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Wang v. Nevada System of Higher Education

United States District Court, D. Nevada

May 8, 2019

GUANGYU WANG, Plaintiff,
v.
NEVADA SYSTEM OF HIGHER EDUCATION, Defendant.

          ORDER

          MIRANDA M. DU UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. SUMMARY

         This is a Title VII retaliation case brought by a pro se plaintiff. The Court previously construed Plaintiff Guangyu Wang's First Amended Complaint (“FAC”) as advancing five independent claims for retaliation and granted summary judgment in favor of Plaintiff on the first two of those claims. (ECF No. 50 at 1, 3.) The parties now have filed cross-motions for summary judgment as to the following issues: (1) damages in connection with the first two claims (ECF Nos. 52, 78); (2) liability in connection with the third claim (ECF Nos. 53, 56); and (3) liability in connection with the fourth claim (ECF Nos. 61, 68). The Court has reviewed those motions as well as the parties' responses (ECF Nos. 54, 55, 59, 67, 72, 81) and replies (ECF Nos. 57, 58, 60, 70, 73, 84).[1] For the following reasons, the Court grants summary judgment in favor of Defendant Nevada System of Higher Education as to each issue raised.

         II. BACKGROUND

         The following facts are undisputed unless otherwise indicated.

         Plaintiff began working as a “Research Assistant Professor” at the University of Nevada Reno School of Medicine (“UNR Med”) on October 1, 2010. (ECF No. 53 at 3.) Plaintiffs position was funded with a grant (“Grant”) from the American Heart Association (“AHA”). (Id. at 3; ECF No. 21 at 48-53 (Ex. 10, Ex. 11).) Plaintiff received notice on June 15, 2012, that his employment would terminate 180 days later. (ECF No. 53 at 3; ECF No. 21 at 159 (Ex. 39).) Plaintiff was discharged on December 12, 2012. (ECF No. 21 at 161 (Ex. 40).) Plaintiff filed charges of discrimination with the Nevada Equal Rights Commission (“NERC”) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) as well as a lawsuit. (ECF No. 53 at 3; ECF No. 55 at 4.) The charges and the lawsuit were settled around April 11, 2013. (ECF No. 55 at 4; ECF No. 21 at 13-23 (Ex. A, Ex. B).)

         Plaintiff alleges that despite the settlement, Plaintiffs former supervisor-a non-party named Iain Buxton who heads up UNR Med-intentionally retaliated against Plaintiff for filing the charges of employment discrimination and the lawsuit in a number of ways: (1) by making disparaging comments about Plaintiff and unfavorable references to the fiscal official at UNR Med (Charlene Hart) and the hiring official at UC Davis (Peter Cala); (2) by disclosing Plaintiffs previous lawsuit against Defendant as a negative reference to the hiring official at UC Davis; (3) by depriving Plaintiff of funding from the Grant; (4) by refusing to transfer Plaintiffs lab chemical and biological products and supplies (“Lab Supplies”) from UNR to UC Davis and by discarding them without Plaintiffs consent; and (5) by threatening Plaintiff and damaging his good reputation when he was prohibited from accessing the UNR campus. (ECF No. 21 at 8-9.)

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         “The purpose of summary judgment is to avoid unnecessary trials when there is no dispute as to the facts before the court.” Nw. Motorcycle Ass'n v. U.S. Dep't of Agric, 18 F.3d 1468, 1471 (9th Cir. 1994). Summary judgment is appropriate when the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits “show there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 330 (1986). An issue is “genuine” if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis on which a reasonable fact-finder could find for the nonmoving party and a dispute is “material” if it could affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-49 (1986). Where reasonable minds could differ on the material facts at issue, however, summary judgment is not appropriate. See Id. at 250-51. “The amount of evidence necessary to raise a genuine issue of material fact is enough ‘to require a jury or judge to resolve the parties' differing versions of the truth at trial.'” Aydin Corp. v. Loral Corp., 718 F.2d 897, 902 (9th Cir. 1983) (quoting First Nat'l Bank v. Cities Serv. Co., 391 U.S. 253, 288-89 (1968)). In evaluating a summary judgment motion, a court views all facts and draws all inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Kaiser Cement Corp. v. Fishbach & Moore, Inc., 793 F.2d 1100, 1103 (9th Cir. 1986).

         The moving party bears the burden of showing that there are no genuine issues of material fact. Zoslaw v. MCA Distrib. Corp., 693 F.2d 870, 883 (9th Cir. 1982). Once the moving party satisfies Rule 56's requirements, the burden shifts to the party resisting the motion to “set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256. The nonmoving party “may not rely on denials in the pleadings but must produce specific evidence, through affidavits or admissible discovery material, to show that the dispute exists, ” Bhan v. NME Hosps., Inc., 929 F.2d 1404, 1409 (9th Cir. 1991), and “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Orr v. Bank of Am., 285 F.3d 764, 783 (9th Cir. 2002) (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986)). “The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiff's position will be insufficient.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252.

         Further, “when parties submit cross-motions for summary judgment, ‘[e]ach motion must be considered on its own merits.'” Fair Hous. Council of Riverside Cty., Inc. v. Riverside Two, 249 F.3d 1132, 1136 (9th Cir. 2001) (citations omitted) (quoting William W. Schwarzer, et al., The Analysis and Decision of Summary Judgment Motions, 139 F.R.D. 441, 499 (Feb. 1992)). “In fulfilling its duty to review each cross-motion separately, the court must review the evidence submitted in support of each cross-motion.” Id.

         IV. CROSS-MOTIONS REGARDING DAMAGES FOR FIRST AND SECOND CLAIMS (ECF NOS. 52, 78)

         The Court previously granted summary judgment in favor of Plaintiff on his first and second claims for retaliation. (ECF No. 50 at 13.) Both claims are functionally identical and essentially allege that Plaintiffs supervisor at UNR Med-Iain Buxton-told the hiring official at UC Davis-Peter Cala-about Plaintiffs lawsuit against UNR Med to prevent UC Davis from hiring Plaintiff. (ECF No. 21 at 7; ECF No. 50 at 10, 13.) Plaintiff now asserts that he is entitled to several different kinds of relief related to those claims, including reinstatement, backpay, compensatory damages, and pain and suffering damages. (ECF No. 52 at 2-3.)

         Defendant generally contends that Plaintiff cannot demonstrate any causal relationship between damages he has suffered and the Buxton-Cala conversation. (ECF No. 78 at 6.) Plaintiff counters that the Buxton-Cala conversation caused his start date at UC Davis to be postponed from June 1, 2013 to October 1, 2013 (ECF No. 81 at 8); caused Cala and Plaintiffs supervisor at UC Davis-Jie Zheng-to refrain from renewing his appointment at UC Davis (id. at 9); caused a negative workplace atmosphere to develop at UC Davis (id. at 18); and caused harm to Plaintiffs good reputation (id. at 25). The Court ...


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