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Figueroa v. Weisenfreund

December 8, 2006

JUAN LUIS FIGUEROA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ANAT WEISENFREUND, JUDITH DAVISON, AND EARLY INTERVENTION AND DEVELOPMENT DISABILITIES, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joseph F. Bianco, District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiff Juan Luis Figueroa brought this action pro se pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against defendants Anat Weisenfreund, Judith Davison and Early Intervention and Development Disabilities (collectively "defendants"). Plaintiff alleges that defendants violated his First Amendment rights by terminating his employment as an Early Intervention Official Designee ("EIOD") at the New York City Early Intervention Program ("EIP") after he spoke out about defendants' alleged "preferential treatment" toward "Orthodox Jewish providers" who allegedly discriminate against black and Hispanic children and families. For the reasons that follow, defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted.

I. BACKGROUND

A. FACTS

The facts, construed in a light most favorable to plaintiff, the non-moving party, see Capobianco v. City of New York, 422 F.3d 47, 50 (2d Cir. 2005), are as follows*fn1:

The EIP is a grant funded program, formerly administered by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene ("DOHMH"), that is now administered by the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation ("HHC"). The EIP provides a number of services including, but not limited to, special education, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech therapy to developmentally delayed children between the ages of birth to three-years-old. (Decl. of Illana A. Eck (hereinafter "Eck Decl.") Ex. B at 86-87.)

Plaintiff began working at the EIP on or around December 18, 1998 as an EIOD. (Id. at 79-80.) In that position, plaintiff's responsibilities included reading evaluations from providers to monitor services requested and received by the children, attending Initial Family Service Plan meetings ("IFSP"), reviewing and approving paperwork, communicating with families, service coordinators and providers, and attending training and staff meetings. (Eck. Decl. Exs. B at 84-85 and D.)

1. Plaintiff's Work Performance and Disciplinary History

Plaintiff received an evaluation in May 1999 that covered the period to that date from the beginning of plaintiff's employment at EIP in December 1998. (Eck. Decl. Ex. D.) In the evaluation, plaintiff received a "satisfactory" rating. (Id.) Among the comments included in the evaluation were that plaintiff "is receptive to new ideas and instructions" and that he "usually fulfills his commitments . . . [and] is reliable and seeks super-visor's [sic] help if needed." (Id.) The evaluation also suggested the following plans for improvement: (1) "[plaintiff] needs to avoid missing staff meetings which can provide on-going training; (2) continued discussion on child development supervision with staff supervisor - supervisor will provide hand-outs to be read; (3) continue to develop a tactful and diplomatic relationship with service coordinators and providers." (Id.) The evaluation was signed by plaintiff's supervisor at the time, Judie Pierre-Louis. (Id.)

On May 4, 2000, plaintiff attended a supervisory conference with Assistant Regional Director Jeanne Clancy, Ph.D. (Eck. Decl. Ex. E.) The supervisory conference was prompted by plaintiff's refusal to meet with a parent because a parent had arrived at an evaluation forty minutes late, despite the fifty minutes that remained before the next appointment was to begin. (Id.; Eck. Decl. Ex. B at 140.) In a memorandum written on May 23, 2000 by Clancy to summarize the conference, Clancy noted "the inappropriate nature of [plaintiff's] action" as well as plaintiff's "dismissive manner" toward Clancy's direction. (Eck Decl. Ex. E.) Clancy also discussed her concerns regarding plaintiff's "ongoing difficulties in accepting direction" and established a weekly meeting with plaintiff for supervision. (Id.)

On August 28, 2000, plaintiff received his annual performance evaluation for the period from July 1, 1999 to June 30, 2000, which was prepared by Clancy. (Eck. Decl. Ex. F.) Plaintiff received a "satisfactory" evaluation that stated plaintiff is "committed to his job," that he "is very productive," "is eager to learn more about child development," and that plaintiff "relates well to fellow EIODs." (Id.) The evaluation, however, specifically noted that plaintiff needs improvement "in areas of judgment and adaptability" which "is crucial to future satisfactory evaluations." (Id.) More specifically, it noted that:

Mr. Figueuroa has some difficulty handling professional interactions with parents [and] providers. On occasion he has responded impulsively [and] in a less than compassionate manner. Improvement is needed in this area.

Mr. Figueroa shows some difficulty in using appropriate judgment in relation[] to supervisors. This has been an ongoing issue in supervision. At times his responses to providers have also not been well thought-out. A supervisory conference was held to address this with employee during evaluation period.

Mr. Figueroa demonstrates some difficulty accepting direction. When subject is of interest to [plaintiff] he shows good learning skill: However, he has shown significant resistance to direction when it does not coincide with his views. Improvement is needed in this area.

(Id.)

On March 28, 2001, plaintiff attended an IFSP meeting held for twins at Jumpstart Early Intervention's site. (Eck. Decl. Ex. G.) Complaints were made regarding plaintiff's behavior at that meeting (hereinafter "March 21, 2001 Complaint") which were summarized by a memorandum dated May 8, 2001, from Anat Weisenfreund, Brooklyn Regional Director, following a supervisory meeting held by Weisenfreund with plaintiff on April 27, 2001 in response to the complaints. (Id.) The memorandum reported:

Cynthia Winograd [from Jumpstart] stated that she had been informed by Mr. Neil Weinstein (evaluation representative at said meeting) and by Service coordinator Rachel Goldenberg that Mr. Figueroa had behaved very unprofessionally during this IFSP for twins and that as a result the children's mother was "shaken up," and the attending professionals were very disturbed by [plaintiff's] inappropriate statements and loss of temper. Mr. Weinstein was so disturbed by the happenings at this IFSP that he called Ms. Winograd at home to report the occurrences.

Weisenfreund received a phone call from the mother of the twins who related the same series of events and complaints that were reported by Weinstein. (Id.) With respect to the summary of Weisenfreund's meeting with plaintiff, Weinsenfreund reported that:

[She] informed Mr. Figueroa that since he has behaved contrary to his role on a good number of occasions in the past and is apparently continuing to display grossly inappropriate behavior despite extensive feedback and supervision, that [she] intend[ed] to pursue further ...


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