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Knowles v. Hawaii Pacific University

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

July 10, 2018

GORDON KNOWLES, Plaintiff,
v.
HAWAI‘I PACIFIC UNIVERSITY Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AS TO COUNT I AND DISMISSING THE REMAINING, STATE-LAW CLAIMS WITHOUT PREJUDICE

          Alan C. Kay Sr. United States District Judge.

         For the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment with respect to Claim I and DISMISSES the remaining state-law claims.

         PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On December 28, 2016, Plaintiff Gordon Knowles (“Plaintiff”) filed a Complaint against Hawai‘i Pacific University (“HPU” or “Defendant”). ECF No. 1 (“Compl.”). Defendant filed an Answer (“Ans.”) to Plaintiff's Complaint on February 1, 2017. ECF. No. 9.

         Plaintiff's Complaint pleads claims arising out of a series of events that included the termination of his employment with Defendant. Plaintiff claims that Defendant (1) engaged in unlawful retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3; (2) engaged in unlawful retaliation in violation of the Hawai‘i Whistleblowers' Protection Act (HWPA), Haw. Rev. Stat. § 378-62; and (3) breached the parties' employment contract. Compl. ¶¶ 24, 26, 28.

         Defendant filed the instant Motion for Summary Judgment (“MSJ”), along with a Concise Statement of Facts (“Def.'s CSF”), on April 11, 2018. ECF Nos. 44, 45. On June 19, 2018, Plaintiff filed his Memorandum in Opposition to Defendant's Motion (“Opp.”), along with a Concise Statement of Facts (“Pl.'s CSF”). ECF Nos. 51, 52. Exhibits in support of Plaintiff's Concise Statement of Facts contained unredacted personal identifiers in violation of Local Rule 100.10.1, and Plaintiff filed a redacted version of the affected exhibits on June 20, 2018. ECF No. 53. Plaintiff then filed errata to his Opposition Memorandum on June 22, 2018. ECF No. 58. Defendant filed a Reply on June 26, 2018 (“Reply”). ECF No. 59.

         The Court held a hearing on Tuesday, July 10, 2018 at 11:00 a.m. regarding Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         I. Plaintiff's Employment

         In 1998, Plaintiff was hired by Defendant as an Adjunct Professor of Sociology. Pl.'s CSF, Decl. of Gordon Knowles (“Knowles Decl.”) ¶ 2, ECF No. 53. Plaintiff contends that Defendant was aware at the time of his hiring that he was also teaching courses at the University of Hawai‘i (“UH”). Knowles Decl. ¶ 3. Plaintiff became an assistant professor and regular faculty member at HPU in 2002. Def.'s CSF Ex. P, Deposition of Gordon Knowles (“Knowles Dep.”), ECF No. 45-20 at 325[1]; Def.'s CSF Ex. 14, Gordon Knowles's Response to Defendant's First Request for Admissions to Plaintiff (“Knowles Admis.”) ¶ 2, ECF No. 45-20. Plaintiff was made an associate professor during the 2007-08 school year. Knowles Dep. Ex. 5, ECF No. 45-20 at 366-67. At the time of the at-issue events detailed below, Plaintiff was a member of the United States Army Reserve. Def.'s CSF, Gordon Knowles's Response to Defendant's First Request for Answers to Interrogatories to Plaintiff (“Knowles Interrog.”), ECF No. 45-20 at 439.

         II. Outside Teaching

         a. Initial Correspondence

         On January 22, 2014, Carlos Juarez, then Chair of the Department of Social Sciences and Plaintiff's supervisor, informed Plaintiff via email that “it ha[d] been brought to [Juarez's] attention” that Plaintiff was teaching courses at Honolulu Community College (“HCC”) and at UH, in violation of HPU policy and the Faculty Handbook. Def.'s CSF, Decl. of Carlos Juarez (“Juarez Decl.”) ¶ 3, 7, ECF No. 45-2; Def.'s CSF Ex. H, ECF No. 45-12 at 247-48; see Knowles Decl. ¶ 4. In the email exchange that followed, Plaintiff said that he felt Juarez was “targeting [him] again, ” discriminating against him on the basis of his status as an Army Reservist and veteran, and continually harassing him. Def.'s CSF Ex. H at 243-46; see Juarez Decl. ¶ 8. Plaintiff stated that he suffered from PTSD and accused Juarez of hating him and “looking for a way to fire [him] for quite some time.” Def.'s CSF Ex. H at 243. In that same exchange, Juarez excerpted the applicable portion of the then-operative, 2004 Faculty Handbook:

Before accepting outside employment, a faculty member with regular status must write a letter fully disclosing the nature of the employment written to the Vice President of Academic Administration and the President of the University to obtain written approval to engage in such employment. New faculty members must also inform the Vice President of Academic Administration about whether they are employed or own a business which provides income and, if so, obtain written authorization from the appropriate dean as well as the President to continue such employment while also being employed by the University. The University has no desire to interfere with outside interests as long as these interests do not interfere with the faculty member's performance or the goals and objectives of the University. Outside employment or income should not be with an organization that is in direct competition with our University.

Id. at 245-46.

         On January 23, 2014, Juarez forwarded the January 22 email exchange to David Lanoue, then Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at HPU, asking Lanoue to intervene. Def's CSF, Decl. of David Lanoue (“Lanoue Decl.”) ¶ 2, 5, ECF No. 45-1; Def.'s CSF Ex. I, ECF No. 45-13 at 250. Lanoue then emailed Plaintiff and requested a meeting with him that afternoon. Lanoue Decl. ¶ 7; Def.'s CSF Ex. B, ECF No. 45-6 at 233. The following day, Plaintiff sent an email to Juarez and Lanoue with the subject line “Overloads and Outside Teaching- Knowles Motivation.” Juarez Decl. ¶ 10; Def.'s CSF Ex. J, ECF No. 45-14 at 258. In that email, Plaintiff stated that he engaged in outside teaching in order to fund his research; he also referred to the original source of information regarding his outside teaching as a “stalker” and asked Juarez and Lanoue to consider his motives, as well as those of the “stalker, ” in “weighing out the consideration of disciplinary action and termination against” him. Def.'s CSF Ex. J at 258.

         On January 25, 2014, Lanoue informed Plaintiff via email that “nobody is proposing that [he] be terminated or even disciplined over this”; rather, HPU “simply want[ed] [him] to fill out the necessary paperwork and become familiar with the relevant portions of the [Faculty] [H]andbook.” Lanoue Decl. ¶ 8; Def.'s CSF Ex. C, ECF No. 45-7 at 234. In an email dated January 28, Lanoue told Plaintiff that there appeared to be no “stalker” involved; instead, an employee looking at the HCC catalog “for other reasons” happened to see Plaintiff's name on the teaching roster and informed Juarez, who, in the process of verifying that information, discovered that Plaintiff was teaching for UH as well. Lanoue Decl. ¶ 9; Def.'s CSF Ex. D, ECF No. 45-8 at 235.

         On March 12 or 13, 2014, Juarez and Plaintiff discussed Plaintiff's Professional Development Plan, Juarez Decl. ¶ 12; Def.'s CSF Ex. K, ECF No. 45-15 at 285, together with an addendum that included, inter alia, a comment regarding Plaintiff's outside teaching:

In light of recent awareness of teaching being done at an external competitor university, the instructor is reminded that any future outside teaching must get pre-approval form the dean. Instructor explained that this is being taken up directly with HR and that he has retained legal counsel to challenge the university's policy.

Def.'s CSF Ex. K, ECF No. 45-15 at 289. Plaintiff (and Juarez) signed both the addendum and the Professional Development Plan. Id.

         On April 25, 2014, Juarez emailed Lanoue to inform him that Juarez, “[i]n browsing the online class schedule for [UH], . . . found two forthcoming courses listed for [Plaintiff]”, one during the summer and one during the fall. Juarez Decl. ¶ 13; Def.'s CSF Ex. L, ECF No. 45-16 at 290.

         On June 5, 2014, Plaintiff was offered a renewed contract for a “regular faculty” position at HPU. Knowles Dep. at 315; id. Ex. 8, ECF No. 45-20 at 368-371. The contract was “for the period beginning August 16, 2014, and ending August 15, 2019 (the ‘Appointment Term'), ” “subject to the disciplinary, termination, and other provisions of the new 2014 Faculty Handbook.” Knowles Dep. Ex. 8 at 368. The contract stated, inter alia:

By accepting this offer of appointment, you agree to observe and comply with all University rules, regulations and policies, including but not limited to the Faculty Handbook, AAPPM, and Code of Ethical Conduct . . . .
You agree not to engage in any enterprise or activity that may, in the judgment of the University, interfere with the performance of your duties to the University . . . or with the mission of the University and/or its affiliates. You are subject to the University's rules on outside activities and employment, as set forth in the Faculty Handbook and the AAPPM's Conflicts of Interest Policy, as may be amended from time to time.
If the University determines that you have not complied with any University policy or procedure, you may be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination of your employment during the Appointment Term.

Id. at 368-70. On or about June 5, 2014, Plaintiff accepted the offered appointment, signing his name below the statement, “I accept employment at Hawai‘i Pacific University under the terms and conditions set forth in this letter, the Faculty Handbook, the AAPPM, and the code of Ethical Conduct (as such documents may be amended by the University from time to time).” Id. at 371.

         On August 16, 2014, Juarez notified Lanoue via email that Plaintiff was scheduled to teach three courses at UH for the fall 2014 term. Juarez Decl. ¶ 14; Def.'s CSF Ex. M, ECF. No. 45-17 at 296. On August 20, 2014, Lanoue emailed a notice to all faculty reminding them that (1) the 2014 version of the Faculty Handbook became operative on August 15, 2014, and (2) that handbook contained language regarding outside employment, which Lanoue quoted:

“Before accepting outside employment, a Regular Faculty member must write a letter fully disclosing the nature of the employment to the Provost/Vice President of Academic Affairs to obtain written approval to engage in such employment. Prior to accepting a faculty appointment to the Hawai‘i Pacific University, new regular faculty members must also inform the Provost/Vice President of Academic Affairs about whether they are employed or own a business which provides income and, if so, obtain written authorization from the Provost/Vice President to continue such employment while also being employed by the University. The University has no desire to interfere with outside interests as long as these interests do not interfere with the faculty member's performance or the goals and ...

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