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Kumar v. Vanderbilt University

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

January 27, 2015

ROBIN KUMAR, Plaintiff,


KEVIN H. SHARP, District Judge.

Defendant Vanderbilt University ("Defendant" or "Vanderbilt") filed a Motion for Summary Judgment (Docket Entry No. 16), to which Plaintiff Robin Kumar ("Plaintiff" or "Kumar") filed a response (Docket Entry No. 30), and Defendant filed a reply (Docket Entry No. 34). For the reasons discussed herein, Defendant's motion will be denied.


Plaintiff Robin Kumar began her employment with Defendant, Vanderbilt University, in 1987.[1] She was an assistant to Jane Birmingham at the Owen Graduate School of Management and held this position for three years. Plaintiff was then promoted to Administrative Assistant, working in Kirkland Hall at the Alumni Development Office, and was in this position for four years. She was again promoted in the Alumni and Development Office to the position of Assistant Director of Pledges and held this position for three or four years before being moved to the Canby Robinson Society ("CRS") in the spring of 1998, where she was the Program Coordinator. Plaintiff reported to Nancy Strohman for a brief period of time and then to Missy Eason, to whom she reported until Eason left Vanderbilt in 2009.

CRS is the largest donor society at Vanderbilt, and Plaintiff's position was one of some prestige and notoriety. It receives gifts of one thousand dollars ($1, 000.00) or more, and those gifts are dedicated to the medical community at Vanderbilt. In the beginning of Plaintiff's career with CRS, her job title was Program Coordinator and was mainly an administrative position. As Program Coordinator, Plaintiff managed the day-to-day operations, which included thank-you letters to donors, welcome packets for new members, supporting the Director, participating in board meetings and outreach tours. She also supervised the office staff.

Eason began giving Plaintiff more responsibilities such as handling the Adopt-A-Scholar program, which entailed matching board members with students during the student's semester in school. Plaintiff followed up with the students and made sure they were communicating with their board member. In 2007 Eason hired Anna Hance to handle some of Plaintiff's clerical job responsibilities, such as filing and mail merging letters to donors. Hance reported to Plaintiff. Hance was hired to take on the clerical responsibilities, which allowed Plaintiff to handle the other areas associated with the CRS. After Hance was hired, Plaintiff began coordinating the outreach tours with Eason. Plaintiff eventually took over the job duties for the outreach tours, which showcased specific areas at Vanderbilt. Preparation for the outreach tour included working with the development officer to set it up, inviting guests, and coordinating banquets. Plaintiff also assisted in organizing events like the donor recognition dinner once a year, a very large and prestigious event. She was also very helpful to Eason because she visited patients in the hospital as a representative of the Vice Chancellor. She contributed greatly to the outreach effort in the hospital on behalf of donor relations. Plaintiff also assisted with a new program setting up doctor's appointments for the donors.

In June, 2009, Dr. Harry Jacobson stepped down as Vice-Chancellor for Medical Affairs of the University and was replaced by Dr. Jeff Balser, Dean of the School of Medicine. At Balser's request, the fundraising activities for the Medical Center were reorganized and the CRS and other Medical Center fundraising activities were placed under the supervision of the Department of Development & Alumni Relations ("DAR"). In June 2009, all of the Medical Center donor relations, donor society and advisory board/council management activities were transferred to the DAR with most of those activities, including the CRS, reporting to Doug Twells, Associate Vice Chancellor for VUMC Development after Eason resigned and left Vanderbilt in June, 2009.

After the reorganization and Eason's departure, Plaintiff's job title remained Program Coordinator, but her responsibilities changed. Plaintiff reported to Randy Farmer, Head of the Medical Development, and Twells. Plaintiff became the point person for the CRS, with Hance remaining as her assistant. Plaintiff handled all of the board meetings, outreach tours, scholarship receptions and the donor receptions in 2010.

In February 2010, Linde Pflaum was hired as the newly created Director of Advisory Councils. In June 2010 Plaintiff was called into a meeting with Twells and Susie Stalcup, Vice Chancellor for DAR, wherein she was advised that she would be reporting to Pflaum, due to Twell's upcoming departure. Plaintiff was also advised that her office would be moved from the eighth floor of the Medical Center North to the seventh floor of 2525 West End Avenue. Plaintiff's office was beside Pfluam's office after she moved. Plaintiff began reporting to Pflaum on July 1, 2010.

Pflaum and Plaintiff went through a list of job duties and functions together when she began reporting to her. Plaintiff continued to carry out her CRS duties as well, in addition to working with the advisory council and kept Pflaum apprised of everything that she was handling for CRS. Plaintiff assisted with all the board meetings including the cancer board, diabetes board, Children's Hospital board, and heart board, to name a few. She took on additional responsibilities for coordinating events, attended all the board and council meetings and took notes, and communicated with the board members following the meetings. Plaintiff no longer was just part of CRS, but now handled work for the Vanderbilt Eye Institute, the Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center, the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, the Vanderbilt Heart Advisory Council, the Kennedy Center Leadership Council, and Vanderbilt Children's Hospital.

Pflaum did not have any counseling sessions or complaints about Plaintiff's job performance. The only issue Pflaum had with her was an incident where she spent too much money on a luncheon for the nominating committee. Other than the budget, Pflaum did not have any concerns about Plaintiff. According to Plaintiff, after Pflaum took over, Plaintiff began experiencing adverse changes in her job. Plaintiff was moved from her office, with a window overlooking West End, to a smaller windowless office down the hall from the other staff in her department. Plaintiff's office was the only office on that side of the building.

Plaintiff had a schedule of 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. while she reported to Farmer and Twells, so that she could pick her children up from daycare. Upon being transferred to Pflaum's supervision, she advised Pflaum of her current work hours. However, she advised Pflaum that if she could work later on occasion for board meetings or events. Pflaum advised Plaintiff that DAR employees worked 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. At that time Pflaum asked Plaintiff to write a proposal to request a 7:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. schedule. In her proposal, Plaintiff advised her supervisor that she was happy to stay until 4:30 p.m. on a daily basis. Plaintiff wrote the proposal in July 2010, and her request was denied in September 2010. The direct supervisor (Pflaum) makes the decision as to an employee's hours of work. Plaintiff's hours would be 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily and that was nonnegotiable and effective immediately.

According to Plaintiff, Kate Snowden, in her twenties, Talmadge Ingham-Johnsen's[2] assistant, was able to leave every day at 4:00 p.m. in order to attend classes, even though she only had classes two days a week. (Kumar Depo., p. 57). Ingham-Johnsen, in her thirties, would leave early to go to church meetings at 4:00 p.m. Natasha Miller, in her thirties, was allowed to work through her lunch to leave at 4:00 p.m. at least once a week to work her second job. ( Id., p. 90). Tom Tracy, another employee in DAR, was allowed to leave at 3:00 p.m. or 3:30 p.m. in order to beat the traffic. ( Id., pp. 91-92).[3]

Plaintiff also discovered during this time that Hance was no longer reporting to her as an assistant, but was reporting directly to Pflaum. Hance and Pflaum began to handle all the projects for CRS and Plaintiff had to turn over all her files to Hance, who was in her twenties. Hance was now organizing Plaintiff's files for the CRS, updating the timeline in ...

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