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ANCEKEWICZ v. LONG ISLAND UNIVERSITY

June 15, 2005.

DR. ELAINE M. ANCEKEWICZ, Plaintiff,
v.
LONG ISLAND UNIVERSITY, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: DENIS HURLEY, District Judge

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

INTRODUCTION

  Dr. Elaine M. Ancekewicz ("Ancekewicz"), the above-captioned Plaintiff, brought the present ERISA suit against Defendant Long Island University ("LIU"), her former employer. The complaint alleges that LIU terminated Ancekewicz's employment in retaliation for her inquiries regarding retirement benefits. LIU has moved for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. For the following reasons, the motion is granted, and this case is dismissed. BACKGROUND

  According to Ancekewicz's complaint, she was hired to work at LIU on or about September 21, 2001 as the "Director of Non-Credit and Special Programs" at LIU's C.W. Post campus in Nassau County. Ancekewicz was interviewed for the position by Dr. Nishan Najarian, who served as "University Dean of the School of Continuing Studies," and was apparently her supervisor. In an affidavit submitted in support of LIU's present motion, Najarian states Ancekewicz's appointment was for one academic year only, and that "[a]t no time did I inform plaintiff that she would be entitled to retirement benefits," and that "[t]he determination as to whether an employee is eligible to participate in LIU's retirement plan . . . is made solely by the Payroll Department." However, Ancekewicz alleges that she would not have accepted LIU's offer of employment were it not for a promise by Najarian "that she would be receiving full retirement benefits through TIAA-CREF, an employee benefit plan." And according to Ancekewicz, upon commencing employment she was "given a benefits packet which stated that participation in the TIAA-CREF retirement plan required 1 year of service but that prior years of service with an eligible employer could satisfy the 1 year requirement." Ancekewicz states that she had "many years of prior service with eligible employers," "provided her TIAA-CREF number" on the benefits forms as instructed, and "was told by LIU's benefits and personnel offices that payments would then be made to TIAA-CREF."

  According to the complaint, in January 2002 Ancekewicz contacted Joan Liacono, the Director of payroll and personnel records in LIU's benefits office, as well as Najarian, and advised them that LIU had failed to make any contributions to TIAA-CREF on her behalf thus far, in contravention of Najarian's promise and the information contained in her benefits packet. According to Ancekwicz, Najarian told her that he would speak about the matter to George Sutton, LIU's counsel, but when Ancekewicz herself "attempted on several occasions to meet with Sutton, [she] was referred back to Liacono."

  Ancekewicz's complaint further alleges that when she met with Najarian on or about February 26, 2002 to discuss her benefits, "she was presented with a warning letter." She was then informed in the following month by Elaine Crosson, LIU's associate counsel, that she was not entitled to retirement benefits. In April 2002 Ancekewicz spoke with Mary Lai, LIU's treasurer, regarding her benefits. Hearing nothing further, on May 15, 2002 Ancekewicz sent Najarian an e-mail that stated in relevant part: "What is the status of my retirement benefits? Do I need to hire an attorney? I am really not willing to wait any longer." Approximately eight days later, says Ancewicz, she "received a check for the amount she would have received had she been in the TIAA-CREF retirement plan." On June 17, 2002, Najarian and LIU's Provost met with Ancekewicz, and informed her that her contract would not be renewed, and that she was terminated, but would continue to receive her salary until August 31, 2002.

  Ancekewicz's complaint alleges that "LIU terminated Ancekewicz's employment because she exercised her right to recover retirement benefits contained in an employee benefit plan." Ancekewicz states that her "job performance was more than satisfactory," and that she "received positive written and verbal feedback from her superiors, co-workers, outside colleagues and prospective students." The Defendants, however, insist otherwise. According to LIU's uncontroverted Rule 56.1 Statement,*fn1 within six weeks of the commencement of Ancekewicz's employment, Najarian began to receive complaints about her behavior. A November 12, 2001 memorandum of complaint from Joan Viesta, Assistant Dean of the School of Continuing Studies, noted Ancekewicz's "reluctance to assist in the functioning of the office while the department was short staffed." Another memorandum from Viesta dated two days later describes a complaint received from an LIU telephone operator that Ancekewicz treated him rudely while he attempted to assist her with locating a telephone number. Another, similar, complaint was filed by the operator following a similar incident in early December 2001.

  LIU's Rule 56.1 Statement states that at about that time, Najarian "approached plaintiff about the problems concerning her interaction with other employees," but continued to receive complaints about Ancekewicz's performance. On February 26, 2002 Najarian wrote Ancekewicz a memorandum noting the complaints of various LIU employees and faculty members who "feel `insulted' by the way you talk to them," stating that "[o]ne of the critical requirements of this position is to have good communication and interpersonal skills," and warning that "your employment will be terminated if there is another incident in which you fail to deal with your colleagues or other constituents in an appropriate and satisfactory manner." (This is apparently the "warning letter" to which Ancekewicz's complaint refers.) Ancekewicz responded the following day with her own memorandum, which states in relevant part that "[m]y personality is neither rebarbarative nor authoritarian, as is that of a number of my colleagues, who seem to be doing just fine," and that "I certainly am more polite and respectful to the individuals with whom I interact and many have said so."

  "[F]or a period of time" thereafter, according to LIU, the complaints regarding Ancekewicz's interpersonal relations "subsided." However, complaints regarding Ancekewicz resumed in June 2002. On June 13, Sue Oatey, Associate Provost for Student Affairs, wrote to Najarian to inform him that Ancekewicz "was quite firmly negative in her response to my request for an emergency contact number," had disregarded certain New York State vaccination requirements for international students, and had "reportedly counseled a prospective student to attend classes prior to receiving an appropriate visa, this being in direct conflict with what the staff of International Student Services had told the individual." On the same day, Oatey had apparently received a letter from Yocasta Brens, a member of International Student Services, noting that Ancekewicz "suggested that we simply tell the Immigration and Naturalization Service that [the] student . . . is not registered for courses . . . but simply auditing," and had disregarded, or encouraged others to disregard, other federal regulations regarding the issuance of student visas. Brens's letter also noted that Ancekewicz "has on several occasions made comments in regards to all international students wanting to immigrate to the U.S.," and that "I have been contacted by administrators at other institutions who feel that her behavior has been inappropriate and not the image we should be projecting." Also on June 13, 2002, the employee of an outside food vendor wrote to complain that Ancekewicz had been "very abrasive" regarding a problem with a scheduled delivery.

  Despite being informed of her termination on June 17, 2002, LIU states that "plaintiff continued to report to work," and "[c]onsequently, on June 24, 2002, plaintiff was relieved of her duties and asked to leave the premises."

  Ancekewicz filed the present lawsuit on August 12, 2002. The Defendants filed the present summary judgment motion on August 26, 2004. Since her original and substitute attorneys have withdrawn from representation, Ancekewicz has been afforded pro se status, and was timely served with a "Notice to Pro Se Litigant Opposing Motion for Summary Judgment" pursuant to Local Rule of Civil Procedure 56.2. The first page of the notice states in relevant part: "THE CLAIMS ASSERTED IN YOUR COMPLAINT MAY BE DISMISSED WITHOUT A TRIAL IF YOU DO NOT RESPOND TO THIS MOTION by filing your own sworn affidavits or other papers as required by Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure." The notice then included the text of Rule 56, and further explained that "Rule 56 provides that you may not oppose summary judgment simply by relying on the allegations in your amended complaint. Rather, you must submit evidence, such as witness statements or exhibits, countering the facts asserted by the defendant and raising a genuine issue of material fact for trial." The notice further warns that "[i]f you do not respond to the motion for summary judgment with affidavits or documentary evidence contradicting the facts asserted by the defendant, the Court will be required to accept defendant's factual allegations as true."

  Ancekewicz has not submitted any memoranda, statement of facts, or affidavits or other evidence in response to LIU's motion. Instead, she has sent several letters to the Court arguing that LIU's motion consists of "blatant bald intentionally fallacious claims," and that "the crooks at Cullen & Dykman and Ms. Murphy," have a conflict of interest in their representation of LIU and have "continued syphoning . . . funds from my employer," have "tried to substitute doctored documents for the actual ones," and have "presented unsubstantiated blatant lies as facts." Ancekewicz's letters further object to this Court's continued refusal to meet with her ex parte, a meeting that she claims "would render moot the question of summary judgment," and to this Court's refusal to appoint an attorney to represent her. Ancekewicz has also re-sent copies of a three-page letter dated October 10, 2003 from Brian K. Saltz, her former attorney (hereinafter, the "Saltz letter"), written to oppose LIU's request for a pre-motion conference. (See Denis R. Hurley Individual Practice Rules 2.A and 2.B.)

  ...


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