United States District Court, D. Connecticut
For Wendy Wyler, Plaintiff: Jeffrey S. Bagnell, Scott R. Lucas, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Lucas Bagnell Varga LLC, Southport, CT.
For Connecticut State Univ Sys, Southern Connecticut State University, Stanley Battle, Jonathan Irving, Defendants: Linsley J. Barbato, LEAD ATTORNEY, Attorney General's Office, Hartford, CT.
RULING AND ORDER
Robert N. Chatigny, United States District Judge.
Plaintiff Wendy Wyler, a former student at Southern Connecticut State University, brings this action against the Connecticut State University System, Southern Connecticut State University, former President of the University Stanley Battle and Chair of the Music Department Jonathan Irving, alleging violations of Title IX and, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, violations of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The claims relate to sexual harassment by music professor David Chevan, formerly a defendant in this action. Specifically, plaintiff alleges: (1) Connecticut State University System and Southern Connecticut State University (the " University Defendants" ) violated Title IX by failing to take immediate, effective remedial steps to address sexual harassment by Chevan; and (2) defendants Battle and Irving (the " Supervising Defendants" ) violated her rights under the Equal Protection Clause by exhibiting deliberate indifference to the sexual harassment and failing to adequately remedy the hostile educational environment it created.
Defendants have moved for summary judgment. They contend tat the Title IX claim fails because the University Defendants had no notice of sexual harassment before plaintiff's complaint, conducted a prompt investigation, issued an investigation report and conveyed the results in a timely fashion, and took appropriate remedial action. Defendants further argue that the Equal Protection Clause claims fail because the Supervising Defendants were not personally involved in the sexual harassment, their conduct did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment and they are shielded by the doctrine of qualified immunity. For reasons that follow, the motion for summary judgment [ECF No. 105] is granted and the case is dismissed.
The parties' Local 56(a) statements and supporting materials, viewed most favorably to the plaintiff, would permit a jury to find the following. In 2011, plaintiff Wendy Wyler was a student at Southern Connecticut State University, which is a state educational institution established by statute as part of the Connecticut State College and University System. Chevan was a professor in the University's music department, Irving was Chair of the music department and Battle was Interim President of the University. Plaintiff began attending classes taught by Chevan in 2009. She made no complaints to University officials about his comments or conduct at any time prior to the spring of 2011. She registered for two classes with him for the spring 2011 semester. That semester, Chevan made numerous inappropriate comments of a sexual nature to plaintiff. During one incident, he propositioned her in a music storage room while blocking her exit.
On or around March 16, 2011, plaintiff brought Chevan's conduct to the attention of University officials. She was discouraged from filing a complaint by one of the University's Title IX directors and the director of the University's Women's Center. At some point thereafter, plaintiff and her mother left several voicemail messages for Battle and messages with his secretary, none of which were returned. Dep. of Wendy Wyler, Pl.'s Ex. 7 at 176, 262-263 (ECF No. 118-1 at 35, 37). On April 4, plaintiff reported to Irving and Professor Craig Hlavac that Chevan had sexually harassed her. The next day, Irving notified the University's Human Resources Office and the Dean of Arts and Sciences about plaintiff's complaint and left word that he would commit it to writing and forward it to Human Resources (" HR" ) or the Office of Diversity and Equity (" ODE" ). Hlavac and Irving took written statements from plaintiff. Irving brought the statements to HR, which forwarded them to ODE. Irving had no further involvement with plaintiff's complaint after that, although he continued to email back and forth with her.
On March 29, plaintiff withdrew from Chevan's classes. Documentation of Wyler's Statement, Pl.'s Ex. 14 at 3 (ECF 118-2 at 39); Letter from Selase W. Williams to Ernest Marquez, Pl.'s Ex. 20 at 1 (ECF No. 118-3 at 22). She had no contact with him after April 4 other than through litigation. She requested and the University granted a tuition reimbursement for the two dropped courses. The courses and withdrawals were removed from her academic transcript.
Following plaintiff's complaint, Ernest Marquez of ODE conducted an investigation. Per University procedures and practice, then-President Battle did not appoint the investigator, monitor the investigation or exercise any oversight over it. Marquez stated in his deposition that he did not take any steps to investigate whether there had been prior complaints by students against Chevan. Dep. of Ernest Marquez, Pl.'s Ex. 12 at 23 (ECF No. 118-2 at 25). Nor did HR provide Marquez with any file documents to review about Chevan. Id. at 24 (ECF No. 118-2 at 25). Marquez interviewed Chevan, who admitted to some but not all of the allegations. Marquez also interviewed plaintiff. Another SCSU student, Megan Coyne, accompanied plaintiff to her interview and handed Marquez a typed statement recounting an incident in which Chevan made suggestive remarks to her, touched her knee and held her hand. She made no oral statement to Marquez, explaining that she did not want to file a complaint of her own and that she was only there to support the plaintiff.
Marquez completed his investigation on April 26. He issued a written report concluding that Chevan had violated the University's discrimination and sexual harassment prevention policy. That same day, Marquez sent plaintiff a letter informing her of his conclusions, his recommendation that HR take appropriate personnel action, and her right to obtain a copy of his investigation report from Diane Mazza, Labor Relations Specialist. He also sent copies to HR to aid in the determination of whether and to what degree disciplinary action would be taken, and to the Provost of the University, who was responsible for considering the proper academic remedy. Irving, who was not a member of ODE, was also informed of the findings.
On April 27, plaintiff sent an email to Irving and Hlavac thanking them for their help and support. Later, in response to her question about what it meant that Chevan would be penalized, Irving wrote: " Yes, I heard. Welcome to the world of academia! Penalize can mean anything from a slap on the wrist, to losing a week or a month of salary, to a suspension or even dismissal. Obviously the last two were not in the final decision. What you did took courage. In the end, this was what you must hold onto for your life will move well beyond the hallways of Southern." Email from Jonathan Irving to Wendy Wyler, Defs.' Ex. F-3 at 3 (ECF No. 107 at 98). Plaintiff replied that she was offended by the " welcome to the world of academia" comment, to which Irving responded that she had misunderstood him, explaining: " I could not agree with you more that if a teacher behaves irresponsibly or in a threatening way, then he or she should be handed a 'sentence' that reflects the severity of his or her behavior and actions." Id. at 1 (ECF No. 107 at 96).
On April 28, Mazza provided plaintiff with the complete written investigation report. Mazza conducted a further investigation for the purpose of determining whether and what disciplinary action against Chevan would be appropriate in light of Marquez's findings. The investigation included interviews with plaintiff, Chevan, Irving and two music students, a call to the dean of arts and sciences, a review of Chevan's personnel files and ODE's past complaint files, and a meeting with the representatives of the professors' union. On the basis of her investigation, Mazza determined that Chevan had no prior record of sexual harassment or discipline for any misconduct at SCSU, a finding that plaintiff disputes.
Mazza made a recommendation to Bailey that Chevan be disciplined for his conduct. Mazza and Bailey discussed the possible appropriate disciplinary actions and began negotiations with union representatives of Chevan's collective bargaining unit, who were advocating for Chevan. Ultimately, Mazza recommended a settlement with the union that the union would not oppose or grieve: a one-week suspension without pay. The settlement also provided that the agreement would remain in Chevan's personnel file and would be removed after 24 months only if he did not engage in further conduct violating the University's discrimination and sexual harassment policy. Bailey approved the settlement, and the parties executed the settlement agreement on June 6, 2011, at which time Bailey advised Battle of the settlement. Irving, not a member of HR, played no part in deciding Chevan's discipline.
Plaintiff continued her studies and graduated from SCSU in the ...