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LOCASTRO v. EAST SYRACUSE-MINOA CENT. SCH. DIST.

August 14, 1993

MICHELLE A. LOCASTRO, Plaintiff,
v.
EAST SYRACUSE-MINOA CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT, and LAWRENCE MAGGI, Defendants.


McAvoy


The opinion of the court was delivered by: THOMAS J. MCAVOY

DECISION and ORDER

 I. Introduction

 This case was tried in Watertown, New York before the court and a jury commencing June 3, 1993 and concluding June 15, 1993. Submitted to the jury were plaintiff's claims under New York State Human Rights Law § 296 and 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and an additional state law claim of intentional infliction for emotional distress. The jury found no cause of action existed as to each of these claims. At the same time the court heard proof on plaintiff's claim under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000(e) et seq.. The following constitutes the court's findings of fact and conclusions of law, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 52, with respect to that claim.

 II. Facts

 Plaintiff, a teacher who was at one time temporarily certified in special education, answered a newspaper advertisement placed by the defendant East Syracuse-Minoa Central School District ("School District") in the spring of 1989. After interviewing with the School District, plaintiff was hired to teach special education classes during the 1989-90 school year. As part of the hiring process the School District inquired as to plaintiff's certification status, and was told by plaintiff that she had written to the New York State Department of Education for renewal of her temporary certification.

 Plaintiff commenced teaching in the fall of 1989. During that semester she was asked to chaperone a school dance. Plaintiff alleges that at the dance she was approached by defendant Lawrence Maggi who was the principal of the Pinegrove building where plaintiff worked. Plaintiff claims that Maggi, a married man, made inquiries as to what she was going to do after the dance. Plaintiff testified that Maggi smelled of alcohol, and that he improperly placed his hand on her back, moving it towards her buttocks in a sexually offensive manner.

 Plaintiff testified that just before the Christmas holidays, defendant Maggi kissed her on the lips in an offensive and sexually suggestive manner in the main corridor of the Pinegrove school building when both students and other teachers were present. Just after that incident, and shortly before Christmas, plaintiff was called into defendant Maggi's office to discuss an ongoing tardiness problem perceived by the School District. Plaintiff asserts that on that occasion Maggi smelled of alcohol, that he began talking to her about religion and other topics unassociated with school business, and that at some point in the discussion he began telling her about the motion picture "Looking for Mr. Goodbar". That movie depicted a special education teacher who went from bar to bar picking up men and engaged in sexual activities with them. According to the testimony, one of those men ultimately killed her. Plaintiff testified that she was extremely upset by these events and tried to avoid meeting with defendant Maggi during the remainder of her time at Pinegrove. In addition to what was described, plaintiff also testified that defendant Maggi told her, on more than one occasion, that she should wear shorter skirts in order to show off her legs because he was a "leg man".

 On January 22, 1990, plaintiff alleges that she was in the mail room on business when Maggi again approached her. They were alone and Maggi allegedly placed his hand on the small of her back, and again, in a sexually unwelcome manner, moved it from that position down to her buttocks. That same day, plaintiff reported the sexually offensive behavior to her supervisor, other school officials, and the superintendent of schools, Jerry Beck. Superintendent Beck issued an order that defendant Maggi stay away from plaintiff. At the same time Superintendent Beck called for a hearing by an "impartial" hearing officer, Mark Reitz. Defendant Maggi denied all of plaintiff's allegations, with the exception of the kiss in the hallway.

 While the hearing officer was interviewing witnesses and prior to the time he issued his report, plaintiff alleges that defendant Maggi continued to sexually harass her in violation of the superintendent's no contact order. Specifically, she indicated that he would stand outside her classroom and stare at her for as long as 45 minutes. She also stated that on two occasions he touched her on the arm and spoke to her, in violation of the order, and that this was very upsetting to her. This was reported to school officials who ordered Assistant Superintendent Voninski to investigate the matter. Voninski testified that he talked to all of the persons named by plaintiff as witnesses to defendant Maggi's advances, and that he concluded that these incidents never occurred.

 After the impartial hearing, Hearing Officer Reitz was unable to determine who was being truthful and who was lying about the events at issue. Superintendent Beck adopted the hearing officer's position and no action was taken by the District with respect to the incidents.

 In addition to the incidents already mentioned, plaintiff also alleges that she received many disturbing phone calls during which the caller would either hang up or remain silent on the phone. Plaintiff believed some of the calls came from defendant Maggi and she asserts that she contacted the police to have a device placed on the telephone to "trap" the caller.

 As stated earlier, defendant Maggi denied all of plaintiff's allegations, with the exception of the kiss bestowed on plaintiff in the hall. The court notes that plaintiff failed to present corroborating evidence at trial to support her allegations. Therefore, the court, faced with starkly different accounts of what actually occurred between plaintiff and defendant Maggi, is left to resolve the issue of whether plaintiff was indeed a victim of harassment based on the credibility of the witnesses.

 Plaintiff claims that in reprisal for her complaints to school officials about Maggi's sexual harassment, the officials began building a case against her with respect to her employment performance, and ultimately refused to hire her in the area of ...


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