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Kanungo v. University of Kentucky

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division

February 18, 2014


Page 675

For Shibani Kanungo, M.D., Plaintiff: Bernard Pafunda, LEAD ATTORNEY, Lexington, KY.

For University of Kentucky, Defendant: Barbara A. Kriz, Kriz, Jenkins, Prewitt & Jones, PSC, Lexington, KY.


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Joseph M. Hood, Senior United States District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on the Motion for Summary Judgment [DE 28] filed by Defendant University of Kentucky

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(UK). The matter has been fully briefed [DE 31, 32] and is ripe for this Court's review.

Dr. Shibani Kanungo alleges retaliation and discrimination on the basis of her race and national origin in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Kentucky Civil Rights Statute, KRS Chapter 344, and discrimination in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 on the basis of national origin and race. As compensation for her loss, she seeks back pay, front pay, and fringe benefits as well as damages for mental anguish, pain, and suffering, embarrassment and humiliation, punitive damages and attorney fees. While Kanungo alleges a tapestry of events, she fails to sufficiently allege a prima facie case with respect to her retaliation claim and cannot meet her burden to show that the reasons offered for her termination were pretextual. Accordingly, the Court finds that there is no genuine dispute of material fact, and UK is awarded summary judgment as a matter of law on all claims.

I. Factual Background

Dr. Kanungo was born and raised in Mumbai, India. She moved to Lexington, Kentucky in 2004 to complete her residency following her graduation from medical school in Moscow, Russia. Upon completion of her residency at UK in 2007, Dr. Kanungo was hired as an Academic Clinician Scientist by UK. In addition to her education and research responsibilities, her primary clinical responsibilities were in the Newborn Screening/Pediatric Metabolic Clinic (Clinic). Dr. Charlton Mabry founded the Clinic and continued to work there until 2011. Although Dr. Mabry oversaw the Clinic and its staff, Dr. Kanungo did not report to Dr. Mabry. She was directly supervised by Dr. Timothy Bricker, Chairperson for the Pediatric Department. The parties agree that Dr. Kanungo and Dr. Mabry did not get along well and that the clinic staff's relationship with Dr. Kanungo was also strained.

A. Statements by Dr. Mabry

Dr. Kanungo's complaints revolve around statements made by Dr. Mabry during a meeting [1] in June 2009. During the meeting, Dr. Mabry allegedly told Dr. Kanungo, " this doctor from India is scheming the system. There were medical students from Iran who were scheming the system too. My wife was in the medical school's admission, and we got rid of such people. U.K. gets rid of people like [you]" . [DE 31-16 at p. 16, ID# 642.][2]

B. Dr. Bricker's Response

Within a week, Dr. Kanungo reported Dr. Mabry's statements to her supervisor, Dr. Bricker. [DE 31-16 at p. 16, ID# 643.] Dr. Kanungo testified that Dr.

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Bricker responded by pointing out that Dr. Mabry was a professor emeritus and that she was simply a junior faculty member. [DE 31-16 at 18, ID# 644.] She was advised that she needed to be careful of her career. [DE 31-16 at 18, ID# 644.] Dr. Kanungo responded, " it's not about a junior assistant professor or a professor emeritus. It is about an inappropriate statement about my country of origin and my integrity, and I will not stand for it." [DE 31-16 at 18, ID# 644.] Dr. Kanungo did not file a report with the Office of Institutional Equity at UK. [DE 31-16 at 19, ID# 645.]

C. Dr. Kanungo's suspension from the Clinic

Several weeks later, in July 2009, Dr. Mabry dismissed or expelled Dr. Kanungo from her clinical duties because, Dr. Mabry believed, she had upset Carol Reid, a long-time employee at the Clinic. [DE 31-16 at 23, ID# 649.] According to Dr. Mabry, Dr. Kanungo continuously upset Ashley Daub, a nutritionist at the clinic, to the point that Ms. Daub resigned. [DE 28-5 at 17, ID# 178.] However, Dr. Mabry did not have the ability to fire, or modify Dr. Kanungo's job duties, so her hiatus from the Clinic was brief. When Dr. Kanungo's supervisor, Dr. Bricker, returned from his vacation two weeks later, Dr. Kanungo returned to her full job duties at the Clinic. [DE 31-16 at 23, 27, ID# 649, 653.] While Dr. Kanungo's job duties were restricted, she continued to perform other duties at the hospital and she continued to be paid. [DE 31-16 at 26, ID# 652.]

D. Investigation

Shortly thereafter, on August 27, 2009, Dr. Bricker, Rania Burke, the Pediatric Department Administrator, and John Sampson, a representative from Human Resources, developed a Performance Improvement Plan for Dr. Kanungo. [DE 28-8 at 9, ID# 223; DE 28-9, ID# 241-42.] The plan addressed mandatory weekly meetings, division meetings, and Dr. Kanungo's relationship with and behavior towards others, particularly staff at the Clinic. [DE 28-9.]

Patty Bender, the Assistant Vice President for Equal Opportunity, investigated Dr. Kanungo's complaints in September 2009. Bender first learned of Dr. Kanungo's discrimination complaints when John Sampson, the Human Resources representative in the College of Medicine, contacted her on September 1, 2009. [DE 28-18 at 9, ID# 371; DE 28-18 at 66, ID# 428.] Later, on September 29, 2009, Bender attended a weekly meeting of Clinic staff and then interviewed Dr. Kanungo about her allegations. [DE 28-18 at 14-15, ID# 376-77; DE 28-8 at 24-26, ID# 386-88.] Bender also interviewed Carol Reid and Dr. Mabry about the allegations [DE 28-18 at 31-32, ID# 393-94.] Dr. Mabry admitted that he made most of the statements as reported by Dr. Kanungo, but there was no mention of his statement that UK " gets rid" of people like her. [DE 28-18 at 31-32, ID# 393-94.] Ultimately, Bender concluded that Dr. Mabry was " trying his best to make her successful" and that there were problems with the relationships at the Clinic, but that Dr. Mabry's statements and actions did not demonstrate a sufficiently severe or pervasive discriminatory atmosphere. [DE 28-18 at 38-39, ID# 400-01.] Dr. Kanungo was not informed of the results of the investigation until April 2010 when Dr. Jay Perman was responding to Dr. Kanungo's appeal of her 2009 evaluation, which is discussed below. [DE 31-17 at 29, ID# 722.] After learning that the investigation was concluded, Dr. Kanungo met with Bender to discuss the outcome of the investigation. [DE 31-17 at 31, ID# 724.] Bender informed her of the results and

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made statements to the effect that if Dr. Kanungo was unhappy she should go elsewhere but that her discrimination complaint was otherwise " water under the bridge." ...

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