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Lee v. Poughkeepsie City School Dist.

March 31, 2008

WESLEY J. LEE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
POUGHKEEPSIE CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kenneth M. Karas, District Judge

ORDER ADOPTING REPORT & RECOMMENDATION

On June 16, 2006, Plaintiff Wesley J. Lee filed this employment discrimination action against Defendant Poughkeepsie City School District ("District"). The Complaint alleges that Plaintiff was paid less for his services than other similarly situated employees because of his race and age.

Plaintiff and Defendant have each moved for Summary Judgment. Both motions were referred to Magistrate Judge George A. Yanthis for a report and recommendation.*fn1 On September 13, 2007, Magistrate Judge Yanthis issued a Report and Recommendation concluding that this Court should grant Defendant's Motion and deny Plaintiff's Motion. Plaintiff subsequently filed timely objections to the Report and Recommendation.

For the reasons stated below, the Court ADOPTS Magistrate Judge Yanthis's Report and Recommendation, DENIES Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment, and GRANTS Defendant's Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment.

I. Factual Background

A. The Parties

Plaintiff is an African-American male who was employed by the District from September 2000 to August 2006, and again from October 2006 to June 2007. (Def.'s Statement Under Rule 56.1 in Supp. of Mot. for Summ. J. ("Def.'s 56.1") ¶¶ 3, 34, 35; Pl.'s Obj to the Report and Recommendation ("Pl.'s Obj.") 2-3.)*fn2 Plaintiff was born on January 20, 1945, and thus was fifty-five years old when first hired by the District. (Compl. 3.)

B. The Allegedly Discriminatory Conduct

Plaintiff was initially hired in early September 2000 as a coordinator of the Even Start Program. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 3; Affirmation [in Support of Pl.'s] Mot. for Summ. J. ("Pl.'s First Affirmation") ¶ 2.) Plaintiff's starting salary was $40,000. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 3; Pl.'s First Affirmation ¶ 3.) The $40,000 salary that Plaintiff received was commensurate with the salaries earned by the coordinators of the Even Start program who preceded Plaintiff. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 9; Affirmation in Opp'n to Cross Mot. by Def. and in Supp. of Summ. Mot. by Pl. ("Pl.'s Second Affirmation") 14.) Plaintiff's two immediate predecessors in the job, Margaret Fernandez and Janet Lind, were both Caucasian. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 2, 9.)

According to Defendant, the salary of each coordinator employed by the District is determined by its funding source. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 10.) As Even Start program coordinator, Plaintiff's salary was funded by the federal Even Start grant, and Plaintiff understood at his hiring that his salary would come from this grant, not from general school district funds. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 11; Pl.'s Dep. 78-80.) Other than Plaintiff, only two program coordinators employed by the District were paid out of federal grant funds rather than general school district funds. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 14; Resp. to Each Numbered Item in Def.'s Statement Under Rule 56.1 ("Pl.'s 56.1") ¶ 14.) These two individuals -- Sheree Green, an African-American woman, and Nancy Mellilli, a Caucasian woman -- each started at the same $40,000 salary as Plaintiff. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 13, 15; Pl.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 13, 15.)

Plaintiff's $40,000 salary lies at the center of this dispute. Plaintiff alleges that Robert Watson, the former Superintendent of Schools who initially recommended that the School Board hire Plaintiff (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 3), promised Plaintiff -- on numerous occasions -- that his salary would be adjusted to $75,000, and that the increased salary would be applied retroactively to his date of hire ( Pl.'s First Affirmation ¶ 3). The figure of $75,000 represents the rough average salary of several other employees who, according to Plaintiff, shared similar duties despite having less education and experience than Plaintiff. (Id. ¶ 5.) Defendant disputes Plaintiff's assessment of the other employees' duties, noting the various ways in which those positions (and the qualifications necessary to be hired to those positions) differ from Plaintiff's employment situation. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 1, 17-19.) In addition, Defendant points out that Plaintiff, unlike the other employees he cites, was funded out of a dedicated grant program, not the school district's general budget. (Id. ¶ 20.)

According to Plaintiff, Watson promised to increase Plaintiff's salary to $75,000 retroactively on nine separate occasions between September 7, 2000 and October 28, 2003. (Pl.'s First Affirmation ¶ 3.) Defendant acknowledges that at various times during Plaintiff's employment as Even Start coordinator, Plaintiff discussed with Watson and/or Plaintiff's immediate supervisor, Karen Markeloff, Plaintiff's desire to see his salary increased to $75,000. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 21; Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 21.) Although Plaintiff did receive several raises while working for the District -- his salary increased to $55,000 within six years (all from increases in grant funding) (Def.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 28) -- these raises did not fulfill the promises allegedly made by Watson.

Watson's last alleged promise was made to Plaintiff on October 28, 2003. (Pl.'s Affirmation ¶ 3.) On that date, Plaintiff met with Watson and Markeloff, and Watson allegedly promised to make a recommendation at the School Board's November 19, 2003 meeting that Plaintiff's salary be increased to $75,000. (Id.) The Parties dispute whether Watson made this recommendation. Defendant claims that Watson did make the recommendation, but that the School Board rejected the proposal because such an increase would have required the use of District funds over and above the funds available from the Even Start grant. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 32.) School Board Member Stanley Merritt concurs with this rendition of events. (Stanley Merritt Aff. in Opp'n to Mot. by Pl. Pro Se and in Supp. of Cross Mot. for Summ. J. ("Merritt Aff.") ¶ 3.) According to Defendant, this rejection reflected the District's reluctance to supplement grant-funded programs with money from the general school budget. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 22, 32).

Plaintiff, on the other hand, contends that Watson never made the recommendation. (Pl.'s Second Affirmation 13.) Plaintiff focuses particular attention on the fact that the recommendation never appeared in minutes of the public portion of the meeting. (Id. 13.) Plaintiff further points out that Thomas L. Jefferson, a School Board member at the time, denies that Watson made such a recommendation on November 19, 2003. (Thomas L. Jefferson Aff. in Opp'n to Cross. Mot. by Def. and in Supp. of Resp. by Pl. ("Jefferson Aff.") ¶ 2.) Defendant responds to these points by noting that Watson's recommendation took place during the executive session (Merritt Aff. ¶ 3), a non-public portion of the School Board meeting which goes unrecorded in the minutes (Maria L. McCabe Reply Aff. in Supp. of Cross-Mot. for Summ. J. ("McCabe Second Aff.") ¶ 4). In addition, Defendant notes that School Board member Jefferson was not recorded as present at the November 19, 2003 School Board meeting (McCabe Second Aff. ¶ 5), and thus was not in a ...


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