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Lynch v. Private Diagnostic Clinic, PLLC,

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

March 16, 2018



          Loretta C. Biggs United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff, Margaret Lynch (“Dr. Lynch” or “Plaintiff”), initiated this action, pro se, [1] in Durham County Superior Court, alleging claims of retaliation, race and sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and a claim of age discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. (See ECF No. 9.) The action was removed to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441 on the basis of federal question jurisdiction. (ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 4, 5.) Duke University (“Duke”) is the only remaining Defendant in this case.[2] Before the Court is Duke's Motion for Summary Judgment, (ECF No. 36), and Plaintiff's Motion to Seal, (ECF No. 41). For the reasons outlined below, the Court will grant both motions.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Dr. Lynch, a white female, is a board certified physician, licensed to practice in Illinois and North Carolina. (ECF No. 9 ¶ 1; ECF No. 36-6 ¶¶ 7, 36; ECF No. 38-7 ¶ 2.) During her career, Dr. Lynch has worked in the fields of emergency medicine, urgent care, and occupational health. (ECF No. 38-7 ¶ 2.) She is the mother and primary caregiver of five children. (Id. ¶ 3; see ECF No. 36-1 at 8.)

         John Vaughn, MD serves as the Director of Duke's Student Health Services which “provides services to more than 15, 000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students.” (ECF No. 36-6 ¶ 1.) “On or about September 2013, [Dr. Vaughn] received approval to hire a full-time faculty physician to join the Student Health Services team.” (Id. ¶ 2.) Dr. Vaughn “enlisted the help of Suzanne Anderson, ” director of Duke's Medical Staff Recruitment Office to assist with the recruitment of candidates for this position. (Id. ¶ 3; ECF No. 36-7 ¶¶ 1, 3.) Once the position was posted online, in October 2013, Plaintiff applied for the available Student Health Physician position at Duke. (ECF No. 9 ¶ 8; see ECF No. 36-6 ¶ 11; ECF No. 38-6 at 8; ECF No. 38-7 ¶¶ 6-7.) On November 5, 2013, Ms. Anderson informed Plaintiff that she had not been selected to interview for the position. (ECF No. 38-6 at 21.)

         Later, in February 2014 and November 2014, two additional student health physician positions became available at Duke. (ECF No. 36-6 ¶¶ 15, 34.) Plaintiff re-applied in May 2014, (see ECF No. 38-6 at 13), and, on September 20, 2014, she was informed by Dr. Vaughn that he had extended an offer to another candidate for the position, instead of Plaintiff, (ECF No. 38-6 at 39). Although Dr. Vaughn received “both written and verbal feedback” concerning potential candidates, Dr. Vaughn served as the decision-maker with respect to hiring for the student health physician positions. (ECF No. 36-6 ¶ 37.) In May 2014, Dr. Vaughn selected a white, female physician to fill the first available position, (ECF No. 36-6 ¶¶ 17, 36; see ECF No. 38-6 at 26-28). Then, in September 2014, he selected a black, female physician for the second available position, (ECF No. 36-6 ¶¶ 32, 36; ECF No. 38-6 at 53, 60- 62); and on December 1, 2014, he selected Dr. Hunter Spotts, a white, male physician, to fill the third available position. (ECF No. 38-6 at 32; see ECF No. 36-6 ¶¶ 35, 36.)

         Plaintiff's Complaint alleges, among other things, that Duke failed to hire her: (a) in retaliation for having filed a Charge of Discrimination (“EEOC Charge”) against her former employer, (ECF No. 9 ¶ 30); (b) because of her age, (id. ¶ 31); (c) because she is the primary caregiver and mother of five children, (id. ¶ 32); (d) because she is a woman, (id. ¶ 33); and (e) because of her race, (id. ¶ 34). On November 15, 2017, Defendant filed the instant motion for summary judgment “on the grounds that Plaintiff's evidence fails to raise a material question of fact to preclude judgment in favor of Duke and that Duke is entitled to judgment in its favor on all claims.” (ECF No. 36 at 1.) Plaintiff does not contest Duke's motion with respect to her age and race discrimination claims, conceding that she has failed to carry her burden on those claims. (ECF No. 38 at 2, 19-20.) Thus, this Court need only consider whether Duke's motion for summary judgment should be granted as to Plaintiff's retaliation claim, as well as her sex and sex-plus discrimination claims.


         A. Standard of Review

         Summary judgment is appropriate when “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A fact is “material” if it might affect the outcome of the litigation, and a dispute is “genuine” if the evidence would permit a reasonable jury to find for the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of “pointing out to the district court . . . that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). In opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party cannot rest on “mere allegations or denials, ” Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 248 (internal quotation marks omitted), and “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). Rather, the party opposing summary judgment must designate “specific facts” in the record “showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 324 (internal quotation marks omitted). See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(A) (stating that a party must “cit[e] to particular parts of . . . the record, including depositions, documents, . . . affidavits or declarations, . . . admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials”). A genuine issue for trial exists only when “there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party.” Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 249. “If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted.” Id. at 249-50 (citations omitted); see Ennis v. Nat'l Ass'n of Bus. & Educ. Radio, Inc., 53 F.3d 55, 62 (4th Cir. 1995) (finding that “unsupported speculation . . . is not enough to defeat a summary judgment motion”).

         The court must view the evidence and “resolve all factual disputes and any competing, rational inferences in the light most favorable” to the nonmoving party. Rossignol v. Voorhaar, 316 F.3d 516, 523 (4th Cir. 2003) (quoting Wightman v. Springfield Terminal Ry. Co., 100 F.3d 228, 230 (1st Cir. 1996)). The role of the court is not “to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter, ” but rather “to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.” Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 249. “The summary judgment inquiry thus scrutinizes the plaintiff's case to determine whether the plaintiff has proffered sufficient proof, in the form of admissible evidence, that could carry the burden of proof of [her] claim at trial.” Mitchell v. Data Gen. Corp., 12 F.3d 1310, 1316 (4th Cir. 1993).

         B. Discussion

         Plaintiff can establish her claims of discrimination and retaliation through direct or indirect evidence, or by relying on the burden-shifting framework set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). See Foster v. Univ. of Md.-E. Shore, 787 F.3d 243, 249 (4th Cir. 2015). Plaintiff does not contend that she has direct evidence to support her claims, thus she must rely on the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework to prove each of her claims. See Evans v. Techs. Applications & Serv. Co., 80 F.3d 954, 959 (4th Cir. 1996) (explaining that in the absence of direct evidence of discrimination, for plaintiff “to prevail, then, it must be by using the proof scheme established in McDonnell Douglas”). Under this framework, a plaintiff “must first prove a prima facie case of discrimination by a preponderance of the evidence.” Id.; Dowe v. Total Action Against Poverty, 145 F.3d 653, 656 (4th Cir. 1998), abrogated on other grounds by Burlington N. & Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. White, 548 U.S. 53 (2006). If she succeeds in establishing a prima facie case of her claim(s), then the burden shifts to the defendant to show legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for the adverse action. See Evans, 80 F.3d at 959. If the defendant satisfies this burden, then the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to rebut the defendant's reason(s) by demonstrating that such reasons were not the real reasons but were pretext for discrimination. See Id. The Court first examines Dr. Lynch's retaliation claim.

         1. Retaliation Claim

         Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it an unlawful employment practice to discriminate against any individual because the individual has complained of, opposed, or participated in a proceeding about prohibited discrimination. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a). To survive a motion for summary judgment on a Title VII retaliation claim, Plaintiff must first establish a prima facie case of retaliation by showing: “(i) that [she] engaged in protected activity, (ii) that [her employer] took adverse action against [her], and (iii) that a causal relationship existed between the protected activity and the adverse employment activity.” Foster, 787 F.3d at 250 (alterations in original and internal quotation marks omitted).

         It is undisputed that filing an EEOC Charge of Discrimination, as Plaintiff in this case did in Illinois in 2002, (see ECF No. 38-6 at 1), is a protected activity, and that Defendant's failure to hire Plaintiff constitutes an adverse employment action. See Carter v. Ball, 33 F.3d 450, 460 (4th Cir. 1994) (stating that filing an EEOC complaint is a protected activity); see also Wagstaff v. City of Durham,233 F.Supp.2d 739, 744 (M.D. N.C. 2002) (stating that “[i]n determining what constitutes an adverse employment action for Title VII purposes, the Fourth Circuit consistently has focused on ‘whether there has been discrimination in what could be characterized as ultimate employment decisions ...

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