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Mascarenhas v. Rutgers

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

August 15, 2019

DR. BRIANCE MASCARENHAS, Plaintiff,
v.
RUTGERS, THE STATE UNIVERSITY, Defendant.

          Sonya Malhotra Sumner, Esq. SUMNER LAW LLP and Mary J. Whateley, Esq. Michael H. Sussman, Esq. (pro hac vice) SUSSMAN & WATKINS, ESQS 1 Railroad Avenue P.O. Box 1005 Goshen, NY 10924 Attorneys for Plaintiff

          James Edward Patterson, Esq. John James Peirano, Jr., Esq. Michael O'B. Boldt, Esq. MCELROY, DEUTSCH, MULVANEY & CARPENTER, LLP and Michael James Dee, Esq. O'TOOLE SCRIVO Attorneys for Defendant

          OPINION

          HONORABLE RENÉE MARIE BUMB U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE:

         I. INTRODUCTION

         In this employment discrimination action, Plaintiff Dr. Briance Mascarenhas, a Professor at the Rutgers University Camden School of Business, alleges that he was denied a promotion on the basis of a known vision disability in violation of the Americans with Disability Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq. Defendant Rutgers, the State University, now moves for summary judgment. The principal issues to be decided are whether Plaintiff has made a prima facie case for disability discrimination and, if so, whether the legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons Defendant has proffered for denying Plaintiff's promotion are pretextual. For the reasons discussed below, the Court finds that Plaintiff has established a prima facie case for disability discrimination, but that Plaintiff has not shown pretext. Accordingly, Defendant's motion for summary judgment will be granted.

         II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND [1]

         A. Factual Background

         Plaintiff Dr. Briance Mascarenhas (“Dr. Mascarenhas” or “Plaintiff”) suffers from progressive visual impairment.[2] (Pl.'s CSMF ¶ 29; Def.'s Reply to Pl.'s CSMF ¶ 29.) He was hired at the Rutgers University Camden School of Business by Defendant Rutgers, the State University (“Rutgers, ” “the University, ” or “Defendant”), at the rank of Associate Professor with tenure in 1990 and, shortly thereafter, was promoted to the rank of Professor I. (Def.'s SMF ¶ 2; Pl.'s RSMF ¶ 2.) Plaintiff still holds the position of Professor I. (Pl.'s CSMF ¶ 6; Def.'s Reply to Pl.'s CSMF ¶ 6.)

         As discussed below, Plaintiff has applied for a promotion to Distinguished Professor, formerly known as “Professor II, ” on several occasions. Distinguished Professor is the highest professorial rank at Rutgers and, according to Rutgers University Policy 60.5.17, the position is:

[R]eserved for those faculty in the University . . . who have achieved scholarly eminence in their discipline and fields of inquiry. The standard for promotion to Distinguished Professor is significantly higher than that applied in promotion to Professor. . . . The most significant area of consideration in determining promotion to Distinguished Professor for general teaching/research faculty is scholarship; . . . Only those faculty who have demonstrated outstanding achievement in those areas by earning significant recognition inside and outside the University are eligible for promotion to Distinguished Professor. Typically, such recognition is reflected in national and international reputation in one's discipline. Teaching and service also apply to the general evaluation of a candidate for promotion to Distinguished Professor. A candidate for promotion to Distinguished Professor should be an exemplary member of the University faculty who consistently has demonstrated a high standard of achievement in all professional roles.

(Def.'s SMF ¶ 1; Pl.'s RSMF ¶ 1.) Applications for academic promotion, including to the rank of Distinguished Professor, are reviewed pursuant to the University's established promotion process. (Def.'s SMF ¶ 3; Pl.'s RSMF ¶ 3.) This process provides for evaluation at the Departmental level, then by the Dean of the candidate's college or school, and then, if the lower evaluations are sufficiently successful, by the University's Promotion Review Committee (“PRC”).[3] (Id.) As part of the evaluation process, the Dean solicits external confidential letters of evaluation (“outside letters”) from noted scholars in the candidate's field located outside of the University, and these outside letters are reviewed and considered throughout the evaluation process. (Def.'s SMF ¶ 5; Pl.'s RSMF ¶ 5.)

         Plaintiff alleges he was discriminated against by Defendant in 2014-15 when he applied for a promotion to the position of Professor II. Although Plaintiff had applied four times before for a promotion to the position, as discussed next, Plaintiff does not allege discriminatory conduct on the part of Defendant. (Def.'s SMF ¶ 2; Pl.'s RSMF ¶ 2.)

         First, Plaintiff applied for a promotion to Professor II in 1996-1997, but his application was denied when the Department unanimously voted against it and the Dean voted against it. (Def.'s SMF ¶ 6; Pl.'s RSMF ¶ 6.)

         Second, Plaintiff applied for a promotion to Professor II in 1999-2000, but his application was denied after the PRC recommended against promotion at that time. (Def.'s SMF ¶ 7; Pl.'s RSMF ¶ 7.)

         In relevant part, the PRC explained:

Professor Mascarenhas is an excellent teacher with a strong service record in the University. He is a productive scholar who has a solid body of work, but the Committee concludes that Professor Mascarenhas' scholarship has not yet reached the level of national and international impact expected for promotion to the rank of Professor II. The committee looks forward to reviewing Professor Mascarenhas' packet again when his scholarship has achieved that level of recognition.

(Id.)

         Third, in 2007-2008, Plaintiff again applied for promotion to Professor II. (Def.'s SMF ¶ 8; Pl.'s RSMF ¶ 8.) This time, Plaintiff's Department voted 4-2 in favor of a promotion and the Dean also recommended him for a promotion. (Id.) The PRC, however, recommended that Plaintiff not be promoted because:

Professor Briance Mascarenhas is judged to be a good teacher. He has developed a number of courses and received awards for his teaching. He has supervised a number of graduate and undergraduate independent studies and has served on four doctoral dissertation committees. His service to his department and school has been good. He has published a number of articles and book chapters, and he has guest edited special issues of journals. Dr. Mascarenhas' record does not yet demonstrate that he has attained the senior leadership positions in professional organizations, sustained major funding, or major prizes and awards that would indicate the highest level of impact or recognition in his field. Based on a thorough examination of the evidence in relation to the criteria for ...

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