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Allen-Noll v. Madison Area Technical College

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

July 29, 2019

TAYSHEEDRA D. ALLEN-NOLL, Plaintiff,
v.
MADISON AREA TECHNICAL COLLEGE, et al ., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Stephen L. Crocker Magistrate Judge.

         In this civil action brought under federal and state law, plaintiff Taysheedra Allen-Noll alleges that she was harassed, subjected to different terms and conditions of employment, and fired from her position as a nursing instructor with defendant Madison Area Technical College (MATC) because of her race and because she complained about racial discrimination and harassment. Allen-Noll has brought claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 42 U.S.C. § 1981 against MATC and its board, a § 1981 claim against Mark Lausch, a procedural due process claim against Lausch and Carolyn Stoner, and an equal protection claim against Lausch. Before the court is defendants' motion for summary judgment. Dkt. 35. For the reasons stated below, I find that plaintiff has failed to produce sufficient evidence to establish the key elements of any of her claims. Therefore, I am granting defendants' motion.

         PRELIMINARY PROCEDURAL MATTER

         Before I set forth the undisputed facts, a preliminary matter requires attention. Contrary to this court's summary judgment procedures attached to the pretrial conference order in this case, see dkt. 13, Allen-Noll did not provide a coherent or meaningful response to any of defendants' proposed findings of fact. Litigants are instructed to respond to a moving party's proposed findings of fact in separately numbered paragraphs and support their version of the facts with citations to admissible evidence. Summ. Judg. Proc. §§ II.D and E. Allen-Noll failed to do this. Instead, she submitted a photocopy of defendants' proposed findings of fact with a few illegible notes, handwritten in the margins. Although Allen-Noll filed an undated affidavit setting forth her version of some of the events at issue in this case, dkt. 52, she did not file any proposed findings of fact of her own citing to her affidavit or any other admissible evidence.

         At the beginning of her brief in opposition, plaintiff explains that “[b]ecause of time constraints Plaintiff has not been able to discuss adequately all her Disputes to Defendants' Proposed Findings of Facts. But, Plaintiff does incorporate all of he Disputes into her Declaration and Brief in Opposition to Summary Judgement.” Dkt. 51 at 1. However, as the court warns parties in its summary judgment procedures, it “will not search the record for evidence. To support a proposed fact, you may use evidence as described in Procedure I.C.1. a. through f.” Summ. Judg. Proc. § II.E.1. Therefore, in light of Allen-Noll's failure to comply with this court's summary judgment procedures and failure to cite admissible evidence to dispute defendants' proposed findings of fact, I have accepted most of defendants' proposed facts as undisputed. Abraham v. Wash. Grp. Int'l, Inc., 766 F.3d 735, 737 (7th Cir. 2014) (“[T]his Circuit has routinely held that a district court may strictly enforce compliance with its local rules regarding summary judgment motions.”); Schmidt v. Eagle Waste & Recycling, Inc., 599 F.3d 626, 630-31 (7th Cir. 2010) (holding that the district court did not err when it deemed the defendant's proposed findings of fact admitted and refused to consider additional facts for the plaintiff's failure to follow the local procedures on proposed findings of fact).

         UNDISPUTED FACTS

         I find the following facts to be material and undisputed:

         I. Background and the Parties

         Plaintiff Taysheedra Allen-Noll resides in Deforest, Wisconsin. Defendant Madison Area Technical College (MATC) is a technical college created under Wis.Stat. Ch. 38 and located in Madison, Wisconsin. It is governed by defendant Board of Madison Area Technical College. Defendant Mark Lausch is the Associate Vice President of MATC. From March 2009 to July 2018, he was the Dean of the Center for Health and Safety Education and Allen-Noll's immediate supervisor. Defendant Carolyn Stoner was a member of the board from July 1, 2005 to June 30, 2016, and she served as its chair from July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2015.

         Allen-Noll was first employed by MATC as a part-time nursing instructor in the Certified Nursing Assistant Program in January 2009. In December 2009, MATC hired her as a full-time instructor on an emergency basis. In 2010, MATC promoted Allen-Noll to Instructor-Practical Nursing.

         II. Performance Issues

         A. Spring 2010

         In May 2010, a group of students approached the administration to complain that Allen-Noll was “rude, condescending and defensive” in the classroom. They explained that Allen-Noll would not return calls or respond to student emails. After the initial complaint, one student stated that she did not agree with the group's statements regarding Allen-Noll's behavior and that she thought Allen-Noll was professional, funny, and worked to help students succeed. Faced with conflicting information, MATC did not take any formal action with respect to the students' complaints.

         B. Spring 2011

         Faculty member Teri Gorder was Allen-Noll's assigned mentor. On or about February 17, 2011, Lausch spoke to Gorder's Fundamentals of Nursing class about issues they were having with Allen-Noll in her pharmacology course, because he had received complaints from a number of students. Almost everyone in the class spoke up about issues they were having with Allen-Noll's presentation, including her assignments, and the way she taught the pharmacology course, as well the fact that most of the class had failed a test and Allen-Noll would not review tests with them.

         The next day, MATC security removed a student from Allen-Noll's classroom because of an incident that occurred between this student and some of her fellow classmates the night before. (Faculty member Tracy Ahern had called security because she witnessed an incident the night before in which a student became aggressive toward her classmates. Ahern had left a voicemail for Allen-Noll, letting her know that security would be at her classroom the next morning to remove the aggressive student.) Lausch informed Allen-Noll about the student complaints in an email on February 20, 2011 and spoke with her over the phone on February 21, 2011.

         Ahern also contacted Lausch about multiple student complaints coming from Allen-Noll's pharmacology class. Ahern advised students that after they spoke with Allen-Noll directly, they could go to the dean and voice their complaints about the class. Ahern eventually went to Lausch on the students' behalf. On March 17, 2011, Lausch again emailed Allen-Noll to talk to her about student complaints related to her pharmacology class and stated that he was preparing information to discuss with students in anticipation that those who failed her course would file grade disputes. In the email, Lausch stated that he wanted to speak with Allen-Noll about anything that could be done to improve “the interpersonal ‘stuff' with the other P.N. faculty.” Recognizing that certain individuals in the faculty group may not like Allen-Noll, he asked for Allen-Noll's thoughts on how to improve these relationships. Lausch pointed out that Allen-Noll was not being singled out by him because he also had a similar conversation with others in the program and was planning on still talking to one or two more people.

         During the spring 2011 semester, Allen-Noll was teaching a clinical class at the St. Mary's Hospital clinical site. On April 5, 2011, Gorder emailed Lausch with concerns that the St. Mary's Hospital unit director, Barb Hauge, had expressed about Allen-Noll. According to Gorder, Hauge had received numerous student complaints about Allen-Noll not being available to provide assistance or guidance. Hauge also complained that Allen-Noll was not following rules related to cell phone usage and paperwork. On May 10, 2011, Lausch spoke with Hauge, who stated that she did not want Allen-Noll to return. The same day, Lausch informed Allen-Noll of Hauge's concerns and told her that she would be assigned to a different clinical site in the fall of 2011.

         On May 18, 2011, Lausch emailed Allen-Noll to inform her that a tutor had stopped by his office to make a formal complaint about issues related to Allen-Noll's spring 2011 pharmacology class. He asked Allen-Noll to follow up with him about the tutor's concerns, which included not posting grades or making study guides available in a timely manner, not going over exams in class, and inappropriately allowing last-minute and unannounced extra credit to avoid having too many students fail the class.

         C. Fall 2011

         In September 2011, faculty members Diana Polly and Gorder both told Dean Lausch that Allen-Noll was not participating in Practical Nursing team meetings fully, would not attend all meetings, and would not volunteer for extra service-related activities (which was expected of all full-time faculty members). On December 8, 2011, Allen-Noll left a voicemail for Lausch, telling him that she would not attend future meetings because she did not feel comfortable in the group unless he or the associate dean of nursing attended. Lausch made arrangements for one of them to attend the meetings with Allen-Noll.

         In early October 2011, there was an email exchange between Lausch, Allen-Noll, and Gorder, in which Gorder claims she gave Allen-Noll a sealed envelope with student Background Information Disclosures for delivery, which Allen-Noll opened. Lausch pointed out that if this was true, it was a potential violation of the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA) that had to be documented. About a month later, Lausch told Allen-Noll that it appeared that there was a FERPA violation, but that he was not convinced that it was intentional. Allen-Noll responded by saying that she thought that she may have committed a violation.

         On October 17, 2011, Lausch met with Kay Parish, Allen-Noll's new mentor, and learned that she had exchanged a few emails and voicemails with Allen-Noll but Allen-Noll had not yet met with Parish as she was supposed to do. Lausch also received reports from Ahern and Kerri Kliminski that Allen-Noll was letting students out of her pharmacology class as much as an hour early, she was not responding to students who tried to contact her, she was unavailable during office hours, she was not providing a class syllabus, and she was not giving students review sheets or study guides.

         On November 4, 2011, Lausch completed a “Faculty Professional Growth Review Administrative Assessment” for Allen-Noll after he observed her pharmacology class and noted that she “did a great job of connecting the points in this lecture with previous lectures and handouts” and did not note any areas in which she needed improvement.

         D. Spring 2012

         Allen-Noll was assigned to Waunakee Manor to teach a Lifespan Clinical course in the 2012 spring semester. Lausch received several complaints from Allen-Noll's students, including that Allen-Noll repeatedly told them during the first four weeks of the semester that they were the worst class she ever had, that she had told at least two of her students within the first two weeks of class that they were going to fail, that she was not positive, she did a poor job actually teaching students the skills they were supposed to learn, and she played favorites amongst her students by writing up some students for insignificant or nonexistent issues but not writing other students up for more serious mistakes. Lausch informed Allen-Noll of these various complaints on two separate occasions in the 2012 spring semester, but Allen-Noll denied all of the behavior and accused her colleagues of “hostile, over scrutinizing and undermining behavior, ” even though it was her students and not other instructors who had filed the complaints. Lausch explained to Allen-Noll that the alleged comments were unacceptable and that he did not understand why so many of her students were reporting these comments to him if she had not actually made them.

         In March 2012, Allen-Noll was scheduled to proctor an essential academic skills exam but failed to show up in time to register the students. Kliminski had to leave the class she was teaching to check students in before the start time for the test. Lausch continued to receive complaints from students throughout March 2012. He alerted Dave Miller in human resources about his concerns and mentioned not renewing Allen-Noll's contract. Miller advised Lausch on the proper procedure for documenting his concerns, including clear identification of deficiencies, measurable outcomes sought, and offers of assistance from MATC. On March 21, 2012, Lausch sent Miller a draft of a performance improvement plan (PIP) for Allen-Noll.

         E. Allen-Noll's First PIP (Spring 2012)

         On May 17, 2012, Lausch gave Allen-Noll a PIP that detailed her performance deficiencies and made clear that she could face disciplinary action and non-renewal of her contract. The PIP was separated into these four categories:

         1) Instruction: Deficiencies included the student complaints discussed above and Allen-Noll's tendency to get off topic for long periods, spending the majority of her classes talking about her personal life (including her sex life); failing to post grades in a timely manner; lying about what was in the syllabus, PowerPoints, or on the Blackboard site; and not being accommodating when working with students with special needs. Measurable outcomes in this category included refraining from inappropriate communications with students, not letting students out of class early, posting grades in a timely manner, grading consistently, and maintaining regular office hours.

         2) Clinical: Deficiencies included Allen-Noll's behavior at her St. Mary's clinical assignment and her students being unprepared for their clinical rotations. Measurable outcomes included only being in the break room when on break, not using a cell phone while at the clinical site, ensuring students do the same, and communicating regularly and effectively with students during the clinical experience.

         3) Peer Relations: Deficiencies included Allen-Noll's failure to remain in contact with her mentor, to communicate with colleagues in a professional or cordial manner, and to discuss and attempt to resolve issues with other faculty members. Measurable outcomes included attending all faculty meetings regardless of whether Lausch or the associate dean was present, communicating in a ...


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