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Mawakana v. Board of Trustees of the University of District of Columbia

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit

June 14, 2019

Kemit Mawakana, Appellant
v.
Board of Trustees of the University of the District of Columbia, Appellee

          Argued January 16, 2019

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (No. 1:14-cv-02069).

          Richard A. Salzman argued the cause and filed the briefs for the appellant.

          Jason R. Waters argued the cause for the appellee. Yoora Pak, Elisabeth L. Shu and Robert B. Wallace were with him on brief.

          Before: Henderson, Rogers and Pillard, Circuit Judges.

          OPINION

          Karen LeCraft Henderson, Circuit Judge.

         Law professor Kemit Mawakana was denied tenure and terminated by his employer, the University of the District of Columbia. He sued the University's Board of Trustees, claiming the University discriminated against him based on race and violated both the terms and spirit of its contract with him. The district court granted the University's motion for summary judgment as to each count of Mawakana's complaint. Mawakana appealed as to three counts. We now reverse as to those counts.

         I. Background

         In 2006, Mawakana,[1] a black male, was hired by the University of the District of Columbia ("University") to serve as a law professor at the David A. Clarke School of Law ("Law School"). Pursuant to his initial employment contract, Mawakana was hired as an Assistant Professor for a three-year period. In 2009, Mawakana's employment contract was renewed and in 2010 he was promoted to Associate Professor. In July 2011, Mawakana applied for tenure. There is no record evidence that Mawakana heard anything about his tenure application during the 2011-2012 academic year. In early fall 2012, he was invited to and attended a meeting of the faculty subcommittee assigned to review his application. At the meeting the subcommittee assured him that his application was in good shape. A short time later, however, Mawakana attended another subcommittee meeting at which the subcommittee informed him that it had some concerns about his scholarship. In November 2012, Mawakana was invited to and attended a meeting with Law School Dean Katherine "Shelley" Broderick (Broderick), and faculty subcommittee chairman, John Brittain. At the meeting they both suggested that he withdraw his tenure application. Mawakana refused. In February 2013, the subcommittee issued its assessment of Mawakana's tenure application, concluding that his scholarship was not worthy of tenure and recommending that tenure be denied. The full faculty evaluation and tenure committee reviewed and adopted the subcommittee's report. Broderick then reviewed and endorsed the recommendation of the full faculty evaluation and tenure committee. University Provost Ken Bain subsequently reviewed and adopted the recommendation of the full faculty evaluation and tenure committee and Broderick. Finally, University President James Earl Lyons upheld the recommendation of Provost Bain. On May 1, 2013, Mawakana received notice that he had been denied tenure and that his employment was to terminate effective August 15, 2013.

         Believing he was denied tenure because of his race and that the University had violated a contractual obligation to timely notify him of concerns regarding his scholarship, Mawakana sued the University Board of Trustees in the Superior Court for the District of Columbia in October 2014. [2] He alleged statutory race-based discrimination claims and contract claims.[3] In March 2017, after removing the case to federal district court and moving unsuccessfully to dismiss, the University then moved for summary judgment. In March 2018, the district court granted the motion and entered judgment for the University. Mawakana v. Bd. of Trs. of Univ. of D.C., 315 F.Supp.3d 189, 194 (D.D.C. 2018). The district court first held that the University was entitled to summary judgment on Mawakana's Title VII and D.C. Human Rights Act (DCHRA) claims because, especially considering "the heightened deference accorded to academic decisions," id. at 199 (capitalization altered), no reasonable jury could find that Mawakana "was denied tenure because of his race," id. at 207– 08. The district court next held that the University was entitled to summary judgment on Mawakana's 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983 claims. Id. at 208–09. The district court also held that Mawakana's contract claims were untimely. Id. at 209–10, 212. Finally, it held that even if Mawakana's contract claims were timely and the University had breached a contractual duty, the claims failed because the breach had not caused Mawakana damages. Id. at 210–11. Mawakana timely appealed all but the district court's grant of summary judgment on the section 1981 and section 1983 claims. We review the district court's decision de novo, Allina Health Servs. v. Price, 863 F.3d 937, 940–41 (D.C. Cir. 2017), mindful that summary judgment is appropriate only "if the movant shows 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).

         II. Analysis

         A. Statutory Claims

         Both Title VII and the DCHRA make it unlawful for an employer "to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment" because of the individual's race. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1); accord D.C. Code § 2-1402.11(a)(1). An employee who has suffered an adverse employment action because of his race has been subjected to a violation of both statutes. See Baloch v. Kempthorne, 550 F.3d 1191, 1196 (D.C. Cir. 2008); Futrell v. Dep't of Labor Fed. Credit Union, 816 A.2d 793, 802–03 (D.C. 2003) (clarifying Title VII and DCHRA are subject to same analysis).

         1. "Academic ...


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