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Banks v. State University of New York at Buffalo

March 21, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: William M. Skretny United States District Judge



On April 10, 2006, Plaintiff Dr. David Banks commenced this employment discrimination action by filing a Complaint in the United States District Court for the Western District of New York. Therein, Plaintiff asserts three causes of action alleging racial discrimination, religious discrimination, and unlawful retaliation in violation of federal and state law. Presently before this Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint.*fn1 For the reasons discussed below, Defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part.


A. Facts

In adjudicating Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, this Court assumes the truth of the following factual allegations contained in the Complaint. See Hosp. Bldg. Co. v. Trs. of Rex Hosp., 425 U.S. 738, 740, 96 S.Ct. 1848, 1850, 48 L.Ed.2d 338 (1976); see also Hamilton Chapter of Alpha Delta Phi, Inc. v. Hamilton Coll., 128 F.3d 59, 63 (2d Cir. 1997).

Plaintiff is an African-American male of Muslim faith. (Complaint, ¶ 6.) He holds a doctoral degree in anthropology and has been a member of the anthropology faculty at Defendant State University of New York at Buffalo ("UB") since 1969. (Complaint, ¶¶ 6, 12.) He has been a full professor in that department since 1988. (Complaint, ¶¶ 6, 12.) Plaintiff also served on UB's Affirmative Action Committee, and has participated in other activities at UB designed to further equal opportunities and prevent employment discrimination on the basis of race, color or religion. (Complaint, ¶ 6.) Plaintiff is also disabled, having suffered a stroke in November of 1997. (Complaint, ¶¶ 6, 15.)

Defendants are all employees of UB. (Complaint, ¶¶ 7-11.) UB is a publicly supported university incorporated under the laws of the State of New York and is Plaintiff's employer. (Complaint, ¶ 7.) Defendant Dr. Donald Pollock is the Chair of the Anthropology Department and has authority to (1) make appointments to committees, (2) schedule department meetings, (3) recommend the appointment and promotion of faculty and staff within the department, and (4) make salary recommendations for department faculty. (Complaint, ¶ 8.)

Defendant Dr. Barbara Tedlock is a Professor of Anthropology and was the Department Chair at times relevant to Plaintiff's Complaint. (Complaint, ¶ 9.) She had the authority to make academic and budgetary recommendations. (Complaint, ¶ 9.) Defendant Dr. Uday Sukhatme was at all times relevant the Dean of UB's College of Arts & Sciences and is a Professor at UB. (Complaint, ¶ 10.) Defendant John B. Simpson was at all times relevant the President of UB. (Complaint, ¶ 11.)

Plaintiff alleges that Defendants denied his request for a salary increase to a level that is commensurate with his experience and with similarly situated faculty members. (Complaint, ¶¶ 13, 14.) Along with his longevity at UB, Plaintiff has published four books and monographs, has traveled extensively doing research, and is an academic consultant in anthropology to the country of Malaysia. (Complaint, ¶ 13.) Plaintiff contends that his achievements inure to the benefit of UB's students and bring esteem to UB's Anthropology Department. (Complaint, ¶ 13.)

Despite these qualifications, however, Plaintiff has the second lowest salary in the department for an individual with his rank. (Complaint, ¶ 13.) Plaintiff requested a salary increase to a level commensurate with similarly situated faculty members, but Defendants ignored his request and advised that only recent publications would be considered in granting salary increases. (Complaint, ¶ 14.)

Plaintiff also maintains that Defendants retaliated against him for serving on UB's Affirmative Action Committee and advocating for increasing the number of traditional racial minorities in the Anthropology Department and at UB as a whole. (Complaint, ¶ 18.) Plaintiff's involvement in this regard provoked inaction and resentment by Defendants, who retaliated against him by not assigning him to any committees. (Complaint, ¶ 18.) Plaintiff was the only faculty member not appointed to a committee. (Complaint, ¶ 18.) When asked about this omission at a faculty meeting, Defendant Pollock responded to those in attendance that "some people don't deserve to participate on committees." (Complaint, ¶ 18.)

Plaintiff maintains that Defendants further retaliated against him by setting aside the grades he gave students who challenged their marks, and permitting those examination papers to be re-graded by other faculty members. (Complaint, ¶ 19.) When Plaintiff wrote to Defendant John Simpson in confidence about this and other adverse conditions of his employment, Defendant Simpson publicly circulated the letter in an effort to further the animus against Plaintiff. (Complaint, ¶ 20.)

Plaintiff maintains that Defendants have fostered a hostile work environment by engaging in a pattern and practice of providing prejudicial, unwarranted, derogatory and slanderous comments in their appraisals of his professional contributions during the course of their department meetings. (Complaint, ¶ 17.) Defendants have acted similarly at other times and places, which has prevented Plaintiff from obtaining evaluations that accurately reflect his scholarship and contributions to the field of anthropology. (Complaint, ¶ 17.) These actions also detrimentally affected Plaintiff's ability to obtain a salary increase. (Complaint, ¶ 17.)

Finally, Plaintiff contends that Defendants have failed to accommodate his disability. In November of 1997, Plaintiff suffered a stroke. (Complaint, ¶ 15.) As a result, it is necessary for him to have an office with proper ventilation to accommodate his medical problems. (Complaint, ¶ 15.) Instead, Defendants continue to assign Plaintiff an office over the bus port, where idling buses emit fumes that aggravate Plaintiff's medical condition. (Complaint, ¶ 15.) Although informed of the negative effect on Plaintiff's health, Defendants have made no attempt to accommodate Plaintiff's needs. (Complaint, ¶ 15.)

Instead, Defendants assigned what would have been a suitable office for Plaintiff to a faculty member with less seniority and a lesser need for proper ventilation. (Complaint, ¶ 16.)

B. Procedural History

Plaintiff filed a Charge of Discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on August 16, 2005, complaining of most of the conditions discussed above. (Siragusa Decl., Exhibit B.) For example, Plaintiff asserted discrimination based on race, retaliation, color and religion. (Siragusa Decl., Exhibit B.) The EEOC conducted an investigation of Plaintiff's Charge but was unable to conclude that any statutory violation occurred. (Siragusa Decl., Exhibit A.) It therefore sent Plaintiff a Notice of Right to Sue Letter on November 22, 2005. (Siragusa Decl., Exhibit A.)

Plaintiff commenced this action on April 10, 2006, by filing a Complaint in the United States District Court for the Western District of New York. Defendants filed the instant Motion to Dismiss on May 3, 2006. Plaintiff filed his opposition on June 5, 2006. This Court took the matter under advisement without oral ...

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