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HONE v. CORTLAND CITY SCH. DIST.

October 23, 1997

JAMES A. HONE, Plaintiff, against CORTLAND CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT, and MASON MORENUS, Defendants.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: MCAVOY

 This case presents the issue of whether a public secondary school can preclude a male sports reporter from school grounds after the reporter has made repeated attempts to initiate unwanted personal contacts with female school employees. The plaintiff, James Hone, was a sports reporter for the Cortland Standard Newspaper in Cortland, New York. Defendants are the Cortland City School District and Mason Morenus, the school's Athletic Director.

 James Hone began working for the Cortland Standard as a sports reporter in October, 1993. As one of three people in the sports writing department, Hone's main duty was to cover Cortland City School District athletic contests at the junior high and senior high, although he did cover other area high school and collegiate sports. In addition to sports writing, Hone did occasional clerical work and layout of the sports section of the newspaper.

 On October 17, 1994, Hone sent a four-page letter to Ms. Brown at her residence in which he stated, inter alia : "There is no doubt that I'm attracted to you. I'll bet I'm not the only one." (Brown Aff., Ex. B). As a result of the continued personal contact, Ms. Brown states that she developed a network of co-employees within the school district utilizing phone systems and verbal warning signals when Plaintiff was on the school grounds or approaching the building so that she could make an exit through a side or back door. (Brown Aff. P 5).

 On November 3, 1994, Ms. Brown wrote to Hone at the Cortland Standard, stating: "I would like to reiterate that phone calls from you are not welcome. . . . If you persist in making attempts to contact me then legal action will be pursued." (Krogh Aff., Ex. D). Ms. Brown sent a copy of the letter to John Stefano, Interim Executive Principle of Cortland High, Mason Morenus, Athletic Director of Cortland High, and Jere Dexter, the Chief Sports Editor at the Cortland Standard and Hone's supervisor. In addition to sending the November 3, 1994 letter, Brown created a detailed synopsis of Hone's attempts to contact her on 9/24/94, 9/27/94, 10/6/94, 10/8/94, 10/11/94, 10/13/94, 10/14/94, 10/19/94, 10/25/94, 10/27/94, 10/29/94, 10/31/94, 11/1/94, 11/2/94. Ms. Brown mailed this synopsis to John Stefano and Mason Morenus, and sometime during this time period met with Jere Dexter at the Cortland Standard and provided him with a copy of the synopsis. (Brown Aff. P 7).

 Shortly after his meeting with Ms. Brown, Jere Dexter met with Hone in his office. According to Dexter, "I discussed the matters and complaints of Jamie Brown with him and warned Mr. Hone that any future contact with Jamie Brown could result in disciplinary action against him or his dismissal and advised him to keep away." (Dexter Aff. P 4). On December 14, 1994, Cortland High sent Hone a letter which notified Plaintiff of the following:

 
You are welcome to cover varsity contests at Cortland Junior-Senior High School under the following guidelines:
 
1. Arrive at contest site no earlier than 30 minutes prior to game time;
 
. . .
 
4. Interview no players without the consent of the coach;
 
5. Leave the building when your post-game interviews are complete;
 
6. Have no contact whatsoever with Mrs. Jamie Brown.

 (Krogh Aff., Ex. I). It appears that Hone did not directly contact Ms. Brown after his meeting with Dexter and the subsequent letter from Cortland High.

 However, in late December, 1995, Hone sent a letter to Amy Snow, a soccer coach and math teacher at Cortland High, at her home address. The letter says "I love you" a number of times and also states: "I was honestly very ashamed of you for hanging up on me." (Krogh Aff., Ex. J). The letter concludes with "Goodbye sweetheart." (Id.). Apparently, Ms. Snow refused acceptance of the letter because the front of the envelope has written across it "Return to Sender."

 In January, 1996, Ms. Snow notified Mason Morenus that Hone was harassing her, and that she had contacted the New York State Police for protection. (Morenus Second Interrog. P 42). According to Morenus, Ms. Snow complained that starting in the fall of 1995, Hone had sent her letters, a package, and made numerous telephone calls; "She complained of repeated, and at times near continuous, unwanted conduct." (Morenus Second Interrog. P 58).

 On January 17, 1996, Morenus sent Hone a letter stating:

 
Because of your continued unprofessional behavior, namely unwanted and undesirable advances toward some of our female coaches, both past and present, you are no longer welcome to cover any of our contests at Cortland Jr.-Sr. High School.
 
All contacts with our coaches are to be made in writing or by phone. . . . Phone messages by you will be made to the coaches at school, either through ...

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