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YOUNG v. CENTRAL SQUARE CENT. SCHOOL DIST.
July 25, 2002
KATHLEEN YOUNG, PLAINTIFF,
CENTRAL SQUARE CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT AND ANTOINETTE KULAK, DEFENDANTS.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Scullin, Chief Judge.
MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER
Plaintiff commenced the present action against Defendants on
February 5, 1999. On April 26, 1999, Defendants brought a motion
to dismiss, which the Court granted in part and denied in part.
See generally Memorandum-Decision and Order, dated March 29,
2000. The only causes of action remaining involve claims under
the Americans With Disabilities Act ("ADA") and the
Rehabilitation Act against Defendant Central Square Central
School District (the "District").*fn1
Presently before the Court are the District's motion for
summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of
Civil Procedure or, in the alternative, to amend its answer to
plead the affirmative defense of collateral estoppel, and its
motion to disqualify Plaintiff's counsel. The Court heard oral
argument in support of, and in opposition to, these motions on
July 10, 2002. At that time the Court reserved decision and
advised the parties that a written decision would be
forthcoming. The following constitutes the Court's determination
with respect to the pending motions.
Plaintiff began working for the District on September 1, 1973.
In October 1994, the District concluded that Plaintiff was
having some problems and that she might be disabled. Therefore,
the District required her to see a neuropsychologist, Dr.
Anthony Blumetti. Although Dr. Blumetti is not a medical doctor,
he concluded that Plaintiff might have some form of
demyelinating disease that could affect both motor and cognitive
functioning as well as result in personality alterations.
In December 1995, Plaintiff consulted Dr. Wolf, a neurologist,
who diagnosed her with multiple sclerosis ("MS"). See
Affidavit of Eugene Young, sworn to April 19, 2002 ("Young
Aff."), Plaintiffs Exhibit "A," at ¶ 6. At the time that she was
diagnosed, Plaintiffs primary symptom was that she tired easily
and became fatigued. See id. at ¶ 8. Dr. Wolf advised her that
this symptom was easily managed with intermittent rest periods
during the day.
In June 1995, Plaintiff told her building principal, William
McKee, that she had been diagnosed with MS. See id. at ¶ 9.
Two months later, then-Superintendent Dale Hesser wrote to
Plaintiff and acknowledged that the District had an obligation
to provide her with reasonable accommodations to help her cope
with her disability. See Declaration of Byron J. Babione,
dated April 1, 2002 ("Babione Decl."), at Exhibit "7." At that
time, Plaintiff did not request any accommodation from the
District. See Young Aff. at ¶ 9.
On January 3, 1996, Plaintiff gave the District a medical
release to obtain her medical records and information from her
treating physicians. See id. at I 10. Using this release, the
District obtained Dr. Wolfs records, which were prepared in the
form of letters, and sent them to Dr. Freeman, the District's
physician. See id.; Babione Decl. at Exhibit "13."
In August 1996, the District transferred Plaintiff to
Cleveland Elementary School. Plaintiff alleges that this
transfer significantly increased her commuting time and
exacerbated the chronic fatigue that she was experiencing as a
result of the MS. See Young Aff. at ¶ 20. On September 6,
1996, Plaintiff wrote to David Redmore, the District's Executive
Director for Personnel Services, and formally requested that the
District transfer her to the District's Intermediate School
("CSI"), which was much closer to her home. See Babione Decl.
at Exhibit "20." Mr. Redmore responded to this request twice. On
September 9, 1996, he sent a memo to Plaintiff, informing her
that her request had been forwarded to Dr. Doherty, the
District's Superintendent, for his consideration. Three days
later, Mr. Redmore sent a second memo to Plaintiff in which he
referred to a telephone conversation that he claimed to have had
with Plaintiff on September 2, 1996, in which he claimed that
Plaintiff had withdrawn a previous request for such a
transfer.*fn2 See id. at Exhibit "20." Mr. Redmore asked
Plaintiff to confirm that she was withdrawing that request in
writing. See id. Plaintiff did not do so.
On November 1, 1996, the District's lawyers sent Plaintiff a
letter, indicating that the District could no longer allow her
to continue to serve in her position as a Reading Teacher
because her level of performance for the past three years had
been unacceptable. See Babione Decl. at Exhibit "24." The
District's attorneys also informed Plaintiff that if she did not
file an application for disability retirement by November 25,
1996, the District would present disciplinary charges to the
Board of Education on December 2, 1996. See id. Plaintiffs
husband alleges that, as a result, he revoked the medical
authorization that Plaintiff had previously given to the
District because he no longer believed that the District would
work with Plaintiff in good faith. See Young Aff. at ¶ 30.
On November 27, 1996, Plaintiffs attorney made a written
request that the District accommodate Plaintiff by transferring
her to a school closer to her home, by providing her with a
teacher's aide to assist her and by taking affirmative steps to
improve the communication channels between Plaintiff and the
classroom teachers. See Babione Decl. at Exhibit "25." The
District did not respond to this letter. On December 14, 1996,
Plaintiffs attorney made another written request for these
accommodations. See Babione Decl. at Exhibit "27." In
response, the District agreed to meet with Plaintiff to discuss
her requests. See Babione Decl. at Exhibit "28."
District officials presented the agreed-upon accommodations to
the Board of Education as "suggestions" that Plaintiff had made
to assist her with her disability. See id. At the same time,
the District's attorneys informed the Board that they did not
have any medical information to support Plaintiffs claimed
disability. The Board did not approve the agreed-upon
accommodations. On January 23, 1997, the District's attorneys
wrote to Plaintiffs attorney and informed him that the Board had
decided that, without additional medical information, it would
not provide the accommodations because of its concerns about
"the potential costs of your proposed accommodations and their
potential impact on employees and students." See Babione Decl.
at Exhibit "33."
Approximately a month later, the District requested a medical
release. See id. at Exhibit "42" at 112. Plaintiff promptly
signed the release and returned it to the District. See
Plaintiffs Exhibit "D." Thereafter, in March 1997, the District
required Plaintiff to undergo another neuropsychological
evaluation with Dr. Blumetti. See Babione Decl. at Exhibit
"35." On April 25, 1997, Dr. Blumetti provided the District with
his report, in which he recommended very similar accommodations
to those that Dr. Wolf had requested in May 1996. See Babione
Decl. at Exhibit "36." Specifically, Dr. Blumetti advised the
District to take steps to reduce Plaintiffs fatigue and stress,
which exacerbated her cognitive disruption.
On May 5, 1997, the District approved the hiring of a
part-time teaching assistant to help Plaintiff for the few weeks
remaining in the school year. See Babione Decl. at Exhibit
"38." On May 7, 1997, the District relieved Plaintiff of her bus
supervision duties and gave her a second rest period at the end
of the school day. See id. The District did not implement Dr.
Blumetti's other recommendations that school year. However, in
August 1997, the District approved Plaintiffs transfer to CSI
and appointed a full-time teacher's aide to assist her. See
Babione Decl. at Exhibit "44" at 57.
Plaintiff began teaching at CSI in August 1997. According to
Plaintiff, the District continued to require her to "push-in" to
a number of classrooms and did not provide extra time for her to
move between classrooms. See Tr. at 2264.*fn3 She also
contends that the District expanded her duties to require that
she teach a full classroom of students, including special
education students, who were not eligible for the remedial
program. See id. at 2170-71. Plaintiff received a negative
evaluation for her perceived shortcomings in conducting the
full-class instruction. See id. at 216465.
The District commenced a hearing under § 3020-a, and a hearing
officer convened a pre-hearing conference on April 20, 1998. At
that conference, he identified several problems with the
District's charges and sent the District back to reformulate the
charges. He held a second conference on September 15, 1998, and
the hearing commenced on October 19, 1998. Sworn testimony was
taken from thirty-eight witnesses over the course of the next
twelve months and approximately 160 exhibits were entered into
evidence. The hearing closed on October 19, 1999.
On July 19, 2000, the Hearing Panel issued its determination,
finding that the District had proven the charges, see Babione
Decl. at Exhibit "3" at ¶ 36, and concluded that Plaintiff was
not able to do her job and imposed a conditional dismissal;
i.e., a six-month unpaid leave period to allow her to apply for
disability retirement, at the end of which she would be
dismissed from service. See id. at 52.*fn4
Plaintiff challenged that determination pursuant to Education
Law § 3020-a(5). On December 26, 2000, the New York Supreme
Court, Onondaga County (Murphy, J.), held that under the limited
grounds set forth in § 7511 of the New York Civil Practice Law
and Rules he could not vacate the Hearing Panel's determination.
On July 27, 2001, the Fourth Department affirmed that decision.
Based upon these facts, Defendants move for summary judgment,
in part on the ground that the doctrine of collateral estoppel
requires dismissal of this action. As noted, Defendants have
also moved to disqualify Plaintiffs counsel. The Court will
address each of these motions in turn.