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Vaughn v. City of New York

May 24, 2010

KATHY-ANN VAUGHN, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
CITY OF NEW YORK, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Glasser, United States Senior District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiffs Kathy-Ann Vaughn ("Vaughn"), Angela Cammarata ("Cammarata"), Christelene Henry ("Henry"), Emily Francis ("Francis"), and Carol Davis ("Davis") have brought an action against defendants the City of New York ("City"), the New York City Department of Education ("DOE"), Denise Jennings ("Jennings"), and Michele Williams ("Williams") under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983, and 2000e, alleging discrimination on the basis of Caribbean national origin, as to plaintiffs Henry and Davis, discrimination on the basis of alienage, and, except as to plaintiff Davis, retaliation for engaging in protected activities. Defendants move for summary judgment.*fn1 The Court finds that, except as to Vaughn's retaliation claim, plaintiffs have been unable to make a prima facie showing of either discrimination or retaliation. Accordingly, the Court grants the motion for summary judgment as to all Title VII, § 1981, and § 1983 equal protection claims of Cammarata, Henry, Francis, and Davis, and Vaughn's Title VII and § 1983 discrimination claims, finding that, on the basis of the undisputed facts, defendants are entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

BACKGROUND

1. School Administration

Prior to September 2003, the Principal at Science Skills Center High School ("SSCHS") was Robert Sinclair ("Sinclair"), who is of Caribbean national origin. Defendants' Local Rule 56.1 Statement ("Defs.' 56.1 Statement"), dated September 17, 2008, at ¶ 6; Plaintiffs' Local Rule 56.1 Statement ("Pls.' 56.1 Statement"), dated July 2, 2009, at ¶ 6. Defendant Jennings, whose grandfather was of Caribbean national origin, was appointed Assistant Principal of SSCHS in September 2001 and, in September 2003, took over from Sinclair as Principal. Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 4--5; Pls.' 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 4--5. Defendant Williams was the Assistant Principal of Science and Mathematics at SSCHS from 2000 until 2008. Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 7; Pls.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 7. Nancy Baldwin ("Baldwin"), Colette Caesar ("Caesar")*fn2 , Gil Cornell ("Cornell"), and Zuri Jackson-Woods ("Jackson-Woods") also served as Assistant Principals at SSCHS during some or all of the relevant time period. See Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 80.

2. Kathy-Ann Vaughn

Vaughn was born in Barbados. Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 30; Pls.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 30. She began working at SSCHS as a math teacher in 2001. Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 31; Pls.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 31. During the course of her employment, Vaughn has been subject to a number of negative evaluations, letters, and memoranda written by members of the SSCHS administration, including: notices concerning absences and lateness; unsatisfactory lesson evaluations; an accusation of insubordination; and notices of failure to submit lesson plans and other paperwork. Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 37, 41--42, 44, 46--48, 51, 53, 58--59, 61, 63--64, 75; Pls.' 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 37, 41-- 42, 44, 46--48, 51, 53, 58--59, 61, 63--64, 75. Finally, Vaughn received an unsatisfactory rating for the 2006--2007 school year which cited deficiencies in a number of evaluative categories. Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 76--77; Pls.' 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 76--77. In addition, Vaughn has been subject on multiple occasions to student and parent complaints over alleged verbal abuse, which have led to multiple reports to the DOE's Office of Special Investigations. Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 32--36, 66--67, 70--72; Pls.' 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 32--36, 66--67, 70--72. Vaughn also received several satisfactory lesson evaluations during this time period, received satisfactory ratings for 2003--2004, 2004--2005, and 2005--2006 school years, and became tenured on September 12, 2004. Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 38-- 39, 43, 45, 50, 52, 54, 60, 74; Pls.' 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 38--39, 43, 45, 50, 52, 54, 60, 74.

3. Angela Cammarata

Cammarata was born in Trinidad and Tobago. Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 152; Pls.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 152. She was a tenured guidance counselor at SSCHS. Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 153; Pls.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 153. During the course of her employment at SSCHS, Cammarata was subject to a number of negative evaluations, letters, and memoranda written by members of the SSCHS administration, including: reprimands for various forms of misbehavior including unprofessional conduct, distributing materials without approval, failure to follow school directives, conducting an unauthorized investigation of students, and making a threat against an administrator; notices of parent complaints regarding provision of incorrect information and unprofessional behavior; an unsatisfactory lesson evaluation; and notices of school absences and lateness. Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 155, 157--159, 161--162, 164--168, 171--174, 177, 179--182, 184--187; Pls.' 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 155, 157--159, 161--162, 164--168, 171--174, 177, 179--182, 184--187. Cammarata received unsatisfactory ratings for the 2004--2005 and 2005--2006 school years, which included unsatisfactory ratings in multiple evaluative categories. Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 169--170, 189--190; Pls.' 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 169--170, 189--190. On August 31, 2006, Cammarata was advised by letter that she had been reassigned to Region 8 Human Resources pending the outcome of disciplinary charges, and on May 8, 2007, Cammarata was advised by letter that she had been suspended with pay. Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 191, 197; Pls.' 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 191, 197. Cammarata also received several satisfactory lesson evaluations during her employment at SSCHS and received a satisfactory rating for 2003--2004 school year. Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 154, 163, 176, 183, 188; Pls.' 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 154, 163, 176, 183, 188.

4. Christelene Henry

Henry was born in Granada. Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 85; Pls.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 85. She began working at SSCHS as an English teacher in 2001. Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 86; Pls.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 86. During the course of her employment, Henry has been subject to a number of negative evaluations, letters, and memoranda written by members of the SSCHS administration, including: a request for an OSI investigation regarding alleged verbal abuse of two students; reprimands for distributing inappropriate materials to students, for moving her classroom without authorization, for inadequate classroom management, for failure to post student work, and for insubordination; notices of absences and lateness; and unsatisfactory lesson evaluations. Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 88--91, 93--94, 99--101, 108, 110--116, 118, 120; Pls.' 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 88--91, 93--94, 99-- 101, 108, 110--116, 118, 120. Henry received an unsatisfactory rating for the 2006--2007 school year. Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 122; Pls.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 122. Henry had earlier received a satisfactory lesson evaluation, satisfactory ratings for the 2003--2004, 2004--2005, and 2005--2006 school years, and became tenured on September 11, 2004. Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 97--98, 103--104, 106; Pls.' 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 97--98, 103--104, 106.

5. Emily Francis

Francis was born in Jamaica. Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 131; Pls.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 131. She began working at SSCHS as a Library Science Teacher in the 1990s. Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 132; Pls.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 132. During her employment, Francis has received several warnings regarding her absences and lateness. Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 135, 140--141, 143; Pls.' 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 135, 140--141, 143. On June 14, 2005, Jennings denied a request by Francis to excuse several days' absence as due to a line of duty injury. Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 136; Pls.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 136. Jennings subsequently approved the request on June 27, 2005. Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 137; Pls.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 137. Francis received several satisfactory lesson evaluations during this period and satisfactory ratings for the 2003--2004, 2004--2005, 2005--2006, and 2006--2007 school years. Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 133, 138, 142, 144--146; Pls.' 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 133, 138, 142, 144--146.

6. Carol Davis

Davis was born in Jamaica. Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 2; Pls.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 2. In 2002, she was assigned to SSCHS as a probationary chemistry teacher. Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 3; Pls.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 3. Davis received a several reprimands during her one year at SSCHS, including warnings for: unsafe conditions in Davis's laboratory classes; failure to submit grades on time; and excessive lateness to school. Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 9--10, 12--14, 16, 19, 22; Pls.' 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 9--10, 12--14, 16, 19, 22. Williams observed Davis's class several times and in each instance gave her an unsatisfactory lesson evaluation. Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 11, 15, 18, 20--21; Pls.' 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 11, 15, 18, 20--21. On one occasion, Sinclair observed Davis's class and gave her a satisfactory evaluation. Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 17; Pls.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 17. At the completion of the 2002--2003 school year, Davis received an unsatisfactory rating. Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 23; Pls.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 23. The discontinuation of her probationary service was recommended, and Davis was subsequently terminated. Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 24--25; Pls.' 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 24--25.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On April 20, 2006, Plaintiffs filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") alleging discrimination on the basis of Caribbean national origin. Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 28, 83, 123, 147, 198; Pls.' 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 28, 83, 123, 147, 198. On September 11, 2006, the EEOC issued right-to-sue letters to each of the plaintiffs informing them that their EEOC cases had been closed. Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 29, 84, 124, 148, 199; Pls.' 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 29, 84, 124, 148, 199. Plaintiffs filed the instant complaint in this Court on December 8, 2006. On September 18, 2008, Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment. Oral argument was heard on October 16, 2009.

DISCUSSION

1. Statutes of Limitations

a. Title VII

Title VII requires, as a prerequisite to filing suit, the exhaustion of administrative remedies. Specifically, before filing suit, a plaintiff must have "filed a timely complaint with the EEOC and obtained a right-to-sue letter." Legnani v. Alitalia Linee Aeree Italiane, S.P.A, 274 F.3d 683, 686 (2d Cir. 2001) ("Exhaustion of administrative remedies through the EEOC is 'an essential element' of the Title VII . . . statutory scheme[] and, as such, a precondition to bringing such claims in federal court."); see also Deravin v. Kerik, 335 F.3d 195, 200 (2d Cir. 2003) ("As a precondition to filing a Title VII claim in federal court, a plaintiff must first pursue available administrative remedies and file a timely complaint with the EEOC."). If the EEOC complaint is not timely filed, a civil action is similarly time-barred. Butts v. City of New York Dept. of Hous. Pres. & Dev., 990 F.2d 1397, 1401 (2d Cir. 1993), superseded by statute on other grounds, Civ. Rights Act of 1991, Pub.L. No. 102-166, 105 Stat. 1071; Flaherty v. Metromail Corp., 235 F.3d 133, 136 n.1 (2d Cir. 2000) ("To sustain a claim for unlawful discrimination under Title VII . . . a plaintiff must file administrative charges with the EEOC within 300 days of the alleged discriminatory acts."); Benjamin v. Brookhaven Sci. Assoc., LLC, 387 F. Supp. 2d 146, 152 (E.D.N.Y. 2005).

"Generally, a claim must be filed within 180 days of the alleged discriminatory act. However, if the act occurs in a state which has laws prohibiting the type of discrimination of which a plaintiff complains and an agency to enforce such laws, then the claimant must file with the EEOC within 300 days." Subramanian v. Prudential Sec., Inc., No. CV016500 (SJF) (RLM), 2003 WL 23340865, at *3 (E.D.N.Y. Nov. 20, 2003) (noting that the 300 day limit applies in New York, "which has anti-discrimination laws and an enforcement agency"). "New York is a so-called 'deferral state.' Under 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e)(1), plaintiff has 300 days from the act complained of to file an administrative charge with the state deferral agency of the EEOC." Canales-Jacobs v. New York State Office of Court Admin., 640 F. Supp. 2d 482, 501 (S.D.N.Y. 2009); see also Butts, 990 F.2d at 1401. The Court now considers whether plaintiffs have complied with this administrative exhaustion requirement.*fn3

Defendants argue that the Title VII claims of Henry, Francis, and Davis are barred because they did not timely file complaints with the EEOC. On September 11, 2006, the EEOC issued letters to Henry, Francis, and Davis, informing each of them that their cases had been closed as untimely filed. Plaintiffs in this case filed their EEOC complaint on April 20, 2006. In order to be timely, the alleged discriminatory conduct must have occurred within 300 days of the filing- that is, on or after June 24, 2005.

The last specific instance of discriminatory conduct alleged by Henry in the EEOC complaint was an incident in or around March 2004, in which Henry alleged that she was reprimanded for distributing inappropriate classroom materials while a non-Caribbean teacher who distributed similarly inappropriate materials was not. Declaration of Isaac Klepfish ("Klepfish Decl."), dated September 25, 2008, Ex. QQQQQQ, EEOC Complaint ¶¶ 11(C)(o)--(s). This is well outside the 300-day limitation period and is thus time-barred. Henry also complained that she "began to receive write-ups in her mail box almost every week during the period of September 2004 to June 2005." Id. ¶ 11(C)(v). The vague phrasing of this allegation ("almost every week") and the failure to specify an end date does not allow this Court to conclude that the EEOC complaint alleges conduct on or after June 24, 2005. The last incident alleged by Francis in the EEOC complaint was the denial of injury-in-the-line-of-duty leave days on June 7, 2005, id. ¶¶ 11(D)(q)--(r), and the final act complained of by Davis was her termination on or about September 2, 2003, id. ¶ 11(E)(g). Thus, the EEOC complaint was untimely as to Henry, Francis, and Davis. None of these plaintiffs has argued that any legal justification for the late filing, such as waiver or equitable tolling, applies, and they are thus barred from bringing their Title VII claims in this Court.

The EEOC complaints of Vaughn and Cammarata, unlike those of Henry, Francis, and Davis, were not found by the EEOC to be untimely. Rather, on September 11, 2006, the EEOC issued right-to-sue letters to Vaughn and Cammarata, indicating that their claims had been closed because the EEOC was unable to conclude that a statutory violation had occurred. Although the EEOC did not find Vaughn's and Cammarata's complaints untimely and defendants have not challenged the timeliness here, because the complaints allege a series of events occurring over a period of several years, this Court must determine which of the alleged acts in the complaint are in fact timely. Because timeliness must be determined as to each discriminatory act alleged in the complaint, generally only those acts alleged to have occurred within the limitations period are timely. "Each incident of discrimination and each retaliatory adverse employment decision constitutes a separate actionable 'unlawful employment practice,' and each discriminatory act starts a new clock for filing charges alleging that act." Benjamin, 387 F. Supp. 2d at 152-53 (internal quotes omitted).

The only act in Cammarata's EEOC complaint that could potentially have been timely was the year-end unsatisfactory rating that she received in June 2005. Klepfish Decl., Ex. QQQQQQ, EEOC Complaint ¶ 11(B)(k). The undisputed facts in evidence before this Court, however, make clear that this unsatisfactory rating was received on June 15, 2005, more than 300 days prior to the filing of the EEOC complaint. Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 169; Pls.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 169. See Butts, 990 F.2d at 1403--04 (holding that when EEOC complaint is timely only on the basis of vague dates, "the district court only may hear the [] claims insofar as they relate to acts occurring on or after [300 days prior to the EEOC filing]"). Because Cammarata's complaint to the EEOC was thus untimely, her Title VII claim cannot be maintained in this Court.

The only act alleged in Vaughn's complaint subsequent to June 24, 2005 is the reassignment of Vaughn's classroom in September 2005. Klepfish Decl., Ex. QQQQQQ, EEOC Complaint ¶ 11(A)(z). Having established, however, that at least one act was alleged within the limitations period, the Court must consider whether other allegations in the complaint may also be considered. There are two exceptions to the general exhaustion requirement which might allow the consideration of additional allegations. First, allegations in the EEOC complaint that would be otherwise time-barred may be considered if they form part of a "continuing violation" with timely alleged acts. Benjamin, 387 F. Supp. 2d at 153. Second, allegations not made in the EEOC complaint, including actions alleged to have occurred subsequent to the filing with the EEOC, may be considered if they are "reasonably related" to the timely allegations in the EEOC complaint. Butts, 990 F.2d at 1402. Each of these exceptions will be considered in turn.

"The continuing violation doctrine extends the limitations period for all claims of discriminatory acts committed under an ongoing policy of discrimination even if those acts, standing alone, would have been barred by the statute of limitations. Benjamin, 387 F. Supp. 2d at 153 (internal quotes omitted). This doctrine recognizes that an individual discriminatory act "may not be actionable on its own" and that when multiple acts "are part of one unlawful employment practice, the employer may be liable for all acts that are part of this single claim." Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp. v. Morgan, 536 U.S. 101, 115, 118 (2002). The continuing violation doctrine does not allow the indiscriminate revival of time-barred allegations. "[D]iscrete acts cannot be transformed into a single unlawful practice for the purposes of timely filing." Benjamin, 387 F. Supp. 2d at 153 (internal quotes omitted); see also id. ("[A]lleged adverse employment practices such as failure to promote, failure to compensate adequately, undesirable work transfers, and denial of preferred job assignments are considered discrete acts.").

The relevant question, then, is whether the timely act in Vaughn's complaint alleges a discrete act or one of a series of separate acts that collectively constitute a single unlawful employment practice. The EEOC Complaint describes Vaughn's reassignment as an act of retaliation for participating in a demonstration alleging anti-Caribbean discrimination by SSCHS. A retaliatory adverse employment action is a discrete act, Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp., 536 U.S. at 114, and as such would not be part of a continuing violation with other acts outside the limitations period. On the other hand, Vaughn's complaint does characterize the purpose of the reassignment as placing her under the "constant supervision and scrutiny" of Williams. Klepfish Decl., Ex. QQQQQQ, EEOC Complaint ¶ 11(A)(z). Because the complaint contained multiple allegations of ongoing harassment, including allegations of discriminatory excessive scrutiny, id. ¶¶ 11(A)(j)--(o), (s), this could be construed as part of a continuing hostile work environment claim. See Cruz v. Coach Stores, Inc., 202 F.3d 560, 568-569 (2d Cir. 2000) (court can construe complaint as raising hostile work environment claim, even when not explicitly alleged); cf. Benson v. North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health Sys., 482 F. Supp. 2d 320, 330 (E.D.N.Y. 2007) ("claims of harassment, such as yelling at the Plaintiff, making derogatory comments to the Plaintiff and issuing performance warnings" are not discrete acts). Vaughn's EEOC complaint, however, fails to allege any specific timely instances of discriminatory scrutiny, and thus there can be no timely hostile work environment claim.

"[A] plaintiff typically may raise in a district court complaint only those claims that either were included in or are 'reasonably related to' the allegations contained in her EEOC charge." Holtz v. Rockefeller & Co., Inc., 258 F.3d 62, 83 (2d Cir. 2001). The Second Circuit has recognized three categories of claims that meet the "reasonably related" test: (1) claims which "would fall within the scope of the EEOC investigation which can reasonably be expected to grow out of the charge of discrimination"; (2) claims "alleging retaliation by an employer against an employee for filing an EEOC charge"; and (3) claims alleging "further incidents of discrimination carried out in precisely the same manner alleged in the EEOC charge." Butts, 990 F.2d at 1402--03 (internal quotations omitted).

"In determining whether claims are reasonably related, the focus should be on the factual allegations made in the EEOC charge itself, describing the discriminatory conduct about which a plaintiff is grieving." Deravin, 335 F.3d at 201 (quotation and alteration omitted). The only timely alleged act in Vaughn's EEOC complaint is the alleged retaliatory room reassignment, so the Court must thus address what would fall within the scope of an EEOC investigation of this allegation. Because this is an allegation of retaliation for the demonstration in which Vaughn and others participated, an EEOC investigation would reasonably be expected to extend to additional alleged retaliatory acts following Vaughn's room reassignment. See Jute v. Hamilton Sundstrand Corp., 420 F.3d 166, 178 (2d Cir. 2005) ("A complaint of retaliation could reasonably be expected to inquire into other instances of alleged retaliation by the same actor." (internal quotation and alteration omitted)). Thus, any allegations in Vaughn's complaint that can reasonably be construed as alleging retaliation for Vaughn's participation in the demonstration are reasonably related to Vaughn's timely EEOC allegation, and thus are timely in this Court under Title VII.

Finally, an action for violation of Title VII must be filed within 90 days of receipt of a right-to-sue letter from the EEOC. 42 U.S.C. ยง 2000e-5(f)(1). The complaint in this Court was filed on December 8, 2006, fewer than 90 days after the issuance of the ...


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