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PRESTOPNIK v. WHELAN

July 13, 2004.

JAN PRESTOPNIK, Plaintiff,
v.
JOHN WHELAN, individually and as Superintendent of the Greater Johnstown School District; KATHLEEN SULLIVAN, individually and as Assistant Superintendent of the Greater Johnstown School District; JAMES HILLIER, individually and as President of the Board of Education of the Greater Johnstown School District; SHARON RITZMAN, individually and as former President of the Board of Education of the Greater Johnstown School District; JANE DOE NUMBER ONE; and THE GREATER JOHNSTOWN SCHOOL DISTRICT, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: DAVID HURD, District Judge

MEMORANDUM-DECISION and ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

  Plaintiff Jan Prestopnik ("plaintiff") brings this suit against defendants Greater Johnstown School District ("District") and four of its current and past employees, including Superintendent John Whelan ("Whelan") as well as the former and current Presidents of the District's Board of Education ("Board"), alleging various causes of action: First and Sixth — termination on the basis of age, in violation of the [ADEA] and New York Human Rights Law; (2) Second and Fifth — denial of tenure on the basis of complaints from an influential parent whose child plaintiff had failed, in violation of the right to free association, and conspiracy to deprive plaintiff of that right;*fn1 Third — making allegations of plaintiff's incompetence as a teacher and terminating her without a hearing, in violation of her due process rights; and Fourth — with no rational basis, denial of tenure on the basis of a parental complaint, in violation of her right to equal protection.

  In lieu of filing an answer to the complaint, defendants have moved to dismiss the second, third, fourth, and fifth causes of action pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Oral argument was heard on December 12, 2003, in Utica, New York. Decision was reserved.

  II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

  Taken from the complaint, as is required when assessing a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the following are the facts. Plaintiff, an English teacher with over twenty years of experience and a master's degree, was employed by the District from September 1999 to June 30, 2002, when she was terminated pursuant to a decision of the Board. She began as a permanent substitute teacher, but for the last two years of her employment she was a probationary employee, making her eligible for tenure. She received positive evaluations while working for the District, and was recommended for tenure by at least some of her immediate superiors.

  In early April 2002, plaintiff was informed by Whelan that she would not receive tenure. She claims he gave no reason for this decision, insisting instead that she sign an agreement allowing for an additional year of probationary employment. Plaintiff refused to sign the agreement. Two weeks later, accompanied by a union representative, she confronted Whelan, demanding a reason for the denial of tenure. Whelan allegedly told her the denial was based on a conversation he had with a parent, but neither gave further details nor disclosed the identity of the parent. Plaintiff claims, however, such conversation was between the parent of a child she had failed, and either Whelan, defendant Hillier, or defendant Hillier's spouse. Plaintiff alleges the parent "had extraordinary access to, and influence with, [Whelan] and the . . . Board, and one to whom [Whelan] would routinely concede so as to keep the PTA happy and retain his position." (Docket No. 1, ¶ 21.)

  The District allegedly continued to demand that she sign the agreement, but plaintiff claims that, at the time, neither the agreement nor any other document explained the reasons tenure was being denied, or what she needed to do in the additional probationary year to attain it. She claims to have asked Whelan to answer these questions, and to disclose the identity of the parent. He allegedly told her that he would disclose the information after she signed the agreement. She refused and asked for a written explanation of the reasons she was being denied tenure.

  Sometime thereafter, Whelan informed plaintiff in writing that she was being denied tenure for failure to interact with students and parents, and to understand the needs of students in the classroom. Plaintiff claims Whelan never once observed or evaluated her, and that these reasons were quite inconsistent with her formal evaluations.

  On April 24, 2002, eighteen District teachers were granted tenure, all of which were allegedly younger and lower compensated than plaintiff. Plaintiff claims that, unlike her, "many teachers eligible for tenure no doubt receive [parental] complaints," (Docket No. 1, ¶ 69), but still received or will receive tenure. On May 22, 2002, the Board formally denied plaintiff tenure and informed her that her employment was to be terminated as of June 30, 2002. Subsequent to being fired, plaintiff contends that a request for a hearing to contest the claim that she was being fired for incompetence was denied.

  III. DISCUSSION

  As noted, defendants have moved to dismiss only the second, third, fourth, and fifth causes of action pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). The first and sixth causes of action — alleging age discrimination — will therefore not be discussed herein.

  A. Rule 12(b)(6) Standard

  In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court "must accept the allegations contained in the complaint as true, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-movant; it should not dismiss the complaint `unless it appears beyond a reasonable doubt that the plaintiff[s] can prove no set of facts in support of [their] claim which would entitle [them] to relief.'" Sheppard v. Beerman, 18 F.3d 147, 150 (2d Cir. 1994) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)); see also Kaluczky v. City of White Plains, 57 F.3d 202, 206 (2d Cir. 1995). However, conclusory allegations that merely state the general legal conclusions necessary to prevail on the merits and ...


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