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Hargrave v. University of Washington

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

June 12, 2014

TIMOTHY J. HARGRAVE, Plaintiff,
v.
UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON, et al., Defendants.

ORDER DENYING MOTION TO DISMISS

JAMES L. ROBART, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Before the court is Defendants' motion to dismiss in this employment discrimination case. (Mot. (Dkt. #14).) Plaintiff Timothy Hargrave was denied tenure as a professor at the University of Washington Bothell campus ("UW Bothell"). (Am. Compl. (Dkt. #12).) He sued the University, along with numerous individuals who were involved in his tenure decision. ( See id. ) Defendants now move to dismiss Mr. Hargrave's complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), arguing that Mr. Hargrave's discrimination claims[1] do not meet the threshold for plausibility set forth by the United States Supreme Court in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007) and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009). The court disagrees. The court has examined the complaint and concludes that Mr. Hargrave's complaint meets the requisite pleading standards. Accordingly, Defendants' motion to dismiss is DENIED.

II. BACKGROUND

Mr. Hargrave is a 52-year old Caucasian male who lives in Lake Forest Park, Washington, and teaches at UW Bothell. (Am. Compl. (Dkt. #12) ¶ 1.) His area of research within the program is "management, " including institutional theory and business ethics. ( Id. ) Mr. Hargrave was hired by UW Bothell in 2006 as a tenure-track assistant professor. ( Id. ¶ 8.)

Mr. Hargrave alleges that certain defendants in this case did not like him right from the start. He claims that Defendant P.V. Balakrishnan described Mr. Hargrave as "the stupidest person he, Defendant Balakrishnan, had ever interviewed" and opposed hiring him at all. ( Id. ¶ 7.)

Nevertheless, Mr. Hargrave received positive performance reviews early in his career at UW Bothell. For example, in 2006, his research record was rated as "highly meritorious, " his teaching and service as "meritorious, " and his overall performance as "highly meritorious." ( Id. ¶ 11.) In 2007, he was rated "meritorious" in all three of these categories. ( Id. ¶ 13.) In 2009, his research was rated as "highly meritorious, " his teaching as "highly meritorious, " his service as "meritorious, " and his overall performance as "highly meritorious." ( Id. ¶ 16.) He received the same ratings in 2010 as he did in 2009. ( Id. ¶ 19.)

In the 2011-2012 academic year, Mr. Hargrave underwent a mandatory review for promotion and tenure. ( Id. ¶¶ 22-27.) At UW Bothell, tenure decisions are made based on an evaluation of the candidate's record in teaching, research, and service. ( Id. ¶ 22.) To receive tenure, a candidate must have "a substantial record of success in both teaching and research...." ( Id. ¶ 23.) Mr. Hargrave alleges that his research record was exemplary. ( See, e.g., id. ¶¶ 27-29.) For example, he alleges that he had a "base of publications in high quality refereed journals" such as the Academy of Management Review and Business Ethics Quarterly. ( Id. ¶ 27.) He also alleges that he co-authored three chapters of books and made numerous presentations at professional meetings. ( Id. ¶ 28.)

Numerous people recommended Mr. Hargrave for tenure. In accordance with University procedures, Mr. Hargrave's application for tenure was reviewed by five external reviewers, all of whom "unequivocally endorsed" his candidacy for promotion and tenure. ( Id. ¶ 31.) Likewise, a tenure committee comprised of three professors gave him its "highest recommendation for promotion and tenure." ( Id. ¶ 36.)

However, on October 21, 2011, the tenured faculty in the UW Bothell business program voted to deny Mr. Hargrave tenure. ( Id. ¶¶ 38-39.) Mr. Hargrave alleges that the vote was 3-2 against him, and that two of the three votes against him were cast by faculty members who shared a common Indian ethnicity, defendants Balakrishnan and Gowri Shankar, and both of whom received their education in India. ( Id. ¶ 39.) He also alleges that Defendant Sandeep Krishnamurthy, who is also Indian, undertook numerous actions to sabotage his tenure candidacy. ( See, e.g., id. ¶¶ 43-49.) Eventually, it was decided that Mr. Hargrave's tenure decision would be postponed until the 2012-2013 academic year. ( Id. ¶¶ 46, 50-52.)

Mr. Hargrave's second tenure review produced the same unfavorable result. In 2012-2013, he again underwent an external review process and all but one of the external reviewers evaluated him favorably. ( Id. ¶¶ 57-61.) Again, a promotion and tenure committee unanimously recommended him for tenure. ( Id. ¶ 62.) The committee stated that Mr. Hargrave "embodies the attributes we prize in that he conducts innovative highquality research that impacts his field, teaches intellectually challenging courses, and takes service roles seriously." ( Id. ¶ 63.) Nevertheless, when the time came for the final vote, the same three faculty members as before voted against Mr. Hargrave, this time joined by Defendant Pradyot Sen. ( Id. ¶ 66.) The vote was 4-3 against Mr. Hargrave with one faculty member, Professor Carlos Gomez, abstaining. ( Id. )

Mr. Hargrave was ultimately denied promotion and tenure. ( Id. ¶ 75.) He alleges that, after the vote, Defendant Krishnamurthy sabotaged his candidacy by making erroneous assertions about Mr. Hargrave's qualifications and significantly downplaying Mr. Hargrave's accomplishments by "cherry picking" from his academic record. ( Id. ¶¶ 68-74.) Mr. Hargrave alleges that the decision to deny him tenure was based not on his record, but on race, national origin, and sex discrimination. ( Id. ¶¶ 86-91.) As such, he brings claims for employment discrimination and breach of contract. ( See id. )

Mr. Hargrave also alleges that other similarly-situated tenure candidates were treated differently than he was. He alleges that Defendants Balakrishnan, Miller, and Shankar voted to recommend tenure for Professor Gomez, who is Hispanic, in spite of the fact that Professor Gomez had a comparatively inferior research record. ( Id. ¶¶ 40-42.) Likewise, Mr. Hargrave alleges that Defendants Balakrishnan, Krishnamurthy, and Sen voted, around the same time, to recommend tenure for a candidate who shared their Indian ethnicity but had never taught at UW Bothell before. ( Id. ¶¶ 77-83.) Mr. Hargrave also alleges that Defendants Krishnamurthy, Balakrishnan, Sen, Shankar, and Miller all voted to recommend tenure for a female candidate with a "demonstrably inferior research record to that of Prof. Hargrave." ( Id. ¶ 76.)

Defendants filed this motion to dismiss, arguing that Mr. Hargrave's complaint does not meet the pleading standards set forth ...


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