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SADKI v. SUNY COLLEGE AT BROCKPORT

February 18, 2004.

CHERIF SADKI, Plaintiff
v.
SUNY COLLEGE AT BROCKPORT, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: DAVID LARIMER, Chief Judge, District

DECISION AND ORDER

Plaintiff, Cherif Sadki, appearing pro se, commenced this action under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. Plaintiff, a native of Algeria, is a practicing Muslim and a member of the Berber ethnic group. In 1998, while he was employed as a visiting professor at defendant SUNY College at Brockport ("Brockport"), plaintiff unsuccessfully applied for an assistant professor position in Brockport's Foreign Languages Department ("the department"). Plaintiff alleges that the reason that he was not offered that position is that Dr. Patricia Siegel, the then-acting chair of the department, who allegedly had some input into the decisionmaking process, harbored discriminatory animus toward plaintiff on account of his race, national origin, and religion. Defendant has now moved for summary judgment. Page 2

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

  Plaintiff, who speaks both English and French, received a bachelors degree in education from Algiers University in 1981, and a Ph.D. (with concentrations in African studies, comparative education, international studies, and sociology of education) from the State University of New York at Buffalo in 1994. McLean Decl. (Docket #35), Ex. B. Plaintiff was a lecturer at Brockport from 1990 until 1993, and a visiting professor beginning in September 1995. While he was a visiting professor, plaintiff taught four French courses per semester. Sadki Decl. (Docket #43) ¶ 4.

  During the 1997-98 academic year, the department conducted a search to fill the position of Assistant Professor of Foreign Languages/French ("the position"). McLean Decl. ¶ 3. A search committee ("the committee"), made up of members of the department and one student, was formed to screen and interview candidates, and to make a recommendation to the Dean of the School of Letters and Sciences, Robert J. McLean,*fn1 as to who should be hired to fill the position. McLean, who was not bound by the committee's recommendation, McClean Decl. ¶ 4, would in turn advise Brockport's President, Paul Yu, which candidate McLean believed should be hired. According to defendants, Yu made the final decision on whom to hire. McLean Reply Decl. (Docket #46) ¶ 15.

  Prior to the commencement of the search, Dr. Elaine Miller, the then-chair of the department, submitted to McLean a written Request for Authorization to Search ("search authorization"). The requirements set forth in the search authorization were:

  Ph.D. or equivalent in French/Francophone Studies or related area. Experience in teaching language. Commitment to teach language, civilization, and literature to undergraduate Page 3 students. Familiarity with multimedia applications. Demonstrated ability to conduct and publish scholarly research. Capacity to function effectively in a culturally diverse environment.

 McLean Decl. Ex. A.

  According to McLean, plaintiff did not meet these criteria, because his Ph.D. was not in "French/Francophone Studies or [a] related area," but rather in education and other non-French-related areas. McLean also describes plaintiffs scholarship and research as "minimal." McLean Decl. ¶ 8.

  McLean adds that he "knew that Dr. Sadki was well-liked in the Department," and that "there would be many in the Department who would want to hire him for the French position." McLean Decl. ¶ 6. He states that he was therefore "surprised when [he] received the Department's Search Authorization because Dr. Sadki did not meet the basic, minimum qualifications for the job as described by the Department." McLean Decl. ¶ 7. He states that "[t]ypically, when a position is available and an academic department knows of a person they would like to hire to fill the position, but they are required to conduct a search, they will tailor the hiring criteria to fit the desired candidate." McLean Decl. ¶ 9.

  In a memorandum dated February 11, 1998, the committee informed McLean that it had chosen four candidates to invite for on-campus interviews: Sadki, Giles Carjuzza, Mary Beth Vogl, and Donna Wilkerson. McLean Decl. Ex. C. As part of the interview process, McLean met with each candidate. McLean states that in accordance with his usual practice, after he had spoken with all four candidates, and before receiving the committee's recommendation, McLean ranked the candidates. According to McLean, his rankings, from highest to lowest, were: Wilkerson, Vogl, Carjuzza, and Sadki. McLean Decl. ¶ 14. Page 4

  In early March 1998, the committee sent its written recommendations to McLean. Although the committee did not expressly rank the candidates, it is clear that they preferred Sadki over the other three. Their comments about Sadki included the following: "Dr. Sadki has demonstrated excellence in teaching as well as outstanding service to the department, the college, and the community"; "[s]tudent evaluation of his teaching ranges from very good to excellent"; "[p]eer evaluations through classroom observations are also extremely favorable"; and a number of other very positive, if not glowing, assessments of Sadki's abilities. McLean Decl. Ex. D.

  The only negative comment made by the committee about Sadki was that his "accomplishments in scholarship have not been strong up to this point." The committee suggested, however, that this was understandable in light of the facts that Sadki had only recently received his Ph.D., and that he had been teaching four courses per semester since September 1995. The committee also noted that Sadki was working on a book on African education, and added that "[h]is expertise in French/Francophone literature and culture will enable him to carry out relevant research in those areas." At any rate, the committee clearly did not consider Sadki's limited research up to that point to be a serious problem or impediment to his candidacy, since it concluded that he would be "a perfect fit" for the department.

  The committee also indicated that it considered Wilkerson to be an acceptable candidate. It stated that although Wilkerson had not yet received her Ph.D. in French, she was scheduled to defend her dissertation in June 1998. Otherwise, the committee's comments about her were favorable, and the committee concluded that she "would be a good fit" for the department, but the overall tone of the memorandum suggests, and indeed defendant does not deny, that the committee's first choice for the position was Sadki. Page 5

  The committee's recommendations notwithstanding, McLean states that he remained convinced that Sadki did not meet the minimum requirements for the position. In reaching that conclusion, he states that he was also influenced by a conversation that he had with President Yu earlier that year in which Yu stressed the importance to him of making high-quality faculty appointments. McLean states that he knew that Sadki "was not the kind of appointment President Yu would want to make" because of Sadki's lack of qualifications for the position. McLean Decl. ¶ 19.

  McLean states that he "knew that the members of the Search Committee would not be pleased with a decision not to hire Dr. Sadki," however, McLean Decl. ¶ 19, so he decided to obtain input from two other deans and an associate dean at Brockport. He gave each of them Sadki's and Wilkerson's curricula vitae ("CVs") as well as the position criteria and requirements, and asked for their opinions. McLean states that all three deans thought that Wilkerson was qualified, but that Sadki was not. McLean Decl. ¶ 20.

  McLean also states that "[a]t some time," though he does not say exactly when, he "did become aware that Dr. Siegel shared [McLean's] opinion that Dr. Sadki did not meet the minimum qualifications for the French position." McLean Decl. ¶ 24. McLean states, however, that Siegel never said anything to him about Sadki's race, religion or national origin, that McLean had already ranked the candidates (with Sadki lowest) when he talked with Siegel, and that her assessment of Sadki had no impact on McLean's decision not to recommend to President Yu that Sadki be chosen for the position. McLean Decl. ¶¶ 25, 26.

  In a memorandum dated March 6, 1998, McLean recommended to President Yu that Wilkerson be chosen for the position. McLean Decl. Ex. F. Along with the memo, McLean sent Page 6 Yu the committee's recommendations, and Sadki's and Wilkerson's CVs. He stated that "[t]he department met with [McLean on March 6] to express their strong support for Sadki," who was "their top choice." McLean added, "My problem [with Sadki] is that I don't believe he meets the minimum qualifications according to their initial screening checklist." McLean also told Yu that the other deans whose opinions he had solicited thought that Wilkerson, but not Sadki, was qualified for the position. McLean said that "[t]he department made arguments that Sadki did meet the qualifications, by extended interpretation of the requirements, although some admitted that he would have rated in the "C" ...


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