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Christine Johnson v. University of Puerto Rico

April 18, 2013



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lynch, Chief Judge.

Before Lynch, Chief Judge, Torruella and Lipez, Circuit Judges.

In 2009, Christine Johnson, an instructor in graphics, was denied a tenure-track position in the Engineering Department at the University of Puerto Rico's Mayaguez Campus ("UPR"). Three others did receive tenure-track positions: one woman and two men, all of whom had Ph.D.'s, as the position description required. Johnson did not have a Ph.D. and did not accept offers by UPR to pay for her to get one.

Johnson filed administrative discrimination (gender and national origin) charges, followed by a Title VII lawsuit, against UPR. The district court granted summary judgment for the defendant, rejecting Johnson's claims that she was qualified for the tenure-track position, that UPR's reliance on her lack of a Ph.D. was a pretext, and that the real reason for the failure to give her a tenure-track position was discrimination. We affirm, finding that the Ph.D. requirement for tenure-track positions was a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for UPR's actions and that Johnson did not meet her burden of showing that the articulated reason was pretextual.


A. Factual Background

Johnson, a native of New York, received her master's degree in architecture from the University of Buffalo. Johnson moved to Puerto Rico in 1996 and began working at UPR's Mayaguez Campus in January of 1998.

UPR is "an organic system of higher education" composed of institutional units which "function with academic and administrative autonomy" within standards provided by Puerto Rico law and the rules and regulations of the Board of Trustees. P.R. Laws Ann. tit. 18, § 603(a). The Mayaguez Campus is one such institutional unit. Id. § 603(a)(2). Puerto Rico law provides the Chancellor of the Mayaguez Campus with, among other things, the authority to appoint deans for the different schools, directors for different departments, and administrative and academic personnel. Id. § 606(c)(5)-(7).

At UPR's Mayaguez Campus, Johnson served as a graphics instructor*fn1 in the Department of Engineering for approximately twelve years under temporary service contracts that were formalized every semester.*fn2 Johnson's federal complaint asserts claims dating back to 2001. In 2001, the Department of Engineering wanted to offer more graphics classes, most of which were taught by instructors with temporary contracts, and was having a difficult time hiring tenure-track graphics professors who possessed Ph.D.'s, as required by departmental guidelines. The Department of Engineering accordingly approved a resolution, on April 26, 2001, requesting permission of the then-Interim Chancellor to hire tenure-track graphics professors who did not have Ph.D.'s. The request was apparently granted.

Three individuals who did not have Ph.D.'s applied for tenure-track probationary appointments, and two -- Jose Crespo*fn3 and Joseph Robinson -- were given appointments beginning on July 1, 2001. Johnson did not apply for the position.

Robinson, like Johnson, was born in the United States. He was hired because he was the only one qualified to teach the class Creative Design INGE 3809, and he also possessed an engineering degree. Crespo was hired to teach the class INGE 3011, because out of all those who applied and had taught the class, he had the most experience, since he had taught the class in a full-time capacity for the five previous semesters.

After those two hires, the Department of Engineering did not seek or hire any other individual for a tenure-track position until the 2008-2009 time period.

In the meantime, on November 10, 2006, UPR's Board of Trustees amended the General Rules and Regulations governing UPR to clarify that to obtain a tenure-track faculty position a candidate needed to have a Ph.D. The Regulations state, in section 42.1.2(a), that:

As of fiscal year 2006-2007, in order to hold a position of professor or researcher, or to hold a rank in said categories, the person must have, at least, obtained a doctoral degree or equivalent terminal degree in areas that train him or her especially for the subject matters that he or she teaches, researches, or is in charge of.

On April 24, 2008, Dr. Walter Silva-Araya, the then-Director of the Department of Engineering, issued a public announcement for a tenure-track position as an assistant professor teaching graphics in the Department of Engineering. The announcement stated that to be considered for the position the candidate had to have a Ph.D. or M.S. in architecture or mechanical engineering. The M.S. alternative was contrary to UPR's amended 2006 General Regulations and was a mistake. Johnson, who had an M.S. in architecture, sent a letter to Dr. Silva on April 17, 2008, before the public announcement, expressing her interest in a tenure-track position. Four other individuals, ...

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