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RUGGIERI v. HARRINGTON

March 30, 2001

CATHERINE RUGGIERI, PLAINTIFF,
V.
DONALD J. HARRINGTON, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS CAPACITY AS PRESIDENT OF ST. JOHN'S UNIVERSITY, AND ST. JOHN'S UNIVERSITY, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Amon, District Judge.

      MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiff Catherine Ruggieri, a tenured professor at St. John's University ("St. John's" or the "University"), brought this action against defendants St. John's and Father Donald J. Harrington, the President of St. John's, alleging a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and various state law claims. Specifically, Ruggieri alleges that she was retaliated against for filing a previous discrimination lawsuit against St. John's in 1993.*fn1 Defendants counterclaimed for breach of the agreement the parties entered into in settlement of that earlier case. Before the Court is defendants' motion for summary judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 on all claims. For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants defendants' motion for summary judgment on plaintiff's claims but denies the motion as to defendants' counterclaim.

Background

The following undisputed facts are taken from plaintiff's Amended Complaint, plaintiff's and defendants' Rule 56.1 Statements, and relevant affidavits, exhibits, and deposition testimony.

Plaintiff Ruggieri is a tenured professor of Administration and Economics at St. Vincent's College, an undergraduate college at St. John's. St. Vincent's, now known as the College of Professional Studies, has two campuses, one in Queens and the other in Staten Island. Defendant Harrington has been the President of St. John's since August 1989.

From 1981 until her removal by Harrington on June 10, 1993, Ruggieri was the dean of St. Vincent's. In September 1993, after previously filing a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), Ruggieri brought a Title VII case here, Ruggieri v. Harrington, 93 CV 4371 (E.D.N.Y.), challenging her removal as dean. This Court dismissed that case in 1995 pursuant to a Settlement Agreement, Release and Covenant Not to Sue (the "Settlement Agreement"), dated January 30, 1995 and a Memorandum of Agreement (the "Memorandum Agreement"), dated February 9, 1995 (collectively, the "Settlement Agreements").

Under the terms of the Settlement Agreements, St. John's agreed, inter alia, to provide Ruggieri with a lump sum payment, a two-semester paid leave of absence, and a "private office" on either of St. Vincent's two campuses; to appoint her to a search committee for the position of college dean or higher; and to make a public announcement that she would receive the honorary title of "Dean Emeritus" on the 25th anniversary of her employment by the University.

For her part, Ruggieri waived her right to reinstatement to her former position as dean of St. Vincent's and agreed not to apply for "any administrative position" in the future. More specifically, paragraph 5 of the Settlement Agreement provides, in relevant part:

RUGGIERI further covenants not to apply for, pursue or accept employment in any administrative position with ST. JOHN'S for a period of five (5) years after the date of her execution of this AGREEMENT, or for so long as HARRINGTON is President of ST. JOHN'S whichever period is longer. . . . RUGGIERI further covenants that ST. JOHN'S and HARRINGTON or his successors have no obligation to consider RUGGIERI as a candidate for employment in any administrative position during said period. In the event that any such application is made contrary to the terms of this paragraph, RUGGIERI shall, upon request by ST. JOHN's immediately withdraw such application and have no further recourse against ST. JOHN'S and HARRINGTON or his successors regarding said application.

(Affidavit of Ruth D. Raisfeld ("Raisfeld Aff."), sworn to March 2, 2000, Ex. 27 ¶ 5.) Notwithstanding the other terms of the Settlement Agreement, paragraph 23 provides that:

Ruggieri's rights as a tenured faculty member, including rights pursuant to the terms of the University Statutes, the collective bargaining agreement, and any retirement, savings, or other benefit plans of ST. JOHN's, are independent of this agreement and are not affected or waived by this AGREEMENT.

(Id. ¶ 23.) The University By-laws, also known as the "University Statutes," are adopted by St. John's Board of Trustees. The University Statutes are adopted or incorporated by reference in the collective bargaining agreement to which the University and the faculty labor unions are parties.

The Settlement Agreements additionally contain confidentiality provisions that limit the individuals at St. John's who could be privy to the terms of the agreements. Dr. Kathleen MacDonald, who in June 1994 replaced Ruggieri as dean of St. Vincent's, is not authorized to have any knowledge of the agreements and has never read the agreements. Prior to her hiring as dean of St. Vincent's, MacDonald was the dean of Polytechnic University's Westchester campus. At Ruggieri's request, Dr. Tony Bonaparte, the provost of St. John's, was designated to be the administrator of the Settlement Agreements, the University representative with whom she was to confer concerning any matters relating to the agreements.

Ruggieri's claims in the instant lawsuit are apparently based on eleven separate incidents:

The Temporary Denial of Ruggieri's Requested Teaching Reduction

Subsequently, at a September 5, 1995 Faculty Council attended by Ruggieri, Dean MacDonald, who had since succeeded McKenzie, announced a new University policy pursuant to which requests for paid course reductions for graduate study would no longer be granted, regardless of whether such reductions had been granted in the past. Ruggieri thereafter wrote MacDonald asking that her two-course teaching reduction nevertheless be continued for the Spring 1996 semester. MacDonald denied the request, citing the new policy.

Ruggieri then wrote Provost Bonaparte on October 6, 1995, stating that she believed the denial of the reduction constituted a violation of the Settlement Agreement she had entered into with the University in resolution of her prior discrimination lawsuit. Bonaparte responded on November 8, 1995, that he did not believe Ruggieri was entitled to the reduction pursuant to the Settlement Agreement. After Ruggieri filed a grievance with the faculty union (not based on a theory of retaliation), Bonaparte reinstated Ruggieri's teaching reduction for the remaining two and a half years of her law school studies on November 29, 1995, but noted that "there is absolutely no basis, in the Settlement Agreement or the Collective Bargaining Agreement, for granting a reduction in your teaching load." (Raisfeld Aff., Ex. 43.)

The Appointment of Dr. Anthony Gabb as Department Chair

In February 1995, the Division of Administration and Economics conducted an election for department chair. Pursuant to the procedures prescribed in the University Statutes, the Provost's Office distributed an initial list of eligible faculty in the department, meaning associate or full professors with tenure. Among others, Ruggieri withdrew her name from consideration for chair. In the secret ballot departmental election, Gibaldi, the then-current chair, received sixteen votes. Professor Joyce Boland-DeVito received one vote. Presented with the election results, Dean MacDonald recommended to Provost Bonaparte in April 1995 that Boland-DeVito be appointed acting chair for one year.*fn2

Bonaparte then held a meeting with the department's faculty and requested that they submit the names of other faculty members that they believed to be qualified to serve as chair, other than Gibaldi and Boland-Devito. The only two professors named were Dr. Anthony Gabb and Professor Theodore Muzio. MacDonald and Bonaparte ultimately recommended to President Harrington in June 1995 that Gabb be appointed acting chair for one year, and Harrington approved the recommendation.

On April 9, 1996, Bonaparte wrote Ruggieri, asking her to withdraw her name from consideration as chair pursuant to paragraph 5 of the Settlement Agreement, which barred her from seeking "any administrative position." Ruggieri responded on April 17, 1996, stating that she disagreed with Bonaparte's interpretation of the Settlement Agreement and declining to withdraw her name. On April 25, 1996, Bonaparte recommended to Harrington that Gabb be named chair of the Division of Administration and Economics. Harrington accepted the recommendation and forwarded it to the Board of Trustees, who approved the appointment.*fn3

Sometime after first learning that Ruggieri had received the majority of the votes for department chair, Harrington consulted with the University's general counsel, Herbert Schwartzmann, because he did not think she could serve as department chair under the terms of the Settlement Agreement. Harrington did not, however, have any discussions with either MacDonald or Bonaparte about whom they were going to recommend as department chair before they recommended that Gabb be appointed, and he does not recall ever seeing Bonaparte's letter to Ruggieri asking her to withdraw.

Department chairs receive a six-credit teaching reduction and a minimum annual stipend of $2,750.

Ruggieri's Private Office

As required by the Memorandum Agreement, the University constructed a private office for Ruggieri on the Staten Island campus of St. Vincent's, using space that had previously served as a lounge connecting the two sides of St. Joseph's Hall. The new office thus had two doors; one that was intended to be permanently locked, and the other that served as the front entrance to the office. In September 1995, Ruggieri moved from her old office in St. Joseph's Hall, which she had shared with several other faculty members, to the new office.

On October 31, 1995, Ruggieri complained to Father James Kiernan, the senior vice president of the Staten Island campus, that individuals were walking through her office to get to the other side of the building and were using her office when she was not present on campus. Kiernan agreed to correct the problem and met with the campus' assistant director of security, William Mulvey, and the director of the maintenance department, to discuss Ruggieri's concerns.

On January 26, 1996, Ruggieri complained to Provost Bonaparte that University employees were continuing to use her office. In response, Kiernan again met with Mulvey and the director of the maintenance department to discuss Ruggieri's problems. On February 14, 1996, Bonaparte informed Ruggieri that campus security had been directed to watch her office to make sure others were not entering it and that they had replaced a broken lock on one of the doors to the office.

In response to continuing complaints from Ruggieri, Kiernan met once more with individuals from the campus' security and maintenance departments on April 3, 1996. Around that time, the security department replaced the locks on both doors of Ruggieri's office and agreed to continue to make frequent inspections of her office. Only three keys were made for the new locks; one held by the security department, one held by the maintenance department, and one held by Ruggieri herself.

Ruggieri did not complain again about unauthorized entry into her office until March 28, 1998. At that time, the security department once again changed the locks to Ruggieri's office and agreed to continue to make inspections of her office. In June 1998, the security department further implemented a log for Ruggieri's office, requiring written record of all entries into the office for cleaning or any other purpose. Since the log system was put in place, Ruggieri has not complained further about the unauthorized use of her office.

Errors in the St. John's Directory

In early 1995, St. John's published its first university-wide telephone directory, listing the names, titles, office locations, and telephone numbers for all of its employees. In October 1995, Ruggieri notified Father Kiernan that the directory incorrectly listed her as being a member of the "staff" rather than as a professor, and listed her former office and telephone numbers. Ruggieri had moved that September from her old office, 101 St. Joseph's Hall, to her new office in 103 St. Joseph's Hall, and was assigned a new telephone number.

Kiernan informed the University switchboard of the errors and instructed Information Technology Services to make a correction in the next publication of the directory. In a revised version of the directory published in the fall of 1995, Ruggieri was correctly listed as a full Professor of Management, but her office number and telephone number remained incorrect. The Spring 1996 and Fall 1996 versions of the directory correctly listed all of Ruggieri's information in the Queens section, but incorrectly in the Staten Island section. The incorrect listings of Ruggieri's office ...


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