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Bowman v. Rowan University

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

December 18, 2018

SUSAN BOWMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
ROWAN UNIVERSITY, JAMES NEWELL, JOHN DOES 1-10, and XYZ CORP. 1-10, Defendants.

          MARK E. BELLAND O’BRIEN, BELLAND & BUSHINSKY, LLC On behalf of Plaintiff Susan Bowman.

          CHRISTIE PAZDZIERSKI DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL OF NEW JERSEY R.J. HUGHES JUSTICE COMPLEX On behalf of Defendants Rowan University and James Newell.

          OPINION

          NOEL L. HILLMAN,U.S.D.J.

         This is an employment discrimination suit brought by Plaintiff Susan Bowman, a current professor and former department Chair at Rowan University. Defendants, Rowan University (“Rowan”) and Provost James Newell (“Provost Newell”), move to dismiss the complaint and preclude Plaintiff’s request for leave to amend her complaint. For the reasons set forth herein, Defendants’ motion will be granted, in part, and denied, in part. Plaintiff’s request for leave to amend her complaint will also be granted, in part, and denied, in part.

         BACKGROUND

         The Court takes its facts from Plaintiff’s complaint. In 2002, Ms. Bowman began her academic career with Rowan as an Assistant Professor in the College of Fine and Performing Arts. (Compl. ¶ 12.) Ms. Bowman served as an Assistant Professor for five years before being elected Chair of the Department of Art in 2008. (Id. ¶ 13.) Ms. Bowman served in this position for eight years, being re-elected twice. (Id. ¶ 14.) Ms. Bowman also served on the Department of Art Tenure and Recontracting Committee (the “Committee”) during the 2015-16 school year, along with Education of Art Coordinator, Dr. Jane Graziano, and the Committee Chair, Dr. Andrew Hottle. (Id. ¶ 20-21.)

         The Committee reviewed two tenure-track faculty members for the 2015-16 school year. (Id. ¶ 23.) Dr. Tingting Wang was one of the two reviewed. (Id.) Dr. Hottle and Dr. Graziano found that Dr. Wang had not met the field work requirements necessary for recontracting and recommended that Ms. Bowman vote against recontracting. (Id. ¶ 27.) Dr. Hottle and Dr. Graziano voted against recontracting Dr. Wang, but Ms. Bowman submitted her own recommendation to a superior authority, the University Senate Tenure and Recontracting Committee, in favor of Dr. Wang’s application. (Id. ¶¶ 25-29.) In January 2016, the Rowan University Board of Trustees voted to approve Dr. Wang’s application. (Id. ¶ 30.)

         Following the vote, around February 15, 2016, Provost Newell called for a meeting with the full-time tenure track faculty in the Department of Art. (Compl. ¶ 31.) Provost Newell announced that four faculty members had placed a “vote of no confidence” in Ms. Bowman; the University Senate President confirmed those four were Dr. Fred Adelson, Dr. Herbert Appleson, Skeffington Thomas, and Nancy Ohanian. (Id. ¶¶ 31-32.) The same faculty that placed a vote of no confidence also filed an “internal Charge of Workplace Violence and Bullying” against Ms. Bowman about a week later. (Id. ¶ 34.) During her time as Chair, Ms. Bowman claims she was subjected to discriminatory incidents of harassment, intimidation, and hostility from the above Rowan faculty members as well as another faculty member, Dr. Daniel Chard. (Id. ¶ 16.)

         On or about March 23, 2016, Dr. Wang filed a complaint with Rowan against Ms. Bowman – and the other members of the Committee - claiming the Committee discriminated against her during the recontracting review process and that Ms. Bowman engaged in student evaluation tampering. (Compl. ¶¶ 36-37.) A Compliance Officer investigated the allegations by conducting a four-hour long interview with Ms. Bowman. (Id. ¶¶ 39-41.) Ms. Bowman claims she was never given the opportunity to present her side of the story, and further claims the investigator had a conflict of interest because he investigated both the Committee action and evaluation tampering cases against her. (Id. ¶¶ 40, 42.)

         On July 21, 2016, Ms. Bowman received a letter from Rowan’s Executive Vice President that she had been found guilty of violating the New Jersey Anti-Discriminatory Policy. The Committee was charged with racially discriminating against Dr. Wang in the review process. (Compl. ¶ 36.) Both women were found guilty, while, Dr. Hottle, the male, was not. (Id. ¶¶ 45-47.) This resulted in Bowman’s removal as Chair of the Department of Art, ineligibility for sabbatical for seven years, and a five-year ban from serving on the Committee or obtaining a chair position. (Id. ¶ 44.)

         On August 1, 2016, Ms. Bowman received a letter from the Assistant Vice President of Rowan’s Equity and Diversity division determining that she had violated the Workplace Violence and Bullying Policy. (Compl. ¶ 52.) This also resulted in sanctions, including a second basis for her removal as Chair of the Department of Art, a five-year ban from any committee participation and release time, and a prohibition on her previously approved sabbatical for at least five years. (Id. ¶ 51.)

         Based on these two sanction letters, Provost Newell issued a cumulative summary sanction letter that effectively removed Ms. Bowman from her position as Chair of the Department of Art, ruled her ineligible to receive an Adjusted Work Load for five years, prohibited her from participating in any committee for five years or reviewing Dr. Wang’s credentials for any purpose, and rescinded her previously approved sabbatical. (Compl. ¶ 52.)

         Following the sanctions, Ms. Bowman was moved from the Department of Art to the Department of Public Relations and Advertising by Provost Newell and other executive members. (Compl. ¶ 59.) Provost Newell proceeded to move Dr. Graziano to the Department of Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics and Ms. Amanda Almon to the Department of Radio, Television and Film. (Id. ¶ 60.) Ms. Bowman was left teaching new courses in an area where she lacked expertise. (Id. ¶¶ 61-62.) Dr. Graziano and Ms. Almon were allegedly able to request and schedule their same courses, but Ms. Bowman was denied a similar request for the first time in fifteen years. (Id. ¶¶ 63-65.)

         The complaint alleges the following five claims against Defendants, including: (1) a violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“NJLAD”) by discriminating against Ms. Bowman on the basis of her sex (Count I); (2) a violation of the NJLAD by retaliating against Ms. Bowman for complaining of being discriminated against on the basis of her sex (Count II); (3) a violation of Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972 (“Title IX”) by discriminating against Ms. Bowman on the basis of her sex while under employment of an educational program receiving federal financial assistance (Count III); (4) a violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by depriving Ms. Bowman of her Fourteenth Amendment constitutional rights when Rowan discriminated against her on the basis of her sex (Count IV); and (5) the negligent infliction of emotional distress (“NIED”) based on Rowan’s adverse employment actions against her (Count V).

         In Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss, Defendants ask this Court to Dismiss Counts II, IV, and V. Plaintiff only contests dismissal of Counts II and IV. Plaintiff conceded dismissal of Count V, but has asked for leave to amend her complaint to assert a claim for Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (“IIED”). Defendants request her Leave to Amend be denied. This Court will address each argument in turn.

         ANALYSIS

         A. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

         Plaintiff has brought her claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Title IX, and New Jersey state law. This Court has jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s federal claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s state law claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

         B. Motion to ...


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