United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
AMENDED OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S
MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
BERNARD A. FRIEDMAN SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter is now before the Court on defendant's motion for
summary judgment [docket entry 16]. Plaintiff has filed a
response, and defendant has filed a reply. Pursuant to E.D.
Mich. LR 7.1(f)(2), the Court shall decide this motion
without a hearing.
brings four claims of racial discrimination and retaliation
under, respectively, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d, Title VI of the
Civil Rights Act, and Mich. Comp. Laws (“MCL”)
§ 37.2101 (2016), the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act.
Plaintiff alleges that clinical nursing faculty and clinical
preceptors were biased against her on account of her race and
that the nurse practitioner program at Wayne State has a
history of discrimination against African American students.
Plaintiff is requesting punitive damages and future economic
damages, in addition to costs, interest and attorney's
fall of 2012, plaintiff enrolled in Wayne State
University's nurse practitioner program, specializing in
pediatric primary care. The nurse practitioner program is a
graduate level program that requires a bachelor's degree
in nursing. The program is divided into an in-class portion
and a practical portion. In the practical portion, the
student works at a clinical site with a practicing nurse
practitioner who has volunteered to serve as the
student's preceptor. Failure in either portion results in
a failure for the class as a whole.
began the program's clinical portion in the fall of 2014
with class NUR 7225. Plaintiff was assigned to Ms. Quiana
Stephens-Mack, an African American woman, as her preceptor,
and Ms. Heather Bartlett served as her faculty advisor.
Def.'s Mot., Ex. D. Plaintiff successfully completed both
portions of NUR 7225, attributing part of her success to Ms.
Bartlett. Id. Plaintiff praised Bartlett in an
email, stating: “the fact that I know you want me to
succeed encourages me to work harder and not give up. Thank
you for your kindness.” Id.
early 2015, plaintiff enrolled in NUR 7226. Def.'s Mot.,
Ex. E. Bartlett again served as plaintiff's faculty
advisor, and Joanne Howard served as plaintiff's
was assigned to the pediatric primary care clinic at Detroit
Medical Center Children's Hospital. Id.
Plaintiff had previously requested this assignment and, at
first, plaintiff enjoyed herself. Id. Plaintiff got
along well with Howard, and she wrote in her first clinical
I am in a good learning environment. My preceptor [Howard] is
really taking out the time to go over documentation with me .
. . . I am fortunate to have Joanne as my preceptor. She
answers all my questions (which sometimes are too many) and
she makes it very easy for me to ask my questions.
February 12, 2015, plaintiff met with Bartlett again for a
performance review. Def.'s Mot., Ex. G. Bartlett and
Howard informed plaintiff that they were preparing a
performance improvement plan (“PIP”) for her due
to a number of concerns regarding her basic clinical skills.
Id. Howard listed her concerns in an email to
Bartlett. Id. Although Howard considered plaintiff
to be a “lovely person” who worked hard and was
well liked, Howard felt that plaintiff lacked the skills
necessary for success in the course. Id. For example,
when plaintiff was examining a patient with a condition known
as “situs inversus, ” where the major organs are
located on the opposite side of the body, plaintiff simply
noted, “normal heart sounds.” Id.
Further, this patient had a particular type of skin
condition, which appeared in specific places; plaintiff wrote
“rashes” without indicating the type of rash, its
appearance, or location. Id. Howard later wrote
that, without close supervision, the plaintiff could not work
in the clinic as a nurse practitioner student. Id.
at Ex. H. Plaintiff, who already knew a PIP was being
prepared for her, was asked to not return to the clinic until
the PIP had been prepared and she met with her supervisors.
Id. at Ex. G.
February 16, 2016, after plaintiff received Howard's
review, plaintiff raised allegations of discrimination in an
email sent to Howard, Bartlett, Mack, Dr. Nantais-Smith (the
nurse practitioner program director), Ms. Rose Williams
(plaintiff's sister and an attorney), and the nurse
coordinator for plaintiff's clinic. Def.'s Mot., Ex.
I. In this email, plaintiff told program faculty (for the
first time) about prejudices she felt she faced and claimed
to have spoken to four other students with “similar bad
situations.” Id. Plaintiff insinuated that
these situations occurred because the students were African
American and female. Id. Notably, plaintiff also
felt that it was unjust to hold her to graduate-level
standards, stating: “I should not be compared to other
students because we all come with different expertise and
experiences. It is unfair to expect me to perform at the
same level with another student who has worked in a
Pediatric [sic] setting before.” Id. (emphasis
added). Plaintiff later testified that her performance was
being held to the program's normal standards, and that
this was “unfair.” See Pl. Dep., p. 116.
Finally, plaintiff wished to attend future meetings with her
counsel present, and she requested that the meeting to
discuss her PIP be rescheduled for the convenience of herself
and counsel. Def.'s Mot. Ex., I. That same day, plaintiff
contacted counsel seeking representation on her
discrimination claim. Pl.'s Resp., Ex. 2.
after receiving plaintiff's email, Dr. Ramona Benkert,
the Interim Associate Dean for Academic and Clinical Affairs
for the Wayne State College of Nursing, responded by an email
co-signed by Nantais-Smith. Def.'s Mot., Ex. J. Dean
Benkert did not admit to plaintiff's claims, but
suggested that plaintiff file a complaint with the
university's Office of Equal Opportunity, id.,
which plaintiff never did, Pl.'s Dep., 144. Dr. Benkert
also transferred plaintiff to a different clinical site-the
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