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United States District Court, Eastern District of New York

April 16, 2003


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Allyne Ross, District Judge


Plaintiff, Dolly Cook, brings this action for sexual harassment under Title VII, the New York State Human Rights Law, and the New York City Human Rights Law. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.; N.Y. Exec. Law § 296 et seq.; N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-107 et seq. Defendants, the New York City Board of Education, Community School Board 24, and Joseph Quinn, have moved for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is granted.


Effective August 26, 1996, plaintiff was employed by defendant New York City Board of Education ("BOE") as principal of Public School 143 ("P.S. 143"), a kindergarten to fifth grade school in Community School District 24. Def. Rule 56.1 Statement ¶ 1. The District 24 community superintendent, defendant Joseph Quinn, recommended plaintiff for this position. Id. Superintendent Quinn was plaintiff's immediate supervisor.

On November 22, 1996, the New York State Education Department ("SED") informed the supervising superintendent of the Chancellor's District, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, that P.S. 143 was placed under corrective action. Def. Ex. B at unnumbered first page. On December 4, 1996 the SED formally warned the BOE that it would revoke the registration of P.S. 143 if it did not make "adequate progress to improve student achievement." Id. at 2. The SED action required the chancellor to develop a Corrective Action Plan, to be formally adopted by the BOB and the community school board. Id. The SED further required the school to revise its Comprehensive Education Plan to meet the provisions of the Corrective Action Plan. Id. The SED set deadlines of January 6, 1997, for a draft Corrective Action Plan from the chancellor, and March 26, 1997, for formal adoption of a plan by the BOB and community school board. Id. at 4.

Plaintiff alleges that sometime in February 1997, Superintendent Quinn approached her as she was sitting at her desk in her office and made an unwanted sexual advance by attempting to kiss her; she further alleges that she rejected the advance by getting up from her chair and backing away from him. Cook Decl. ¶ 28. According to plaintiff, Quinn said nothing to her at the time and left the room. Def. Ex. I ("Cook Dep.") at 85. Plaintiff testified that Quinn called her the following afternoon to apologize and that "he stated that he knows I was a lady and that I'm not like other women. . . . I accepted his apology and I thought that brought closure to the whole incident." Id. at 85-86. Defendants deny that the encounter or the subsequent telephone conversation ever took place. Plaintiff alleges that before the February 1997 incident she was "invited to, and not excluded from" P.S. 143 planning meetings. Cook Decl. ¶ 9. She asserts that after her refusal to kiss defendant Quinn, however, she was "excluded . . . from all planning meetings which were held prior to completion of the plan." Id. She states that Quinn "excluded [her] from the administration of P.S. 143," that she was the only administrator thus excluded from the P.S. 143 restructuring, and that although her staff and colleagues attended the planning meetings held at Quinn's office, she was never notified in advance of the dates, times, and locations of these meetings. Id. ¶ 32. She states further that the meetings were held approximately twice per month in Quinn's office and that she learned of the meetings only after they were held. Id. ¶ 37. Defendant Quinn testified that he never excluded plaintiff from participating in any planning meetings, and that plaintiff was welcome to attend these meetings. Def. Ex. G ("Quinn Dep.") at 47-48. Plaintiff admits that she had a right to attend these meetings but states that she was not invited to them. Cook Decl. ¶ 32.

In August 1997, Superintendent Quinn notified plaintiff that he had appointed an acting co-principal, Frank Mifsud, for the 1997-98 school year. Def. Rule 56.1 Statement ¶ 11; see also Cook Dep. at 62. Plaintiff claims that Quinn had told P.S. 143 staff and teachers about the appointment two months earlier. Cook Decl. ¶ 33. She also states that she did not have any input into the selection of Mifsud. Id. Quinn testified that he does not recall whether he informed staff and teachers in June about the co-principal appointment. Quinn Dep. at 43. Quinn also testified that the co-principalship was developed at the suggestion of Supervising Superintendent Barbara Byrd-Bennett, and that as superintendent he did not have the authority to make such an appointment decision "by fiat." Id. at 43-44.

Plaintiff acknowledges that Mifsud's responsibilities were equal to her own, with each supervising certain curriculum areas but both equally responsible for all grades. Cook Dep. at 61-63 ("As a principal, his duties were equal to mine as principal."). Plaintiff could not recall in her deposition which curriculum areas Mifsud supervised. Id. at 62.

Plaintiff states that Superintendent Quinn also informed her in August 1997 that she would no longer be participating in selecting "cluster curriculum" areas, programming, funded teacher assignments, and staff for some new positions at the school. Cook Decl. ¶ 34.

On December 19, 1997, district school official Jerry Cioffi and BOE official Lena Richardson visited P.S. 143 and reported to Barbara Byrd-Bennett at the SED that the overall atmosphere at the school was "good." Def. Ex. C. However, they expressed concern that plaintiff could not adequately describe the school's student assessment program and that the school's professional development program was inadequate. Id. Plaintiff contends that the criticism of the professional development program was inappropriately directed at her, as professional development was the responsibility of co-principal Mifsud. Cook Decl. ¶ 26.

Plaintiff asserts that during the years she was principal, P.S. 143 was considered a troubled school and experienced high turnover of administrative staff. Id. ¶ 19. She also states that during her administration, P.S. 143 received a satisfactory rating by the BOE Performance Assessment in School Systemwide ("PASS") program, and that in the first two years of her administration the chancellor's office recommended that P.S. 143 be removed from the School Under Registration Review ("SURR") list due to improvement in student performance. Id. ¶ 21-23. She also asserts that P.S. 143 received a satisfactory rating from the SED for 1996-97 and 1998-99. Id. ¶ 21. Finally, plaintiff asserts that P.S. 143 exceeded its target in third grade mathematics in spring 1998, when she was still principal responsible for third grade. Id.

In April 1998, the School Based Planning Team issued a School Redesign Plan for P.S. 143 for the 1998-99 school year. Def. Ex. B ("1998 Redesign Plan") at 129-176. The plan detailed a reorganization of the school into two academies, a Lower Academy for kindergarten through second grade and an Upper Academy for grades three through five. Def. Rule 56.1 Statement ¶ 7. Each Academy was to have identical administrative staff, including its own principal. 1998 Redesign Plan at 131. The plan is a comprehensive restructuring program, detailing a new school structure, literacy programs, parent development, early childhood programs, the establishment of a school-based planning team, and numerous planning goals and constraints for P.S. 143. In the plan, plaintiff is named as a member of the school-based planning team. Id. at 151. As principal, she was also assigned a number of specific responsibilities in the overall redesign process. See generally id. Plaintiff does not contend that the restructuring itself was discriminatory but claims "Superintendent Quinn used the plan as a cover to commit further retaliatory acts." Cook ¶ 36.

On June 25, 1998 Superintendent Quinn announced to Community School Board 24 the appointment of Irene Livingston as Principal of the Upper Academy. Def. Ex. H at 3. Plaintiff was present at this Board meeting and congratulated Livingston on her appointment. Id. Plaintiff was designated principal of the Lower Academy.

Plaintiff states that when she returned to work for the 1998 school year, her belongings had been packed and her office relocated to a back office that was dirty, had a broken telephone and copy machine, lacked suitable furnishings, and was far removed from her secretarial and administrative staff. Cook Decl. ¶ 39. Irene Livingston was given an office in a mini-building behind the main structure for P.S. 143. Quinn Dep. at 45-46. Quinn testified at his deposition that, while plaintiff had her personal secretary located close to the new office, other administrative staff were located elsewhere to provide more supervision in the building. Id. at 46. Plaintiff alleges that the move subjected her to humiliation and ridicule by her colleagues and subordinates and that she suffered stress and embarrassment as a result. Cook Decl. ¶ 40.

Plaintiff further claims that when she and Livingston disagreed over the reassignment of a workspace to a new teacher in January 1999, Quinn decided the dispute in Livingston's favor. Cook Decl. ¶ 49. She also states that in January 1999, Quinn excluded her, but included Principal Livingston, in the selection of a new second assistant principal for both academies. Id. ¶ 49.

In March 1999, the SED issued a second school redesign plan for P.S. 143. Def. Ex. F ("1999 Redesign Plan") at 279-332. This plan called for the transfer of second grade from the Lower Academy to the Upper Academy. Id. at 280. The rationale given in the plan was that grade two was designated as a "testing grade" and its inclusion in the Upper Academy would better prepare the students for performance assessments. Id. at 280-81. Plaintiff disputes this rationale, claiming that Livingston could not have gained responsibility for second grade due to her performance, because reading and math scores dropped significantly under Livingston's supervision. Cook Decl. ¶ 49. (In support of this claim, plaintiff submits a list of math and literacy test results for New York City schools published in the New York Post on June 10, 1999; however, the list does not provide prior year comparisons. Pl. Ex. 6.) Plaintiff also alleges that the school based leadership team did not in fact recommend the transfer of the second grade, but that the transfer was "devised by defendant Quinn." Cook Decl. ¶ 9, 46.

Plaintiff argues that as a result of the 1999 Redesign Plan, she was deprived of a $1,000 salary differential. Cook Decl. ¶ 45. This salary differential is an additional amount paid to all principals in charge of a school with 700-899 students. Pl. Ex. 7. With the transfer of grade two out of the Lower Academy, plaintiff had fewer than 700 students in her charge. This salary differential was scheduled to become effective February 2000. Id. It is not clear from the record whether there was any salary differential in effect in 1999.

Plaintiff's signature is on both the 1998 and 1999 redesign plans, under the certification: "By signing this document, I certify that I participated in this school redesign plan, approve of its content and am committed to implementing it in order to create a high performance learning environment that expects and supports learning to high standards for all children." Def. Exs. B at 130, F at 279. Signatories of the 1998 plan are plaintiff, five P.S. 143 teachers, two "parent developers" at P.S. 143, two parents, and the United Federation of Teachers ("UFT") chapter leader. 1998 Redesign Plan at 130. Signatories of the 1999 plan are plaintiff, Livingston, two P.S. 143 assistant principals, six teachers, four parents, one parent developer, one "paraprofessional," and the UFT chapter leader. 1999 Redesign Plan at 279. Superintendent Quinn is not a signatory to either plan.

In her response to defendants' Rule 56.1 Statement, plaintiff states three times, "Defendant Quinn told me that I was required to sign the School Redesign Plan and that if I refused, I would be charged with insubordination." Cook Decl. ¶¶ 8-10. Plaintiff does not specify which plan — the one from 1998 or 1999 — but in context she appears to be referring to both. There is other evidence in the record only as to her signature of the 1998 plan. At her deposition, plaintiff testified that she disagreed with certain concepts in the 1998 plan, but that Quinn directed her to sign against her wishes. Cook Dep. at 48-49. She stated that she first received the plan the week of April 9, 1998. Id. at 51. However, she did not recall the details of what she wished to change. Id. at 53-54. Plaintiff testified that Quinn called her at her office after other redesign committee members informed him that she wished to withhold her signature. Id. at 51. She testified that Quinn then "directed me to sign it and I signed it." Id. at 50.

The organizational change set out in the 1999 plan was effective as of the 1999-2000 school year. Plaintiff took a "Restoration of Health" sabbatical from August 1999 — June 2000. Cook Decl. at ¶ 48. She retired effective August 31, 2000. Id. She claims that health problems prevented her from returning to P.S. 143 and "subjecting [herself] to Superintendent Quinn's retaliatory and harassing conduct." Id. She alleges that the public humiliation and stress caused by defendant Quinn's behavior caused her to "suffer mental anguish and led to physical disorders and injuries including colitis, intestinal disorders and severe weight loss." Id. However, the record contains no medical evidence documenting this assertion.

Plaintiff testified that she first reported the February 1997 incident with Superintendent Quinn in March 1999. Cook Dep. at 93. "March of 1999 [was] when I realized that there was — that the incident — that there was not closure. That for some reason or another — my opinion was that somehow or another, I was a security risk to him due to the fact that that had occurred and that's why I was getting the treatment I was getting." Id. That month, plaintiff went to her union and spoke with Jill Levey, then union vice-president, and Earnest Logan, a field director. Id. at 93-94. After reviewing an account of the incident that plaintiff had written just prior to this meeting, Levey and Logan advised her to go to the EEOC. Id. at 97. Plaintiff also says that her union representative informed her that Quinn's actions were not covered by the union contract. Cook Decl. ¶¶ 16-17.

Defendants assert that plaintiff filed a complaint jointly with the EEOC and State Division of Human Rights on July 14, 1999. Def. Rule 56.1 Statement at 5 ¶ 16. (Plaintiff disputes this entire paragraph of defendants' Rule 56.1 Statement, but does not appear to take issue with this particular fact.) The EEOC issued plaintiff a Notice of Right to Sue on October 21, 1999. Plaintiff filed a pro se complaint with this court on March 23, 2000. Defendants move for summary judgment on the grounds that plaintiff cannot demonstrate a prima facie case of quid pro quo harassment; that plaintiff fails to establish that she suffered a hostile work environment based on sex; that this court lacks jurisdiction over plaintiffs state and city claims because she failed to file a notice of claim with the school district within the statutory period; and that all incidents alleged to have taken place more than 300 days prior to July 16, 1999, thus including the February 1997 incident, are time-barred.


I. Summary Judgment Standard

When a party moves for summary judgment, judgment "shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). "[T]he burden is upon the moving party to demonstrate that no genuine issue respecting any material fact exists," Gallo v. Prudential Residential Servs., L.P., 22 F.3d 1219, 1223 (2d Cir. 1994). "[T]he mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). "On summary judgment the inferences to be drawn from the underlying facts . . . must be viewed in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion," United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962), but the non-moving party "must do more than show there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). In making the necessary showing, "[c]onclusory allegations [by the non-moving party] will not suffice to create a genuine issue." Delaware & Hudson Ry. v. Consolidated Rail Corp., 902 F.2d 174, 178 (2d Cir. 1990). A "genuine" issue is one that could be decided in favor of the non-moving party based on the evidence by a reasonable jury. See Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 248. The role of the court in deciding a motion for summary judgment is not to decide issues of fact, but only to determine whether or not they exist. See Rattner v. Netburn, 930 F.2d 204, 209 (2d Cir. 1991).

II. Title VII

Title VII provides that it is unlawful "to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, privileges, of employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). The phrase "terms, conditions, or privileges of employment" evinces a congressional intent "`to strike at the entire spectrum of disparate treatment of men and women'" in employment. Meritor Sav. Bank. FSB v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57, 64 (1986) (quoting Los Angeles Dept. of Water and Power v. Manhart, 435 U.S. 702, 707 n. 13 (1978)). Title VII is violated by either explicit or constructive alterations in the terms or conditions of employment. Burlington Indus. Inc. v. Ellerth, 524 U.S. 742, 752 (1998).

The terms "quid pro quo" and "hostile work environment" are used to describe two common types of sexual harassment cases brought under Title VII. Jin v. Metro. Life Ins. Co., 310 F.3d 84, 91 (2d Cir. 2002). In a quid pro quo case, Title VII is violated by explicit discriminatory changes in the terms or conditions of employment; this may be either an adverse change such as a firing or demotion, which a plaintiff can prove resulted from a refusal to submit to a supervisor's sexual demands, or a job benefit conferred in return for acquiescence to a demand for sexual favors. Jin, 310 F.3d 84 at 91. A hostile work environment case involves "offensive conduct in general," and the alterations in terms or conditions of employment are constructive rather than explicit; thus, the conduct must be severe or pervasive to be actionable. Jin, 310 F.3d at 91 (quoting Ellerth, 524 U.S. at 752). In Ellerth, the Supreme Court noted that the two terms do not have a statutory basis in Title VII. Ellerth, 524 U.S. at 752. However, to the extent [the terms "quid pro quo" and "hostile work environment"] illustrate the distinction between cases involving a threat which is carried out and offensive conduct in general, the terms are relevant when there is a threshold question whether a plaintiff can prove discrimination in violation of Title VII." Id. at 753.

A. Quid Pro Quo

Plaintiff alleges that, following her rejection of Quinn's unwelcome attempt to kiss her in February 1997, she was regularly excluded from meetings regarding the restructuring of P.S.143 and "effectively excommunicated . . . from the administration" of the school. In particular, she claims that she was not able to participate in the school redesign plan, that she was relieved of control over "cluster curriculum" areas, that she was not included in the selection of a new assistant principal, and that Superintendent Quinn decided against her in a disagreement plaintiff had with her co-principal over the assignment of a teacher workspace. She also alleges that she was relocated to a small and poorly equipped office.

In order to establish a prima facie case of quid pro quo sexual harassment, a plaintiff "must present evidence that she was subject to unwelcome sexual conduct, and that her reaction to that conduct was then used as the basis for decisions affecting the compensation, terms, conditions or privileges of her employment." Karibian v. Columbia Univ., 14 F.3d 773, 777 (2d Cir. 1994). The employment decision must constitute "a significant change in employment status such as hiring, firing, failing to promote, reassignment with significantly different responsibilities, or a decision causing a significant change in benefits." Ellerth, 524 U.S. at 761. "[T]he relevant inquiry in a quid pro quo case is whether the supervisor has linked tangible job benefits to the acceptance or rejection of sexual advances." Karibian, 14 F.3d at 778; see also Alfano v. Costello, 294 F.3d 365, 373 (2d Cir. 2002) ("An adverse employment action may or may not entail economic loss, but there must be a link between the discrimination and some tangible job benefits such as compensation, terms, conditions or privileges of employment.") (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

Considered both individually and collectively, the actions plaintiff complains of do not amount to a "significant change" in her employment status or responsibilities. Regarding plaintiff's primary complaint, her alleged exclusion from meetings, she cannot identify a single alteration in her conditions of employment that occurred as a result. As mentioned, she concedes that neither the 1998 nor the 1999 plan was discriminatory, in whole or in part. Although she claims that Quinn forced her to sign at least one of these plans, despite her objections to its contents, she cannot point to any specific provision of either plan that adversely affected her position. Without any showing that her alleged inability to participate in these meetings had a negative impact on her employment status or opportunities, her exclusion therefrom cannot be deemed material. See Bennett v. Watson Wyatt & Co., 136 F. Supp.2d 236, 247 (S.D.N.Y. 2001) (no adverse employment action where plaintiff failed to show that his exclusion from meetings materially altered his employment conditions); Alban-Davies v. Credit Lyonnais Sec., Inc., 2001 WL 884113, at *6 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 8, 2001) (exclusion from business trip not adverse employment action; "at most, it shows that [defendant] was not using [plaintiff] to his full potential"); Brennan v. City of White Plains, 67 F. Supp.2d 362, 374 (S.D.N.Y. 1999) (no adverse employment action where plaintiff failed to show that her exclusion from meetings and from personnel decisions affected her conditions of employment); cf. Preda v. Nissho Iwai Am. Corp., 128 F.3d 798, 791 (2d Cir. 1997) (issue of fact as to whether plaintiff suffered adverse action where he was "excluded from all departmental meetings and client outings . . . [,] his job duties and responsibilities were downgraded . . ., and his position was reduced to largely clerical tasks").*fn1

The relocation of plaintiff's office also does not constitute an adverse employment action. Plaintiff contends that at the beginning of the 1998 school year, she was moved to a dirty office lacking suitable furniture and equipment, such as working telephone. However, plaintiff does not indicate whether any of these problems persisted, or whether, as her affidavit suggests, they were simply what she encountered initially. (If plaintiff were truly deprived of a phone for the remainder of her employment, for instance, one would expect her to have indicated as much in her affidavit.) The significance of these problems is further diminished by plaintiff's failure to identify any manner in which they affected her ability to do her job.

Plaintiff does contend that the new office was inconveniently located, and that, as a result, she had to walk to the opposite side of the building to speak to her staff. However, other than her generalized and unsubstantiated claim that the location of her office subjected her to "humiliation and ridicule," Cook Decl. ¶ 40, plaintiff has not shown how the relocation was "more disruptive than a mere inconvenience." Galabya v. New York City Bd. of Educ., 202 F.3d 636, 640 (2d Cir. 2000). As the Second Circuit has stated, "not every unpleasant matter short of [discharge or demotion] creates a cause of action. . . ." Wanamaker v. Columbian Rope Co., 108 F.3d 462, 466 (2d Cir. 1997) (internal quotation marks omitted; alteration in original).

The other actions plaintiff identifies are equally insufficient to create an issue of fact as to whether plaintiff suffered a significant alteration in her of conditions of employment. Plaintiff contends that in August 1997, Quinn informed her the he was reducing her job responsibilities, such as her control over the "cluster curriculum" and the selection of programming, and the hiring of new staff for positions created by the Comprehensive Restructuring Plan. While reduction in responsibilities may in certain circumstances constitute a tangible employment action, the record in this case does not support plaintiff's contention that the changes in her duties materially affected her status and authority as principal. Plaintiff's own testimony establishes that despite the alleged reduction in her duties, her overall level of responsibility was identical to that of the newly appointed co-principal. Plaintiff makes no contention that the hiring of the acting co-principal was discriminatory, or that it constituted a significant diminution in her authority. Given this parity between plaintiff's position and that of a similarly situated colleague, plaintiff cannot establish that whatever changes occurred in her duties were materially adverse.

Plaintiff cites two instances in which Quinn allegedly favored Livingston, the principal of the Upper Academy, over herself. First, Plaintiff contends that Quinn sided with Livingston in a dispute over whether to allocate workspace to a new teacher. Not only is there nothing abnormal about a supervisor's resolution of a dispute between two coworkers, but plaintiff herself concedes that this particular disagreement involved only a "routine administrative decision." Pl. Decl. at ¶ 44. Plaintiff also contends that in January 1999 Quinn invited Livingston, but not plaintiff, to help select a new second assistant principal in January 1999. As with Quinn's resolution of the workspace dispute, his exclusion of plaintiff from a single hiring decision simply does not represent a significant material diminution in plaintiff's responsibilities.

Finally, plaintiff claims that due to the transfer of the second grade to the Upper Academy, she lost a $1,000 salary differential. While a decrease in salary would ordinarily constitute an adverse employment action, in this case it is not actionable because plaintiff has not shown any link between the lost differential effective in February 2000 and her alleged refusal to kiss Quinn in February 1997. Plaintiff's allegation that Quinn personally engineered the transfer of the second grade against the wishes of the redesign committee is pure speculation without any evidentiary support. Nothing in the record suggests that the transfer of the second grade, and plaintiff's resulting loss of the salary differential, were anything but secondary consequences of an overall restructuring process that plaintiff concedes was not discriminatory.

Other than the lost salary differential, plaintiff suffered no reduction in salary or benefits after the alleged incident with Quinn. Moreover, plaintiff retained her job title and authority, and her duties remained substantially the same as before the incident. Plaintiffs generalized claims of a reduction in her responsibility are largely conclusory and unsubstantiated. As for the specific actions identified, they are too insignificant to constitute a tangible employment action. Accordingly, she has failed to demonstrate an essential aspect of her claim.

In any event, even if these facts did constitute a tangible employment action, plaintiff has failed to demonstrate a link between the attempted kissing incident of February 1997 and the subsequent events. Plaintiff does not allege that Quinn ever explicitly connected her alleged refusal to kiss him to any subsequent conduct, by threat, complaint, joke, or otherwise. Nor is there any other evidence, direct or circumstantial, linking any of the actions of which plaintiff complains to Quinn's alleged sexual advance. In fact, there is no evidence that Quinn was even responsible for many of the decisions affecting plaintiff's position. As described, the majority of these decisions came about as a result of a comprehensive restructuring, by committee, of the entire school.

In a case where there is no explicit link between the sexual advance and subsequent employment action, courts may look for a close temporal connection in order to infer such a link. "[A] causal connection can be established indirectly by showing that the protected activity was followed closely in time by the adverse action." Manoharan v. Columbia Univ. College of Physicians & Surgeons, 842 F.2d 590, 593 (2d Cir. 1998). The Second Circuit "has not drawn a bright line to define the outer limits beyond which a temporal relationship is too attenuated to establish a casual relationship," Gorman-Bakos v. Cornell Corp. Extension, 252 F.3d 545, 54 (2d Cir. 2001), although the temporal proximity must be "very close." Clark County Sch. Dist. v. Breeden, 532 U.S. 268, 273 (2001). In one instance, the Second Circuit has allowed a three month lapse to serve as indirect evidence of a causal connection, Gorman-Bakos, 252 F.3d at 555, and in another found three-and-a-half month interval too long. Hollander v. American Cyanamid Co., 895 F.2d 80, 84-85 (2d Cir. 1990).

In the instant case, none of the actions plaintiff complains of were at all close in time to the her refusal of Quinn's alleged advances. The first reduction in plaintiff's responsibilities did not occur until August 1997, six months after the alleged incident. Quinn allegedly required plaintiff to sign the first plan fourteen months after the incident. Plaintiff's office was not moved until the school was divided into academies, nineteen months later. The selection of the new assistant principal and the dispute over the teacher's workspace took place well after that. As for plaintiff's alleged exclusion from meetings, plaintiff does not provide the dates of any of these meeting or even refer to any specific meeting; the evidence regarding timing of these meetings is thus too vague to support an inference of causation based on temporal proximity alone. Given the long lapse of time between the single advance by Quinn, and the absence of any other circumstances suggesting ill motive on the part of Quinn — not to mention the overwhelming affirmative evidence that the changes in plaintiffs position were the result of structural changes involving many more actors than simply Quinn and plaintiff — no rational jury could conclude that the actions plaintiff complains of came about because she refused Quinn's alleged advance.

B. Hostile Work Environment

Plaintiff also claims that she was subjected to a hostile work environment after she rejected Superintendent Quinn's sexual advance. She brings this claim on the basis of the same facts discussed above: that he excluded her from the administration of P.S. 143, reduced her authority, excluded her from meetings, did not allow her to decide the location of a teacher's workspace, moved her to a substandard office, and treated her as an "outcast." Pl. Mem. at 15. She argues that these incidents are sufficiently continuous and concerted to have altered the conditions of her working environment. Id. at 16.

A hostile work environment claim "requires a showing (1) that the harassment was "sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim's employment and create an abusive working environment," and (2) that a specific basis exists for imputing the objectionable conduct to the employer." Alfano v. Costello, 294 F.3d 365, 373 (2d Cir. 2002) (quoting Perry v. Ethan Allen, Inc., 115 F.3d 143, 149 (2d Cir. 1997)). The court employs both an objective and a subjective standard in applying this test: the misconduct shown must be "severe or pervasive enough to create an objectively hostile or abusive work environment," and the victim must also subjectively perceive that environment to be abusive. Alfano, 294 F.3d 374 (quoting Harris v. Forklift Sys., Inc., 510 U.S. 17, 21 (1993)).

The plaintiff in a hostile work environment case must show that the workplace was "so severely permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult that the terms and conditions of her employment were thereby altered." Alfano, 294 F.3d at 373. Generally, these incidents must be sufficiently frequent to be considered pervasive; "isolated acts, unless very serious, do not meet the threshold of severity or pervasiveness." Id. at 374. There is not a fixed number of incidents required to establish a hostile work environment; the court must consider the "circumstances in their totality," including the severity, frequency, and nature of the conduct. Id. at 378. Acts that are facially sex-neutral may be considered as part of the totality of the circumstances if a reasonable fact-finder could conclude that they were in fact based on sex. Id.

The facts in the record do not even come close to meeting this standard. First, the single incident plaintiff alleges that had an overtly sexual nature, Quinn's advance in February 1997, was not sufficiently severe in itself to alter the conditions of plaintiffs employment. Cases in which courts have found a single incident to suffice involved extreme misconduct not present here. See, e.g., Tomka v. Seiler Corp., 66 F.3d 1295, 1305 (2d Cir. 1995) (plaintiff sexually assaulted by coworker and supervisors after "business dinner"; "[E]ven a single incident of sexual assault sufficiently alters the conditions of the victim's employment and clearly creates an abusive work environment for purposes of Title VII liability.") (emphasis added); Ferris v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., 277 F.3d 128, 135-16 (2d Cir. 2001) (flight attendant raped by colleague while on an overnight layover). The single act of overt sexual harassment alleged in the instant case is Quinn's attempt to kiss plaintiff in her office in February 1997. Plaintiff alleges that when she backed away from Quinn, he abandoned his attempt, said nothing, promptly left the room, and apologized the next day. A reasonable juror could not find this conduct to be severe.

Although the February 1997 incident did not in itself create a hostile work environment for plaintiff, the court must consider the totality of circumstances. All of Quinn's alleged actions subsequent to February 1997 are facially neutral with regard to sex; plaintiff does not claim that he ever said anything related to her sex, otherwise mentioned any sexual topic, or referred back to the original incident. Although sex-neutral acts may be considered as part of the total mix where circumstances permit an inference that they are in fact motivated by gender, nothing in the record here even remotely suggests that plaintiffs gender or her refusal of Quinn's advance had anything to do the alleged "hostile" acts. As discussed above with respect to plaintiff's quid pro quo allegations, plaintiff has not demonstrated a causal connection between the February 1997 incident and Quinn's subsequent actions. Without that connection, there is nothing in the evidence that gives rise to an inference that his post-February 1997 actions were motivated by or in any way related to plaintiff's sex.*fn2 Accordingly, no reasonable jury could find that she suffered sex discrimination based on a hostile work environment theory.

III. State and City Claims

The parties dispute whether plaintiff's state and city claims are barred by plaintiff's alleged failure to file a timely notice of claim with the Board of Education, as required by New York Education Law § 3813(2). The court need not resolve this dispute, however, because plaintiff's state and local claims, which are governed by the same standards as her Title VII claim, fail on the merits. See, e.g., Figueroa v. City of New York, 198 F. Supp.2d 555, 565 (S.D.N.Y. 2002) ("In New York, the same standard of proof is required for claims brought under Title VII, the New York State Human Rights Law, and the New York City Human Rights Law.") (citing Cruz v. Coach Stores, F.3d 560, 565 n. 1 (2d Cir. 2000)). Accordingly, defendant is entitled to summary judgment on these claims as well.


For the foregoing reasons, defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted in its entirety, and this case is dismissed with prejudice. The Clerk of the Court is directed to enter judgment accordingly.


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