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Paulose v. New York City Dep't of Education

May 10, 2007

JOHN PAULOSE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
NEW YORK CITY DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION. DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Denise Cote, District Judge

OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff John Paulose ("Paulose"), a self-described "Asian of East Indian national origin," brings this Title VII employment discrimination action against his employer, the New York City Department of Education ("DOE"). A middle school math teacher, Paulose claims that he was given unsatisfactory performance ratings, sent racist articles, demoted to doing non-teaching work, forced to resign, and blacklisted from teaching for the DOE on the basis of his race and national origin.*fn1

He also contends that he experienced retaliation for reporting incidents of sexual misconduct and discrimination. Finally, while Paulose did not separately allege in his complaint that he was subjected to a hostile work environment on the basis of race or national origin, he now presses such a claim as related to the allegations in the complaint and it is properly considered on the instant motion.*fn2 The plaintiff brings these claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-2 to 2000e-3 ("Title VII"); the New York State Human Rights Law, N.Y. Exec. Law § 296 ("State HRL"), and the New York City Human Rights Law, N.Y.C. Code § 8-107 ("City HRL").*fn3 For the following reasons, DOE's motion for summary judgment is granted.

BACKGROUND

The following facts, drawn from the record the parties have presented on summary judgment, are undisputed or taken in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, unless otherwise indicated.*fn4 Paulose is a United States citizen born in Teekoy, India. Prior to joining the teaching staff of Community Intermediate School 339 ("CIS 339"), a middle school in the Bronx and in District Nine and Region One of the DOE, he earned both a bachelor of science degree in economics with a minor in mathematics and a master's degree in economics from the State University of New York Albany. Paulose subsequently worked in the financial services industry.

In July 2003, the plaintiff applied for the master's program in education at Mercy College. That same month, Charles Randina ("Randina"), the principal of CIS 339, nominated Paulose for a probationary position as a math teacher in the school. Paulose worked with a math teacher at CIS 339 on a voluntary basis over the summer to learn how to teach. Soon thereafter, Paulose secured a two-year "conditional" license from the DOE to teach math in New York City junior high schools, effective starting on September 2. The plaintiff assumed the position of a probationary math teacher for the sixth grade in September 2003.

A. 2003 Evaluations of Plaintiff's Teaching

In October 2003, Randina conducted the first evaluation of the plaintiff's teaching by observing him during a lesson.*fn5 In his written report of the observation, he rated the plaintiff's performance unsatisfactory. While Paulose did not formally contest this rating, he indicated to Randina that it was unfair to observe him without giving him prior notice and reported this concern to his union representative. Paulose testified that Randina responded, "I'm the one in charge, I'm allowed to do as being pleased [sic] to do surprised inspection."*fn6 Two months later, in December 2003, assistant principal James Williamson ("Williamson"), Paulose's immediate supervisor, gave the plaintiff a satisfactory review after observing his class.

B. Purported Misconduct at CIS 339

In January 2004, Paulose became aware of alleged acts of misconduct at CIS 339, including sexual misconduct and racial discrimination, through conversations with two students, Williamson, and another teacher at the school. In mid-January, two female students asked Paulose if it was "normal for a teacher to have sex with students," and whether he would "do something like that." Paulose was shocked by their questions. He responded that such acts were "sick" and "disturbing" and indicated that these actions should be "severely punished."

The plaintiff expressed his concerns to several teachers and in January 2004 to Williamson. Williamson told Paulose that at CIS 339 "there were teachers who would verbally threaten other students, threaten administration" and that one teacher "allowed a student to be molested" by a fellow student. Williamson also stated that this particular student's abuse of another student was allegedly "covered up" by Randina, who removed the victim from the school, but did not take any disciplinary action against the offending student.*fn7 In his January 2004 conversation with Williamson, Paulose also learned that Principal Randina systematically targeted African-American teachers for removal from the school.

C. 2004 Unsatisfactory Evaluations

On January 29, Randina made a third observation of Paulose's teaching and subsequently issued a second written report deeming his lesson unsatisfactory.*fn8 The next day, on January 30, Daisy Altreche ("Altreche"), the assistant principal of CIS 339, conducted a final observation of Paulose's teaching that resulted in a third unsatisfactory rating.*fn9

That same day, the plaintiff was taken out of his classroom and called into Randina's office in the presence of Altreche and his union chapter leader, Robert Levine ("Levine"). Levine told Paulose that it was in his best interest to resign. At the request of Randina, Altreche and Levine, the plaintiff signed a resignation letter, which was backdated to January 22. The letter indicated that Paulose was resigning due to "unforeseen family problems" and that his resignation would be effective as of January 30. Later that day, Paulose visited the office of his union in the Bronx where Mr. Katz, a United Federation of Teachers representative, told him to return to work the following school day. The plaintiff rescinded his resignation in writing, indicating that the resignation letter had been presented to him "[u]nder duress," and without proper counsel or due process.*fn10

On February 2,*fn11 Randina issued a letter indicating that Paulose's position as a probationary math teacher was jeopardized by his receipt of three unsatisfactory observation reports. Randina reassigned Paulose to a non-teaching position in the main office of the school.

D. Alleged Racial Discrimination at CIS 339

After he rescinded his resignation letter, Paulose spoke with Williamson, who told him that Randina, Altreche and Levine had sought to convince him to sign the resignation letter in an effort to remove him because he was not white. Williamson also indicated that Randina sought to replace Paulose with an inexperienced, unlicensed teacher whom he preferred and wanted to assist in securing a teaching license and other requirements.

Paulose noticed that after his rescission of the letter of resignation, "most teachers avoided him when they saw [him]." During the first two weeks following his reassignment to the main office, Paulose was confronted by two unnamed white eighth grade teachers. In two separate incidents, these teachers stated in front of Paulose, "Indians should not be here," "that guy didn't resign," "he cannot teach, he should not be here," and "you should not be here teaching, what the hell is wrong with you?"*fn12 Paulose did not respond, but felt intimated. As a result, he kept a distance from other staff members and worked "in a room or closet all by [him]self" when completing his work.

A teacher by the name of "Mr. Schwartz" ("Schwartz") replaced Paulose in his former classroom.*fn13 After Schwartz began teaching the class, the number of students was reduced from 30 to 19. In his first four months of teaching, Schwartz was observed twice and received one unsatisfactory rating. Schwartz was offered a sample math lesson plan by Patricia Fusco, the school's math coach, in case he did not already have one.*fn14

In February, Paulose spoke with a CIS 339 teacher who told him that Randina directed the students of an African-American teacher to write letters reporting that she cursed in class, and then supposedly used these letters to remove the teacher from the school. Paulose later contacted this teacher directly to discuss the circumstances of the termination of her employment.

E. Plaintiff's Complaints to DOE Officials

During this time, Paulose wrote to DOE officials regarding his grievances. On February 12, Paulose complained to the Region One Superintendent in charge of CIS 339, Irma Zardoya ("Zardoya"), about the unsatisfactory observations of his teaching and the events surrounding his reassignment from teaching to office work. In letters he handed to Randina's secretary and Levine on February 22, Paulose contested the unsatisfactory observation reports dated January 28 and 30, emphasizing the positive aspects of his performance during both lessons, objecting that he was not given a math mentor or provided pre-observation conferences, and arguing that his last two observations were administered back to back.

During the week of February 22, union representative Levine sent Paulose a New York Times article entitled, "The Newest Road to the American Dream: The Heir to the Chinese laundry, the Greek diner and the Korean deli? The South Asian cellphone store." The article discussed the entrance of Indian immigrants into the New York City cellphone industry.

Almost four weeks after his reassignment to office work, Paulose notified DOE for the first time of his concerns regarding student sexual misconduct at the school and the administration's failure to report or address it. On February 27, Paulose emailed Zardoya and Chancellor Joel Klein ("Chancellor") to seek an "Internal Independent Investigation at CIS 339" of "instances of sexual molestation of students by students being swept under the table."*fn15 In these emails, Paulose also complained that he was not given "unmentionable administrative support" extended to other teachers. Making his first reference to race discrimination, he noted that a source informed him that the true motivations behind his reassignment were that "the ...


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