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Takele v. Mayo Clinic

August 17, 2009

TSEGAYE TAKELE, APPELLEE,
v.
THE MAYO CLINIC, APPELLANT.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Miller, District Judge.

Submitted: May 13, 2009

Before LOKEN, Chief Judge, BYE, Circuit Judge, and MILLER, District Judge.*fn1

Tsegaye Takele, a black male and citizen of Ethiopia, sued his employer, the Mayo Clinic ("Mayo"), for discrimination on the basis of race and national origin in violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, and 42 U.S.C. § 1981, retaliation, and defamation. The district court*fn2 granted summary judgment in favor of Mayo on all claims. Takele appeals the court's grant of summary judgment on the discrimination and retaliation claims. We affirm.

I.

In November 2002, Takele, who has his Ph.D. in physics, applied for admission to the Medical Physics Residency Program ("Residency Program") at Mayo. The application identified him as a black male and citizen of Ethiopia. After his interview, Edwin McCollough, Ph.D., Michael Herman, Ph.D., Robert Kline, Ph.D., and Jon Kruse, Ph.D., decided to admit Takele into the Residency Program. The admission letter, dated April 16, 2002, stated, "Continuation and completion of the program are dependent upon satisfactory progress in education, performance of all duties, and compliance with Mayo Graduate School of Medicine policies." Mayo policy stated that "[a] grade of 'C' or lower results in immediate evaluation of a resident's progress," and "[c]ontinued unsatisfactory performance will likely result in probation and/or termination."

On July 2, 2003, Takele began his first rotation in Dosimetric Systems, one of eight separate major rotations to be completed in the course of the two-year Residency Program. The meeting minutes of the Medical Physics Executive Committee (the "Executive Committee") and rotation reviews from September and October 2003 demonstrate that Takele had difficulty understanding basic concepts. Indeed, he earned a "C" in the first quarter of his residency, which was reported on December 9, 2003. On January 20, 2004, Takele earned a "B" for the second quarter, as he had "demonstrated real improvement in effort and understanding." The Executive Committee minutes of February 18, 2004, as well as the evaluations performed by various dosimetrists throughout March 2004, show that Takele was having comprehension problems.

Takele was placed on probation by Drs. Herman, Kline, Kruse, and Brinkmann on May 3, 2004, after earning his second "C." The probation letter states that nine months into the two-year Residency Program, Takele's "first rotation is not fully signed off." Takele, however, disputes this statement. Although Takele received some favorable performance evaluations from May through July 2004, serious performance deficiencies are documented.

In June 2004, Takele requested a meeting with an ombudsperson. The ombudsperson's notes, dated June 18, 2004, state that Takele felt he was treated "differently." The notes also document that Takele was concerned that "another guy left the program that was international." It is also noted, however, that Takele was not sure why the individual left the program. The notes further indicate that although Takele did not state that "he felt discriminated against in any specific way," he did state that he felt "personally discriminated against." Another set of notes, dated August 3, 2004, labeled "PM Call," provide that Takele stated, "I don't know if it's racial or what."

On August 3, 2004, Drs. Herman, Kline, Kruse, and Brinkmann unanimously recommended that Takele be terminated or given the option to resign from the Residency Program. In support of this recommendation, they stated that Takele was unable to work independently and would "be a hazard to human life if he stay[ed] in this field." Takele appealed to the Dean, Roger L. Nelson, who appointed an appeal review committee. Takele testified before the review committee that the true reasons for expulsion were his superior physics and mathematics background and the faculty's embarrassment at being unable to answer his questions. The appeal review committee unanimously voted to deny the appeal.

Takele filed his original complaint on April 21, 2006, an amended complaint on May 22, 2006, and a second amended complaint on November 13, 2006, alleging discrimination on the basis of race and national origin in violation of Title VII and 42 U.S.C. § 1981, retaliation, and defamation. Mayo moved for summary judgment, and the district court granted the motion. The court found that Takele presented no direct evidence of discrimination and failed to establish his prima facie case of discrimination because he did not establish that he was qualified to continue in Mayo's Residency Program, and he failed to demonstrate that Christopher Hagness, a white male in the Residency Program, was similarly situated. The district court also found that Mayo offered a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason, specifically Takele's performance deficiencies and the faculty's concerns for patient safety, for its actions, and Takele failed to show pretext. As to Takele's retaliation claim, the district court found that Takele failed to establish a prima facie case because there was no evidence that his dismissal was connected to his complaint to the ombudsperson, and even if he had established a prima facie case, he provided no evidence that Mayo's reasons for dismissing him were pretext for retaliation. Finally, the district court dismissed Takele's defamation claim because he could not demonstrate that the allegedly defamatory statements were objectively false statements of fact. Takele appeals the district court's grant of summary judgment on his discrimination and retaliation claims.

II.

"Summary judgment is appropriate when there are no genuine issues of material fact, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Bearden v. Int'l Paper Co., 529 F.3d 828, 831 (8th Cir. 2008). "We review the district court's grant of summary judgment de novo and view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Id. We apply the same analysis to claims of discrimination and retaliation under Title VII and 42 U.S.C. ยง 1981. Fields v. ...


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