United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
Stephanie Dawkins Davis U.S. Magistrate Judge
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
J. Tarnow Senior United States District Judge
Carmen Johnson, an African-American woman, filed a Complaint
 on July 14, 2015 alleging that Defendant Oakland
University (“OU”) violated Title VII of the 1964
Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2, by discharging
her because of her race.
filed a Motion for Summary Judgment  on June 21, 2017.
Plaintiff filed a Response  on July 26, 2017. Defendant
filed a Reply  on August 8, 2017. The Court held a
hearing on the Motion on December 19, 2017.
reasons stated below, Defendant's Motion for Summary
Judgment  is GRANTED.
and Procedural Background
OU hired Plaintiff in April 2008 as an Administrative
Professional in its School of Nursing's
(“SON”) Licensed Practical Nursing
(“LPN”) program. Prior to her employment with OU,
Plaintiff earned an MBA and a BSN.
2011, Plaintiff was promoted to program director at OU's
Riverview Institute location in Detroit, Michigan. At that
time, Dr. Barbara Penprase was Plaintiff's supervisor.
Penprase, a white woman, is a senior SON faculty member. She
has earned a PhD and was a tenured Associate Professor at all
applicable times involved in this litigation. Plaintiff
reported to Penprase until July 2013.
2012, Plaintiff learned that her co-worker, Jackie Glover,
had been diagnosed with cancer. In an effort to assist
Glover, the SON organized a fundraising event. The fundraiser
was a skating party. To encourage participation, Plaintiff
sought to offer her students extra credit for their
involvement. Plaintiff testified that an unnamed student in
the second degree RN program, who worked as a math tutor,
suggested to Plaintiff that she give students extra credit in
exchange for participation.
the conversation with the unnamed student, Plaintiff
testified that she asked Penprase whether she was permitted
to offer students extra credit for participating in the
fundraiser. Plaintiff explained to Penprase that “the
students would sell tickets to a fundraiser - to a skating
party at $10 each and they would get 10 extra credit points
towards their lowest quiz score.” Pl. Dep. 46:14-18,
Dec. 9, 2015. Plaintiff further testified that Penprase
approved of the proposal.
authorized Plaintiff to give students extra credit for
participating in the skating fundraiser for Glover. Penprase
testified: “[A]t that time I said if extra credit is
given, you can give extra credit but you have to have a
variety of different extra credits so students can choose
what type of extra credit that they can do.” Penprase
Dep. 82:17-22, July 19, 2016.
2012, OU did not have a written policy prohibiting the award
of extra credit to students who participated in fundraisers.
skating party took place sometime before October 2012. The
money raised was given to Glover.
the success of the first skating party, Plaintiff hosted a
second skating party in November 2012. The purpose of the
second skating fundraiser was to raise money for teaching
supplies, such as simulation dummies. Plaintiff testified
that Penprase gave her permission to offer 10 points extra
credit to students who sold tickets to the second fundraiser.
Pl. Dep. at 80:1-3. Plaintiff gave the proceeds to Assistant
Dean Cheryl McPherson, who directed her to deposit the money
with McPherson's assistant.
April 2013, Plaintiff hosted a third skating party to raise
money for teaching supplies and testified that she again
sought Penprase's permission to offer extra credit to her
students for selling tickets. After the April 2013 skating
fundraiser, Dean McPherson told Plaintiff that she
“could not collect money [from students] unless [she]
had a Student Nurse Association.” Id. at
69:9-20. Prior to April 2013, McPherson had not communicated
to Plaintiff that she should not collect cash from students.
August 11, 2013, JoeAnna Ingram, an instructor who reported
to Plaintiff, hosted a fundraiser for infants with SIDS at
the Detroit Zoo, called the “Jungle Jubilee.” A
$35.00 minimum donation was required, and participation in
the activity was worth ten extra credit points. Plaintiff
testified that the Jungle Jubilee was “under Ms.
Ingram, ” who received permission from Penprase to
offer extra credit in exchange for donations. Id. at
2013, Plaintiff informed some of her students that they would
not be allowed to take the State's Licensing Examination
to become a certified LPN because they had twice failed the
HESI Examination. Plaintiff submits that several students
were angry because they could not sit for the Exam.
of students complained to Monahan (who had replaced Penprase
in 2013) about being “forced” to participate in
the skating fundraisers. Monahan testified that she received
grievances from approximately 12-14 students, complaining
“about not having enough money to obtain extra
credit.” Monahan Dep. 11:16-17; 12:18-19, Feb. 2, 2017.
took the students' concerns to the Dean. In November
2013, David Vartanian, an internal auditor at OU, began an
investigation of Plaintiff and Ingram in response to the
students' complaints. Vartanian testified that he
dedicated 750 hours to the investigation. Vartanian Dep.
11:17-18, June 29, 2016. As part of the investigation,
Vartanian interviewed five students who complained about
“having to pay cash for extra credit.” Vartanian
also interviewed Penprase. Vartanian's notes and
testimony indicate that he was aware of Penprase's
approval of some fundraising activities.
December 3, 2013, Plaintiff was placed on paid suspension for
alleged misconduct. On December 9, 2013 and December 13,
2013, Vartanian, along with other OU faculty, interviewed
January 5, 2014, Vartanian emailed OU Provost, James Lentini,
stating, “from Internal Audits standpoint the matter is
academic misconduct regarding the offer of cash payments for
extra credit . . . . I believe UHR and AHR need to make a
decision.” [Dkt. #68-32].
January 2014, a meeting took place at which Vartanian
presented his findings to the Provost. Vartanian did not
inform the Provost that Penprase had approved of some of
Plaintiff's fundraising activities.
February 2014, upon the close of the investigation, Plaintiff
was given the opportunity to voluntarily resign, but
declined. On February 7, 2014, Defendant terminated Plaintiff
parties do not dispute that the Provost made the final
decision to fire Plaintiff and that he was unaware of
Plaintiff's race when he discharged her. The Provost
testified that the “extra credit as a result of
fundraising” was the “prime factor in ...