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COOK v. NEW YORK CITY BOARD OF EDUCATION

April 16, 2003

DOLLY COOK, PLAINTIFF,
v.
NEW YORK CITY BOARD OF EDUCATION, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

OPINION AND ORDER

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.

BACKGROUND

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. ΒΆ 49. She also states that in January 1999, Quinn excluded her, but included Principal Livingston, in the ...


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