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Matthews v. Nwankwo

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Greenville Division

July 29, 2014


Page 719

For Ramona Matthews, Plaintiff: James C. Patton , Jr., LEAD ATTORNEY, PATTON LAW OFFICE, Starkville, MS.

For Mississippi Valley State University, Defendant: James T. Metz, LEAD ATTORNEY, PURDIE & METZ, PLLC, Ridgeland, MS.

Page 720



This is a sex discrimination action brought under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. § 1681, et seq., by Plaintiff Ramona Matthews against her former college professor, Peter Nwankwo; and her former educational institution, Mississippi Valley State University (" MVSU" ). Plaintiff alleges that Nwankwo sexually harassed her; that she complained to MVSU about the harassment; and that following her complaint, MVSU assigned her to additional classes with Nwankwo and did not timely remove her from his class. Doc. #1; Doc. #18-1. Before the Court is MVSU's motion for summary judgment. Doc. #15.


Motion for Summary Judgment Standard

" Summary judgment is appropriate when there are no genuine issues as to any material facts, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Norwegian Bulk Transport A/S v. International Marine Terminals Partnership, 520 F.3d 409, 411 (5th Cir. 2008) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986)). To award summary judgment, " [a] court must be satisfied that no reasonable trier

Page 721

of fact could find for the nonmoving party or, in other words, that the evidence favoring the nonmoving party is insufficient to enable a reasonable jury to return a verdict in her favor." Id. at 411-12 (internal quotation marks omitted). To this end, " [t]he moving party bears the burden of establishing that there are no genuine issues of material fact." Id. at 412.

" If, as here, the nonmoving party bears the burden of proof at trial, the moving party may demonstrate that it is entitled to summary judgment by submitting affidavits or other similar evidence negating the nonmoving party's claim, or by pointing out to the district court the absence of evidence necessary to support the nonmoving party's case." Morris v. Covan World Wide Moving, Inc., 144 F.3d 377, 380 (5th Cir. 1998). If the moving party makes the necessary demonstration, " the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to show that summary judgment is inappropriate." Id. In making this showing, " the nonmoving party must go beyond the pleadings and by her own affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Cotroneo v. Shaw Env't & Infrastructure, Inc., 639 F.3d 186, 191-92 (5th Cir. 2011) (internal punctuation omitted). When considering a motion for summary judgment, the Court " resolve[s] factual controversies in favor of the nonmoving party." Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994). In the same vein, " the court views all inferences drawn from the factual record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Tiblier v. Dlabal, 743 F.3d 1004, 1007 (5th Cir. 2014).


Relevant Facts

In 2006, a student at Defendant MVSU made an allegation of sexual harassment against Defendant Peter Nwankwo, then a professor at MVSU. Doc. #15-1 at ¶ 3. The allegation stemmed from the way the student was " addressed" by Nwankwo. Id. Later, the student informed the school that the complaint was a " misunderstanding." Id.

At the start of MVSU's spring 2010 semester, Plaintiff Ramona Matthews was a student in one of Nwankwo's classes. Doc. #18-1 at ¶ 2. Sometime in January or February of that year, Nwankwo touched Plaintiff's buttocks and then attempted to kiss Plaintiff. Id. at ¶ 10; Doc. #15-1 at ¶ 6. On February 22, 2010, Plaintiff complained to Jerrick L. Hornbeak, MVSU's Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs regarding Nwankwo's conduct. Doc. #15-1 at ¶ 6. Sometime after, Plaintiff filed a complaint with MVSU's police department and with the Sheriff's Department of Leflore County, Mississippi. Doc. #18-1 at ¶ 3.

Plaintiff's complaint was handled internally at MVSU by Elizabeth Hurssey, an Assistant Director at MVSU's Department of Human Resources. Doc. #15-2 at ¶ ¶ 1, 3. As a part of her investigation, Hurssey conducted interviews with students in Nwankwo's classes. Id. at ¶ 6. Hurssey also " obtained information" from Plaintiff and Nwankwo. Id. at ¶ ¶ 4, 7. Sometime before March 11, 2010, Hurssey became aware that two additional students accused Nwankwo of harassment. Id. at ¶ ¶ 4, 5. More specifically, Hurssey's investigation ...

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