FAILURE TO FOLLOW TIMELY FILING REQUIREMENTS NEARLY BRINGS A FAILING GRADE TO TENURED PROFESSOR

John GarnerDMEC News

Plaintiff, Kiki Ikossi-Anastasiou (Ikossi) filed suit against her former employer Louisiana State University (LSU) alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (for both discrimination and retaliation), Title IX, the Louisiana Employment Discrimination Law, and the Equal Pay Act.  LSU moved for summary judgment, arguing that all claims were time-barred.  The District Court agreed and granted summary judgment to LSU on all claims.

On appeal Ikossi argued that the District Court erred in its analysis of the applicable limitations periods for all of her claims (except the Title IX claim).  Even though they agreed with the District Court on most counts, the Court of Appeals found an exception when it came to Ikossi’s Title VII retaliation claim.  Because the retaliatory act occurred within the 300-day window for filing an EEOC claim, the court found that the retaliation claim was timely and that the District Court erred in granting summary judgment on that basis.

The case is Kiki Ikossi-Anastasiou vs. Board of Supervisors of Louisiana State University

Ikossi began teaching at LSU beginning in 1990 and became a tenured professor in 1996.  During much of this time, she believed she was subjected to unlawful sex discrimination.  Ikossi complained of her treatment on many occasions during the time she worked for LSU and filed formal grievances alleging sex discrimination and other complaints against several male colleagues and faculty members.

For the 1997-1998 academic year, Ikossi requested and was granted a one-year sabbatical leave, which included research with Naval Research Laboratory.  During this leave, her sabbatical agreement required LSU to pay her half of her regular salary and benefits.

After her sabbatical ended and as the new academic year was about to begin, Ikossi exchanged several letters with LSU requesting “personal leave” of unspecified length, “in order to care for a member of her family with a health condition.”  Ikossi later submitted forms further specifying the nature of the leave she was requesting.

Ikossi received a letter approving twelve weeks of leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) from the human resources manager at LSU.  Ikossi replied to LSU acknowledging that her twelve-week FMLA leave would end mid-semester and that “to facilitate the department teaching plans” she would need additional leave.  LSU replied, acknowledging the receipt of forms requesting additional unpaid leave and stating that they were only willing to approve additional unpaid leave through the end of the Fall 1998 semester because the department was “short of faculty” and “facing an enormous teaching load.”  LSU concluded: “Your request for leave for the 1999 Spring Semester beginning January 1999 is denied.  Therefore, you are required to return to your assigned duties for the 1999 Spring Semester

Shortly before the start of the spring semester, Ikossi sent LSU another request for unpaid leave “for the rest of the academic year.”  LSU reminded Ikossi that her request had already been denied and explained that if Ikossi did not resume her teaching duties, LSU would assume that she had “abandoned her position.”  Ikossi then sent a letter to LSU indicating that she would not return for the spring semester and that she had “every intention of fulfilling her University responsibilities but her personal situation” required postponing those duties.  She concluded with a request for personal leave without pay.  Ikossi sent another letter to LSU explaining that she was not abandoning her position, but merely requesting leave without pay.  She stated that the denial of her request was “nothing more than a progression of disparate treatment.”  In late January 1999, LSU sent a letter to Ikossi explaining again that her leave had been denied in August, that the denial had been reiterated in January, and that because she had failed to return to work at the start of the semester, she had abandoned her position.  LSU also told Ikossi that it had been learned that she had accepted a full-time position with the U.S. Navy, commencing the fall of 1999.  LSU reminded Ikossi that her sabbatical agreement included a clause prohibiting her from accepting a full-time position elsewhere until having worked for LSU a full year post-sabbatical.  Ikossi was told that LSU would determine how much reimbursement she owed in light of her breach of the sabbatical agreement.

Ikossi wrote LSU in early February disputing the accusation that she had accepted a permanent position with the Navy. She wrote that LSU never addressed any of Ikossi’s past complaints about discrimination and that she considered the earlier letter “further indication of the disparate treatment” she had endured for eight years.  The next communication between Ikossi and LSU in the record is an August 1999 letter from LSU’s law firm to Ikossi’s lawyer stating that Ikossi had only a small amount of time to settle her claims against LSU in exchange for LSU dropping its demand for $42,907.79 of sabbatical pay.

Ikossi filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).  The EEOC issued a right-to-sue letter in August 2000.  Ikossi brought her suit in November 2000, alleging violations of Title VII (both discrimination and retaliation), Title IX, the Louisiana Employment Discrimination Law, and the Equal Pay Act. LSU moved for summary judgment, arguing that all claims were time-barred. The district court agreed and granted summary judgment to LSU on all claims, and Ikossi appealed.

When bringing her case before the Appeals Court, Ikossi argued that the district court erred in its analysis of the applicable limitations periods for all of her claims except the Title IX claim, which she did not challenge.  Using the same standard as the District Court, the Appeals Court found all of her arguments irrelevant, since all claims, with the exception of her Title VII retaliation claim, were time- barred.

During the process of appeal the court found that the District Court had not explicitly discussed the retaliation theory of Ikossi’s Title VII claim, and they had dismissed all Title VII claims as time-barred, reasoning that all claims accrued on or before August 1998.  Ikossi had provided the lower court with the argument that LSU’s demand for repayment of her sabbatical salary was in retaliation for her complaints, and alleged that LSU denied leave on the basis of her sex.  Because LSU’s demand for repayment occurred in January 1999, which was within the 300-day period prior to her filing of the EEOC complaint, she argued that her retaliation claim was timely.  Because the retaliatory act occurred within the 300-day window for filing an EEOC claim, the Appeals Court determined Ikossi’s retaliation claim to be timely and found the District Court to be in error when it granted summary judgment on that basis.  With that, the Appeals Court affirmed the District Court’s grant of summary judgment with respect to Ikossi’s Title VII discrimination claim, Louisiana Employment Discrimination Law claim, and Equal Pay Act claim, and reversed the grant of summary judgment on her Title VII retaliation claim, remanding it to the district court for further proceedings.

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