The opinion of the court was delivered by: John T. Curtin, United States District Judge.
On December 10, 1997, plaintiff Janita K. Byars ("Dr. Byars") filed
this action against defendant Jamestown Teachers Association ("JTA"),
asserting claims for employment discrimination under Title VII of the
Civil Rights Act, as amended; conspiracy under 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3);
as well as claims under State statutory and common law. Item 1. Dr. Byars
later amended her complaint to add the Jamestown City School District
("School District") as a defendant. Item 9. Extensive discovery took
place. The School District and plaintiff arrived at a settlement. Item
54. Subsequently, the JTA filed a motion for summary judgment, Item 44,
which plaintiff opposed. Items 46-49. Further briefing followed; and on
November 9, 2001, oral argument was held. Plaintiff's counsel then
submitted a letter and exhibits addressed to certain assertions proffered
by counsel during oral argument. Item 56.
For the reasons that follow, the court grants defendant's motion for
The undisputed facts in this case are as follows. The Jamestown City
School Board appointed Dr. Byars to a three-year probationary period of
employment as Principal of the Jamestown High School ("JHS" or "the High
School"), at the end of which it would make a decision on whether she
would be offered tenure.*fn1 Dr. Byars' term began in September 1994.
Item 44, ¶ 1. In June 1997, the School
Board voted to deny Dr. Byars
tenure, and her employment with the District terminated. Id., ¶ 2. Beyond
these basic facts, and the fact that both plaintiff and defendant have
characterized the general atmosphere in the High School while Dr. Byars
served as principal as "tense," Item 44, Sawicki Aff., ¶ 7; "in a state
of chaos," Item 44, Peters Dep., p. 48; "nervous breakdown" and
"dysfunctional," Item 48, Ex. D, ¶¶ 82, 83, the parties' views on the
reasons for that charged atmosphere comprise the subject matter of this
case. Dr. Byars has claimed that the problems at JHS were a manifestation
of the JTA's and the School District's bias against her because she is a
woman and because she is a lesbian. While the JTA admits that it "opposed
certain activities of the plaintiff," Item 10, ¶ 7, it categorically
denies that bias was at the root of its opposition.
In June of 1995 and 1996, Dr. Byars, who had extensive experience as an
educator, Item 48, Ex. A, received very good evaluations of her
performance as JHS principal from Assistant Superintendent Robert Sigler.
Item 48, Exs. I and J. The June 1996 evaluation recommended "her
continued service to the district." Item 48, Ex. J, p. 10. In August of
1996, Dr. Byars met with James Coffman, who was Director of Secondary and
Middle Level Education, and Craig King, Superintendent of the Jamestown
School District, to discuss her "career and [her] future with Jamestown."
Item 44, Exhibits, Byars Transcript, p. 76. They presented Dr. Byars with
a list of five concerns,*fn2 Item 48, Ex. K, regarding "educational
requirements and [her] performance as principal. . . ." Item 48, Ex. C,
p. 77. Dr. Byars characterized the tone of the meeting as "ominous" and
"[n]egative," id., pp. 76, 77, such that she questioned whether they were
"putting [her] on notice." Id., p. 76. She subsequently acknowledged that
the meeting was part of the evaluation process to address leadership
areas where she needed improvement, id., pp. 80-82, that they discussed
legitimate areas of concern, id., p. 77, and that nothing derogatory,
improper, or discriminatory was said to her or implied at this point,
Item 44, Byars Transcript, p. 96. Nevertheless, Dr. Byars testified at
her deposition that, in her experience, the meeting did not represent a
standard approach to doing an evaluation.*fn3 Item 48, Ex. C, p. 80.
At the end of October 1996, both Mr. Coffman and Mr. King again met
with Dr. Byars to review her progress toward the goals set forth in the
previous meeting. Item 44, Byars transcript, p. 97. Dr. Byars had prepared
her files and assembled "supporting evidence of work that I had done and
we talked through it." Id. Approximately eight or nine days later, while
at home one evening, Dr. Byars received a telephone call from Mr. King.
He asked to meet with her the next morning. When asked about the topic of
the meeting, Mr. King responded, "a couple of things." Id., p. 99. The
meeting took place on November 6, 1996. According to Dr. Byars, Mr. King
told her that "the school board had met, that they told [him]
if he recommended me for tenure, they would not vote positively. . . ."
Id., p. 100. She did not know who on the Board had relayed this message
to the Superintendent. Id., p. 101. Mr. Coffman, who was also present at
this meeting, disputes Dr. Byars' recollection of Mr. King's statement.
Item 48, Ex. H, pp. 251-52.
Dr. Byars left the meeting very upset. Item 44, Byars transcript, p.
106. When she returned to the High School, she encountered teachers
Carolyn Whitehead and William Boerst. When asked what was wrong, Dr.
Byars informed them that she was not going to receive tenure. Item 48,
Ex. C, p. 106. The next day, November 7, 1996, Ms. Whitehead, a supporter
of Dr. Byars, had a confrontation with David Mazzone, a teacher and JTA
Secretary. Mr. Mazzone wrote a note to Mr. Coffman, complaining about
Ms. Whitehead's manner. Item 48, Ex. L.
During Dr. Byars' period of employment at JHS, the JTA newsletter,
"JTALK," distributed regularly at the High School since the early 1990s,
began to list all the grievances that the JTA had filed. Item 46, p. 4.
Many grievances were listed against Dr. Byars personally, Item 48, Ex.
D, ¶ 43, and resolved grievances were not removed. JTA Vice President
Gary Peters could not provide a reason why resolved grievances continued
to be listed. Item 48, Ex. G, pp. 31-32.
As a result of the "unrest" at the High School, the JTA asked the State
Teachers' Union, the National Education Association — New York
("NEA"), to make an assessment of the problems at JHS. Item 48, Ex. M,
p. 20. JTA President Bruce Carpenter stated that the JTA did not know how
"widespread" the unrest was, or if there were "underlying reasons" for
it.*fn4 Id., p. 21. The JTA thought that if an outside agency was
brought in, "with no real stake, perhaps we could get a little better
hand on the way things — the way people really felt, what was
really going on." Id. Superintendent King granted the NEA permission to
conduct its inquiry at the High School. Item 48, Ex. M, p. 24. The NEA
asked the Superintendent and the Board of Education to submit questions
to the assessment team concerning any matters they wanted the team to
address. Item 48, Ex. M, pp. 23-24.
Teacher Carolyn Whitehead expressed her opposition to the upcoming NEA
assessment to teacher and Union member Jeffrey Keppel. According to the
plaintiff, Whitehead's comments caused Keppel to file a grievance on
November 8, 1996 against Dr. Byars concerning those comments. Item 46,
p. 9; Item 48, Ex. N.
The NEA conducted its assessment during December 9-11, 1996. The
Report, entitled, "Jamestown High School Assessment — A report on a
variety of issues of concern to members of the National Education
Association of New York and the Jamestown Teachers Association working at
the Jamestown High School" ("NEA Report"), was published later that
month. Item 51, Ex. C. The NEA Report indicated that its goal was to meet
the needs of the JTA membership employed at JHS, and addressed the
question, "What would you change with regard to policies, programs and
procedures at Jamestown High School that you believe would create for the
staff and students the ideal place to work and learn?" Id., p. 1. While
the NEA Report did make reference to a "small cadre of school employees
who see the building
problems as being exploited by the `unionist' [sic]
to oust the top building administrator," id., Findings, ¶ 9, it went on
to say that "there are those who see this cadre and [sic] a group who
would sacrifice the integrity of the entire school simply to save the job
and reputation of the top school administrator." Id. The NEA Report's
first recommendation was that "[t]he district must act immediately to
effect a change of principal at JHS. The risk of the fractionalization
expanding to the entire faculty is real and the resulting harm would be
of a long range nature. Time is of the essence." Id., p. 3. The Report
contained the proviso that it "may not be used for any purpose, in whole
or in part, by any individual, group, organization, authority or
publication without the expressed written permission of the JTA and the
National Education Association of New York (NEA/NY)." Id., p. 1.
Superintendent King was provided with a copy of the Report, Item 10, ¶
13, as were the fifteen members of the JTA executive committee. Item 48,
Ex. M, p. 29. Despite the limitations imposed on its circulation, supra,
the NEA Report was distributed anonymously outside the School District. A
Superintendent of Schools in another school district received a copy,
mailed in a Jamestown High School Guidance Office envelope. Item 48, Ex.
O, pp. 201-02. The Chairperson of the JHS Guidance Department, Julie
Zaffalon, testified that she did not know how a copy of the document came
to be mailed in a Guidance Department envelope to another
Superintendent. Id., p. 202. She stated she was unaware that she was
reported to have admitted to people that she mailed out copies, and
stated that if a person had made that claim, "[t]hey would be lying."
Id. She added that Mr. Coffman had indicated to her that he and Mr. King
"felt that it might have come right from [Dr. Byars], to kind of get me
or get the district or whatever." Id., p. 203. The report was eventually
published in the local newspaper in March 1997. Item 12, ¶ 33.
Following publication of the NEA Report, the climate at JHS continued
to deteriorate. During spring 1997, various teachers criticized JTA
policies and expressed support for Dr. Byars. See generally Peterson,
Boerst, and Oram affidavits, Item 48, Exs. D, E, and F. One of those
outspoken teachers claims he was retaliated against by the JTA for
supporting Dr. Byars. Id., Ex. E, ¶¶ 45-48.
On March 7, 1997, Mr. Coffman sent a memorandum to Superintendent King
regarding "Request to Remove Dr. Byars from J.H.S." Item 44, Plaintiff's
Deposition #3,*fn5 p. 1. In this seven-page document, Mr. Coffman
provided examples of Dr. Byars' negative role in various problems and
incidents at the High School. The document referred to a communications
breakdown between Dr. Byars and the faculty and staff, and to a "lack of
trust, and a feeling that the principal had abdicated her administrative
authority to a small group of her teacher friends. Factioning and public
lobbying became a vicious circle, which at this juncture cannot be
stopped with the exception of the removal of Dr. Byars from the
building." Id., p. 6. He concluded that "a change in leadership will be
required to solve this problem." Id., pp. 6-7.
At a meeting held on June 10, 1997, the School Board officially denied
tenure to Dr. Byars. Item 10, ¶ 20. Dr. Byars then engaged in a search
for other employment, applying for over eighty positions in New York, New
Jersey, and Pennsylvania.
Item 9, ¶ 46. She secured a position in
November 1998. At her deposition, she testified that she felt that the
distribution of the NEA report was "very negative" and that she had been
"blacklisted" in her job search. Item 48, Ex. C, p. 493. Dr. Byars
provided examples of jobs for which she had interviewed where the
interviewer referred to issues raised in the Report. Id., pp. 484,
As indicated above, Dr. Byars first filed suit against the JTA in
December 1997, Item 1, and amended her complaint nine months later to add
the School District as a defendant. Item 9. She asserted claims against
the JTA for: sex discrimination pursuant to both Title VII and the New
York State Human Rights Law, § 296(c); conspiracy with the School
District pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3); tortious interference with
contract; tortious interference with prospective economic advantage; and
intentional infliction of emotional distress. After extensive discovery,
the JTA moved for summary judgment. Item 44.
I. Legal Standard for Summary Judgment
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) provides that a motion for
summary judgment shall be granted if the pleadings and supplemental
evidentiary materials "show that there is no genuine issue as to any
material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a
matter of law." Under the rule, the burden is on the moving party to
inform the court of the basis for its motion and to demonstrate the
absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett,
477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The party seeking summary judgment "[a]lways
bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the
basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of `the pleadings,
depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together
with the affidavits, if any' which it believes demonstrate the absence of
a genuine issue of material fact." Id.; Gallo v. Prudential Residential
Services, 22 F.3d 1219 (2d Cir. 1994).
After the moving party has carried its burden, the non-moving party
"must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as
to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio
Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). "[T]he non-moving party must come
forward with `specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for
trial.'" Id. at 587 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)). "The party opposing
summary judgment may not rely simply on conclusory statements or on
contentions that the affidavits supporting the motion are not credible."
Goenaga v. March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation, 51 F.3d 14, 18 (2d
Cir. 1995) (citations omitted). The affidavits must "set forth such facts
as would be admissible in evidence. . . ." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e).
"`Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of
fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no "genuine issue for
trial.'" Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 599 (citations omitted). In evaluating a
summary judgment motion, "the judge's function is not . . . to weigh the
evidence and to determine the truth of the matter but to determine
whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986); Sutera v. Schering Corp., 73 F.3d 13, 15
(2d Cir. 1995). When perusing the record to determine whether a rational
fact-finder would find for the nonmoving party, "a court must resolve all
ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving
Sorlucco v. New York City Police Department, 888 F.2d 4, 6 (2d
It is well established that
[t]he general principles underlying a motion for
summary judgment fully apply to discrimination
actions. Although courts should be cautious about
granting summary judgment in cases where motive,
intent or state of mind are at issue, see Dister v.
Continental Group, Inc., 859 F.2d 1108, 1114 (2d Cir.
1988), "the salutary purposes of summary judgment
— avoiding protracted, expensive and harassing
trials — apply no less to discrimination cases
than to commercial or other areas of litigation."
Jordan v. Olsten Corp., 111 F. Supp.2d 227, 232-33 (W.D.N.Y. 2000)
The JTA argues that there is "no proof whatsoever that there was any
invidious discrimination against plaintiff carried out by the JTA," Item
50, p. 1, and that the plaintiff "cannot submit any proof in evidentiary
form, because none exists, which would raise any triable issue of fact
regarding the liability of the JTA to [Dr. Byars] under any of
plaintiff's causes of action." Item 44, Sawicki Aff., ¶ 5. Dr. Byars, on
the other hand, provides documents in support of her contention that the
Union discriminated against her because of her sex and attempted to cause
the School Board to discriminate against her as well. Item 9, ¶ 111.
II. Title VII and New York State Executive Law Claims of ...