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Coleman-Edwards v. Simpson

March 25, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Dora L. Irizarry, U.S. District Judge


Violet Coleman-Edwards ("plaintiff") is the former principal of the Concord Baptist Elementary School (the "School"), which is operated by defendant, the Concord Baptist Church of Christ ("Concord"). Defendant Reverend Gary V. Simpson is Concord's senior pastor. Plaintiff claims that defendants: (1) denied her overtime wages in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"); (2) failed to notify her of her right to continuing medical coverage in violation of the Consolidated Ominbus Reconciliation Act ("COBRA"); (3) failed to publish a summary plan description of its employee benefits pension plan, notify eligible participants, and segregate assets in violation of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"); and (4) breached her employment contract. In a decision dated September 27, 2005, the court dismissed plaintiff's contract claim on summary judgment. Coleman-Edwards v. Simpson, 03-CV-3779, 2005 WL 2367628 (E.D.N.Y. Sept. 27, 2005). Defendants now move, and plaintiff cross-moves, for summary judgment on plaintiff's remaining statutory claims. For the reasons set forth below, defendants' motion is granted, plaintiff's motion is denied, and plaintiff's remaining claims are dismissed.

I. Background

On November 8, 1847, the Concord Street Baptist Church of Christ was incorporated in Kings County as a church under the laws of New York State. (Johnson Aff., Ex. 1.) On January 12, 1928, defendant Concord dropped the "Street" from its name and acquired its present nomenclature, the Concord Baptist Church of Christ. (Id.) Concord is a member of the American Baptist Churches of Metropolitan New York ("ABC"), and possesses 501(c)(3) tax exempt status under ABC's group exemption. (Simpson Aff., Ex. 2.) The Concord Baptist Elementary School is an unincorporated private elementary school operated and controlled by Concord. (Simpson Dep. 23.)

A. Plaintiff's Tenure as Principal of the School

From September 1999 until December 2002, Concord employed plaintiff as the School's principal. Plaintiff holds a bachelor's degree in English from Wilberforce University, and masters' degrees in English from both New York University and Columbia University. (Pl. Dep. 6.) At the time of filing, plaintiff was also pursuing a doctorate in English from St. John's University. (Id.) Plaintiff is certified by New York City to teach grades one through twelve, and is also certified by the city and state in administration, having completed the course work for a degree in administration. (Id. at 7-8.) Prior to becoming the School's principal, plaintiff coordinated the gifted and talented program at a public intermediate school in Brooklyn. (Id. at 9.) Plaintiff highlighted her certifications and educational accomplishments when she applied for the position with Concord. (Id. at 23.)

On September 6, 2002, plaintiff entered into a contract with Concord to serve as the School's principal for one year and be paid a salary of $50,000. (Johnson Aff., Ex. 6.) The contract described plaintiff's duties as follows:

As the educational leader in [the School], the Principal is expected to:

* Provide adequate leadership, supervision and instruction to the staff in the carrying out of their duties.

* Insure the school is in compliance with all Federal, State and New York City Board of Education requirements for operation and testing.

* Assume responsibility for fiscal integrity of the school as outlined in an approved budget.

* Provide sufficient information to Senior Pastor of status and progress of the school during the academic year.

* Work with Senior Pastor to [] integrate the work [of the School] into the overarching vision and program of the Concord Baptist Church of Christ. This will be accomplished by regular meetings with Senior Pastor.

* Insure the sustainability of the school through recruitment of the class for the following academic year.

* Submit annual Report to Senior Pastor of Academic Year by 30 June 2003.

(Id.) Plaintiff stated in her deposition that she performed all of the duties listed in the contract. (Pl. Dep. 115.) In her own words, plaintiff understood that her job as principal was "to facilitate the learning, to validate, justify the curriculum, making sure that it was in line with the requirements of New York City and New York State, provide curriculum support and direction for the staff, create a schedule for the school, facilitate contact with resources, increase student enrollment, [and] develop a program that could meet the needs of the parents in the school where the children were." (Id. at29.)

The contract also described a uniform policy applicable to all the School's employees. Specifically, the contract provided that "[u]niforms are a part of our employment expectations for staff members," and that "[e]mployees not in proper attire while on duty will be docked." (Johnson Aff., Ex. 6.) Plaintiff's payroll records indicate that $200 deducted from her $2.083.33 bi-weekly paycheck dated October 31, 2002, and that $100 was deducted from plaintiff's final paycheck of approximately $416 dated December 31, 2002, although the reasons for the deductions are not apparent. (Ziermann Aff., Ex. 1.)

Supervision and interaction with the teaching staff made up a significant portion of plaintiff's responsibilities. Plaintiff's contract required her to conduct staff development meetings on a variety of topics, and gave her discretion to determine how frequently such meetings should be held. (Id. at 26-28.) In practice, plaintiff held weekly meetings, some of which she led herself, while others were led by various staff members. (Id. at 32.) Plaintiff used these meetings to examine the academic strengths and weaknesses of the School's students, and to help the teachers shape their lesson plans accordingly. (Id. at 27.) In order to gauge the students' abilities, plaintiff began testing the students with the Stanford Achievement Test, which she favored in lieu of the state and city tests that the School had used prior to her arrival. (Id. at 24-25.) In addition to attendance at the staff development meetings, plaintiff required the teachers to submit weekly lesson plans, which plaintiff reviewed. (Id. at 46.) If plaintiff thought it necessary, she would revise the lesson plan and meet with the responsible teacher to discuss the revisions. (Id. at 47-48.) Plaintiff also created schedules that determined when each teacher would be responsible for supervising the student lunch period. (Id. at 61.) By contract, teachers were expected to notify plaintiff of any expected or emergency absences so that plaintiff could make the necessary preparations. (Johnson Aff., Ex. 6.)

Plaintiff was also involved in hiring and retaining teachers, although Reverend Simpson had the final say on all employment decisions. Plaintiff interviewed candidates for teaching positions, and made hiring recommendations to Reverend Simpson. (Pl. Dep. 56-60.) On at least one occasion, plaintiff recommended, and Reverend Simpson agreed, that a certain teacher should be fired for failing to perform at the expected level. (Id. at 96-98.) Plaintiff gave the teachers either a verbal or written evaluation at the end of each school term. (Id. at 74-77.) In making her evaluations, plaintiff considered a variety of factors and made an assessment based on "seeing the teachers in every aspect of their job." (Id. at 80-81.) These evaluations were used to help determine teacher salaries, which were set officially by Reverend Simpson. (Johnson Aff., Ex. 6.)

In addition to supervising the School's teachers and current students, plaintiff sought to increase the School's enrollment by "creat[ing] liaisons between [her]self, daycare, and elementary schools in the area." (Pl. Dep. 81.) Using a directory that she obtained from a friend, plaintiff contacted and arranged meetings with representatives from various Head Start, pre-k, and kindergarten programs in the area. (Id. at 84.) Plaintiff met with parents, teachers, and admissions personnel and distributed informational packets about the School. (Id.) On several Saturday mornings throughout the year, Concord tested students who were interested in attending the School. (Id. at 115-120.) While these tests were being administered, plaintiff held information ...

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