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McEvoy v. Fairfield University

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

October 29, 2019



          Michael P. Shea, U.S.D.J.

         Dr. Sharlene McEvoy brought suit against Fairfield University, alleging age discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. (“ADEA”). Fairfield filed a motion for summary judgment. For the reasons discussed below, the motion for summary judgment is GRANTED.

         I. FACTS

         The following facts, which are taken from the parties' Local Rule 56(a) statements, supporting exhibits, and briefs, are undisputed unless otherwise indicated.

         A. Dr. McEvoy's Appointment as Director of the Pre-Law Advisory Program

         Dr. McEvoy began teaching at Fairfield University, an institution of higher education, in 1986. ECF No. 25 at ¶¶ 1, 4; ECF No. 30-1 at ¶¶ 1, 4. In May 2012, Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Paul J. Fitzgerald sought applications from the faculty to lead a Pre-Law Advisory Program (“the Program”). ECF No. 25 at ¶ 5; ECF No. 30-1 at ¶ 5. Dr. McEvoy applied, ECF No. 25 at ¶ 6; ECF No. 30-1 at ¶ 6, and Dr. Fitzgerald appointed her to a three-year term as Director of the Program on July 3, 2012, ECF No. 25 at ¶ 7; ECF No. 30-1 at ¶ 7.

         In his appointment letter, Dr. Fitzgerald said that he was impressed with Dr. McEvoy's proposals; he specifically highlighted her proposals to (1) form a Pre-Law Club; (2) gather and analyze data on GPAs, LSAT scores, and law school admission statistics; (3) increase the number of internships; and (4) reconnect with Fairfield alumni. ECF No. 27-6 at 2. He advised Dr. McEvoy that the Office of Alumni Relations, the Office of Institutional Research, and the Advancement Division, [1] as well as an individual named Cath Borgman, would be helpful resources as she implemented these proposals. Id.

         B. Dr. McEvoy's First Term as Director of the Program

         The 2012-2013 academic year was Dr. McEvoy's first year as Director of the Program. ECF No. 25 at ¶ 7; ECF No. 30-1 at ¶ 7. At the end of the year, she submitted an annual report about the Program to Dr. David Sapp, who oversaw the Program in his role as Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs. ECF No. 27-7 at 2-6; ECF No. 27-1 at ¶ 11. After reviewing the report, Dr. Sapp requested additional information from Dr. McEvoy about student LSAT scores and the impact of the LSAT boot camp on those scores; the students participating in internships, the job shadow program, and law advising; and Dr. McEvoy's goals for the next two years. ECF No. 27-11 at 2-3. Dr. McEvoy provided him with this additional information on July 23, 2013 by return email, ECF No. 27-11 at 2-3, but did not include the bulk of this information in subsequent annual reports, ECF No. 25 at ¶ 13; ECF No. 30-1 at ¶ 13; ECF No. 27-8; ECF No. 27-9; ECF No. 27-10. Dr. McEvoy says that she did not include “specific information about specific students” in her reports because she was concerned about protecting student confidentiality and because the template that she obtained for annual reports did not call for specific information about individual students. ECF No. 30-1 at ¶ 13. She does not explain from whom she obtained the template.

         Dr. Fitzgerald left Fairfield in June 2014 and Dr. Lynn Babington became the Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs in July 2014. ECF No. 25 at ¶ 15; ECF No. 30-1 at ¶ 15. Around the same time, Dr. Sapp left Fairfield and was replaced by Dr. Yohuru Williams. ECF No. 25 at ¶ 16; ECF No. 30-1 at ¶ 16. Fairfield states that, in the course of this transition, Dr. Sapp voiced concerns about the Program and Dr. McEvoy's effectiveness to Dr. Williams. ECF No. 25 at ¶¶ 17-18.[2] Before Dr. Sapp left the university, he met with Dr. Williams and Dr. McEvoy to discuss the Program. ECF No. 25 at ¶ 19; ECF No. 30-1 at ¶ 19. Dr. McEvoy asserts that there was little substantive discussion about the Program during this meeting. ECF No. 30-1 at ¶ 19; ECF No. 27-3 at 36. But both parties agree that she was asked if she had any thoughts about who should take over as Director when her term ended. ECF No. 25 at ¶ 19; ECF No. 27-3 at 35-36. They also agree that she did not suggest anyone to be her successor or ask why she would not be continuing in the position. ECF No. 25 at ¶ 19; ECF No. 27-3 at 36-37. Dr. McEvoy testified that Dr. Sapp suggested two names as potential successors at the end of her term-Gwen Alphonso and Debra Strauss. ECF No. 27-3 at 37. Dr. McEvoy made no response when Dr. Sapp mentioned Alphonso and Strauss. Id. Dr. Alphonso was ultimately chosen as Dr. McEvoy's successor in 2016. ECF No. 30-16 at 2.

         Fairfield asserts that during the 2014-2015 academic year-the third year of Dr. McEvoy's term and the first year Dr. Williams supervised the Program-Dr. Williams met with Dr. McEvoy and conducted his own assessment of the Program. ECF No. 25 at ¶¶ 20, 22. Although Dr. McEvoy admits that Dr. Williams spoke with Dr. Babington and the Advancement Office, she argues that “[a]n assessment that was limited to speaking with only Dr. Babington and the development office would not have provided for much of an assessment.” ECF No. 30-1 at ¶ 20; see also id. at ¶ 22.

         Fairfield asserts that there were a number of issues with Dr. McEvoy's directorship of the Program. First, Fairfield asserts that Dr. McEvoy was not sufficiently accessible to students. Fairfield points to Dr. McEvoy's testimony that she held office hours only on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and that she did not have access to email at her home. ECF No. 25 at ¶ 24; ECF No. 27-3 at 5-7. Dr. McEvoy denies that she was inaccessible and asserts that she was available to meet with students by appointment if they were unable to meet during her office hours. ECF No. 30-1 at ¶ 24; ECF No. 30-7 at ¶ 88. She also notes that her contact information, including her phone number and email address, was included on written materials distributed in connection with the Program, and on the Program's website. ECF No. 30-7 at ¶ 88. She does not deny, however, that she only had access to email while on campus or that she was typically absent from the school on Thursdays and Fridays. ECF No. 27-3 at 7.[3] Dr. Williams testified that he heard “anecdotal stories from students who said they found it very difficult to get in touch with [Dr. McEvoy] to arrange time for advising.” ECF No. 27-13 at 65. He also testified that when he shared his concerns about availability and accessibility with Dr. McEvoy, he “remember[ed] her kind of defending herself and . . . immediately becoming a little defensive about it.” Id. at 20. Finally, he testified that he himself had trouble getting in touch with Dr. McEvoy: “[W]e were trying to get in touch with Progressor McEvoy and were not able to get in touch with her. And that was a consistent theme that I had with her over the course of my engagement with her in those roles . . . I know for a fact we had trouble getting in touch with her.” ECF No. 30-11 at 64. Dr. Babington testified that, based on the information she had from Dr. Williams, she came to the conclusion that Dr. McEvoy was inaccessible to students. ECF No. 27-12 at 20.[4]

         Second, Fairfield asserts that Dr. McEvoy did not have a good relationship with the Advancement Office, which is responsible for raising funds for Fairfield and the Program. ECF No. 25 at ¶ 26. Mr. Christopher Pates, a development officer in the Advancement Office, was responsible for raising funds for various programs, including for the Pre-Law Program. ECF No. 27-13 at 31. He testified that Dr. McEvoy provided little assistance in developing a case statement that was to be used for fund raising:

Q. So about four weeks after the meeting you remember emailing Professor McEvoy a draft of the case statement?
A. Yes.
. . .
A. I may have called Sue Quinlivan during the drafting process. I didn't interact directly with Sharlene McEvoy. I did ask some questions to have passed on, and I think I sent some email with questions that didn't get a response, so I called, I copied Sue Quinlivan and asked her, and it had to do with - in a case for support you have how the donors will be recognized, how they'll be involved, and we didn't have that in our case, so I was asking those types of questions, what do you think if we did this, could you ask Professor McEvoy if we could do that, that type of thing, can you follow up on an email that I sent here, trying to figure out if we could build that section out in the case or not.
. . .
A. She sent the document back with very minor edits, and no real comments. That, too, I though was different. There's usually some feedback, when you do this with a person who owns the program, and there was no feedback. The only feedback - and if I remember right - and I wish I had a copy of the document, but there might have been a one word change in the five or six pages of narrative, but there were three changes in her bio. So she had spent time editing her bio, but she didn't spend time amplifying the vision, which I just, again, I thought was strange, and it was certainly unusual in my experiences with faculty.

ECF No. 27-14 at 10-11. He also testified that “every time [he suggested] something [to Dr. McEvoy] it was being sort of shut down [by Dr. McEvoy] before [they] even had a chance to brainstorm it, ” id. at 7, and that she complained about him even though he treated her no differently than he treated other faculty, id. at 12. Dr. McEvoy admits that she complained about Mr. Pates, but states that Mr. Pates was only concerned with raising money and did not criticize her performance as Director of the Program. ECF No. 30-1 at ¶¶ 25-26. Mr. Pates agrees that his suggestions to Dr. McEvoy “would have had to do with donors interacting with the program.” ECF No. 27-14 at 14. He also testified about his criticisms of Dr. McEvoy as follows:

Q. In any of your communications with Mr. Halas, did you convey any criticisms that you had about the prelaw program itself under Professor McEvoy's directorship?
A. Probably shared the same that I did with [Dr. Williams], if we had someone that was more willing to communicate with donors. And donors give feedback, so you have to be able to take that feedback. Donors, they have ideas, and if you're not willing to listen to those ideas, donors get offended and they don't invest. You at least have to listen to the ideas. So yes, I definitely would have said something about that.
Q. The same kind of sentiment that you testified about earlier that you expressed to Dr. Williams, that you wished you had a prelaw director that you could take on donor visits with you, right?
A. Yes, I'm certain of that, yes.

Id. at 19-20. Dr. McEvoy denies Fairfield's assertion that she had issues with the Advancement Office; she asserts that she worked closely with members of the office, particularly with Gerry Derbyshire and Hope Ogletree. ECF No. 30-1 at ¶¶ 26, 77; ECF No. 30-7 at ¶ 108. Mr. Pates testified that Ms. Ogletree “warned” him “that Professor McEvoy could be confrontational, and that's why [Ms. Ogletree] was in the meeting [with Dr. McEvoy], ” even though he normally attended faculty meetings one-on-one. ECF No. 27-14 at 7. Dr. Williams testified that he was made aware of some “very specific concerns about the Pre-Law Program” by Mr. Pates, including that alumni would not support the Program because it was not addressing contemporary issues in the study of the law, and that Dr. McEvoy was combative in response to suggestions about raising revenue for the Program. ECF No. 27-13 at 31-35. Dr. McEvoy asserts that at no time was she informed that it was her job to raise money for the Program. ECF No. 30-1 at ¶ 76. Dr. Williams testified otherwise:

What I did share with her was that it was important for her to engage with development, and part of . . . that engagement facilitated the work of development to raise funds. That's the same expectation you would communicate to any director in that role that you've got to work with your development officers because they're out raising the curriculum money necessary for programs to provide opportunities for students. And that, that would have been - that's what we would have talked about. Did she have a specific responsibility? As a program director for a program which was of high interest and where you have significant alum interest and some alum who were willing to give, it's the same expectation of anyone. Yeah, you have to engage and play nice with your development officers.

ECF No. 30-11 at 46.

         Fairfield's third stated concern about Dr. McEvoy was her alleged failure to align the Program with Fairfield 2020, a strategic plan to take the university through the year 2020. ECF No. 25 at ¶ 36. Dr. Williams testified that Dr. McEvoy's reports did not include “any real strategic visioning or any attempt to engage with the priorities that had been shared, ” ECF No. 27-13 at 44, even though they had “been asking for . . . her to align the program with [the Fairfield 2020] strategic plan, ” id. at 45. He elaborated that:

[Dr. McEvoy's reports] felt a little cut-and-pasted from year to year, formulaic, and there's nothing [in the 2014-2015 report] about strategic direction or university mission . . . in a year when we spent an entire year talking about strategic planning. So here was her opportunity to say [t]his is what the university's articulating in terms of its strategic plan, here's how I see the Pre-Law Program positioned to contribute to positioning for the future. There was none of that. It was just some general observations about students in the program, and then you look at goals and potential growth, and it's the same thing. So that's what I mean by it was disappointing. Superficial.

Id. at 45. He said that “the annual report itself” was not the problem; rather, it was the “behavior and the problems that [the report] highlights.” ECF No. 30-11 at 54. He went on to testify that:

The kind of backward-looking, traditional, not engaged with 2020, not thinking about strategic visioning, the report itself is a reflection of [that]. It is not the reason. It's a reflection of what we were already seeing that would have made it very problematic for anyone to continue in that role who held similar views.

Id. Dr. McEvoy asserts that Dr. Williams never communicated with her about Fairfield 2020. ECF No. 30-1 at ¶ 36; ECF No. 30-7 at ¶ 114. Dr. Williams testified otherwise. ECF No. 27-13 at 18-19, 24, 45. The letter appointing Dr. McEvoy to a one-year term as Director of the Program referenced Fairfield 2020. ECF No. 27-17 at 2 (explaining that, “given the changes associated with Fairfield 2020, the Provost's office is taking the year to review all contractual arrangements including those governing program directors with an eye toward increasing efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability across the campus”).

         As a fourth issue, Fairfield cites Dr. Williams's testimony that Dr. Sapp had “shared some concerns about the curricular - the direction of the program where the program did not seem to be responding to changing avenues for the preparation of young people into law school particularly around health care and technology, ” and that “[i]t seemed kind of frozen around corporate and criminal law.” ECF No. 25 at ¶ 17; ECF No. 27-13 at 6.[5] He also testified that students told him “that, you know, it was a more traditional pathway.” ECF No. 27-13 at 41. Dr. McEvoy asserts that “the charge that the Pre-Law Advisory Program under [her] directorship was focused on corporate or criminal law is completely false.” ECF No. 30-1 at ¶ 42; ECF No. 30-7 at ¶¶ 62-78. She states that she scheduled many events that provided students the opportunity to explore areas of law other than corporate or criminal law and to speak with practitioners in those other areas of law. ECF No. 30-1 at ¶¶ 61-63; ECF No. 30-7 at ¶¶ 67-78. Dr. Williams also expressed concern about another curricular issue-3/3 programs. These programs permit students to complete three years at an undergraduate institution and three years at a law school and have the first law school year count toward the final year of their undergraduate degrees. ECF No. 30-11 at 16. Dr. Williams testified that he spoke to Dr. McEvoy in the summer of 2014 about pursuing 3/3 programs, id. at 20; that “it certainly would have been something that I would have anticipated would have been on her radar, ” id. at 26; and that he believed “she should have been exploring the opportunities [to enter into 3/3 programs], ” id. at 28. Dr. McEvoy asserts that Dr. Williams never notified her that she needed to take action to help secure 3/3 programs with law schools. ECF No. 30-1 at ¶ 78; ECF No. 30-7 at ¶ 110. And Dr. Babington testified that she did not believe it was Dr. McEvoy's responsibility to establish 3/3 programs with law schools. ECF No. 30-10 at 40-41.

         Fifth, Fairfield asserts that Dr. McEvoy did not gather or analyze data on student grade point averages, LSAT scores, or law school admissions, and that there was no assessment of outcomes that could be used to give advice to students. ECF No. 25 at ¶ 23. In her application for the directorship, Dr. McEvoy explained that she would take the following action with respect to data collection:

I would keep records of which students from which majors have an interest in law school and those who have been successful in getting admitted: GPAs, LSAT scores and the law school applied to. I would also keep track of the schools that Fairfield Students are not accepted to.

ECF No. 27-5 at 2. When Dr. Fitzgerald appointed her to the directorship, he highlighted the data collection component of the proposal:

You plan to gather and analyze data on GPA's [sic], LSAT scores and relative success in gaining admissions to various law schools in order to assess outcomes and give the best advice and guidance to students. The Office of Institutional Research will be able to assist you in setting this up.

ECF No. 27-6 at 2. Dr. McEvoy denies the assertion that she failed to collect such information; she admits, however, that she did not include the information in her annual reports or otherwise share it with Dr. Williams. ...

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