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Keskinidis v. University of Mass. Boston

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

July 17, 2015

PAULINA KESKINIDIS
v.
UNIVERSITY OF MASSACHUSETTS BOSTON and RICHARD KESSELI, Individually

For Paulina Keskinidis, Plaintiff: Paul T. Prew, DiMento & Sullivan, Boston, MA.

For University of Massachusetts Boston, Richard Kesseli, Defendants: Jean M. Kelley, LEAD ATTORNEY, Office of the Attorney General, Trial Division, Boston, MA.

Page 255

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGEMENT

Richard G. Stearns, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

In her Complaint, plaintiff Paulina Keskinidis, a former student at the University

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of Massachusetts Boston (University), alleges that Richard Kesseli, one of her professors, violated her rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by subjecting her to sexual harassment (Count V). She also alleges that the University did not accommodate her Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794, and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12131 (Counts I and II), and subjected her to a hostile learning environment in violation of Title IX of the Educational Amendments, 20 U.S.C. § 1681, by failing to conduct a timely investigation of her allegations of sexual harassment against Professor Kesseli (Count IV).[1] Defendants move for summary judgment on Counts IV and V of Keskinidis's Complaint.

BACKGROUND

Keskinidis enrolled in 2011 as a biology major in the University's College of Mathematics and Science. Compl. ¶ 6. In May of 2011, she was evaluated at the Department of Neurology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and diagnosed with ADHD. Compl. ¶ ¶ 7-8. In September of 2012, she enrolled in Biology 252-Genetics, a course taught by Kesseli. Compl. ¶ 22. Keskinidis failed the course, which she attributes to the University's refusal to accommodate her ADHD. Compl. ¶ 31. In September of 2013, Keskinidis re-enrolled in the same course, again under Kesseli's tutelage. She received failing grades on the three exams given during the semester (14 out of 100, 15 out of 100, and 34 out of 100). Compl. ¶ ¶ 35, 38-39; Statement of Material Facts (SOF) ¶ 8. On the first and second exams, Kesseli made a written recommendation that Keskinidis obtain special tutoring. SOF ¶ ¶ 10-11. When Keskinidis went to Kesseli's office following the third exam, Kesseli iterated the tutoring recommendation (although he did not meet with Keskinidis because he was already meeting with another student). SOF ¶ 12. Keskinidis did not meet with a tutor, but instead sought the advice of a teaching assistant. SOF ¶ 71; Pl.'s Resp. to SOF (PSOF) ¶ 77. On January 6, 2014, Keskinidis presented to Kesseli at his faculty office to inquire about her poor grade on the final exam. Compl. ¶ 42. Kesseli " ushered her into his office and shut the door," and then engaged in a " closed-door conversation" that lasted for more than three hours. Compl. ¶ ¶ 42-43. Keskinidis alleges that during the discussion, Kesseli stared " up and down her body and lick[ed] his lips in a suggestive manner," that he " was stalling to keep her from leaving his office," that he " commented several times 'Let's see what we can do,'" and said that he knew she was " 'desperate for a good grade,'" that he, at one point, " appeared to be rubbing his hand around his groin area in an up-and-down motion for approximately one minute while staring at [her]," that he commented " 'I led you to the lake and you could have drank from it if you wanted to, but you didn't. You didn't drink from it,'" and then later questioned the color of her eyes. Compl. ¶ ¶ 44-46, 48, 51. Keskinidis interpreted Kesseli's comments and actions to insinuate " that she could improve her grade by engaging in sexual activity with him," leading her to believe that " her grades [had been] manipulated by . . . Kesseli to place her in a position where she would be vulnerable to his sexual advances." Compl. ¶ ¶ 49, 53.

On January 7, 2014, Keskinidis complained about Kesseli's conduct to the Dean of Student Affairs and to the Department

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of Inclusion and Diversity. The Dean assured her that her complaint would be investigated and her grade independently reviewed. Compl. ¶ ¶ 54-55. Because of the low grade Keskinidis received from Kesseli, her cumulative grade point average (GPA) dropped to 1.99, which fell below the University's requirement of a 2.0 GPA for continued enrollment. Compl. ¶ 56. On January 14, 2014, she was informed by the University that she would not be permitted to re-enroll. Compl. ¶ 58. Keskinidis was a senior and lacking the four courses that she needed to graduate. Compl. ¶ 59. Keskinidis filed the instant Complaint on February 19, 2014.

DISCUSSION

Summary judgment is appropriate when " the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). " [T]he mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986) (emphases in original). A material fact is one which has the " potential to affect the outcome of the suit under applicable law." Nereida-Gonzalez v. Tirado-Delgado, 990 F.2d 701, 703 (1st Cir. 1993). In assessing the genuineness of a material dispute, the facts ...


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