Diverse Docket: Judge Throws Out Discrimination Suit Against Spalding U.

Updated Feb 14, 2017

A former doctoral student at Spalding University isn’t entitled to readmission or to damages after a federal judge in Kentucky threw out his discrimination suit.

U.S. District Senior Judge Charles Simpson III of Louisville said Damon Cobble waited too long to file some of his claims and was justifiably denied readmission because he’d failed two courses.

Cobble enrolled in Spalding’s E.D. Leadership program in 2013 and received accommodations for his learning disability, depression and ADHD, according to the decision. However, he failed to finish assignments in two courses despite receiving a requested time extension, resulting in a failing grade in both classes.

The university dismissed him from the program with leave to reapply after one year. It also rejected his subsequent internal appeal of the grades.

When he did reapply in 2016, the university turned him down, leading to a lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Rehabilitation Act.

Simpson dismissed the case.

First, he found that allegations that the university didn’t provide adequate accommodation and wrongly removed him from the program were filed after the one-year statute of limitations period expired.

Second, he ruled that the university cannot be held liable for denying readmission because “having failed two classes, he was not otherwise qualified when he reapplied.”

Simpson said, “Courts generally defer to the judgment of a school when considering students’ qualifications.”

Rejection on appeal

The University of Alabama at Birmingham didn’t violate Title VII when it refused to renew the contract of a poorly performing tenure-stream faculty member, according to the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

The three-judge panel unanimously rejected an attempt by Dr. Charnetta Gadling-Cole, who is African American, to revive her lawsuit.

The university hired Gadling-Cole in 2009 for a two-year period as an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology and Social Work. The appointment required her to complete her PhD within that time, the court said. After finishing her degree requirements, she accepted a full-time tenure-track position.

However, she received marginal or unsatisfactory job reviews criticizing her for low scholarly productivity, low student evaluations and lack of cooperation in discussing faculty business.

UAB didn’t renew her appointment in 2012, citing poor performance, violation of university procedures and “disrespectful and antagonist behavior,” the appellate decision said.

Her lawsuit noted that she had filed four EEOC complaints in 2011 and 2012. A lower-court judge dismissed the suit.

In its decision, the Court of Appeals said Gadling-Cole failed to provide evidence that UABA’s explanation for not renewing her contract was a pretext for racial discrimination.

She “has not rebutted as factually incorrect UAB’s reasons related to her lack of publications or low teaching scores,” the panel said. Although she disagreed with “the more subjective conclusions about her performance, she offers no evidence to rebut these reasons or otherwise show that (the department chair) did not rely on these reasons as well when terminating her.”

Suit moves forward

National origin discrimination and retaliation claims against Longwood University by a Turkish-born former assistant professor can continue, a federal judge in Richmond has ruled.

Comments about Dr. Ayse Balas’s accent and that she was “not a good fit” are sufficient to show possible bias leading to denial of tenure and her termination, U.S. District Judge John Gibney said.

Balas became an assistant professor of marketing in 2009.

Her 2011 performance review cited “speech patterns in your presentation: as an area for potential improvement. The review said her “command of the vocabulary and grammar is excellent, and your accent does not interfere with comprehension, but the cadence and inflections in your speech pattern might be difficult for some to follow.”

The same evaluation rated her scholarship, service and overall performance as “needs improvement.”

The university declined to renew her contact in 2012 but extended it for one year after her successful internal appeal. Her 2014 review rated her as “meets expectations” but she was denied tenure.

In his decision, Gibney held that Balas “plausibly alleged” discrimination “”because of her accent, which stems from her national origin, and that the discrimination inferred with her employment at Longwood. Specifically, he pointed to remarks allegedly made by the dean of the College of Business and Economics, Balas’s department chair and a member of the promotion and tenure committee.

The retaliation claim can continue as well because Balas had complained about discrimination before her termination.

However, the judge dismissed a claim that Longwood had violated Balas’s due process rights. Although the college hadn’t completed the tenure review process “perfectly,” the Faculty Status and Grievance Committee ordered the college to correct the procedural errors and Balas received the opportunity to submit additional material.

After the promotion and tenure committee and department chair again recommended against tenure, the college “exercised professional judgment in denying tenure” based on her scholarship, Gibney said.