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Lee v. Board of Trustees of California State University, Fullerton

United States District Court, C.D. California

July 14, 2015

LEE,
v.
THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE CALIFORNIA STATE UNIVERSITY, FULLERTON, ET AL

CIVIL MINUTES - GENERAL

CHRISTINA A. SNYDER, District Judge.

Proceedings: (IN CHAMBERS): DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS (Dkt. 18, filed May 21, 2015)

The Court finds this motion appropriate for decision without oral argument. Fed.R.Civ.P. 78; Local Rule 7-15.

I. INTRODUCTION

On March 9, 2015, plaintiff Kenya Lee filed this action against defendants Board of Trustees of the California State University, Fullerton ("CSUF"), Perry Wooding, and Does 1-10. Dkt. 1. In brief, the operative First Amended Complaint ("FAC") alleges that defendants discriminated against plaintiff, a nursing student at CSUF, on the basis of race. The FAC asserts the following claims: (1) racial discrimination, in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d et seq. ("Title VI"), against all defendants; (2) racial discrimination in contracting, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981, against all defendants; and (3) racial discrimination, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against Wooding and Does 1-10. Dkt. 14.[1]

On May 21, 2015, defendants filed a motion to dismiss the FAC. Dkt. 18. Plaintiff filed an opposition on June 8, 2015, dkt. 20, and defendants replied on June 15, 2015, dkt. 22. Having carefully considered the parties' arguments, the Court finds and concludes as follows.

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff is an African American student enrolled in CSUF School of Nursing's undergraduate program. FAC ¶¶ 6-7. In August 2012, plaintiff enrolled in Nursing 355L, a course taught by defendant Wooding. Id . ¶ 8. Students in Nursing 355L worked in pairs. Id.

On August 29, 2012, plaintiff arrived late to Nursing 355L. Id . ¶ 10. Although plaintiff apologized to Wooding for being late, she alleges that Wooding reprimanded her in front of the class, humiliating plaintiff. Id . Other students were also late to class that day. Id . Plaintiff, however, alleges that Wooding provided the other late students with the materials they needed for class, while refusing to provide plaintiff with the same materials. Id . Wooding also allegedly told plaintiff that she would review the school policy to decide whether to fail plaintiff for the day for arriving late. Id . Wooding subsequently gave plaintiff a grade of zero percent for her work on August 29, 2012. FAC ¶ 11. Wooding allegedly informed plaintiff that she had not reviewed the relevant CSUF policy, but had decided to fail plaintiff nonetheless. Id . Wooding later altered plaintiff's grade, however, so that plaintiff received partial credit. Id.

On September 5, 2012, Wooding failed plaintiff on a second assignment. FAC ¶ 12. Plaintiff became concerned that Wooding's actions reflected her racial bias against plaintiff, and plaintiff contacted a senior professor at the school to discuss those concerns. Id . The senior professor, however, threatened to refer plaintiff to the Associate Dean for discipline, explaining that Wooding had accused plaintiff of not acting civilly during a conversation regarding plaintiff's grades. Id . Plaintiff was shocked. Id . Plaintiff alleges that she had been polite and respectful when speaking with Wooding, and believed Wooding's accusations were due to racial discrimination. Id.

Also in September 2012, plaintiff's lab partner informed plaintiff that Wooding had contacted her to inquire if plaintiff was doing her own work. FAC ¶ 13. Wooding allegedly told plaintiff's lab partner that she believed plaintiff was "not a hard worker." Id.

Plaintiff further alleges that while Wooding initially allowed students to eat during class, she reversed this policy when plaintiff brought food for the first time. FAC ¶ 14. Wooding allegedly told plaintiff that she would have to eat and drink outside, because Wooding did not want "watermelon seeds all over the floor." Id . Plaintiff alleges that she never brought watermelon to class and did not see any other student with watermelon that day. Id . Plaintiff subsequently asked CSUF administrators to allow her to transfer out of Wooding's class and into another Nursing 355L section, because she believed Wooding was racially biased against her. Id . ¶ 15. Defendant CSUF denied plaintiff's request. Id.

Plaintiff alleges that she continued to receive poor grades and suffer demeaning comments from Wooding. Id . ¶ 16. On September 25, 2012, plaintiff contacted Associate Professor Stephanie Vaughn to discuss Wooding's alleged racial bias. Id . Plaintiff allegedly asked Vaughn to report Wooding's discriminatory acts to the Dean of Student Services. Id . It is unclear from the FAC whether Vaughn reported Wooding.

The next day, September 26, 2012, plaintiff submitted an assignment to Wooding in which plaintiff cited to her textbook. Id . ¶ 17. On September 30, 2012, Wooding accused plaintiff of plagiarism, noting that some of plaintiff's work came from Wikipedia rather than the textbook. Id . Wooding also noted that plaintiff and her lab partner had similar answers, and accused them of cheating-an accusation that both denied. Id.

On October 3, 2012, plaintiff informed Cynthia Greenberg, Director and Professor at CSUF School of Nursing, that Wooding was discriminating against plaintiff because of her race. Id . ¶ 18. Plaintiff described Wooding's aforementioned comments and stated that she found them racially offensive. Id . Plaintiff also explained that she had inadvertently forgotten to include a second citation to Wikipedia on her allegedly plagiarized assignment, and had not intended to represent the work as her own. Id . Greenberg instructed plaintiff to resubmit the assignment with the second citation. Id . Plaintiff resubmitted her assignment, but Wooding nonetheless awarded plaintiff zero credit and reported her to the administration for plagiarism. Id . Following a lengthy appeal process, CSUF ruled in plaintiff's favor, concluding that plaintiff had not intended to plagiarize. Id . ¶ 20.

Despite the finding that plaintiff did not intend to plagiarize, Wooding refused to award plaintiff any credit for the assignment. Id . Other senior members of the faculty also denied plaintiff's request for a grade change. Id . Plaintiff alleges that prior to submitting the allegedly plagiarized assignment, two other students in Wooding's Nursing 355L course were found copying each other's assignments. Id . ¶ 19. Wooding, however, spoke with the school and ultimately decided not to report those two students because Wooding did not believe those two students had intended to plagiarize. Id . Nonetheless, plaintiff alleges that Wooding informed other CSUF staff that she was shocked that plaintiff had successfully appealed her plagiarism case, since Wooding believed that a student's intent was irrelevant in plagiarism determinations. Id . ¶ 20.

Although the time frame is unclear from the FAC, it appears that plaintiff continued to attend Wooding's class following the plagiarism appeals process. Plaintiff subsequently took the course's midterm examination, which she passed. Id . ¶ 23. Plaintiff believed she would be graded fairly on her midterm because an auditor was present during the exam. Id . ¶ 23.

There was no auditor, however, at the final examination. Id . ¶ 24. Although Wooding provided other students with their course grades immediately upon completion of the exam, Wooding did not do the same for plaintiff. Id . Ultimately, Wooding awarded plaintiff a failing grade on the final examination and a failing grade for Nursing 355L overall. Id.

Plaintiff tried to retake the Nursing 355L course during the 2013 summer semester with another professor. Id . ¶ 25. Although plaintiff received the professor's approval, CSUF did not allow plaintiff to enroll. Id . Over the span of several months, plaintiff made additional complaints to CSUF administrators concerning racial bias. Id . A year later, the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights ("OCR") became involved and launched an investigation. Id . Although it is unclear from the FAC who initiated the OCR investigation, apparently as a result of OCR's involvement, CSUF allowed plaintiff to retake the final examination for Nursing 355L. Plaintiff passed the final examination, and ultimately received a passing grade for Nursing 355L. Id . Although the time ...


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