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Mengistu v. Mississippi Valley State University

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

September 5, 2017

TADESSE MENGISTU PLAINTIFF
v.
MISSISSIPPI VALLEY STATE UNIVERSITY, DR. JONGCHAI KIM, AND MVSU EMPLOYEES A-D DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          SHARION AYCOCK, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is presently before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff has responded, and Defendants replied.

         Facts and Procedural Background

         Dr. Mengistu began employment with Mississippi Valley State University (MVSU) as an associate professor of Economics on August 15, 2006. His annual salary was $68, 000 until 2007, when his salary was increased to $70, 380.00.

         In 2013, following the retirement of a tenured faculty member, MVSU sought to hire a replacement and began advertising an opening for associate professor. The search committee, which consisted of Dr. Mengistu and three other faculty members, reviewed applications and interviewed potential candidates. Dr. Joeng Beom Lee was selected as the most qualified candidate by three of the four committee members. Only Dr. Mengistu ranked Dr. Lee as the second most qualified candidate. In any event, Dr. Lee was recommended to the Department head, Dr. Jongchai Kim, who interviewed Dr. Lee, and then recommended him for hire to the Vice President of Academic Affairs. The Vice President reviewed Dr. Lee's application and recommended Dr. Lee to the President for hire at an annual salary of $75, 000. The acting President hired Dr. Lee on October 1, 2013, and an offer of salary was extended to Dr. Mengistu for $75, 000.

         MVSU does not have a wage schedule, but instead uses a salary range for each open position based on the availability of budgeted funds on a salary line and/or the availability of budgeted funds within the Department. According to MVSU, the University also evaluates years of service, experience, education and accomplishments in previous positions before a salary is negotiated or extended.

         Since Dr. Lee's hire, Dr. Mengistu has received, accepted and signed four (4) annual contracts that outline his salary of $70, 380. However, he alleges that MVSU was discriminatory in its hiring of Dr. Lee, who is from South Korea, because, even though Dr. Lee is merely an Assistant Professor, his wages exceed those of other Assistant Professors and those of Dr. Mengistu's, who is an Associate Professor.[1] Plaintiff, Dr. Mengistu, was born in Ethiopia and is presently a United States citizen. Dr. Mengistu believes that Dr. Lee received an increased salary because he and Dr. Kim are both of South Korean descent.

         Summary Judgment Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 governs summary judgment. Summary judgment is warranted when the evidence reveals no genuine dispute regarding any material fact, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The Rule “mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986).

         The moving party “bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Id. at 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548. The nonmoving party must then “go beyond the pleadings” and “designate ‘specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.' ” Id. at 324, 106 S.Ct. 2548 (citation omitted). In reviewing the evidence, factual controversies are to be resolved in favor of the non-movant, “but only when ... both parties have submitted evidence of contradictory facts.” Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (en banc). When such contradictory facts exist, the Court may “not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence.” Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150, 120 S.Ct. 2097, 147 L.Ed.2d 105 (2000). Conclusory allegations, speculation, unsubstantiated assertions, and legalistic arguments are not an adequate substitute for specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial. TIG Ins. Co. v. Sedgwick James of Wash., 276 F.3d 754, 759 (5th Cir. 2002); SEC v. Recile, 10 F.3d 1093, 1097 (5th Cir. 1997); Little, 37 F.3d at 1075.

         Analysis

         Plaintiff alleges that he is the victim of discrimination under Title VII and Section 1981 because he has a higher rank than Dr. Lee, yet Dr. Lee has a higher salary than he does. Additionally, Plaintiff makes claims for negligent hiring, supervision and retention, hostile work environment, and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

         A. Discrimination Under Title VII

         To succeed on a claim for racial discrimination under Title VII or Section 1981, [2] a plaintiff may show a prima facie case either through direct evidence of discriminatory motive, or circumstantial evidence under the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework. McDonnellDouglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973). If a plaintiff creates a presumption of discrimination by establishing a prima facie case, the burden then shifts to the employer to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its actions. Reeves, 530 U.S. at 142, 120 S.Ct. 2097; Tex. Dep't of Cmty. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 254-56, 101 S.Ct. 1089, 67 L.Ed.2d 207 (1981). The burden on the employer “is one of production, not persuasion; it ...


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