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Sarmiento v. Montclair State University

May 9, 2007

ESTEBAN E. SARMIENTO, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MONTCLAIR STATE UNIVERSITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Martini, U.S.D.J.

OPINION

This matter comes before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. Defendant moves for an order dismissing the sole remaining count of Plaintiff's Complaint,*fn1 which alleges violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. ("Title VII"). Plaintiff opposes the motion. This matter was decided on the parties' submissions. Fed. R. Civ. P. 78. For the reasons stated below, Defendant's motion is GRANTED in its entirety, and Plaintiff's Complaint is DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.

BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Pro se plaintiff Esteban E. Sarmiento, a Hispanic male with a Ph.D. in Physical Anthropology, brought this employment discrimination action against defendant Montclair State University ("MSU") based on MSU's decision not to hire Plaintiff for a tenure-track position as Assistant Professor of Biological Anthropology. (Compl. ¶¶ 8-11, 14.) MSU had issued two position announcements describing the preferred qualifications for the professorship. The short announcement read, in relevant part:

DESCRIPTION. Tenure track position in biological anthropology, with a focus on teaching introductory physical anthropology as a laboratory science, also human variation and medical anthropology are desirable. Must be committed to using information technology in teaching and research. Candidates must also have the potential or demonstrated ability to obtain external funding.

QUALIFICATIONS. Ph.D. required, publications and demonstrated record of success in teaching, research and professional activities. Expectations for this position include excellence in teaching, scholarship, and service to the department, university, community, and profession.

(Morgan Aff. Ex. A; Sarmiento Aff. Ex. 11.) Dr. Richard Franke, chair of the Anthropology Department's Personnel Advisory Committee ("PAC" or "the Committee"), testified that he believed the short announcement was written by the MSU administration. (Franke Dep. 109:4-19, 115:19-116:14, Sept. 20, 2005, [hereinafter "Franke Dep. I"]). MSU also issued a long announcement, which was for the most part written by the PAC itself (Franke Dep. I 115:14-18), and which described the desired qualifications as follows:

The successful candidate will be able to teach introductory physical anthropology as a laboratory science. Candidates should also be prepared to teach introductory and upper division courses for majors and for general education; teach Master's level seminars in the department's applied anthropology program; supervise Masters treatises in applied medical anthropology; develop new courses appropriate to the needs of the department in the area of specialization; maintain a commitment to original research and publication; and engage in service to the university and the community. Candidates must be committed to involving students in research and should demonstrate the potential to write successful grant applications.

(Sarmiento Aff. Ex. 11.) The long announcement also requested applicants to "[s]end letters of application along with vita, names of three individuals prepared to write recommendations, and copies of selected publications" to Franke. (Id.)

The position was scheduled to commence September 1, 2002. (Morgan Aff. Ex. A.) On October 22, 2001, Plaintiff, responding to the long circular, submitted his curriculum vitae ("CV") along with a list of three references and selected publications to Franke. (Pl.'s R. 56.1 Stmt. 4; Morgan Aff. Ex. V.)*fn2 In all, MSU received approximately 52 applications for the position.*fn3 (Franke Dep. I 86:12-88:10.) The PAC's initial evaluation of the applicants utilized a screening instrument which included three criteria: (1) closeness of fit to job description; (2) academic achievement (publications, conference presentations, etc.); and (3) evidence of teaching performance (if submitted). (Morgan Aff. Ex. J; Sarmiento Aff. Ex. 14.) Franke testified that the PAC had been instructed by the Dean to bring only three candidates for interviews, because funds were limited. (Franke Dep. I 72:9-12, 85:16-23.) The PAC selected and interviewed three female candidates - Julie Farnum, who is white; Teresa Leslie, who is African-American; and Sheila Jeffers, who is African-American. (Def.'s R. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 15.) Plaintiff was not contacted for an interview. (Compl. ¶ 11.) The position was ultimately offered to the white candidate, Farnum, who accepted. (Sarmiento Aff. Exs. 15, 26.)

Julie Farnum's application materials included a cover letter, CV and a position statement describing her teaching philosophy.*fn4 (Morgan Aff. Ex. M.) Her application indicated that she was currently teaching an Introduction to Physical Anthropology course at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and that she previously taught Introduction to Physical Anthropology Laboratory for three semesters at the University of Missouri, where she also helped to develop new teaching resources utilizing the internet. (Id.) Farnum's cover letter and CV also pointed out that she had won the Donald K. Anderson Graduate Student Teaching Award from the University of Missouri's Anthropology Department. (Id.) Farnum's materials indicated that she would be receiving her Ph.D. in Anthropology in May 2002 from the University of Missouri at Columbia. (Id.) Farnum's cover letter indicated that her research focused on prehistoric and modern diet and health in Latin America, the Caribbean and the United States. (Id.) She stated that she was a co-organizer of a session on ecological adaptation at the 1999 American Anthropological Association Meeting. (Id.) Her CV indicated that her dissertation was on the Biological Consequences of Social Inequalities in Prehistoric Peru; that she had been the recipient of three funding grants; and that she had made twenty-three presentations between 1994 and 2001 on issues ranging from bioarchaeology and dietary analyses and the health of humans in relation to environmental and social factors. (Id.) Under publications, her CV listed three articles. (Id.) One article was published in 1995, a second was in press as of 2000, and a third had been accepted for publication as of 2001. (Id.)

Teresa Leslie's application indicated that she was an adjunct professor at the College of New Rochelle during the 2000-2001 academic year. (Morgan Aff. Ex. N.) Her cover letter indicated that she had passed her dissertation defense with distinction on September 7, 2001 and would officially graduate from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst with her Ph.D. in February 2002. (Id.) Leslie's CV identifies her areas of expertise as Bio-Cultural Anthropology, Medical Anthropology, Statistics, Nutrition and Health, Race and Ethnicity, Skeletal Biology, and Dental Anthropology. (Morgan Aff. Ex. N.) Her materials indicated that she had presented papers and organized sessions at numerous professional meetings, and had been awarded a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/National Center for Health Statistics for her dissertation research. (Id.) Leslie stated that her research focuses on contemporary disparities in health patterns and care and that in the past, her research focused on African Americans and how a history of marginalization and oppression often causes disparities in health. (Id.) Her CV lists one publication in 1992. (Id.)

Sheila Jeffers' application indicated that she was a full-time Assistant Professor at Florida A&M University. (Morgan Aff. Ex. O.) Her cover letter stated that she would complete the requirements for her Ph.D. in Anthropology by March 2002 and would have the degree conferred in May 2002. (Id.) Franke testified that he contacted Jeffers' advisor before inviting her for an interview and confirmed that Jeffers was on the verge of receiving her Ph.D. degree. (Franke Dep. II 26:19-27:18.) Jeffers noted that her Ph.D. involved a focus on medical anthropology, and that her dissertation focused on the political economy of health. (Id.) Jeffers further indicated that she had authored a $129,000 grant for her dissertation research, which was awarded by the Susan G. Komen Foundation, and that she had also received a grant award of $5,000 from the University of Florida. (Id.) Jeffers stated that she had been recognized by the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation for outstanding work in the field of breast cancer research. (Id.) Jeffers indicated that she conducted her dissertation research at the University of Florida's Anthropology Department/Center for Research on Women's Health and that her research focused on identifying communication barriers between African American women and their providers. (Id.) Jeffers' CV indicates that she is a member of several organizations, including the Susan G.

Komen Breast Cancer Foundation and the African American Advisory Board for the American Cancer Society. (Id.) Under publications, Jeffers' CV listed abstracts, but no actual academic articles. (Id.) Jeffers' application also included a course syllabus for a medical anthropology class entitled "Culture and Medicine." (Id.)

Plaintiff's application materials consisted of a cover letter, CV, a list of references, and copies of selected publications. (Morgan Aff. Ex. V.) In his cover letter, Plaintiff also offered to send reprints of specific articles, a list of all courses taught, a list of fellowships and grants awarded, and examples of his written proposals, if requested by MSU. (Id.) Plaintiff's CV indicated that he had earned his Ph.D. in Physical Anthropology in 1985, and that since 1985 he had been employed as a Research Associate in the Department of Mammalogy at the American Museum of National History. (Id.) According to Plaintiff, the position of Research Associate is an unpaid position meant to facilitate an individual's research. (Sarmiento Dep. 68:4-80:18, Nov. 22, 2005 [hereinafter "Sarmiento Dep."]; Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 46.) According to Plaintiff's CV, his most recent university teaching experience was in 1997, when he was an Adjunct Associate Professor in the Biology Department at York College of the City University of New York. (Morgan Aff. Ex. V.) His last teaching experience in a university anthropology department was at Rutgers University in 1988. (Id.) Plaintiff's cover letter stated "[m]ost of my research has centered on great apes." (Id.) The letter then described Plaintiff's current work "on the relationships between morphology, ecology, and behavior in chimpanzees and gorillas from a number of forests throughout Uganda, DRC, Sudan and Angola," stating that he hopes to use these studies to test some of the theoretical interpretations of great ape behavior presented in his thesis. (Id.) The cover letter stated that Plaintiff has seventeen years of university teaching experience and that he has taught a full range of introductory and upper level courses in biological anthropology. (Id.) Plaintiff then described in detail the courses he taught in medical schools in Uganda and South Africa - "basic medical sciences (gross anatomy, histology, embryology, neuro-sciences physiology)." (Id.) Plaintiff indicated that he helped to run a master's program in surgery, and that the master's theses he supervised "were aimed mainly at arriving at practical solutions to third world surgical/medical problems." (Id.) Plaintiff's CV listed over thirty publications that were published or in press. (Id.)

After receiving notification on March 26, 2002 that he had not been selected for an interview and that the position had been filled, Plaintiff contacted Franke by phone and by e-mail, asking Franke to share what type of experience or specialization MSU was looking for in the individuals who were interviewed. (Sarmiento Aff. Exs. 18, 26.) In an April 10, 2002 e-mail to Plaintiff, Franke indicated that he had reviewed Plaintiff's submission again, and stated that Plaintiff's "credentials were outstanding" and that Plaintiff had been "ranked very highly." (Id.) Franke wrote that Plaintiff's presentation of materials was fine, and that he did not see any obvious way Plaintiff could improve upon it. (Id.) Franke noted that more than 50 candidates applied for the position, several of whom "were of exceptionally high quality" like the Plaintiff, and that other candidates had been ranked above him. (Id.)

On July 18, 2002, Plaintiff filed a complaint with the EEOC, alleging discrimination based on his age, sex and national origin. (Morgan Aff. Ex. S; Sarmiento Aff. Ex. 28.) Plaintiff claimed that his own qualifications and experience most closely matched the needs listed in the job advertisement, and alleged numerous deficiencies in Farnum's qualifications, including that Farnum had yet to complete her Ph.D. degree, had very little teaching experience, and had limited writing experience. (Morgan Aff. Ex. S; Sarmiento Aff. Ex. 28; Compl. ¶ 6; Def.'s Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 39; Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s R. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 40; Pl.'s R. 56.1 Stmt. at 18.) The EEOC issued a determination letter on May 22, 2003, stating that Plaintiff was "far more qualified" than Farnum for the position, and concluding that MSU's stated reasons for hiring Farnum instead of Plaintiff did not withstand scrutiny. (Sarmiento Aff. Ex. 32.) MSU filed a letter with the EEOC requesting reconsideration, which was denied. (Sarmiento Aff. Exs. 33, 34.) MSU refused conciliation, and the EEOC subsequently issued a right-to-sue letter on June 1, 2004. (Sarmiento Aff. Exs. 35, 36; Compl. ¶ 7; Def.'s Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 41; Sarmiento Aff. Ex. 37.)

Plaintiff filed the instant action on August 24, 2004 pursuant to Title VII, § 1981, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination ("NJLAD"). In November 2004, Defendant moved for partial dismissal of the Complaint, seeking to dismiss the § 1981, ADEA and NJLAD claims based on sovereign immunity. This Court granted the Defendant's motion on March 31, 2005. The only count remaining, therefore, is Plaintiff's claim of race, color and national origin discrimination in violation of Title VII. Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is presently before the Court.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is appropriate when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The burden is on the moving party to demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Equimark Commercial Financial Co. v. CIT Services Corp., 812 F.2d 141, 144 (3d Cir. 1987). In opposing summary judgment, the nonmoving party must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986). The mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; rather, only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the lawsuit, under the governing substantive law, will preclude the entry of summary judgment. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48. At the summary judgment stage, this Court must view all evidence and consider all reasonable inferences in a light most favorable to the non-moving party. Marzano v. Computer Science Corp., 91 F.3d 497, 501 (3d Cir. 1996).

DISCUSSION

Because Plaintiff has not put forth any direct evidence of discrimination, the Court must analyze his Title VII claims under the burden-shifting framework announced in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802-04 (1973). Under McDonnell Douglas, Plaintiff bears the initial burden to establish a prima facie case of unlawful discrimination by showing (1) that he is a member of a protected class; (2) that he sought and was qualified for a job for which the employer was seeking applicants; (3) that despite his qualifications, he was rejected; and (4) that a non-member of Plaintiff's protected class was treated more favorably. See id. at 802.

If a plaintiff produces sufficient evidence to establish the prima facie case, a presumption of discrimination arises and the burden shifts to the employer to come forward with a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for the adverse employment decision. See Stanziale v. Jargowsky, 200 F.3d 101, 105 (3d Cir. 2000).

Once the defendant satisfies its "relatively light burden," the plaintiff then has the opportunity to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the legitimate nondiscriminatory reason articulated by the defendant was not the true reason for the employment decision but was merely a pretext for discrimination. Fuentes v. Perskie, 32 F.3d 759, 763 (3d Cir. 1994); Jones v. Sch. Dist. of Philadelphia, 198 F.3d 403, 410-11 (3d Cir. 1999). A plaintiff can accomplish this by pointing to some evidence, direct or circumstantial, from which a factfinder could reasonably either (1) disbelieve the defendant's articulated legitimate reasons; or (2) believe that an invidious discriminatory reason was more likely than not a motivating or determinative cause of the defendant's action. Fuentes, 32 F.3d at 764. To discredit the defendant's proffered reasons, however, "the plaintiff cannot simply show that the employer's decision was wrong or mistaken, since the factual dispute at issue is whether discriminatory animus motivated the employer, not whether the employer is wise, shrewd, prudent, or competent." Id. at 765. Instead, the plaintiff must show "such weaknesses, implausibilities, inconsistencies, incoherencies, or contradictions" in the defendant's proffered reasons "that a reasonable factfinder could rationally find them 'unworthy of credence.'" Id. (quoting Ezold v. Wolf, Block, Schorr & Solis-Cohen, 983 F.2d 509, 531 (3d Cir. 1992)).

This Court must therefore review the materials submitted by both parties in order to determine first, whether Plaintiff has established a prima facie case; second, whether Defendant has proffered a legitimate, race-neutral reason for its decisions; and third, whether Plaintiff has pointed to evidence that would reasonably support a finding that Defendant's proffered reasons were merely a pretext for discrimination.

I. PLAINTIFF'S PRIMA FACIE CASE

To establish a prima facie case of discriminatory failure to hire under Title VII, Plaintiff must show (1) that he is a member of a protected class; (2) that he sought and was qualified for a job for which the employer was seeking applicants; (3) that despite his qualifications, he was rejected; and (4) that a non-member of Plaintiff's protected class was treated more favorably. See McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802.

It is undisputed that the Plaintiff is Hispanic;*fn5 that Defendant rejected his application for the tenure-track position in biological anthropology; and that the position was ultimately offered to a white woman. Defendant asserts, however, that Plaintiff cannot establish a prima facie case of discrimination because he cannot establish that he met the qualifications sought by the PAC. (Def.'s Br. Supp. Summ. J. ("Def.'s Br.") 6.)

There is no hard-and-fast rule covering precisely what a plaintiff must show in order to establish a prima facie showing under McDonnell Douglas. Fasold v. Justice, 409 F.3d 178, 185 n.10 (3d Cir. 2005). For purposes of meeting the relatively minimal requirements of a prima facie showing, the Court is ...


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