United States District Court, D. Arizona
Murray Snow, Chief United States District Judge
following reasons Defendants Arizona State University and the
Arizona Board of Regent's (“ABOR's”)
Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 39) is granted.
April 2014, Plaintiff Kara Skelton was admitted to the
University's Physical Activity, Nutrition, and Wellness
(“PANW”) program, and was awarded full-tuition
remission as well as stipends for a quarter-time Research
Associate position and a quarter-time Teaching Associate
position. Dr. Bruening was Ms. Skelton's mentor for the
January 2015, Ms. Skelton informed Dr. Bruening that she was
pregnant with her second child. Ms. Skelton asserts that Dr.
Bruening was “shocked and taken aback” and
explained that “she would have to rethink [her] RA
position and study coordinator position” for the
upcoming fall semester, and made a reference to how she would
have to “problem solve” around her pregnancy.
(Doc. 45-1 at 23). Later that month, Dr. Bruening expressed
disappointment with how Ms. Skelton conducted herself at a
conference and noted that Ms. Skelton was having issues with
her productivity. Ms. Skelton responded that she felt like
she needed to apologize for her pregnancy, but Dr. Bruening
reassured her she did not need to apologize. At the time, Ms.
Skelton thanked Dr. Bruening for her “willingness to
support me at what is a difficult time in the program and my
personal life.” (Doc. 40, Ex. L).
February 6, Ms. Skelton filed a complaint with the Office of
Equity and Inclusion (“OEI”) alleging that Dr.
Bruening was treating her differently after learning she was
pregnant. (Doc. 40, Ex. A, 15).
in February, Ms. Skelton told Dr. Bruening that she was
considering withdrawing from one of her classes. Dr. Bruening
expressed concern about this, because she was afraid that
dropping the course would impact Ms. Skelton's ability to
pass her progressive exams, which were required for her to
continue in the PANW program. Dr. Bruening suggested that Ms.
Skelton could take a three week break from her Research
Associate position, to help her get caught up on her school
work. Around the same time, Skelton emailed the director of
the PANW program, Dr. Swan, and expressed that she was
“having some personal issues (my son is very sick and
has been for a while now)” and was debating whether she
should drop one of her courses. After further discussion, Dr.
Swan allowed her to drop the course.
February 19, Dr. Bruening and Dr. Vaughn met with Skelton to
address her concerns from the OEI complaint. Dr. Bruening
apologized for her remarks about “problem
solving” around Ms. Skelton's pregnancy, reassured
her that she did not take away any opportunities or benefits
from her because of her pregnancy, and discussed the critical
tasks they would reassign during her anticipated maternity
leave. During the meeting, Dr. Bruening again reminded Ms.
Skelton that she was behind on some of her course work.
Following this meeting, Ms. Skelton did not file any
additional reports to OEI.
March, Dr. Bruening emailed Ms. Skelton and another graduate
student to remind them that she expected them to complete
their work in the lab during spring break. Ms. Skelton
responded that she would be unable to come in to the lab,
because she had not arranged for childcare. Dr. Bruening said
that this was unacceptable, because the work could not be
completed from home, but agreed to schedule a meeting with
Ms. Skelton to discuss potential arrangements. Ms. Skelton
asked Dr. Swan to attend the meeting, and she did. After the
meeting, Dr. Bruening agreed that Ms. Skelton could work from
home during spring break.
April, Ms. Skelton began to look for a new mentor that would
allow her to continue in the program without working under
Dr. Bruening. She met with another professor to discuss that
possibility. On April 9, Dr. Bruening and Ms. Skelton
exchanged emails where Ms. Skelton confirmed that she had
“chosen to work with a different mentor” and that
Dr. Bruening “should no longer pay my stipend and
tuition remission starting summer 2015.” (Doc. 40 Ex.
that month, Dr. Swan emailed the members of the PAWN staff
noting that Ms. Skelton was likely going to fail a class that
would prevent her from taking her progressive exams. Then, in
early May, Ms. Skelton withdrew from her remaining classes,
which meant she could no longer sit for her progressive
exams. Ms. Skelton then transferred to a different doctoral
program at the University of Alabama Birmingham, and began
her studies there in the fall of 2015.
Skelton filed this lawsuit in April 2017, alleging sex
discrimination under Title IX and seeking compensatory and
punitive damages. The Arizona Board of Regents moves for
summary judgment, arguing that it was not deliberately
indifferent to Ms. Skelton's complaints of pregnancy
discrimination, and that many of her claims are barred by the
statue of limitations.