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Gao v. St. Louis Language Immersion Schools, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

December 5, 2014

LIN GAO, Plaintiff,



This case is before the Court on the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendants St. Louis Language Immersion Schools ("SLLIS") and Lydia Chen ("Chen"). (Doc. 82). The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1). (Doc. 42). For the reasons stated below, Defendants' motion will be granted.


SLLIS is a non-profit organization that operates charter public schools involving language immersion programs, including The Chinese School. (Doc. 83-1, at p.2). Chen is the Head of The Chinese School. (Chen. Aff., Doc. 83-3, ¶ 1). Most of the staff members of The Chinese School are over the age of 40, including Chen. (Chen Aff. ¶¶ 4, 7, 9). Approximately 70% are Chinese; most of the others (including Chen) are Taiwanese. (Chen Aff. ¶¶ 4, 6, 8).

Plaintiff is a United States citizen who immigrated to the United States from mainland China. (2d Am. Compl. ¶ 8). She has a master's degree in physical education. (Plaintiff's resume, Doc. 83-5, at p. 4). She was 41 or 42 years old at the time of the events relevant to this lawsuit. (Doc. 105-1, at p. 5).

In late 2012, and again in early 2013, Plaintiff applied for a position at The Chinese School for the part-time position of Elementary Specialist in Physical Education ("P.E."). (Doc. 104, ¶ 12; Doc. 105-1, at p. 6; Chen Aff. ¶ 10; Job Description, Doc. 83-6, at p. 4). On March 21, 2013, Chen hosted a school tour or group interview for those who had applied for teaching positions at The Chinese School, including Plaintiff. (Chen. Aff. ¶ 11-12). During the tour, Chen told the applicants that they were welcome to visit, observe, or volunteer at the school. (Chen. Aff. ¶ 13). Later that day, Plaintiff wrote Chen an email to express her interest in the position and to offer some ideas for the P.E. class. (Email from Lin Gao to Lydia Chen, Doc. 83-3, at p. 8). Plaintiff emailed and called Chen to arrange a time to observe classes, and they arranged a time. (Email from Lydia Chen to Lin Gao, Doc. 83-3, at p. 14; Chen Aff. ¶ 16).

Plaintiff observed and volunteered at classes at The Chinese School on April 12, April 19, April 26, and May 3, 2013. (Chen Aff. ¶¶ 17-18). Plaintiff alleges that at some point after the group interview but before this volunteer work was completed, Chen promised Plaintiff, orally and in writing, that Chen would offer Plaintiff the P.E. teacher job, at a salary of $16, 000, if Plaintiff completed the obligatory "volunteer" work. (2d Am. Compl. ¶ 11).[1] To support this allegation, Plaintiff submits a paper, undated and in Chen's handwriting, that contains various notes that appear to be related to job descriptions, hours, and salary amounts. (Doc. 105-1, at p. 13). For example, at the top, the paper states, "PE-6FYE-0.2 fte - 10 hrs [Chinese characters] $8000." It also includes a line stating, "Morning Mosaic - M-F = 6:30-10:30 0.5 fte-$8000. It also includes a notation that "1 hrs = $20." The number $16, 000 also appears on the paper, though it is unclear what words it is connected to.

Plaintiff alleges that during this volunteer work, Plaintiff disclosed to Chen that she was over 40 years old. She alleges that Chen stated that a woman over 40 who had previously had a child did not have the physical conditioning to complete the daily rigors of the P.E. teacher position. (2d Am. Compl. ¶¶ 15-17). However, Chen states in her affidavit that she did not know Plaintiff's age at any time during Plaintiff's volunteer work and application process. (Chen Aff. ¶ 34).

On May 3, 2013, Plaintiff and Chen scheduled Plaintiff's teaching demonstration for on or around May 17, 2013, and she performed the demonstration. (Chen Aff. ¶¶ 19-20). It met Chen's expectations. (Chen Aff. ¶ 21). Plaintiff also volunteered as a Tai Chi and/or Wushu performer at events on May 18 and June 6, 2013. (Chen Aff. ¶¶ 23-25). Plaintiff alleges that she requested payment for these performances but was instead assured that the P.E. teacher position would be given to her. (2d Am. Compl. ¶ 20).

Plaintiff alleges that on the car ride to the June 6, 2013 performance, Chen stated that some SLLIS teachers were from mainland China, where the people were poor and low class. (2d Am. Compl. ¶ 21).

On June 6, 2013, Chen and Plaintiff met to discuss the position at SLLIS. (Chen Aff. ¶ 26). The parties' accounts of this meeting differ significantly. Plaintiff alleges that during the meeting, Chen informed Plaintiff that the P.E. teacher position was still open to her but that its salary would be only $6, 000 annually, not the $16, 000 previously promised. (2d Am. Compl. ¶ 23). Plaintiff alleges that she was astonished at the change in salary but accepted the position anyway. (2d Am. Compl. ¶ 24). She cites evidence showing that in the 2012-2104 time frame, she held other jobs at which she earned less than $6, 000 per year. (Doc. 105-1, at p. 4; Doc. 23-2). In contrast, in Chen's account of this meeting, Chen states that she "did not offer Gao a position at SLLIS."[2] (Chen Aff. ¶ 30). She states that she told Plaintiff that the salary for the position was set at $6, 000 annually and that the salary amount was not flexible. (Chen Aff. ¶¶ 27-29). Chen says that Plaintiff then told Chen that she could not continue to consider the position, that the salary was too low, and that there was no way she could live off of $6, 000 per year. (Chen Aff. ¶ 30). Chen further states that Plaintiff requested that Chen stop processing her job application at that time. (Chen Aff. ¶ 31).

Later on June 6, 2013, Chen and Plaintiff spoke by phone. (Chen Aff. ¶ 32). Plaintiff alleges that Chen told Plaintiff that Chen had changed her mind and decided not to hire Plaintiff. (2d Am. Compl. ¶ 25). Plaintiff alleges that when she asked why, Chen indicated that Plaintiff was unsuitable for the P.E. teacher position and should look for other jobs because of her age. (2d Am. Compl. ¶ 25). In contrast, Chen states in her affidavit that she reiterated in this phone call that the salary was fixed and that there was no room for negotiation, and Plaintiff again stated that she could not consider the job at that salary. (Chen Aff. ¶ 32). Chen states that she told Plaintiff that she would stop processing Plaintiff's job application, and Plaintiff agreed and told Chen that she would recommend someone for the position. (Chen Aff. ¶ 32).

After June 6, 2013, Chen continued to seek applications for the position, indicating in her email seeking applicants that the job was "part time work" and "paid $6000 annual salary." (Chen Aff. ¶ 35; Email from Lydia Chen, Doc. 83-11, at pp. 2-3). Chen states in her affidavit that SLLIS never filled the position for the 2013-14 school year.[3] (Chen Aff. ¶ 36).


Plaintiff filed this action, pro se, on October 1, 2013, and has since filed two amended complaints. In her Second Amended Complaint, filed on July 7, 2014, she asserts seven claims against Defendants SLLIS and Chen: (I) age discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 621, et seq. ; (II) racial discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. ; (III) age discrimination in violation of the Missouri Human Rights Act, Mo. Rev. Stat. § 213.055; (IV) racial discrimination in violation of the Missouri Human Rights Act, Mo. Rev. Stat. § 213.055; (V) breach of contract; (VI) fraudulent inducement; and (VII) unjust enrichment. Defendants filed an answer to the Second Amended Complaint.

On April 23, 2014, the Court appointed counsel for Plaintiff through the Court's pro bono volunteer lawyer program. Plaintiff's appointed counsel met with Plaintiff and also found a Mandarin-speaking associate from his firm to assist in his communications with Plaintiff. However, Plaintiff soon notified the Court of various complaints about her appointed counsel, principally related to his request that she sign his firm's standard engagement letter. At a status conference before the Court, it became apparent that Plaintiff did not trust her appointed counsel and believed that he would seek payment from her for his services, despite his and the Court's representations to the contrary. Plaintiff's counsel eventually moved to withdraw, and the Court granted the motion on June 23, 2014. The Court has denied Plaintiff's subsequent motions seeking appointment of counsel, and Plaintiff is currently proceeding pro se. nondiscriminatory intentions." (Doc. 58). On August 27, 2014, Defendants stated in their Brief and Memorandum of Law in Support of Summary Judgment, "It is undisputed that SLLIS did not hire anyone for the position that Gao was seeking." (Doc. 84, at p. 6). Defendants have not attempted to explain this discrepancy, even after Plaintiff pointed it out in her response.

On August 27, 2014, Defendants filed the instant motion for summary judgment. After Plaintiff filed responses that did not comply with Eastern District of Missouri Local Rule 7-4.01(E) or with Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (Docs. 85, 100), the Court entered orders informing her of her obligations under Local Rule 7-4.01 and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c), including her obligation to support her assertions with citations to materials in the record such affidavits, depositions, documents, stipulations, admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials. (Docs. 87, 102). Eventually, Plaintiff filed three documents in opposition to Defendants' motion: a response to Defendants' Statement of Uncontroverted Facts (Doc. 104); a response to Chen's affidavit (Doc. 107); and a response to Defendants' Brief and Memorandum of Law (Doc. 115). In ...

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