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PALLETT v. PALMA

January 19, 1996

DARLEEN E. PALLETT, Plaintiff, against MICHAEL PALMA and IONA COLLEGE, Defendants. CHRISTINE KRACUNAS, Plaintiff, - against - MICHAEL PALMA and IONA COLLEGE, Defendants.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: BRIEANT

 Brieant, J.

 By motions fully submitted on December 8, 1995, defendant Iona College moved for partial summary judgment as to the Title IX claim of plaintiff Darleen E. Pallett in these consolidated actions, and for summary judgment as to all of the claims of plaintiff Christine Kracunas.

 In opposing the motions, plaintiff Kracunas moved for leave to serve a second amended complaint. That pleading is deemed to have been allowed and served, and the motion is treated as directed against that complaint.

 Parties

 Plaintiff Darleen E. Pallett filed her lawsuit on January 17, 1995. She was, at relevant times, an undergraduate student at Iona College. Plaintiff Christine Kracunas filed her lawsuit on March 9, 1995, and first amended her complaint on March 14, 1995. She was a graduate student at Iona College, studying toward a degree in English, and was at the same time employed in an administrative capacity at the College as Acting Director for Public Relations.

  Defendant Michael Palma, referred to as Professor Palma, is a tenured full time faculty member in the English Department of the School of Arts and Sciences of Iona College. *fn1" Iona College, a prestigious non-profit institution of higher learning founded in Westchester County some 55 years ago, regularly accepts and permits its students to accept the various federal loans and handouts which make applicable to this case the provisions of 20 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq., commonly referred to as Title IX and sustain subject matter jurisdiction in this Court. Both plaintiffs are suing under Title IX and Ms. Kracunas has also sued under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e. Supplemental claims have been pleaded under New York law.

 Pleadings

 The complaint of Ms. Pallett alleges that on or about May 19, 1994, she was falsely imprisoned and sexually harassed in the office of Professor Palma at an on-campus facility known as English House.

 Ms. Pallett alleges in lurid detail beginning at § 10 of the complaint a conversation with Professor Palma beginning at 1:00 P.M. and lasting between two and two and one half hours. According to her version of the discussion, she had attended at the office of Professor Palma to protest a failing grade on a paper and seek to have her grade raised. During that lengthy time period, she alleges that plaintiff, in lewd and vulgar language, discussed in detail his own prior sexual experiences, ordered her to read pornographic poetry which contained extensive sexually explicit references and recitals regarding sexual intercourse, inquired as to her own sexual experiences, and made vivid expressions of his own imagination of her reactions to sexual intercourse with him and of having sexual relations with her, recited the content of sexually oriented dreams he had regarding another student named Laurie, and said that he could imagine her naked and that in his opinion most men liked to fuck women. The complaint also alleges that he sat close to her and that his desk was between her and the only door to exit the office; that he kept raising the volume of the radio to prevent anyone outside the office from overhearing the conversation, and that she was thereby falsely imprisoned as well as being sexually harassed.

 During these discussions, plaintiff is said to have been "impliedly invited to provide him with sexual favors in exchange for a better grade." Pretrial discovery does not support this particular allegation since plaintiff Pallett has testified that she was, as she told Professor Palma, happy to receive a grade of "C", and that in her opinion the paper she submitted was in fact entitled to receive a grade of "C". This grade was awarded to her by Palma. At the end of the conversation, defendant Palma explicitly warned plaintiff not to go home and tell her family about the discussion.

 The complaint also alleges that Palma told other students of his sexual interest in plaintiff Pallett, and in other ways behaved like a cad. The Court accepts as valid for purposes of this motion the contention of plaintiff that the entire conversation constituted sexual harassment, and that the sexual harassment continued thereafter. However, in assessing the response of the College, we note that there was no touching during this lengthy conversation, no explicit request for specified sexual favors, either as a quid pro quo or otherwise, and no explicit threats or promises were made. *fn2"

 The second amended complaint of Ms. Kracunas alleges that at relevant times she was employed as "Acting Director of Public Relations" and was also studying at Iona College for a Masters Degree in English, having completed more than one half of the required courses when she enrolled in July 1994 in a course entitled "Modern American Poetry" taught by Palma. She alleges that the individualized student reading list contained vulgar or sexually explicit material, as well as sacrilegious matter (Complaint P 11) and on various occasions defendant Michael Palma engaged Ms. Kracunas in "uncomfortable conversations primarily discussing sex." When calling at Professor Palma's office to receive the promised text materials, he made comments to her which amounted to sexual harassment. Again, as in the Pallett case, there was no touching during the conversation, no explicit request for specified sexual favors either as a quid pro quo or otherwise, and no explicit threats or promises.

 Thereafter, Ms. Kracunas wrote to Professor Palma and protested his treatment of her. On August 3, 1994, Palma responded as follows:

 
* * *
 
"I deeply regret the distress and anger that I have caused you. Your rebuke of me is quite justified. Please let me apologize to you completely and without reservation for the offense I gave you through my crudity and stupidity. I made remarks to you that should never have been made; I would be only too happy to unsay them if I could.
 
* * *
 
"I will of course grade your work fairly. Though I cannot deny my contemptible vulgarity, I would never misuse the grading process in any vindictive or resentful way--or, for that matter, as a form of bribery; I can be crass and ignoble, obviously, but I hope that I am not petty or vicious or cruel. Since I have made it impossible for you to consult me regarding the written assignments, I will, if any of them should turn out to be inconsistent with what is expected, return them to you with explanations so that you may ...

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