu on March 11, 2016, informing Dr. Wu his last day of service with the college would be June 30, 2017, in accordance with the university bylaws.

         {¶ 6} On June 26, 2017, Dr. Wu initiated this action. In May 2018, NEOMED moved for summary judgment. On June 18, 2018, Dr. Wu filed a response to the motion for summary judgment. Eleven days later, and with leave of court, NEOMED filed a reply brief in support of its motion for summary judgment. In July 2018, Dr. Wu filed a motion to strike NEOMED's reply brief on the basis that it did not comply with L.C.C.R. 4(E)'s requirement that a reply brief not exceed seven pages in length.

         {¶ 7} In August 2018, the trial court denied Dr. Wu's motion to strike NEOMED's reply brief and granted NEOMED's motion for summary judgment.

         {¶ 8} Dr. Wu timely appeals.

         II. Assignments of Error

         {¶ 9} Dr. Wu assigns the following ...


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