United States District Court, N.D. Florida, Gainesville Division
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
R. JONES UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
before the Court is ECF No. 12, Defendant University of
Florida Board of Trustees' (BOT) Motion to Dismiss, to
which Plaintiff has filed a response in opposition. ECF No.
13. For the reasons discussed below, it is respectfully
RECOMMENDED that Defendant's Motion to
Dismiss be GRANTED.
proceeding pro se, initiated this lawsuit by filing
a complaint purporting to allege employment discrimination
under 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq., Title VII of the Civil
Rights Act of 1964. ECF No. 1. The facts as alleged in the
Complaint are as follows. Plaintiff Savita Shanker is an
Asian American female of Indian national origin. She was
employed by the University of Florida (UF) as a scientist for
twenty-two years before being terminated. Id. at 12.
She joined UF's Interdisciplinary Center for
Biotechnology Research (ICBR) in 1994. Id. The ICBR
is a service lab that serves the scientific needs of UF's
College of Medicine and Institute of Food and Agricultural
Sciences, as well as scientists from other universities.
is an expert in DNA sequencing, specifically
“Sanger” sequencing and “NextGen”
sequencing. Id. at 13. From 2011 through the date of
her resignation on February 28, 2017, Plaintiff was employed
as an Associate Scientist and Director of the “Sanger
Sequencing Core Laboratory” in the ICBR. Id.
2006, Dr. Robert Ferl was appointed as director of ICBR.
Id. Plaintiff was promoted to Associate Scientist in
2011 during Dr. Ferl's tenure as director. However,
beginning in June 2013, Dr. Ferl began engaging in
discriminatory and harassing behavior toward Plaintiff, which
ultimately culminated in her termination. Id. at
11, 2013, Dr. Ferl called Plaintiff into his office to
discuss a complaint made by Dr. Eric Triplett, Professor and
Chair of Microbiology and Cell Science. Id. at 14.
Three of Plaintiff's male colleagues were also present at
the meeting, Plaintiff being the only female. Id.
Dr. Ferl relayed to Plaintiff Dr. Triplett's complaint
that it was taking too long for the ICBR to copy certain data
to an external hard drive. Id.
explained to Dr. Ferl that she had spoken with the individual
from the Cyberinfrastructure department who was responsible
for data copying, but he did not do the copying work as
promised. Id. In response, Dr. Ferl became enraged
and blamed Plaintiff because she was managing Dr.
Triplett's project. Id. Dr. Ferl then projected
e-mails from Plaintiff on a screen and ridiculed the
“syntax” of her email correspondence, which made
Plaintiff feel humiliated and embarrassed. Id.
Ferl then yelled at Plaintiff, “There are two strikes
against you and one more strike and you will be out of this
job.” Id. Dr. Ferl's anger was
“uncontrollable” and he used an expletive to
describe Dr. Triplett. Id. Dr. Ferl's behavior
in ridiculing and threatening Plaintiff in front of male
colleagues made Plaintiff feel uncomfortable, and she
believes Dr. Ferl singled her out in front of her male
colleagues on account of her race and gender. Id.
Plaintiff did not witness Dr. Ferl treat her male
counterparts with similar disregard. Id.
emotional distress Plaintiff experienced following the
incident with Dr. Ferl resulted in a panic attack for which
Plaintiff sought medical treatment. Id. Plaintiff
was also forced to cancel a trip to a conference scheduled
for the day following the incident. Id. When
Plaintiff later reached out to Dr. Triplett to ask him how
she could improve her services, Dr. Triplett told Plaintiff
he did not believe the delays in data processing were her
fault, and he was “very happy” with her work.
the incident on June 11, 2013, Dr. Ferl utilized various
harassing tactics to force Plaintiff to resign. Id.
at 14-15. Specifically, Dr. Ferl restricted Plaintiff's
scientific activities to Sanger sequencing and reduced her
role and responsibilities in Next-Gen sequencing, even though
she had been heavily involved in the implementation and
operation of Next-Gen sequencing in the past. Id. at
15. It is more professionally appealing for a scientist at
the ICBR to work on Next-Gen sequencing rather than Sanger
Sequencing exclusively because Sanger sequencing is
transitioning to the commercial sector, while Next-Gen
sequencing is an upcoming technology for campus-based labs.
Ferl also dramatically reduced the size of Plaintiff's
staff to perform the Sanger sequencing services, despite her
repeated requests for additional personnel. Id. He
sent Plaintiff to communications seminars to improve her
communication skills, collected statements
“against” her from terminated employees, and gave
her poor annual evaluations, despite not giving her poor
evaluation reports at any point during her prior nineteen
years of service. Id. Dr. Ferl also emailed
Plaintiff on May 3, 2016, admonishing her for leaving a
meeting early to use the restroom and conversing while
another employee was speaking. Id.
October 4, 2016, Plaintiff received a Notice of Non-Renewal
from Dr. Ferl, notifying her that her employment would end
the following year on October 3, 2017. Id. at 12.
The notice also stated that Plaintiff's services will not
be needed because the ICBR is closing the Sanger sequencing
operations at UF. Id.
to Plaintiff, the closing of the Sanger sequencing operations
is not a justified reason for non-renewal of Plaintiff's
contract because she is an expert in Next-Gen sequencing and
is capable of providing other services offered by the ICBR.
Id. Rather, discontinuation of Sanger sequencing
operations at the ICBR is a pretext for racial and gender
discrimination in terminating her. Id. at 13.
Plaintiff resigned from her position at UF on February 28,
2017. ECF No. 13. She filed a charge of discrimination
against Defendant with the EEOC on December 14,
2017, asserting discrimination based on her
race, gender, ...