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Stofsky v. Pawling Central School Dist.

March 27, 2009


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


Margaret Stofsky ("Plaintiff") brings this action alleging, inter alia, discrimination and retaliation in connection with her former employment as a school psychologist in the Pawling Central School District (the "District"), seeking relief against the District and the District's Board of Education (the "Board") (together, the "District Defendants"), as well as against several former and current District administrators (the "Individual Defendants"). Following dismissal of several of Plaintiff's claims by Judge Colleen McMahon, to whom this case was originally assigned,*fn1 Plaintiff's remaining claims are causes of action (1) against the District Defendants for gender and age discrimination and harassment, pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq.; (2) against the District Defendants for retaliation occurring after July 28, 2005, pursuant to Title VII, the ADEA, and the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq.; and (3) against all Defendants for denial of equal protection, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983"). Defendants moved for summary judgment, and Plaintiff and Defendants also moved in limine to exclude from trial certain expert testimony on the issue of damages. For the reasons stated herein, Defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted, and the motions to exclude testimony are denied as moot.

I. Background

A. Facts

1. Plaintiff's Hiring and Job Duties

Plaintiff was hired by the District as a School Psychologist beginning September 1, 1993. (Defs.' Statement of Material Facts Pursuant to Local Rule 56.1 ("Defs.' 56.1") ¶ 1.) At the time, she was forty-three years old. (Decl. of Peter Hoffman in Opp'n to Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. ("Hoffman Decl.") Ex. A (Dep. of Margaret Stofsky ("Pl. Dep.") 31).) The hiring committee considering Plaintiff's application included Frank Tolan, who served as Principal of the District's High School throughout Plaintiff's employment with the District (Aff. of Frank Tolan in Supp. of Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. ("Tolan Aff.") ¶ 1), and Karen Arnhold-Falanga, who was a School Psychologist for the District. (Pl. Dep. 30.)

From the beginning of Plaintiff's employment with the District through the 2003-04 school year, the District employed two School Psychologists, Plaintiff and Arnhold-Falanga. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶¶ 36-37.) Plaintiff was responsible for the High School, Arnhold-Falanga was responsible for the Elementary School, and Plaintiff and Arnhold-Falanga were each responsible for "half of the Middle School caseload." (Aff. of George Newman in Supp. of Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. ("Newman Aff.") ¶ 3.) As of September 2001, following the construction of the new Middle School (Aff. of Cheryl Thomas in Supp. of Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. ("Thomas Aff.") ¶ 15), the High School covered grades 9 through 12, and the Middle School covered grades 5 through 8. (Pl. Dep. 100.)

The duties and responsibilities of a School Psychologist are outlined in a job description produced by the District. (Aff. of Matthew Crandell in Supp. of Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. ("Crandell Aff.") ¶ 6.) As members of the District's Special Education staff, School Psychologists report to the Director of Special Education, who may assign them unspecified "appropriate responsibilities" in addition to those specified in the job description. (Crandell Aff. Ex. O (Job Description), 1, 3.) School Psychologists are appointed to serve on Child Study Teams, the District Committee on Special Education ("CSE"), and other District-wide committees. (Id. 1.) They carry out testing, including "Psychological and Triennial evaluations," for the CSE, "perform counseling evaluations as recommended by the Child Study Teams," meet with parents to explain test results, and "act as 'case manager' [for] students referred to the CSE." (Id. 2.) School Psychologists work with teachers and other staff "to develop behavior modification plans or consult in other appropriate areas," work with parents "as needed to develop realistic expectations of children's progress," meet with parents "when issues surface in classrooms," and "may be requested to provide inservice on clinical issues for teaching staff." (Id.) They also counsel students, either individually or in small groups. (Id.) Finally, School Psychologists "provide[] the initial intervention and direction when a crisis occurs," and "may be requested to intervene with at-risk students in special situations." (Id. 3.)

2. Concerns With Plaintiff's Job Performance

Prior to the 2004-05 School Year According to Tolan, Plaintiff "failed to keep appropriate records pertaining to students she counseled" for "several years prior to June 2004." (Tolan Aff. ¶ 4.) Tolan also received complaints from parents and teachers of special education students that Plaintiff was not counseling students in accordance with their Individualized Educational Plans ("IEPs"). (Id.) Some parents even asked that their children not be counseled by Plaintiff. (Id.) At some point prior to the 2004-05 school year, Tolan expressed his concerns about Plaintiff to then-Superintendent Frank DeLuca, who advised Tolan "to develop an accountability system to help [Plaintiff] improve, and to ensure that she was complying with her job requirements." (Aff. of Frank DeLuca in Supp. of Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. ("DeLuca Aff.") ¶ 4.)

Tolan worked with Plaintiff "to develop a system for scheduling and evaluating students that would help her organize her tasks," and held several meetings with Plaintiff and a union representative to discuss Plaintiff's schedule. (Tolan Aff. ¶ 5.) According to Tolan, Plaintiff was "reluctant to change her practices" and "questioned [Tolan] as to why [Tolan] needed counseling records from her." (Id.) Tolan told Plaintiff that he "required all teachers to maintain lesson plans... [and] all guidance counselors to turn in records of students they counseled, and thus, it was a matter of consistent practice that the school psychologists turn in records of students they counseled." (Id.)

George Newman, who in March 2003 became the District's Director of Special Education and therefore Plaintiff's supervisor, considered Plaintiff to be a "very bright" and knowledgeable School Psychologist who wrote "very good" reports. (Hoffman Decl. Ex. O (Dep. of George Newman ("Newman Dep.") 91).) However, Newman was concerned that Plaintiff "had been failing to submit psychological reports and student progress reports in a timely manner" and "was repeatedly missing counseling sessions with students who were assigned to her." (Newman Aff. ¶ 4.) Newman was informed at one point that Plaintiff had missed 157 counseling sessions with students. (Id.) Tolan told Newman that Plaintiff "was not completing the required testing for special education students" and also "missed numerous counseling sessions." (Id. ¶ 5.) Newman met with Plaintiff during the 2003-04 school year "to discuss these concerns, and to talk to her about how to manage her time more effectively." (Id. ¶ 4.)

At Plaintiff's deposition, she described a series of work-related conflicts involving herself and Tolan. According to Plaintiff, during her employment with the District, "people who had authority over [her]," including Tolan, "would talk to [her] in loud or rude and disrespectful ways." (Pl. Dep. 128.) In November 2003, Plaintiff attended a meeting at which Tolan and Newman were also present, where Tolan "accused [Plaintiff] of dumping some responsibility on him" with respect to a particular Middle School student.*fn2 (Id. 152-53.) At unspecified times, Tolan "screamed" at Plaintiff, accused Plaintiff of lying, told Plaintiff that she was not worth the salary she was making and that he would like to spend it elsewhere, and walked by Plaintiff's office to check up on her. (Id. 133.) Tolan also warned Plaintiff that he would tell the "special ed directors" that Plaintiff was not doing what Tolan wanted her to do and was not counseling students in accordance with their IEPs; according to Plaintiff, Tolan did in fact tell the special ed directors these things. (Id. 134.) During unspecified staff meetings, Tolan would interrupt Plaintiff. (Id. 135.) At some point, Tolan ordered Plaintiff to find a certain student, and when Plaintiff could not locate the student, Tolan yelled at Plaintiff in presence of secretaries. (Id. 135-36.) Plaintiff stated at her deposition that she did "not think... Tolan routinely went about screaming at any other males, [and] certainly not pretty young females."*fn3 (Id. 158.)

According to Plaintiff, concerns about her work performance were also raised, prior to the 2004-05 school year, by Cheryl Thomas, who at the time was Principal of the Middle School. (Pl. Dep. 138.) In the spring of 2004, Thomas sent Plaintiff a memorandum asking Plaintiff to account for her time, "implying that [she] had missed all these [counseling] sessions"; Thomas also told Plaintiff that Thomas "had been told that [Plaintiff] had a reputation for not seeing kids that [she] was supposed to." (Id.)

3. Plaintiff's Workload-Related Complaints

Prior to the 2004-05 School Year Prior to the start of the 2004-05 school year, Plaintiff requested for her "workload to be reduced." (Pl. Dep. 93; Pl.'s Rule 56 Statement of Controverted Facts ("Pl.'s 56.1") ¶ 53.) Plaintiff told Newman that she had too much work to do. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 48.) Tolan and DeLuca were also aware that Plaintiff felt this way. (Tolan Aff. ¶ 5; DeLuca Aff. ¶ 7.)

Plaintiff "made requests from the very beginning of [her] employment [with the District] that it would be more effective to have [her] in one place or the other," i.e., to limit Plaintiff's responsibilities to a single school building. (Pl. Dep. 93.) Plaintiff also "made complaints to the District that [her] workload was inequitable." (Id. 97.) Under the official division of labor between Plaintiff and Arnhold-Falanga, Plaintiff was expected to cover students in grades 7 through 12 and Arnhold-Falanga was responsible for students in grades K through 6; however, according to Plaintiff, she worked with some students in grades 5 and 6 as well as some Elementary School students. (Id. 98-99.)

4. Plaintiff's Assignment to the Middle School

During the 2003-04 school year, Newman recommended to DeLuca that the District hire a third School Psychologist. (Newman Aff. ¶ 9.) According to Newman, he made the recommendation to DeLuca "in part due to [Plaintiff's] perception that she was being overworked." (Id.) According to DeLuca, "Newman persuaded me that it would be beneficial for the District to have one School Psychologist in each building, as it would reduce the workload for the current School Psychologists." (DeLuca Aff. ¶ 7.)

The District subsequently decided to hire a third School Psychologist for the 2004-05 school year (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 59), and in the summer of 2004, a committee was established to consider candidates to fill that position (Newman Aff. ¶ 10). Both Plaintiff and Newman were members of that hiring committee. (Id.; Pl. Dep. 94.) The District initially offered the position to a woman who had more than twenty years of experience as a school psychologist and neuropsychologist (Defs.' 56.1 ¶¶ 62-63), but that candidate declined the District's offer because "the District was unable to meet her salary requirements" (Newman Aff. ¶ 11; Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 64). The District ultimately hired another candidate, Matthew Crandell, who is male and at the time of his hiring was under thirty years old (Crandell Aff. ¶ 4), following the hiring committee's recommendation (Defs.' 56.1 ¶¶ 60-61; Newman Aff. ¶ 11). Plaintiff concurred in that recommendation, but she claims that she recommended only that Crandell be hired on the condition that Plaintiff be assigned to work at the High School. (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 60-61, 66; Newman Aff. ¶ 11; Pl. Dep. 94.) Notwithstanding Plaintiff's supposed request, Crandell was assigned to the High School for the 2004-05 school year. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 65.)

Plaintiff thus was assigned to be School Psychologist at the Middle School for the 2004-05 school year. (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 66; Pl. Dep. 95; Newman Aff. ¶ 12; Thomas Aff. ¶ 5.) According to District administrators, there were at least four reasons that Plaintiff was assigned to the Middle School rather than to the High School. First, Plaintiff had already been trained and involved in PACE, a program for children with autism that at the time was implemented at the Middle School but not at the High School, whereas Crandell had received no such training. (Tolan Aff. ¶ 8; Defs.' 56.1 ¶¶ 55-56.) Second, District administrators believed that Thomas was "very organized," and that Plaintiff would "benefit from Dr. Thomas's organizational skills" (Tolan Aff. ¶ 8; Newman Aff. ¶ 13); moreover, "Dr. Thomas welcomed [Plaintiff] to come [to the Middle School] and also offered to help with [her] organization and planning" (Newman Dep. 168-69). Third, due to "the numerous complaints" that High School teachers and Guidance Counselors had made about Plaintiff, Newman "felt that reassigning [Plaintiff] to the Middle School would provide her with a fresh start that would be both beneficial to her as well as the teachers and Guidance Counselors at the High School." (Newman Aff. ¶ 14.) Fourth, Tolan preferred that Plaintiff be assigned to work at the Middle School rather than the High School; he wanted a School Psychologist at the High School "who would do the counseling and the evaluations." (Newman Dep. 100, 169.)

Plaintiff, at her deposition, stated that she was told that her assignment to the Middle School was due to "ongoing friction" between herself and Tolan. (Pl. Dep. 95.) According to Plaintiff, no other reason was given to her. (Id. 96.) When asked whether Plaintiff believed that she had taken any action that caused the District to reassign her to the Middle School, Plaintiff stated that she did not. (Id. 108.)

Plaintiff complained to Arnhold-Falanga, to Newman, and to union officials that she did not want to be reassigned to the Middle School. (Id. 89, 109). She told Newman and union officials that she felt she was "being moved unfairly." (Id. 110.) Plaintiff "begged" Newman not to assign her to the Middle School, and asked him, "why doesn't seniority count for anything[?]" (Id. 89.) According to Plaintiff, she "didn't want to leave the building that [she] had worked in for all of the preceding years where [she] had developed relationships with the faculty,... students, [and] guidance counselors"; moreover, she particularly enjoyed working with High School students. (Id. 92-93.)

Although Plaintiff filed many union grievances against the District during her employment (id. 24), she did not file a grievance concerning her assignment to the Middle School (id. 107).

5. Plaintiff's Job Responsibilities During the 2004-05 School Year

After Plaintiff's reassignment to the Middle School for the 2004-05 school year, Plaintiff continued to be responsible for at least one student outside of the Middle School. (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 73.) At her deposition, Plaintiff said that she had to evaluate at least one High School-age individual subsequent to the start of the 2004-05 school year but that this was only the only non-Middle School responsibility she could recall. (Pl. Dep. 112, 115.) However, Plaintiff's assignment to the Middle School did not substantially reduce her workload as compared to previous years. (Id. 99-100.) Although Plaintiff could not remember how many Middle School students she was responsible for in 2004-05, she asserted that she had just as many students as before, because students were added to her workload that had been previously handled by the guidance department rather than by a School Psychologist. (Id. 100-01.)

Plaintiff stated that during the 2004-05 school year she had "counseling responsibilities," "evaluation responsibilities," "reevaluation responsibilities," "crisis intervention responsibilities," "teacher consultations," and "administrative responsibilities," as well as the responsibility to observe and evaluate students "out of the District," "prep for and be the District's witness in hearings," "write reports," "keep an accounting of [her] time," attend "ten CSE meetings," attend meetings at the behest of guidance counselors, "speak to parents," "keep[]... documentation on IEP correct," "develop[] presentations for staff," "teach[] teachers how to... score achievement tests," "present[] at superintendent's conference days," "attend[]... manifestation hearings... regarding students," and "do all of the individual counseling and some of the group counseling for the As[p]erger Program that [she] had helped develop." (Id. 103-05.)

6. Plaintiff's Complaints and Requests Concerning Her Middle School Office

According to Thomas, when Plaintiff was assigned to the Middle School for the 2004-05 school year, Plaintiff requested that she be given a "a private room with no carpeting" as her office. (Thomas Aff. ¶ 15.) Such an office was "built specifically for" Plaintiff in or about the summer of 2004, when the District divided a "very large classroom" into a smaller classroom and two offices. (Id.) A "new HVAC system" was installed in the office space. (Id.) According to Plaintiff, she was assigned to this office despite her requests to Newman that she not be assigned there because the space "was known to have an extreme heat problem," as it "had been a science room with solar capacity for plants, much like a greenhouse." (Pl. Dep. 120.) According to Thomas, due to the installation of the new HVAC system Thomas did not anticipate that the office would have any temperature problems. (Thomas Aff. ¶ 15.)

During the 2004-05 school year, Plaintiff made several complaints about her office, including that it was sometimes too hot*fn4 and sometimes too cold, that water leaked into the room when it rained,*fn5 that the room was sometimes damp, that her files and equipment were not there at the start of year, and that there was not enough space. (Id.; Newman Aff. ¶ 16; Pl. Dep. 124-25.) Plaintiff directed these complaints to Newman, Thomas, District head of maintenance Rob Hamilton, and Assistant Superintendent Sonya Taylor. (Pl. Dep. 122-24; Newman Aff. ¶ 16.) According to Thomas, Plaintiff requested "that film be put on the windows to reduce the amount of sunlight coming through, and that the seal be fixed to keep water from leaking in." (Thomas Aff. ¶ 15.) According to Plaintiff, she asked Taylor for the addition of wall cabinets to the office so that there would be more space, and in the alternative for a different office. (Pl. Dep. 125.) Plaintiff also requested that the air conditioning in the office be adjusted. (Id. 122.)

In response to Plaintiff's complaints, Thomas "asked building and grounds to install... heat shields... to deflect the sunlight," and these were installed in April 2005; Thomas also asked Plaintiff to keep a record of the temperature in her office. (Id. 119; Thomas Aff. ¶ 15.) Thomas could not herself adjust the temperature because "all adjustments to the HVAC system in the building had to be made at the High School via a computerized system." (Thomas Aff. ¶ 15.) Plaintiff said that Hamilton likewise told her that he could not adjust the air conditioning. (Pl. Dep. 122 ("It can't get turned on. It can't get turned off. It can't get adjusted. It had time frames.").) Thomas said that she told Plaintiff "that [Plaintiff] could use an alternative room whenever she wished,"*fn6 and that Thomas submitted all of Plaintiff's requests and complaints to the Facilities and Operations Department, "direct[ing] that all repairs be made." (Thomas Aff. ¶ 15.) When Plaintiff complained about her room to Newman, Newman advised Plaintiff to "submit a written request for maintenance," and also informed Thomas and Hamilton of Plaintiff's complaints. (Newman Aff. ¶ 16; Newman Dep. 132.)

In Plaintiff's view, the problems with the heat and air conditioning in her office were not timely addressed. (Pl. Dep. 126.) Plaintiff perceived Thomas, Newman, and Hamilton as having ignored the problems with her office, because Plaintiff notified them of the problems in November 2004 and they were not fixed until April 2005. (Id. 130.) Plaintiff believed that the District was "retaliat[ing]" against her by refusing to "mak[e] a reasonable office change" following her complaints about her office. (Id. 121.) At her deposition, Plaintiff said that her request for wall shelving in her office was ultimately denied, though she could not recall when. (Id. 118, 130.)

7. Plaintiff's Parking-Related and Other Requests

Plaintiff stated in her deposition that, sometime prior to the 2004-05 school year, she told Tolan that she had "allergies, history of asthma, [and] history of bronchitis," and requested that she be permitted to park in a handicap parking space in front of the High School building on cold days "so that I wouldn't have to be breathing the cold air." (Id. 120-21.) Tolan denied her request, as well as her request for "a key to the back entrance," which she had sought so that she would "not have to walk from the parking lot up and around because the doors are locked." (Id. 121.)

Thomas also was aware that Plaintiff had asthma (Thomas Aff. ¶ 17); according to Plaintiff, she also notified Thomas of her "history of pneumonia, history of bronchitis, fibromyalgia,... arthritis, [and] mold allergies" (Pl. Dep. 117). According to Thomas, "[o]n one occasion" Plaintiff asked for permission to park closer to the school building; in response, Thomas "allowed her to park in a lot that was reserved mainly for kitchen staff and traveling teachers." (Thomas Aff. ¶ 17.) However, according to Plaintiff, Thomas told Plaintiff that she "could not use the parking lot close to the building" where Plaintiff wanted to park; instead, Thomas said Plaintiff "could get a doctor's note saying [she] had a disability and use the disabled parking," and Plaintiff did procure a handicap parking sticker, which she used to park "in the lot closer to the building with... handicap parking." (Pl. Dep. 118-19.)

According to Plaintiff, she also "notified" Thomas that she "would have to sometimes put [her] belongings on the elevator and then walk upstairs to get [her] belongings off the elevator," and requested that Thomas install an intercom system in the hallway. (Id. 117-18.)

Plaintiff said at her deposition that "things that happened" to her, including "having been denied" "a parking space closer to the building," "felt like retaliation." (Id. 108.)

8. Continued Concerns With Plaintiff's Job Performance

During the 2004-05 school year, Thomas received complaints from parents that Plaintiff was not counseling their children in compliance with their IEPs. (Thomas Aff. ¶ 6.) Some parents also told Thomas that they "did not want their children to continue counseling with [Plaintiff] because she would fail to show up for scheduled counseling sessions." (Id.) Special education teachers also informed Thomas that Plaintiff was not counseling their students as scheduled. (Id.) Thomas also "discovered" that Plaintiff "had indicated by initialing [certain] student reports that she had counseled [students] at certain times, but the teachers of the students could not confirm that these supposed counseling sessions took place"; Thomas consequently concluded that Plaintiff "might have been falsifying some student records." (Id.) When "confronted" by Thomas, Plaintiff said "that she had seen the students, but only for five minutes." (Id.) According to a December 21, 2004 memorandum from Thomas to Plaintiff, Plaintiff had on multiple occasions failed to inform administrators of appointments she had scheduled with parents on days that Plaintiff was absent from school, leading to parents coming in for appointments for which Plaintiff did not appear. (Id. Ex. M.) Crandell "often observed [Plaintiff] to be late to meetings [he] attended." (Crandell Aff. ¶ 10.)*fn7

During the 2004-05 school year, Thomas met with Plaintiff in an attempt "to assist her in becoming more successful with organizing her work obligations and meeting students' needs." (Thomas Aff. ¶ 7.) Thomas designed a chart for Plaintiff to use in keeping track of her obligations. (Id.) Plaintiff's schedule was set up so that Plaintiff would have the equivalent of two and one-half days per week of unstructured time in which no counseling sessions were scheduled. (Id.) Plaintiff also was provided with secretarial support; she was, to Thomas's knowledge, the only School Psychologist who received such support. (Id. ¶ 9.)

Thomas and Newman discussed Plaintiff's perceived "failure to counsel students in compliance with their IEPs," and they subsequently met jointly with Plaintiff to discuss her performance. (Id. ¶ 8.) At the meeting, Plaintiff disputed Thomas and Newman's "assessment... that she was underperforming," but the three "agreed on a schedule" for Plaintiff to "complet[e] her scheduled counseling sessions." (Id.) In Thomas's view, however, Plaintiff's "practices did not sufficiently change." (Id. ¶ 9.)

According to Plaintiff, in the spring of 2005, she received a memorandum, signed by Newman, which stated that Thomas alleged that Plaintiff had missed 157 counseling sessions. (Pl. Dep. 67.) Newman signed that memorandum without having told Plaintiff that he had done so. (Id. 151.) Plaintiff repeatedly asked Newman to meet with her so that she could explain those "so[-]called misses" to Newman; however, Newman did not meet with Plaintiff. (Id. 151-52.)

At some point, possibly around the beginning of the 2004-05 school year, Plaintiff was asked to attend a meeting with Arnhold-Falanga and Crandell, at which two attorneys were present, and Plaintiff was "grill[ed]... as to why [she] believed [that a certain] child... ha[d] a disability." (Id. 133.)

In memoranda from Thomas to Plaintiff, dated January 7, 2005, and December 2, 2005, Thomas indicated that parents of children previously counseled by Plaintiff had requested that Plaintiff no longer counsel their children. (Thomas Aff. Ex. K, at first and fourth unnumbered pages.) A letter to Thomas from a third set of parents, dated January 3, 2006, made the same request, as did a letter to Plaintiff from a fourth set of parents, dated January 4, 2006. (Id. at second, third, and fifth unnumbered pages.) The December 2, 2005 memorandum from Thomas to Plaintiff indicated that responsibility for counseling the student had been transferred to another District employee in accordance with the parent's stated preferences. (Id. at first ...

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