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Dorman v. Webster Central School Dist.

September 12, 2008

MARY DORMAN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
WEBSTER CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT, THOMAS J. STRINING, SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOLS, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: David G. Larimer United States District Judge

DECISION AND ORDER

On March 20, 2006, plaintiff Mary Dorman ("Dorman") commenced the instant action against the Webster Central School District (the "District") and former district superintendent Thomas Strining ("Strining"). Dorman, who was employed by the District beginning in September 2000 as a physical education teacher, and from 2002-2005 as a varsity girls swim coach, alleges that she was subjected to disparate treatment and was denied reappointment as coach for the 2005-2006 season on the basis of her gender, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. ("Title VII") and the New York State Human Rights Law, N.Y. Exec. Law §§290 et seq. ("NYHRL").

Plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC on or about September 20, 2005. The EEOC was "unable to conclude that the information obtained establishes violations of the statutes," and issued a Right to Sue letter on March 6, 2006. This action followed.

Defendant now moves for summary judgment dismissing plaintiff's claims (Dkt. #37). For the following reasons, defendant's motion is granted, and the complaint is dismissed.

DISCUSSION

Summary judgment will be granted if the record demonstrates 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." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986). Although courts should be cautious about granting summary judgment in cases where motive, intent or state of mind are at issue, a common component of discrimination actions, see Dister v. Cont'l Group, Inc., 859 F.2d 1108, 1114 (2d Cir.1988); Montana v. First Federal Savings and Loan Ass'n of Rochester, 869 F.2d 100, 103 (2d Cir.1989), "the salutary purposes of summary judgment -- avoiding protracted, expensive and harassing trials -- apply no less to discrimination cases than to . . . other areas of litigation." Meiri v. Dacon, 759 F.2d 989, 998 (2d Cir.1985). See also Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 148 (2000), quoting St. Mary's Honor Ctr. v. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502, 524 (1993) (trial courts should not "treat discrimination differently from other ultimate questions of fact").

I. Plaintiff's Claims Against Individual Defendant Strining

Plaintiff concedes that individuals are not generally subject to liability under Title VII, and that she has not alleged any overt acts by defendant Strining that might give rise to an exception. See e.g., Tomka v. Seiler, 66 F.3d 1295, 1313 (2d Cir. 1995). Accordingly, plaintiff's claims against Strining are dismissed.

II. Plaintiff's Discrimination Claims Against the District

Dorman's claims of employment discrimination pursuant to Title VII and the NYHRL are subject to the burden-shifting analysis articulated in McDonnell-Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). First, plaintiff must establish a prima facie case of discrimination by demonstrating:

(1) membership in a protected class; (2) satisfactory job performance; and (3) an adverse employment action, occurring under (4) circumstances giving rise to an inference of discrimination. See Collins v. New York City Transit Authority, 305 F.3d 113, 118 (2d Cir. 2002). Once plaintiff has established a prima facie case, the burden shifts to defendant to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse employment action. See James v. New York Racing Ass'n, 233 F.3d 149, 154 (2d Cir. 2000). The burden then returns to plaintiff, to supply evidence that the legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason offered by the defendant is a mere pretext for discrimination. See St. Mary's Honor Center v. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502, 508 (1993).

Initially, the District argues that plaintiff has failed to demonstrate that she was subjected to an adverse employment action, because it is undisputed that plaintiff's position was a seasonal appointment which concluded at the end of each season, after which a new appointment -- or reappointment -- would be made. In so arguing, the District relies upon Gourdine v. Cabrini Med. Ctr., 307 F. Supp. 2d 587 (S.D.N.Y. 2004), aff'd in relevant part, 128 Fed. Appx. 780, 782 (2d Cir. 2005), which held that where an employee is contractually employed for a fixed term, the expiration of the contract will not be deemed to be an adverse employment action. Plaintiff, however, correctly points out that Gourdine has been criticized by some courts outside of this Circuit, see e.g., Hernandez-Mejias v. General Electric, 428 F. Supp. 2d 4, 8 (D.P.R. 2005) (collecting cases),and that the Second Circuit's affirmance of its holding is unpublished.

The Court, however, need not become mired in the conflicting case law. Even assuming that the few Second Circuit cases which address the issue represent a settled consensus, that consensus appears to be that where an employee is employed for a fixed term, the natural expiration of the term and the employer's decision not to rehire the employee will not be deemed an adverse employment action, but only so long as the plaintiff in those circumstances had no reasonable expectation of rehire. Compare Racker v. St. Bonaventure Univ., 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 32110 at *21 (following Gourdine, and concluding that plaintiff whose one-year employment contract expired, and who refused offer of continued employment on a provisional basis, did not suffer an adverse employment action) with Liebowitz v. Cornell Univ., 445 F.3d 586 (2d Cir. 2006) (distinguishing Gourdine and declining to dismiss plaintiff's claims relating to expiration of contractual term of employment, where plaintiff alleged an "unofficial" understanding that persons in her position are entitled to reappointment) and George v. Liverpool Central School Dist., 2000 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14793 at *23 (N.D.N.Y. 2000) (expiration of an employment contract is not a tangible employment action where "there was no guarantee of future employment").

Here, interpreting the evidence in the light most favorable to plaintiff, I find that the District's serial prior renewal of plaintiff's position, combined with the District's admitted policy and practice that coaches who received positive performance evaluations would be reappointed, while coaches who received negative performance evaluations may not be, suggest that Dorman might have had some reasonable expectation of entitlement to be reappointed. As such, I find that Dorman has sufficiently ...


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