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SPENCER v. CITY UNIV. OF NEW YORK/COLLEGE OF STATE

June 26, 1996

DR. HERBERT HARRY SPENCER, Plaintiff, against CITY UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK/COLLEGE OF STATEN ISLAND, Defendant.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: KOELTL

 JOHN G. KOELTL, District Judge:

 The plaintiff, Dr. Herbert Harry Spencer, brought this action against the College of Staten Island of The City University of New York under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., alleging discrimination against him because of his religion. The Court conducted a four-day bench trial from May 20 to 23, 1996.

 After hearing the evidence and evaluating the testimony, the exhibits received in evidence, and the credibility of the witnesses, the Court makes the following findings of fact and conclusions of law pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 52(a).

 I. FINDINGS OF FACT

 1. The plaintiff, Dr. Herbert Harry Spencer ("Dr. Spencer"), is Jewish. Dr. Spencer received a Bachelor's degree in engineering from the University of London, a Master's degree in structures from the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, and a Ph.D. degree in structural stability from University College, University of London. Dr. Spencer has held teaching positions at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, Rutgers University, Louisiana State University, University of Pittsburgh, University of Southern California, San Diego State College, and Hatfield Polytechnic in England. He received tenure only at Hatfield Polytechnic. Dr. Spencer also has experience working in industry as a consultant and scientist. (Pl.'s Exh. 1.)

 2. Dr. Spencer was appointed as a substitute associate professor in the Department of Applied Sciences (the "Department") of the defendant, College of State Island ("COSI") of The City University of New York, from September 1, 1984 through August 31, 1985. This was not a tenure-track position.

 3. Effective September 1, 1985, Dr. Spencer was appointed associate professor of mechanical engineering in the Department on a nonsubstitute basis. (Def.'s Exh. J.) Prof. Norbert Chencinski, who was chair of the Department, and Prof. Alfred Levine credibly testified that Dr. Spencer was selected for this nonsubstitute tenure-track position because the Department was convinced that Dr. Spencer would be able to set up an experimental laboratory for solid mechanics with the limited resources of COSI. The Department also expected that once he set up the laboratory he would use it to conduct research that would result in publications.

 4. Dr. Spencer was recommended by the Department for reappointment for the 1986-87 academic year, the 1987-88 academic year, and the 1988-89 academic year.

 5. In the 1988-89 academic year, Professor Panngiotis Razelos, the senior mechanical engineer for the Department, was invited to attend the meetings of the Department Appointments Committee (the "Committee") in his role as engineering coordinator. The position of engineering coordinator was an appointed position that involved such responsibilities as monitoring the engineering faculty and receiving student complaints about engineering faculty and classes. The engineering coordinator did not, however, have the same responsibilities or authority as the chair of the Department.

 6. On October 11, 1988, the Department voted unanimously by secret ballot not to recommend Dr. Spencer for reappointment for the 1989-90 academic year.

 7. The Department Appointments Committee that voted to recommend Dr. Spencer for the 1988-89 academic year was composed of the same members who unanimously voted not to recommend his reappointment for the 1989-90 academic year. The voting members of the Committee were professors in COSI's applied engineering department: Andrei Weiszmann, Norbert Chencinski, Alfred Levine, Erlan Feria, and Prof. O'Hane. Prof. Razelos was present at the meeting as engineering coordinator, but he was not a voting member of the Committee. The Court heard testimony from three Committee members: Profs. Chencinski, Weiszmann, and Levine.

 8. Profs. Weiszmann and Levine are Jewish. Prof. Weiszmann is also a Holocaust survivor who testified that he survived internment at a concentration camp for six months and at a Hungarian forced labor camp for seven months, and that he lost 28 family members during the Holocaust.

 9. The Committee reviewed Dr. Spencer's file, which included his curriculum vitae, publications, student evaluations, and peer evaluations.

 10. During the Committee meeting held in October 1988 to discuss the reappointment of Dr. Spencer, Razelos made a remark to the effect that he would be unable to work with someone who wore a Star of David around his neck.

 11. Immediately after Prof. Razelos made this comment, Profs. Chencinski and Weiszmann told Razelos that his comment was inappropriate and that what Dr. Spencer wore around his neck was irrelevant to the Committee's decision whether to recommend him for a fourth reappointment.

 12. Profs. Chencinski, Weiszmann, and Levine credibly testified that this comment did not affect their view of Dr. Spencer's academic performance at all and had no affect on the way they voted. Prof. Weiszmann said he was personally offended by Prof. Razelos's "ugly" comment.

 13. In addition, the members of the Committee did not rely solely on Prof. Razelos's evaluation of Dr. Spencer's performance in determining whether to vote to recommend Dr. Spencer for a fourth reappointment. All three professors testified credibly that based on the formal student evaluations and the more informal discussions they had with students, they believed that Dr. Spencer was a weak teacher, and that based on their experience in scientific research and in reviewing professors for reappointment and tenure, Dr. Spencer had not shown the requisite dedication and seriousness to the development of an experimental solid mechanics laboratory. Prof. Weiszmann also testified that the Committee members had already begun discussing Dr. Spencer's achievements before Prof. Razelos came to the meeting, and that this discussion of Dr. Spencer was mostly negative. While Dr. Spencer had been approved for reappointment before, the review became more searching as the time for considering Dr. Spencer for tenure drew closer. The Committee voted unanimously by secret ballot not to recommend Dr. Spencer for reappointment.

 14. Prof. Weiszmann subsequently told Dr. Spencer about Prof. Razelos's remark. Prof. Weiszmann also explained to Dr. Spencer that he had voted against him.

 15. On November 9, 1988, Dr. Spencer appealed the Department Appointments Committee's negative recommendation to the College Personnel and Budget Committee. The president of COSI Edmond Volpe chaired this committee. Prof. Chencinski, who was the chair of the COSI Applied Sciences Department, was a voting member of this committee.

 16. Barry Bressler, the vice president for academic affairs at COSI, told the members of the Personnel and Budget Committee about the inappropriate remark Razelos made at the Department Appointments Committee meeting. Bressler also told the Personnel and Budget Committee that Razelos had been castigated by the Department Appointments Committee for making the remark, and that this comment was not at all relevant to the appointment process.

 17. The Personnel and Budget Committee had available for its review all of the records concerning Dr. Spencer, including the raw student evaluations. In addition, Dr. Spencer made a presentation to this committee.

 18. Prof. Chencinski did not make a presentation to the Personnel and Budget Committee, but other members of the Personnel and Budget Committee asked Prof. Chencinski questions about Dr. Spencer's teaching and development of a solid mechanics laboratory.

 19. The College Personnel and Budget Committee unanimously voted against recommending Dr. Spencer's fourth reappointment. Prof. ...


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