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Patterson v. University of Alaska

United States District Court, D. Alaska

August 11, 2015

KIM PATTERSON, Plaintiff,
v.
UNIVERSITY OF ALASKA, ANCHORAGE, Defendant.

ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AT DOCKET 11

RALPH R. BEISTLINE, District Judge.

Plaintiff, Dr. Kim Patterson, is currently employed by the University of Alaska, Anchorage ("the University") as its Director of Student Support Services. He asserts two claims against the University under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964: (1) failure to promote him because of his race, African-American; and (2) retaliation for opposing unlawful discrimination. Defendant, the University of Alaska, argues that based on the undisputed facts and the applicable law, both claims should be dismissed. Docket 11.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Dr. Patterson began working for the University as the Director of Student Support Services, an administrative position, in 2005. Dr. Lacy Karpilo, a Hispanic woman who ultimately received the position Dr. Patterson seeks, began working at the University as the Director of Residence Life in 2009. Docket 15 at 1. In late 2012, the University President approved creation of a new Associate Vice Chancellor position in the Student Affairs division. A search committee was formed, including the Interim Executive Director of Academic and Multicultural Student Services, Theresa Lyons, who was Dr. Patterson's direct supervisor from 2012-2014. Lyons, an African-American woman, was also appointed as chair of the committee. Docket 11 at 9-10. Fifteen candidates applied for the position, and seven of those candidates met the minimum qualifications at stage one of the process, including Dr. Patterson.

At stage two of the process, each committee member independently reviewed the seven applications and scored the applicants using a scoring rubric. Dr. Patterson's score ranked him fifth out of the seven candidates. Docket 11 at 11. Dr. Lacy Karpilo, then working as Director of Residence of UAA, earned the highest average score by nearly ten points. Docket 11 at 12. Six applicants moved on to the next stage, including Dr. Patterson.

At stage three, the search committee prepared nine Skype interview questions to ask each of the top six candidates. Two applicants, Dr. Karpilo and Dr. Laurel Hummel, advanced to the fourth stage - on campus interviews. Evidence indicates that Dr. Karpilo and Dr. Hummel scored very highly with the committee, while Dr. Patterson's evaluation yielded significant weaknesses, including that his responses to questions were not as in-depth as other candidates, and he asked only one question during his interview. Theresa Lyons, Dr. Patterson's African-American supervisor, stated that the committee did not feel Dr. Patterson had the breadth of experience that the other candidates possessed. Docket 12, Lyons Aff. ΒΆ 10.

Dr. Patterson's description of the facts of this case includes additional allegations of "behind-the-scenes" activities which he suggests influenced the hiring decision. Docket 15 at 3-12. He alleges that around the same time the new position was announced, Dr. Karpilo was given a "temporary assignment outside her usual job duties, " working as a "Lead Investigator" in Student Access, Advising, and Transition Division Development. Docket 15 at 3-4. As a result, Dr. Karpilo was the recipient of emails and information associated with the new position for which she and Dr. Patterson had both applied. Dr. Patterson notes that when Dr. Schultz, the Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs, began recruiting people to serve on the search committee for the position, he specifically mentioned Dr. Karpilo's qualifications to some of those individuals. Due to the nature of Dr. Karpilo's current position, she also had reason to be in touch with certain committee members outside of the hiring process.

Dr. Patterson complains that when Dr. Schultz sent the selection committee the charge memorandum, "he altered one of the key requirements that had been listed on the internet job posting." Dr. Patterson does not articulate what changes were made to the job posting, but it appears from the exhibits that Dr. Schultz may have added requirements to the job posting which closely align with Dr. Karpilo's expertise. Dr. Patterson does not, however, argue that those changes were detrimental to his own candidacy for the position.

Dr. Patterson further complains that during the search period, Dr. Karpilo had "several critical interactions" significant to this case. Docket 15 at 8. Specifically, Dr. Karpilo submitted a report to Dr. Schultz including a five-page outline of how the Division of Student Access, Advising, and Transition should operate. Additionally, another member of the selection committee sent a thirty-four page report to Dr. Karpilo including information about a "first year experience program at another institute, " which that committee member thought Dr. Karpilo "might enjoy." Docket 15 at 8. Dr. Patterson takes issue with Dr. Karpilo's contacts with committee members. Defendant maintains, however, that Dr. Karpilo's correspondence with committee members was in the context of her ongoing position with the University, and that she was simply doing her job. Docket 22 at 9. And none of the complaints or concerns mentioned above suggest any form of racial animus.

Dr. Patterson also notes that at one point, select committee members discussed their scores and decided to change their scores regarding applicant Dr. Hummel, who was ultimately one of the two finalists. It is unclear what relevance Dr. Patterson thinks this has, as Dr. Hummel and Dr. Patterson, as well as Dr. Karpilo, all advanced to the next stage of interviews after those scores were changed.

Finally, Dr. Patterson complains that the Skype interviews which followed in Stage 3 were not adequately preserved for review, although attempts to record them were made. Docket 15 at 9. Furthermore, although Teresa Lyons provided a breakdown of the strengths and weaknesses of the candidates interviewed via Skype, she did not provide any objective scoring matrix to justify why only Drs. Karpilo and Hummel proceeded to the final stage. Docket 15 at 10.

Dr. Schultz ultimately interviewed the top two candidates and selected Dr. Karpilo for the position. Docket 11 at 15. Under the protocol followed, Dr. Schultz made his final selection from the top two candidates selected by the search committee, but had no vote as to who those candidates might be. Upon learning of the selection of Dr. Karpilo, Dr. Patterson chose to pursue a complaint before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Docket 11 at 16. He filed a race discrimination complaint with the EEOC, which made no mention of any unlawful retaliation. Docket 11, Exhibit 28. Meanwhile, Dr. Patterson continued to work under Theresa Lyons. Docket 11 at 17. The EEOC ultimately concluded that there were insufficient facts to establish any civil rights violation and issued a right-to-sue letter. Id.

Dr. Patterson next filed a Complaint in state court, alleging his two claims under Title VII. Based on the federal civil rights claims, the University removed the action to federal court. The University now moves for summary judgment on both of Dr. Patterson's claims. Docket 11. The University argues that the evidence irrefutably shows that it followed a fair and comprehensive search process that ...


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