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Harding v. Newburgh Enlarged City School Dist.

March 6, 2008

MARY ANNE HARDING, PLAINTIFF,
v.
NEWBURGH ENLARGED CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: George A. Yanthis, U.S.M.J.

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Mary Anne Harding commenced this action against her employer, the Newburgh Enlarged City School District ("District"), alleging employment discrimination on the basis of disability pursuant to the Americans with Disability Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794 et seq. and New York state law.*fn1 Plaintiff also alleges that the District retaliated against her in violation of her rights under the ADA. Presently before this Court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure ("FRCP").*fn2 For the reasons set forth below, defendant's motion is granted and plaintiff's complaint is dismissed.

I. BACKGROUND

The following facts--taken in the light most favorable to plaintiff--are gleaned from the parties' statements pursuant to Local Civil Rule 56.1 of the United States District Courts for the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York, from the pleadings and from affidavits, affirmations and exhibits submitted by the parties in support of their contentions. Any disputes of material fact are noted.

Plaintiff Mary Anne Harding commenced her employment with defendant, the Newburgh Enlarged City School District ("District"), in September 1999 and is currently employed by the District as a full-time teacher. From 1999 until 2002, plaintiff was a full-time reading and writing specialist at Heritage Junior High School. While working at Heritage in December 2000, plaintiff was assaulted by a student and suffered injury. Plaintiff returned to work following the December 2000 incident at the same job position and hours that she had worked prior to the incident. In December 2001, plaintiff was again injured when she attempted to break up a fight between two students. In January 2002, plaintiff returned to work at her previous full-time position. As a result of the two incidents, plaintiff suffered injuries to her back, left hip and left knee. Plaintiff received Workers Compensation benefits for medical care related to her injuries. Following the December 2001 incident, plaintiff did not tell any District personnel that she had any physical problems or impairments which precluded her from carrying out her job duties.

At the end of the 2001-02 school year, all reading specialists at Heritage had their positions terminated from the school. As a result, plaintiff was transferred to the Temple Hill Academy. Plaintiff began working at Temple Hill in September 2002, and worked on a full-time basis during the entire 2002-03 school year. The plaintiff used stairs during the 2002-03 school year, albeit infrequently; during the 2002-03 school year, plaintiff did not advise school personnel that she needed any sort of special accommodation for any physical problems. Also during that year, due to a shortage of classroom space, plaintiff shared a room at Temple Hill with another teacher. Plaintiff found that sharing a room made teaching difficult.

When plaintiff began the 2003-04 school year at Temple Hill, she did not advise anyone from the District that she was either disabled or needed any sort of accommodation for any type of impairment. In the middle of September 2003, in response to plaintiff's dissatisfaction concerning the room-sharing, she was assigned another room. The room to which plaintiff was assigned was formerly a faculty lounge area, which was in the process of being cleaned and overhauled for use by the plaintiff as a classroom space. Upon first inspection of the room, plaintiff observed that the room was dirty and had a bad odor. Plaintiff spoke with a custodian, who agreed to clean the room. When plaintiff began to move her things into the room, she noticed that an attempt had been made to clean it, but plaintiff began to feel sick. During her first week of teaching in the new room, plaintiff missed one day from school as a result of an asthmatic reaction to the new room.

As a result of plaintiff's alleged breathing problems, and the new room's limited space, Temple Hill's principal (Edward Mucci) offered plaintiff alternate locations within which plaintiff could teach, including the primary library and the cafeteria. Although plaintiff was not aware of any other teachers who ever taught in the cafeteria, defendant asserts that, due to the shortage of classroom space at Temple Hill, other teachers commonly taught in the libraries, cafeteria and other non-traditional classroom settings.

Principal Mucci also offered plaintiff a room on the third floor and a space adjacent to a band room. Plaintiff declined these spaces on the basis of her opinion that the areas were dirty and not ventilated. At the end of September 2003, plaintiff ceased working at Temple Hill due to respiratory distress. Plaintiff thereafter received Workers Compensation Benefits for a work-related injury involving asthma and lung irritation.

By letter dated September 29, 2003, plaintiff's physician (Dr. Gulati) stated that "when" plaintiff was able to work, she would need to be located in a classroom "that is free from mold, dust, odors, fumes and other irritants that she is allergic to and exacerbate her asthma." The letter imposed no restrictions on plaintiff's use at work of stairs or inclines. Dr. Gulati thereafter submitted letters to the District which indicated plaintiff's continued inability to work for the remainder of 2003 due to a diagnosis of asthma and related complications.

Plaintiff received clearance to return to work as of January 5, 2004 and accordingly met with Principal Mucci to discuss teaching arrangements at Temple Hill. Plaintiff was initially offered the room she had previously been assigned, as it had since been cleaned. Plaintiff declined; Mucci offered plaintiff the opportunity to teach in a landing above the main library. Plaintiff declined this location because it required her to climb up and down a steep flight of stairs. Plaintiff thereafter submitted another note from Dr. Gulati (dated January 13, 2004) which stated that plaintiff was "unable to work in an area that must be accessed via an incline or stairs." On or about January 28, 2004, plaintiff filed an EEOC complaint against the District.

In March 2004, one of plaintiff's Union representatives advised her that there was an available teaching position at Gardnertown. Plaintiff commenced employment at Gardnertown in March 2004 as a reading teacher. Plaintiff presently holds the same position. From 2004 to present, plaintiff has received annual salary increases and has suffered no loss or reduction in benefits. From March 2004 until the time of plaintiff's deposition on August 25, 2006, plaintiff had not received any negative reports about her work at Gardnertown. Plaintiff testified at her deposition that she had never complained to anyone about any of her job conditions at Gardnertown and that she was satisfied with her job. Plaintiff also had no recollection of ever telling anyone at Gardnertown that she had filed either an EEOC complaint or a civil action against the District at any time.

II. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." FRCP 56(c). Specifically, the party seeking summary judgment has the burden of demonstrating that no genuine issue respecting any material fact exists. See LaFond v. General Physics Servs. Corp., 50 F.3d 165, 171 (2d Cir. 1995). If the moving party meets its burden, the burden shifts to the opposing party to come forward with "specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." FRCP 56(e). Where a plaintiff fails to establish an essential element of her claim, "there can be no genuine issue as to any material fact, since a complete failure of ...


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