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Robins v. New York City Board of Education

June 21, 2010

DR. WILLODENE ROBINS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
NEW YORK CITY BOARD OF EDUCATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John G. Koeltl, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

The plaintiff, Dr. Willodene Robins (the "plaintiff"), a retired high school science teacher, brings this action against her former employer, the New York City Board of Education (the "defendant" or "Board of Education"). The plaintiff alleges that the defendant discriminated against her on the basis of race and age in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. ("Title VII") and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. The plaintiff also asserts claims of retaliation and hostile work environment in violation of Title VII and the ADEA. The defendant moves pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 for summary judgment dismissing all of the plaintiff's claims.

I.

The standard for granting summary judgment is well established. Summary judgment may not be granted unless "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(2); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986); Gallo v. Prudential Residential Servs. Ltd. P'ship, 22 F.3d 1219, 1223 (2d Cir. 1994). "[T]he trial court's task at the summary judgment motion stage of the litigation is carefully limited to discerning whether there are genuine issues of material fact to be tried, not to deciding them. Its duty, in short, is confined at this point to issue-finding; it does not extend to issue-resolution." Gallo, 22 F.3d at 1224. The moving party bears the initial burden of "informing the district court of the basis for its motion" and identifying the matter that "it believes demonstrate[s] the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. The substantive law governing the case will identify those facts which are material and "[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); see also Adams v. City of New York, No. 08 Civ. 5263, 2010 WL 743956, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 2, 2010).

In determining whether summary judgment is appropriate, a court must resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences against the moving party. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (citing United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962)); see also Gallo, 22 F.3d at 1223. Summary judgment is improper if there is any evidence in the record from any source from which a reasonable inference could be drawn in favor of the non-moving party. See Chambers v. TRM Copy Ctrs. Corp., 43 F.3d 29, 37 (2d Cir. 1994). If the moving party meets its burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to come forward with "specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)(2). The non-moving party must produce evidence in the record and "may not rely simply on conclusory statements or on contentions that the affidavits supporting the motion are not credible." Ying Jing Gan v. City of New York, 996 F.2d 522, 532 (2d Cir. 1993); see also Scotto v. Almenas, 143 F.3d 105, 114-15 (2d Cir. 1998) (collecting cases); Adams, 2010 WL 743956, at *1.

II.

The following facts are undisputed unless otherwise noted. Dr. Robins is African-American and is currently 56 years of age. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt ¶ 2.) She is a former high school science teacher and was employed by the Department of Education from 1978 to 2008. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt ¶ 4; Barnett Decl. Ex. B at 179.)

In 2000, the plaintiff accepted an assignment as an Interim Acting Assistant Principal of Science at Riverdale-Kingsbridge Academy ("RKA") and held this position for the 2000-2001 school year. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt ¶ 9.) This position was temporary and in order for Dr. Robins to have obtained the position permanently, she had to complete the process pursuant to the Chancellor's Regulation C-30, which governs the selection of DOE supervisors and administrators. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt ¶¶ 10-11.) The plaintiff completed the C-30 process, but was not appointed to the permanent position. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt ¶¶ 12-13.) The assistant principal of science position was awarded to Daniella Phillips. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt ¶ 14.) Dr. Robins continued to teach at RKA. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt ¶ 15.) During the 2002-2003 school year, Dr. Robins was on sabbatical and did not teach. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt ¶ 17.) For the 2003-2004 school year, Dr. Robins received a "satisfactory" annual rating. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt ¶ 21; Barnett Decl. Ex. E.)

During the 2004-2005 school year, Dr. Robins failed to report a student's allegation of unconsented sex. A ninth grade female student alleged that she told Dr. Robins on April 5, 2005, that on April 1, 2005, the student had been forcibly removed from the school building by a tenth grade boy and raped by him in an adjacent park. (Barnett Decl. Ex. F.) Dr. Robins disputes that the student reported that she had been raped, and alleges that the student wanted to know about cheating and sex and if it was still considered "cheating if she didn't really want to do it." (Pl.'s Stmt ¶¶ 10-11.) On April 8, 2005, the plaintiff reported the incident to Assistant Principal Amanda Lurie. (Pl.'s Stmt ¶ 13.)

On April 14, 2005, Dr. Robins met with Principal Phillips and Paula Lenahan, the United Federation of Teachers ("UFT") chapter chair. At the meeting, Dr. Robins stated that she tried to contact Dean Orozco-Rosario several times to discuss the student's comments, but that the Dean was out of the office. (Barnett Decl. Ex. F.) There is no evidence of messages being left for Dean Orozco-Rosario. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt ¶ 25; Barnett Decl. Ex. F.) Dr. Robins also stated that she did not make any efforts to notify anyone else about the student's rape allegation. (Barnett Decl. Ex. F.) It is school policy that teachers must report allegations of rape. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt ¶ 31.)

The plaintiff's conduct during the 2004-2005 school year resulted in her receiving an overall "unsatisfactory" rating on her Annual Professional Performance Review and Report due to unsatisfactory performance in the areas of "[a]ttention to pupil health, safety and general welfare" and "[a]ttention to records and reports." (Barnett Decl. Ex. I.) The report noted: "It is essential that any knowledge of alleged or suspected abuse, rape, or criminal activity be reported to appropriate school personnel in a timely and thorough manner." (Barnett Decl. Ex. I.)

At the start of the 2005-2006 school year, the plaintiff criticized the school opening for being allegedly chaotic and disorganized. (Pl.'s Stmt ¶ 26; Barnett Decl. Ex. B at 184-86.) The plaintiff suggested that Principal Phillips should be fired for her handling of the school opening and voiced this criticism at department meetings and to other colleagues. (Pl.'s Stmt ¶ 26; Barnett Decl. Ex. B at 184.) There is no evidence that Principal Phillips learned of Robins' comments. (See Barnett Decl. Ex. B at 186.)

In November 2005, Assistant Principal Anthony Tamalonis observed the plaintiff's Living Environment class and found the lesson to be "unsatisfactory." (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt ¶ 47; Pl.'s Stmt ¶ 28; Barnett Decl. Ex. K.) In his observation report, Assistant Principal Tamalonis outlined various deficiencies in the plaintiff's teaching of the class, including the lack of academic rigor in the lesson. (Barnett Decl. Ex. K.) According to Dr. Robins, she interpreted Assistant Principal Tamalonis's use of the word "rigor" as a code word for "nigger." (Barnett Decl. Ex. B at 203-04.) Dr. Robins also claims that Assistant Principal Tamalonis's classroom visits were unusual and that they did not occur as frequently prior to her failure to report the alleged rape. (Pl.'s Stmt ¶ 28.) The plaintiff alleged that Assistant Principal Tamalonis came "gunning" for her and that he was in her classroom constantly. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt ¶ 50; Barnett Decl. Ex. B at 116.)

In December 2005, there were two incidents of laptop computer theft in the plaintiff's classroom. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt ¶ 51; Barnett Decl. Ex. L; Pl.'s Stmt ¶ 29.) On Friday, December 2, 2005, Dr. Robins locked a laptop computer and an LCD projector in her teacher's closet at the end of the day, but discovered on December 5, 2005 that the laptop computer was missing, although the LCD projector was still there. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt ¶ 52; Pl.'s Stmt ¶ 29; Barnett Decl. Ex. L.) On December 5, 2005, Dr. Robins locked thirty-five laptop computers into a laptop cart and hid the key to the cart in her classroom. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt ¶ 53; Pl.'s Stmt ¶ 29; Barnett Decl. Ex. L.)

The next day, December 6, 2005, Robins was unable to find the hidden key. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt ¶ 53; Barnett Decl. Ex. L.) When the laptop cart was eventually unlocked, nine laptops worth $11,610 were missing. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt 53; Barnett Decl. Exs. L, M.) The defendant alleges that Dr. Robins took no steps to lock the cart's key in a secure location. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt ¶ 53; Barnett Decl. Ex. L.) Dr. Robins claims that the classroom door was locked and the key was hidden. (Pl.'s Stmt ¶ 29.)

On December 9, 2005, Principal Phillips, Assistant Principal Tamalonis, and Ms. Lenahan met with Dr. Robins to discuss these two theft incidents. Principal Phillips reminded Dr. Robins that RKA's teacher handbook and training addressed the importance of and protocol for securing A/V equipment and laptop computers. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt ¶ 55; Barnett Decl. Exs. L, N.) At this meeting, it was also noted that Dr. Robins' security awareness should have been heightened by the laptop theft on the fifth of December and a June 17, 2005 meeting to discuss a laptop theft in the plaintiff's classroom during the previous school year. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt ¶ 56; Barnett Decl. Ex. L.) Dr. Robins said that she felt she was under an extreme amount of pressure, and that she was upset about the laptop thefts. (Pl.'s Stmt ¶ 30.) She also stated that she felt violated at the meeting with Principal Phillips, Assistant Principal Tamalonis, and Ms. Lenahan. (Pl.'s Stmt ¶ 30.)

In light of the three incidents of laptop theft, Principal Phillips decided to suspend indefinitely by the plaintiff and her students the use of laptop computers. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt ¶ 56; Barnett Decl. Ex. L.) Dr. Robins was also warned that the laptop thefts could lead to further disciplinary action, including an unsatisfactory rating and termination. (Barnett Decl. Ex. L.)

On April 4, 2006, Principal Phillips and Aspiring Principal David Donovan informally observed Dr. Robins' Bioethics class. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt ¶ 57; Pl's Stmt ¶¶ 45-46; Barnett Decl. Ex. O.) During this class, Dr. Robins showed the movie "John Q," which was rated PG-13 and included profanity and violence. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt ¶ 58; Pl.'s Stmt ¶ 45; Barnett Decl. Ex. O.) Principal Phillips also observed that students did not have paper, notebooks, or journals at their desks. (Def's 56.1 Stmt ¶ 58; Barnett Decl. Ex. O.)

On April 6, 2006, Principal Phillips and Ms. Lenahan met with Dr. Robins to discuss the informal observation of Dr. Robins' Bioethics class on April 4, 2006. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt ¶ 57; Barnett Decl. Ex. O.) Principal Phillips reminded Dr. Robins that RKA's handbook and a September 2005 training addressed the importance of using G-rated videos with a clear instructional focus, in short excerpts, with a written hand-out to help focus students' viewing, and with prior supervisory approval. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt ¶ 59; Barnett Decl. Ex. O.) Dr. Robins had not discussed the viewing of the movie with her supervisor. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt ¶ 59; Barnett Decl. Ex. O.) Dr. Robins said that she "didn't remember all that profanity" and that the only time she saw the movie was four years ago. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt ¶ 59; Barnett Decl. Ex. O.) Principal Phillips expressed concern that Dr. Robins had not previewed the movie to screen it for content that would possibly ...


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