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Ragusa v. Malverne Union Free School Dist.

February 19, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: A. Kathleen Tomlinson, Magistrate Judge



Plaintiff, a high school mathematics teacher, commenced this action seeking damages based on Defendants' alleged (1) discrimination based upon her disability, age, and national origin, including Defendants' decision to deny Plaintiff tenure, and (2) failure to accommodate Plaintiff's disability, in violation of federal and state law [DE 1].*fn1 Before the Court is Plaintiff's motion to compel Defendants to produce documents responsive to Document Request Number 12 contained in Plaintiff's Initial Set of Document Requests [DE 19]. Document Request Number 12 demands the production of "any and all documents, notes or recordings of any kind including but not limited to the grades and/or evaluations given to any and all pupils regarding academic performance and behavior in the Plaintiff's former department of employment by the Defendants, Mathematics Department, from June 2002 to present." Pl. Mem. at 1.*fn2 I have reviewed the arguments set forth in support of Plaintiff's motion to compel [DE 19, 22], as well as the arguments raised by Defendants in their opposition [DE 20, 21]. For the reasons set forth herein, Plaintiff's motion to compel is GRANTED.


Plaintiff argues that the requested records are relevant to this action because they will allow Plaintiff to "show that the reasons Defendants gave for their actions are a mere pretext for discrimination." Pl. Mem. at 3. Specifically, Plaintiff wishes to use these records "to show that (1) her class assignments showed an increase in the number of special education students, especially those students with BIPs [Behavior Intervention Plans] that might affect classroom discipline; and (2) that students reached their IEP [Individual Education Plan] goals under her tutelage." Id. Plaintiff also requests "other students' scores and records so that a comparison can be made between those students assigned to [Plaintiff] and those assigned to other teachers in the math department." Id. at 4. Plaintiff notes that her "classroom observations are based on her interactions with students. If her students have special needs, then their education and behavior plans are particularly relevant as to whether the observer properly evaluated [Plaintiff's] interactions with her students, especially after her brain surgery."*fn3 Reply Mem. at 2.*fn4

Plaintiff asserts that any privacy concerns that may attach to the requested student records may be disposed of, as "[t]his information may be redacted in a manner sufficient to distinguish each student without disclosing complete identifiable personal information." Pl. Mem. at 5; Reply Mem. at 3.

Defendants argue that the requested documents are not relevant to this action because they will not "go toward meeting [Plaintiff's] burden" to establish that Defendants' articulated legitimate non-discriminatory reasons for denying Plaintiff tenure were merely a pretext for unlawful discrimination. Def. Mem. at 1.*fn5 Defendants allege that Plaintiff was not denied tenure "because of her students' grades" or "because of how she handled special education students." Id. at 2. Rather, Defendants submit that Plaintiff was denied tenure for three specific reasons, which are allegedly supported by classroom observations of Plaintiff: (1) poor classroom management skills, (2) inability to engage students from bell to bell, and (3) inability to explain material in a simple manner for students to understand and follow. Id. at 1.*fn6 Defendants assert that "[t]here is nothing in any of [Plaintiff's] students' individual education plans . . . that would help plaintiff disprove the simple proposition that she was denied tenure because of her classroom observations and not because of any discrimination." Id. at 2.

Defendants further argue that the requested records "are private and are protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)," 20 U.S.C. § 1232, et seq. Id. at 3. Defendants note that a plaintiff "seeking disclosure of students' records has a 'significantly heavier burden . . . to justify disclosure than exists with respect to discovery of other kinds of information, such as business records.'" Id. (quoting Rios v. Read, 73 F.R.D. 589, 598 (E.D.N.Y. 1977)). Accordingly, Defendants assert, because the requested records are "not relevant to the claims at hand," in that they will not help Plaintiff "disprove" Defendants' proffered legitimate non-discriminatory reasons for her denial of tenure, Plaintiff has failed to make the necessary showing that she has a sufficient need for the disclosure of these records. Id.


A motion to compel is entrusted to the sound discretion of the district court. Am. Sav. Bank, FSB v. UBS Paine Webber, Inc. (In re Fitch, Inc.), 330 F.3d 104, 108 (2d Cir. 2003); United States v. Sanders, 211 F.3d 711, 720 (2d Cir. 2000). The Second Circuit has noted that a "trial court enjoys wide discretion in its handling of pre-trial discovery, and its rulings with regard to discovery are reversed only upon a clear showing of an abuse of discretion." DG Creditor Corp. v. Dabah (In re DG Acquisition Corp.), 151 F.3d 75, 79 (2d Cir. 1998) (citing Cruden v. Bank of New York, 957 F.2d 961, 972 (2d Cir. 1992)). A district court is considered to have abused its discretion only "if it bases its ruling on a mistaken application of the law or a clearly erroneous finding of fact." Milanese v. Rust-Oleum Corp., 244 F.3d 104, 110 (2d Cir. 2001).


A. Relevant FERPA Provisions and Framework

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 ("FERPA") provides in relevant part as follows:

No funds shall be made available under any applicable program to any educational agency or institution which has a policy or practice of releasing, or providing access to, any personally identifiable information in education records other than directory information, or as is permitted under paragraph (1) of this subsection, unless--

(A) there is written consent from the student's parents specifying records to be released, the reasons for such release, and to whom, and with a copy of the records to be released to the student's ...

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