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Altman v. New York City Dep't of Education

May 3, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Harold Baer, Jr., District Judge


Plaintiff pro se Hui Zhang Altman ("Plaintiff" or "Altman") has brought this action against Defendant New York City Board of Education ("BOE") (sued herein and doing business as the "New York City Department of Education") and four individual defendants, David Kroun,*fn1 Claralee Irobunda, Steven Chernigoff,*fn2 and Olivia Ifill-Lynch (collectively, the "individual Defendants"). Plaintiff alleges that she was discriminated and retaliated against on the basis of her national origin, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, see 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e - 2000e-17 (2007), and age, in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), see 29 U.S.C. §§ 621 -- 634 (2007).*fn3

Defendants now move for summary judgment to dismiss all of Plaintiff's claims. Because genuine issues of material fact remain as to Plaintiff's claims on the basis of her national origin, Defendant's motion for summary judgment on Plaintiff's Title VII claims is DENIED. Because Plaintiff does not state facts sufficient to support a claim for age discrimination or retaliation, Defendant's motion for summary judgment on Plaintiff's ADEA claims is GRANTED.


A. Plaintiff's Employment

Plaintiff pro se Hui Zhang Altman is a 48-year old woman of Chinese national origin. See Plaintiff's Complaint ("Pl. Compl.") at 3, 5. Plaintiff began her employment as a teacher in 1995, and was assigned to Morris High School in September 1998. Defendant's Statement of Undisputed Facts ("Def. Facts") ¶ 2-3. From 1998 through 2001, Plaintiff taught Chinese and ESL classes at Morris. After the 2000-01 school year, it appears Morris cancelled its Chinese program, and Plaintiff taught English and continued to teach ESL classes. Def. Facts ¶ 4-6.

Several observation reports rated Plaintiff's performance as "satisfactory," but raised questions about her performance. On December 16, 2002, Assistant Principal Steven Chernigoff observed Plaintiff's class, and on January 20, 2003, rated Plaintiff "unsatisfactory."*fn4 See Def. Facts, Ex. M. Before Chernigoff submitted his official rating, and on January 3, 2003, Plaintiff wrote a letter to then-Principal Jose Ruiz in which she complained about Mr. Chernigoff's evaluation and alleged that "for [Mr. Chernigoff] to do this to me, he has to have so much hatred and prejudice against me in his heart."*fn5 Plaintiff's Opposition [to] Motion for Summary Judgment ("Pl. Opp."), Ex. 6. Plaintiff's letter did not specifically raise concerns of discrimination based on her national origin, but read, "[Chernigoff] asked me why I changed my license from English to ESL. I wondered if this matter has anything to do with his observation?"*fn6 Id.

In the following months, Plaintiff received ratings of "satisfactory" or "minimally satisfactory" from Ruiz and Chernigoff. Def. Facts ¶ 21-29. On January 13, 2004, as part of his "minimally satisfactory" evaluation, Chernigoff noted that, at variance with school policy, students were eating lunch in teachers' (including Plaintiff's) classrooms.

Def. Facts, Ex. Q. Plaintiff avers that she complained to Principal Claralee Irobunda and Superintendent Olivia Ifill-Lynch about students eating lunch in her classroom around this time, although it is unclear if she did so in writing.*fn7 Pl. Opp. ¶ 9.

On March 10, 2004, Chernigoff observed Plaintiff's class, and again subsequently rated Plaintiff "unsatisfactory." Def. Facts, Ex. T. Among the concerns Chernigoff cited was that "[a]s a teacher of language and literature, you must model appropriate language usage for your students. The. hand-out sheet was littered with incorrect spellings, inconsistencies, and grammatical errors." Id. Chernigoff also criticized Plaintiff's "Web Quest" lesson, noting that although "the topic is immigration," that topic bore "little connection" to the book Plaintiff was assigned to teach. Id. Plaintiff, when she signed the evaluation form, wrote that "[t]his observation evaluation is. Chernigoff's personal feelings. [He] totally ignores the truth/facts." Id.

Plaintiff and her union representative subsequently met with Mr. Chernigoff and Principal Claralee Irobunda on April 15, 2004 to discuss a "helping plan" for Plaintiff, including future observations and feedback. Def. Facts, Ex. X.

On April 30, 2004, Principal Claralee Irobunda observed Plaintiff's class and subsequently rated her "unsatisfactory." Def. Facts, Ex. Z. Among her concerns, Irobunda stated that Plaintiff "did not model language appropriately," and mispronounced the words "ornament," "foamy," "wreckage," and "hasten." Id. When deposed regarding Plaintiff's alleged mispronunciation and asked, "Is it because the Plaintiff has [an] accent?" Irobunda stated, "I was there.. [T]he students never understood what the words were.. They were just mispronounced." Deposition of Claralee Irobunda ("Irobunda Depo."), at 31-32. Plaintiff, when she signed her evaluation form, wrote, "This observation is. unfair. Grievance is filed." Def. Facts, Ex. Z. (It is unclear if a grievance was, in fact, filed at that time.)

On May 24, 2004, Principal Irobunda again observed Plaintiff's class and again rated her unsatisfactory. Def. Facts, Ex. CC. Again, Irobunda cited Plaintiff's failure to "model properly" and mistakes in "writing and speech." Id.

On June 15, 2004, after he observed Plaintiff's class, Assistant to the Superintendent David Kroun rated Plaintiff unsatisfactory. Ex. DD. Among 24 concerns he stated, one was "[u]sing poor grammar and idiomatic English." Id. Kroun recommended to the Superintendent that Altman be denied completion of probation. Id. Superintendent Olivia Ifill-Lynch signed the letter and approved ...

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