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JAMIESON v. POUGHKEEPSIE CITY SCHOOL DIST.

March 20, 2002

LOIS JAMIESON, PLAINTIFF,
V.
POUGHKEEPSIE CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT, THOMAS F. HALLEY, GERALDINE F. SAMSELSKI, PAUL MONACO, SUED INDIVIDUALLY AND IN THEIR RESPECTIVE CAPACITIES AS MEMBERS OF THE POUGHKEEPSIE CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT BOARD OF EDUCATION, DEFENDANTS.



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

    MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

The Poughkeepsie City School Board (the "Board"), by a 3-2 vote, voted against renewing the employment contract of Dr. Lois Jamieson ("plaintiff" or "Jamieson"), Superintendent of the defendant Poughkeepsie City School District (the "District"). Each of the individually named defendants, Thomas Halley, Geraldine Samselski and Paul Monaco, voted against renewal. Plaintiff brings this race discrimination action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983 and the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, and the New York Human Rights Law, as codified in the New York State Executive Law, §§ 290 et seq.

Defendants have moved separately for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.*fn1 The District has also moved to dismiss plaintiffs claims against it pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

FACTS PERTINENT TO THE MOTION

On a motion for summary judgment, the Court views the facts most favorably to the non-moving party — in this case, the plaintiff — and draws all inferences in the plaintiffs favor. See Cifarelli v. Village of Babylon, 93 F.3d 47, 51 (2d Cir. 1996).

1. The Appointment

By 1997, plaintiff had worked over 32 years in the Yonkers School District. She served as a teacher and then principal for several years, and then moved into a series of leadership positions within that School District's central administration. During her last three years in the Yonkers School District, plaintiff was Assistant Superintendent in charge of Pupil Support Services. She received her PhD in Education Administration from Columbia in 1994. Plaintiffs evaluations as a school administrator in Yonkers were uniformly positive. Jamieson Dep. 12-51.

Defendant Geraldine Samselski was elected to the School Board in May 1997. In May of 1998, Samselski was elected to serve a one year term as President of the Board. She remained on the Board until June 2000. Defendant Thomas Halley was elected to the Board in 1997. Halley served on the Board during the 1997-1998 academic school year, as vice-president of the Board during the 1998-1999 school year, and as president of the Board during the 1999-2000 school year. Halley 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 2. Defendant Paul Monaco was elected to the School Board in 1998, and has remained a Board member to this day. Monaco and District 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 3-4.

In June 1997, the Poughkeepsie School Board voted unanimously to hire plaintiff as Superintendent. Jamieson Sep. 66-92; Samselski Dep. 15. Although present at plaintiffs Board interview, neither Samselski nor Halley could vote regarding her hiring because plaintiff was selected before they became voting Board members. Samselski Dep. 9-11; Jamieson Dep. 72-73; Halley Dep. 13. Monaco was not yet a Board member.

2. The 1997-1998 School Year

During her first year as Superintendent, plaintiff claims that most, if not all of her proposals to improve the District's performance were passed by the Board, Jamieson Dep. 138-139, but Samselski and Halley often voted against plaintiffs proposals. Jamieson Dep. 139, 146; Watkins Aff. ¶ 3, Ex. 2.

Plaintiff further alleges that during this first year, Samselski made comments to plaintiff suggesting that she harbored a racial bias against plaintiff. Examples of these alleged comments and actions are as follows:

• Plaintiff was late to a board meeting and Samselski confronted her in the parking lot and said, "You are going to be late all the time. I know your kind." Jamieson Dep. 139-140.
• After a Session of the Board, Samselski said to plaintiff, "I did my homework on you in Yonkers. I know you only hire blacks." Jamieson Dep. 233, 400-401, 460-461.
• Samselski refused to address plaintiff as Dr. Jamieson, even though plaintiff requested the Board to address her as such. Jamieson alleges that Samselski addressed her as "Lois," and on one occasion addressed her as "Doc." Jamieson Aff. ¶ 4; Jamieson Dep. 467.
• Samselski referred to plaintiff by often using the term "you people." Jamieson Dep. 148-149.

Plaintiff does not allege that defendant Halley made overtly biased comments in plaintiffs presence during her first year, but does allege that he publicly embarrassed plaintiff "in a manner that suggested a lack of respect for her." Plaintiff claims that Halley publicly lambasted her in a newspaper article for proposing to volunteer her husband's services as an education consultant in the District. Referring to plaintiffs failure to publicly disclose that the person she proposed to the Board was her husband, Halley was quoted as saying, "I believe it's a very clear conflict of interest. . . . It doesn't set a good example for students in the District as to how a public official should conduct himself or herself." Watkins Aff. ¶ 4, Ex. 3; Jamieson Dep. 323-324.

Plaintiff also alleges that Halley, while opposing a proposed school program, displayed racial animus toward her at a Board meeting. Plaintiff called on a group of Latino people to make a presentation for the program before the Board. Plaintiff alleges that Halley said that the presenters weren't reputable and that plaintiff was responsible for bringing them into the District. Jamieson Dep., 374-375. Plaintiff interpreted this comment as racially discriminatory. Id. Halley states that this comment could not be interpreted as racially motivated because he did not even know that the presenters were Latino; he thought that they were Caucasian. Halley 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 18 & 20. He argues that he was only remarking on the presenters' credibility.

Plaintiff further alleges that Halley acted in a discriminatory manner toward her in his opposition to the plaintiffs practices and policies concerning student discipline. She claims that he criticized her for being too lenient in her discipline of African-American students. Jamieson Dep. 357-358. Halley claims that his opposition to plaintiffs discipline practices and policies was not racially motivated because he did not even know the race of the children being disciplined. Halley 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 25. He felt that plaintiff was too lenient overall.

In her first year, plaintiff received very high marks from 3 of 5 of the Board Members. Samselski and Halley gave her much lower marks. Watkins Aff. ¶ 5, Ex. 4. They gave no explanation for their evaluations. Jamieson Dep. 187-190; 194-195.

3. The 1998-1999 School Year

Defendant Monaco was elected to the Board, and Samselski was elected Board President, effective July 1998. Monaco Dep. 47-48.

In July 1998, plaintiff alleges that Samselski accused her of conspiring with an African American elementary school principal in filing a complaint against Samselski with the Dutchess County Human Rights Commission. Samselski threatened to bring plaintiff up on disciplinary charges. Jamieson Aff. ¶ 5; Jamieson Dep. 506-511. Plaintiff claims that this accusation was untrue and unsubstantiated. After this threat, plaintiff retained legal counsel. Watkins Aff. ¶¶ 6-7, Exs. 5 & 6. Jamieson's attorney, Michael Sussman, wrote to Samselski regarding the baseless charge. Watkins Aff. ¶ 6, Ex. 5.

In August 1998, Samselski allegedly told plaintiff "I don't believe that the School District needs a Black Superintendent. You are not going to be here. Either you accept the offer for a buy-out [of your contract] or I'll make it impossible for you to work here. I've got the votes." Jamieson Dep. 338-339; see also Monaco Dep. 53-55 (confirming that Samselski proposed a buy-out of Jamieson's contract to the board, and mentioned having had a conversation with Jamieson).

Plaintiff rejected the buy-out offer, and alleges that Samselski, with the support of Halley and Monaco, endeavored to make her job "impossible." Watkins Aff. ¶ 7, Ex. 6. In a letter to David Shaw, Esq., counsel for the School Board, plaintiffs attorney expressed her rejection of the proposed buy-out, her refusal to make a counter-proposal. Mr. Sussman expressed plaintiffs concerns that Samselski and "another board member" "engaged in acts to undermine her Superintendency." These acts included, but were not limited to:

publicly embarrassing the Superintendent and her husband, Donald Duncan, last January when he volunteered to conduct needed human relations training at the middle school; inviting the president of the teachers' union to address an executive session of the School Board and then not providing Dr. Jamieson an opportunity to respond to her baseless claims and charges; interfering with the implementation of an improved security program at the middle school; spearheading a ludicrous investigation into claims that another African-American principal "mimicked" the school board president; repetitively and again baselessly questioning Dr. Jamieson's residency and the status of her out-of-district home despite clear evidence that Dr. Jamieson resides at 181 Academy Street in Poughkeepsie; associating the Superintendent, solely on account of her race, with "hatred" the Board President claims was expressed at a recent school board meeting by "your black community," e.g., parents aggrieved by what they perceive to be school board interference with the Pop Warner program. Id.

Mr. Sussman further informed Mr. Shaw that "there is a scurrilous and racially polarizing campaign being waged against Dr. Jamieson," and it "must stop and stop now." Id.

Plaintiff alleges that Samselski, Halley and Monaco consistently blocked plaintiff's proposals to improve the District's performance, and publicly and privately denigrated her. Jamieson Aff. ¶ 20; Jamieson Dep. 192, 234-235, 245-246, 323-329, 374-375. As an example, plaintiff alleges that Samselski told plaintiff that she did not know how to write and was "illiterate." Jamieson Dep. 127-128. Furthermore, after one Board meeting when members of the community expressed concern over the Board's direction, Samselski accused plaintiff of bringing "your Black community" to the meeting. Jamieson Dep. 441-442.

In or about May/June 1999, plaintiff was supposed to receive her performance evaluation for the 1998-99 year. Before plaintiff received her evaluation, Samselski leaked to the press that plaintiffs contract would not be renewed because of an unsatisfactory performance evaluation. Jamieson Dep. 245-246; 473-475.

In June 1999, plaintiff was given her evaluation. Two of the five non-defendant board members refused to participate in plaintiffs evaluation because they believed the Board was violating plaintiffs contract and State Education Law by not setting written standard for plaintiffs performance. Watkins Aff. ¶¶ 8-9, Exs. 7 & 8. Board Member Koloski wrote a letter to Samselski, which was copied to the other Board members and Mr. Shaw, expressing his objections to the incorrect form and procedure of plaintiffs evaluation. Id. Koloski was one of the non-voting Board members.

In June 1999, the Board voted 3-2 not to renew plaintiffs contract. Samselski, Halley and Monaco voted against the renewal. Plaintiff alleges that defendants did so despite the Poughkeepsie Journal's endorsement of plaintiff and other outspoken support from the community, and that their votes were motivated by racial animus to her. Watkins Aff. ¶ 12, Ex. 11; Jamieson Dep. 241-242. Jamieson's contract terminated on July 14, 2000.

4. The 1999-2000 School Year

Halley replaced Samselski as Board president in July 1999. Jamieson Dep. 196. This occurred after plaintiffs ...


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