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Hoffman v. Williamsville Central School Dist.

September 22, 2010

LINDA MAHER HOFFMAN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
WILLIAMSVILLE CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John T. Curtin United States District Judge

Plaintiff Linda Maher Hoffman brought this action against her employer, the Williamsville Central School District, for employment discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et. seq. ("Title VII"), and the Americans With Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et. seq. Defendant moves pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) to dismiss the complaint in its entirety for failure to comply with the statutory requirements for full and timely exhaustion of administrative remedies.

For the reasons that follow, defendant's motion is granted.

BACKGROUND

As set forth in the complaint, plaintiff has been employed by the Williamsville Central School District since 1984. She currently teaches at Williamsville South High School (Item 1, ¶¶ 9, 11). She alleges that beginning in the 1999-2000 school year and continuing through early 2008, Williamsville South Principal Elvin Simmons*fn1 subjected her to "an ongoing pattern of discriminatory practices" (id. at ¶ 36), including sexual harassment, hostile work environment, discrimination on the basis of her disability (anxiety disorder), and retaliation. The factual allegations in the complaint are summarized briefly here as follows:

* During the 1999-2000 school year, Mr. Simmons made repeated comments to plaintiff, often in front of her students or while standing extremely close and whispering in her ear, describing her as looking like her pet dog (id. at ¶¶ 12, 13).

* During an incident in March 2001, after Mr. Simmons had reduced plaintiff to tears by angrily questioning her about a disagreement she had with a co-worker, plaintiff told Mr. Simmons that his actions exacerbated the symptoms of her anxiety disorder (id. at ¶ 14).

* In 2003, plaintiff reported an incident to Mr. Simmons involving offensive remarks directed at her by another co-worker, but Mr. Simmons took no action (id. at ¶ 15).

* In December 2004 and January 2005, Mr. Simmons told plaintiff about a prank he was playing on another teacher, whom plaintiff knew to be suffering from anxiety and depression. This led plaintiff to believe that Mr. Simmons might try to do the same thing to her (id. at ¶ 16).

* During the years 2004 through 2006, Mr. Simmons made several derogatory comments to plaintiff about other teachers at the school, causing plaintiff to feel "sexually harassed personally and very uncomfortable around Principal Simmons at all times" (id. at ¶ 17).

* In June 2005, while plaintiff was serving on the team interviewing candidates for a full-time position at the high school, Mr. Simmons made obscene gestures and comments about certain interviewees, which made plaintiff feel "very uncomfortable and sexually harassed" (id. at ¶ 18).

* During the period 2005 through 2007, Mr. Simmons made comments about plaintiff to other faculty members which made her feel "sexually harassed and humiliated" (id. at ¶ 19); sat next to her at faculty meetings "to intimidate and sexually harass her" (id. at ¶ 20); and on one occasion in the fall of 2006, asked her in front of others if she was going to a "ho down," which made her feel like he was calling her a "whore" (id. at ¶ 21).

* In late 2007 through early 2008, during the time the School District was investigating complaints that had been made against Mr. Simmons by other Williamsville South employees, Mr. Simmons forced plaintiff to provide the district with information favorable to Mr. Simmons and to keep him informed about the progress of the investigation, and engaged in other conduct which plaintiff felt "created a hostile work environment" and "played upon her anxiety disability"(id. at ¶¶ 22-28).

On November 21, 2008, plaintiff filed a Verified Complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights ("NYSDHR"), charging the Williamsville Central School District with discrimination based on disability and sex, and containing the following allegations:

During the end of 2007 and continuing through April 2008, my boss, Principal Elvin Simmons, frequently followed me around the building in order to discuss with me details of the on-going investigation which the Williamsville School District was conducting concerning him. Mr. Simmons would tell me unfavorable information about my colleagues which he insisted I write down so that I could report it to the District. Mr. Simmons even called me at home about the investigation although he knew I had been instructed not to discuss it. On or about September 15, 2008, Mr. Simmons contacted school social worker Christine Snyder in order to give me a message. Mr. Simmons' behavior greatly exacerbated my anxiety disorder, of which he had been aware since approximately 2001. I felt like he was pressuring me to defend him which created a hostile work environment for me.

On many occasions, Mr. Simmons came up into my classroom behind me while I was teaching and put his hands on my shoulder in an offensive and inappropriate manner, which made me very uncomfortable. I always stood up if I saw him coming so that I could step away from him and maintain my personal space. (Item 5-1, Ex. A).

On March 27, 2009, the NYSDHR issued a "Determination and Order after Investigation" finding as follows:

After investigation, and following opportunity for review of related information and evidence by the named parties, the Division has determined that there is NO PROBABLE CAUSE to believe that [defendant] has engaged in or is engaging in the unlawful discriminatory practice complained of. This determination is based on the following:

The evidence does not support [plaintiff]'s allegations of discrimination based on disability or sexual harassment. The record shows that [plaintiff]'s issues of sexual harassment are beyond the one year statute of limitations and are untimely. The evidence reveals that, in an attempt to alter results of a sexual harassment investigation against him, Mr. Simmons asked [plaintiff] and another employee to provide[ ] false information. There is no reason to believe that the other employee was disabled and [plaintiff] has provided no evidence to indicate that this action was related to her disability.

The complaint is therefore ordered dismissed, and the file is closed. (Id., Ex. B).

On September 30, 2009, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") issued a "Dismissal and Notice of Rights" adopting the findings of the NYSDHR, and advising plaintiff of her right to file a lawsuit under federal law within 90 days of her receipt of the notice (id., Ex. C). Plaintiff filed this action on December 16, 2009 (within the 90-day period), seeking monetary relief for lost wages, pain and suffering, medical costs, and other damages, based on the following four causes of action:

1. Discrimination on the basis of gender in violation of Title VII.

2. Hostile work environment in violation of Title VII.

3. Discrimination on the basis of disability in ...


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