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Raghavendra v. Trustees of Columbia University

July 7, 2008

RAJAGOPALA SAMPATH RAGHAVENDRA, A/K/A "RANDY S. RAGHAVENDRA," PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE TRUSTEES OF COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY, LEE BOLLINGER, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS PRESIDENT OF COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY, ROBERT KASDIN, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS SENIOR EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT OF COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY, WILLIAM R. SCOTT, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS DEPUTY VICE PRESIDENT OF COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Paul A. Crotty, United States District Judge

ORDER

Plaintiff Rajagopala Raghavendra ("Raghavendra" or "Plaintiff") commenced this action in September 2006 against his former employer, the Trustees of Columbia University ("Columbia" or the "University"), and certain individual defendants, Lee Bollinger, Robert Kasdin, and William Scott (collectively, "Defendants"), all of whom are employees of Columbia University, alleging various acts of employment discrimination. The Complaint is a ninety-seven page document which alleges at least twenty-four separate causes of action charging violations of numerous federal and state laws, including, inter alia: Titles VI and VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983, and 1985, the National Labor Relations Act, the False Claim Act, New York Labor Laws, and New York State and City Human Rights Laws. Plaintiff seeks $20 million in compensatory damages, an additional $20 million dollars in punitive damages, and $50 million dollars for the creation of a "Minority Employees Association" which will be charged with doing various good works including monitoring Columbia University's employment policies and promoting fair employment practices. He also seeks injunctive relief for himself and for unspecified third party minorities associated with Columbia.

Defendants moved on December 21, 2006 to dismiss the First Amended Complaint pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) (lack of subject matter jurisdiction) and 12(b)(6) (failure to state a claim). One and one-half years after commencing the action, and five months after Defendants' motion to dismiss, the Plaintiff moved separately on April 27, 2007 for a preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order under Rule 65. (Plaintiff's Notice of Motion for Preliminary Injunction and Temporary Restraining Order, April 27, 2007 ("Pl. Inj.").)

Raghavendra commenced the action pro se but retained counsel prior to filing a reply brief in support of his motion for injunctive relief. The Second Amended Complaint ("Second Am. Compl."), which is under consideration on this motion to dismiss, was drafted while Raghavendra was acting pro se, and was submitted in conjunction with his moving papers.*fn1

The case was referred to Magistrate Judge Henry Pitman on September 11, 2006. Magistrate Judge Pitman issued a commendably thorough and detailed seventy-seven-page Report and Recommendation ("R&R") on March 10, 2008. In his R&R, Magistrate Judge Pitman recommended that the Defendants' motion to dismiss be granted in part and denied in part, and that Raghavendra's request for injunctive relief be denied. Raghavendra filed timely objections to the R&R; Defendants filed no objections.*fn2

FACTUAL BACKGROUND*fn3

Raghavendra is a 46-year-old self-described "Black (Dark-skinned) male of East-Indian Race." (Second Am. Compl. ¶ 5.) He has two master's degrees and was employed by Columbia University in its Institutional Real Estate ("IRE") Department. The IRE, in conjunction with the Facilities Department, is responsible for the oversight and administration of Columbia's faculty and administrator housing. At all times relevant herein, Defendant William Scott ("Scott") was Raghavendra's supervisor, Defendant Lee Bollinger ("Bollinger") was the President of the University, and Defendant Robert Kasdin was the Senior Executive Vice President of the University. The following are the chief factual allegations of the Second Amended Complaint:

(1) Prior to November 2001, Scott began making "disparaging racist comments" toward Plaintiff. (Second Am. Compl. ¶ 132.) Scott suggested Plaintiff could be mistaken for a "terrorist" by airport security because of his color and national origin, commented that Plaintiff's employment application would be processed more quickly because he was "not White," and created a racially hostile environment by "boast[ing] about the racist conditions" that existed at Scott's college while he was a student, and by calling another IRE department employee a "Nigger." (Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 132-33.) (R&R 4.)

(2) In November 2002, Plaintiff lodged an internal complaint alleging a pattern and practice of racial discrimination in promotion/hiring in the IRE department. (Second Am. Compl. ¶ 131.)

(3) In January 2003, Plaintiff was denied use of his individual IRE mailbox and told to share one with a "lower-grade dark-skinned racial minority." (Second Am. Compl. ¶ 143.) He was denied his own office (Second Am. Compl. ¶ 144), forced to share a small room with one phone with two part-time employees (Second Am. Compl. ¶ 144), ordered to remove an article on affirmative action from his office door (Second Am. Compl. ¶ 150), and was unable to eat lunch at his desk because a "White" IRE employee objected to the smell of his "ethnic Indian food" (Second Am. Compl. ¶ 147). (R&R 5.)

(4) In July 2003, Plaintiff filed an action in New York Supreme Court naming Scott as a defendant and alleging racial discrimination in the IRE department. (Second Am. Compl. ¶ 134.) (R&R 6.) As a result, Scott avoided face-to-face meetings with Plaintiff for two-anda-half years thereafter and repeatedly cancelled appointments made by Plaintiff. (Second Am. Compl. ¶ 135.) Plaintiff was continuously denied interviews for executive positions in the IRE department while less-qualified white employees were promoted into such positions (Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 137-42), was consistently excluded from IRE meetings and projects (Second Am. Compl. ¶ 148), and had his job duties deliberately reduced to "clerical" work (Second Am. Compl. ¶ 148). (R&R 4-5.)

(5) In February 2004, Scott directed IRE staff to ransack Plaintiff's office space while Plaintiff was on vacation to "harass" him for filing the internal complaint and commencing the State Court action. (Second Am. Compl. ¶ 150.) In the same month, Bollinger "created an extremely hostile work environment for the Blacks and other racial minorities" at Columbia by not disciplining the author of a racially derogatory cartoon. (Second Am. Compl. ¶ 122.) (R&R 6.)

(6) In March 2004, Plaintiff again complained about the incidents of retaliation and of the environmental hostility to the Equal Opportunity office at Columbia. He was told that no internal investigation would be conducted because his State Court action was pending and that any complaints of discrimination should be directed to the New York Supreme Court. (Second Am. Compl. ¶ 151.) (R&R 6.)

(7) On July 8, 2004, Plaintiff sent a letter to Bollinger and Kasdin informing them of Scott's racial discrimination/harassment and repeated acts of retaliation for Plaintiff's filing of the internal complaint and State Court action. (Letter to Bollinger and Kasdin from Plaintiff, dated July 8, 2004, Second Am. Compl., Exhibit F.) (R&R 6-7.)

(8) In March and August 2004, Plaintiff contacted senior administrators at Columbia asking whether he could create an entity called the Racial Equality for Columbia University Employees Fund (the "RESCUE Fund") because of the "institutionalized racial discrimination, harassment, and intimidation" at Columbia. (Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 161, 165.) Columbia administrators did not directly respond to his two requests to organize the RESCUE Fund. (Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 172, 185.) (R&R 7.)

(9) On September 7, 2005, Plaintiff sent an e-mail to senior Columbia administrators, including Kasdin, again asking whether Columbia would object to his organizing the RESCUE Fund (Second Am. Compl. ¶ 188) and including a draft of the "public notice" the plaintiff intended to distribute to local newspapers (Second Am. Compl. ¶ 188). (R&R 7-8.)

(10) On September 23, 2005, Scott terminated Plaintiff's employment at the direction of Bollinger and Kasdin. (Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 194, 196.) (R&R 8.) This termination frustrated Plaintiff's desire to "work at Columbia University all the way until his legal retirement age" (Second Am. Compl. ¶ 289), in as much as "Plaintiff chose Columbia University for almost life-term employment" (Second Am. Compl. ¶ 290).

THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

Magistrate Judge Pitman parsed the ninety-seven pages of allegations into discrete legal claims, and then carefully reviewed and thoroughly analyzed them before making his recommendation. He identified eleven individual laws, giving rise to twenty-four separate claims, raised by the allegations of Raghavendra's Second Amended Complaint. Magistrate Judge Pitman analyzed the following claims:

(1) hostile work environment, wrongful termination and failure to promote based on race, color, and national origin, and retaliation, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq. ("Title VII");

(2) hostile work environment, wrongful termination and failure to promote based on race, color, and national origin, and retaliation, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 ("Section 1981");

(3) hostile work environment, wrongful termination and failure to promote based on race, color and national origin, and retaliation, in violation of the New York State Human Rights Law, N.Y. Exec. Law § 296(1) (prohibiting discrimination) and § 296(6) (prohibiting the aiding and abetting of discrimination) (the "NYSHRL");

(4) hostile work environment, wrongful termination and failure to promote based on race, color and national origin, and retaliation, in violation of the New York City Human Rights Law, N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-107 (the "NYCHRL");

(5) conspiracy to deprive him of equal protection of the law in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3) ("Section 1985(3)");

(6) discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000d et seq. ("Title VI"), which prohibits such discrimination in any programs receiving federal financial assistance;

(7) denial and suppression of his free speech, freedom of association, and due process rights in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983"), in conjunction with his activities involving, inter alia, the RESCUE fund;

(8) interference with his right to engage in concerted activities for the purpose of mutual aid and protection in violation of Section 8 of the National Labor Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. § 158(a)(1) (the "NLRA"); (9) fraud in violation of the False Claims Act ("FCA"), 31 U.S.C. §§ 3729 et seq., due to Columbia University's purportedly false claim and/or misrepresentation to the federal government that it was an "Equal Opportunity" employer and maintained affirmative action programs;

(10) violation of New York Civil Rights Law §§ 70-a, 76-a (the "Anti-SLAPP statute") because Defendants threatened to assert a Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation ("SLAPP") suit against Plaintiff; and finally

(11) discriminatory termination for engaging in protected "political activities" in violation of New York Labor Law § 201-d ("New York Labor Law"). (R&R 1-2.)

Magistrate Judge Pitman also reviewed Raghavendra's separate motion requesting a preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order. After his review of all of these claims, and his review of Defendants' motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim, Magistrate Judge Pitman's Report recommended the following actions:

1. With Respect to the General Allegations of Discrimination

(1) that the Section 8 National Labor Relations Act claims be dismissed because the Court lacks subject matter ...


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