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Tomasino v. St. John's University

September 23, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: John Gleeson, United States District Judge


Adriana Tomasino brings this action against her former employer, St. John's University, pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. She claims that her former supervisors discriminated against her on the basis of her race, national origin, and religion, and that she was fired in retaliation for complaining about unequal treatment. The university moves for summary judgment, which I grant for the reasons set forth below.


Unless otherwise noted, the following facts are either undisputed or set forth in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.

In September 2005, plaintiff Adriana Tomasino viewed an Internet posting advertising a position as a Community Site Coordinator in the Office of Academic Service-Learning ("ASL") at St. John's University, a private Catholic university in New York City. The posting listed Janet Mangione, the associate director of the office, as the point of contact. Tomasino, who held a degree from St. John's and had worked for the university as a tutor and adjunct faculty member, was familiar with the mission of the ASL Office, which assisted students in finding volunteering opportunities related to their coursework and career aspirations. She was also acquainted with Mangione, having met her approximately 14 years before while they were both working for the university. Although she and Mangione were not close, Tomasino recalled occasionally chatting with her at that time, and once, during a casual conversation about the holidays, revealing that her father was Italian and her mother Hispanic.

Tomasino sent an e-mail to Mangione inquiring about the position. Mangione responded that the Community Site Coordinator position had been filled, but that a similar Coordinator position was available, though not yet posted. She explained that the Coordinator position had slightly different duties than the posted position, but required the same qualifications, and that Tomasino should submit the same application she would have submitted for the posted position. After Tomasino applied for the position, Mangione arranged for her to interview for the job, which remained unpublicized. In addition to Mangione, Tomasino met with Darren Morton, the Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs, and James Maher, the Vice President for Student Affairs. She was hired in late October 2005; the Coordinator position was never publicly posted. Although Tomasino was originally offered an annual salary of $30,000, Mangione supported her request for an increase of $2000 based on her qualifications and obtained administrative approval for the raise. Both Tomasino and Melanie Serge, the woman who had been hired as the Community Site Coordinator, reported to Mangione, and the three of them comprised the entire ASL staff.

In late December 2005, Tomasino requested a confidential meeting with Mangione to express her concern that she and Serge were being treated "unequally." Tomasino complained that Serge called her "hon" in front of students "as if she were my supervisor" and that Serge would lead students into her office "as if she's here to tell me what it is necessary for me to do with the students." She complained that while she had to describe her current projects at departmental meetings, Mangione did not require Serge to speak and summarized her projects for her. She complained that while she was expected to comply with the "open-door policy" -- instituted so that students would feel comfortable approaching the staff -- Serge often had visitors in her office with the lights dimmed and the door closed for long periods of time. She complained that while no one noticed if Serge went to the ladies' room for half an hour, she could not be absent for five minutes without being told that students were waiting for her. Finally, she complained that when office supplies ran low, Serge did not order them or ask anyone else to order them.

Mangione assured Tomasino that she would address her concerns generally at a departmental meeting to maintain the confidentiality of her complaints. Mangione did not do so, however, and Tomasino requested another meeting with her in early February 2006 and repeated her complaints. Still not satisfied with Mangione's response, Tomasino met with Mangione again on March 28, and on March 29 she requested a meeting with Mangione's supervisor, Morton.

Also on March 29, Tomasino led a "reflections" session in a class at the pharmacy school, in which students were expected to discuss their experiences while volunteering or shadowing professionals. She had not yet observed Mangione or another supervisor lead a "reflections" session, so she devised her own format, dividing the students into groups and telling them to discuss six questions she had previously composed. According to Tomasino, one of the professors, Dr. Joseph Brocavich, told her at the end of the class that he did not mind if she led the sessions in a novel way, but that the format had to be approved by the curriculum committee. She said she was unaware that the curriculum committee's approval was necessary.

Brocavich recalled the class differently. In an e-mail to Mangione, he reported that Tomasino had used an unapproved format for leading the session, and that when he objected, she had told him that the approved format was boring and that hers was better. He noted that another professor had also voiced concerns about Tomasino's use of an unapproved format for the sessions. Although Mangione forwarded Brocavich's e-mail to Morton, Tomasino was never disciplined for the incident.

On April 10, Tomasino met with Morton as she had requested and repeated the complaints she had made to Mangione. In addition, she informed him that since she had complained to Mangione, Mangione and Serge, who chatted over coffee in the mornings, would stop talking and return to their offices when she entered the room. She also complained that Mangione would instruct her not to sit in a particular seat at departmental meetings, purportedly reserving it for a senior member of the department, but would then permit Serge to sit in the seat. Although Tomasino accused Mangione of discriminating against her as compared to Serge, she did not tell Morton, who is one-quarter Hispanic, that she suspected race was a factor. At that time, she testified, she was herself unsure why she was being treated differently.

In accordance with university policy, Mangione conducted a mid-year review of Tomasino's performance in June. The review required Mangione to rate her performance in three areas, "Objectives," "Values," and "Core Competencies," on a scale of 1 to 5. Mangione gave her a score of 3.5 in "Objectives," 5 in "Values," and 3.8 in "Core Competencies." Under the rating system, a score of 3.5 to 3.9 indicated that an employee's performance "exceeded all expectations" and that the employee "consistently performed at a higher level than required." A score of 4.5 to 5.0 indicated that an employee's performance "far exceeded all expectations" and that the employee "achieved an exceptionally high level of performance in all areas." Tomasino's overall rating, a weighted average of the individual ratings, was 3.9. In the narrative section of the evaluation, Mangione praised Tomasino's writing ability, analytical skills, and her willingness to work at the Staten Island campus when it was short-staffed. She did not criticize her or identify any need for improvement.

On June 15, Tomasino submitted to Morton a seven-page letter disputing her "poor" rating and explaining why she deserved a rating of at least 4 in the "Objectives" category. She wrote that Mangione did not appreciate "the extraordinary amount of energy, time and effort" that she put into her work and that Mangione dismissed her ideas or passed them off as someone else's. Nowhere in the letter did she suggest that Mangione acted that way because of racial bias. In response, Morton reviewed the evaluation process and Tomasino's scores independently and informed her that he saw nothing unfair in either.

In addition to submitting the letter, Tomasino complained about the review to Cynthia Simpson of the university's human resources department. She repeated the same objections she had made to Mangione and Morton regarding Mangione's differential treatment of her and Serge. Although she accused Mangione of harboring "personal prejudice" against her, she did not suggest that Mangione was racially prejudiced. She protested that she was being treated "like a second-class citizen" because she "was being told what to do whereas Ms. Serge was allowed to do whatever she wanted," and said she wanted to file a formal complaint. Simpson said the examples she gave of differential treatment did not justify filing a claim and advised her to wait. In July, Tomasino reiterated her desire to file a complaint. Simpson then told her that it was important that she first meet with Morton, so Tomasino met briefly with him on July 13 and apprised him of her meetings with Simpson.

Sometime in late July, Tomasino found next to the office copy machine a stack of documents containing her and Serge's mid-year performance ratings and salary, as well as copies of e-mail messages between Mangione and Serge discussing her personality and certain presentations she had made at another college in June. Tomasino was distressed to learn that Serge had received a higher mid-year rating and earned the same salary she did -- $32,000 -- despite having, in her opinion, fewer qualifications. She discussed the papers with at least five people -- none of whom supervised Serge, Mangione, or Morton -- that she thought might be able to help her transfer out of the ASL Office, and shared with two of them a document that revealed Serge's performance rating and salary. A few days later, on July 24, Tomasino met with Morton, showed him the documents, and complained that her salary was the same and her performance rating lower than Serge's. Morton warned Tomasino for disclosing Serge's confidential salary and performance rating to colleagues.

The same day Tomasino also went to Simpson and repeated her previous complaints, including her most recent complaint to Morton. Although Tomasino complained to Simpson of Mangione's discriminatory and unequal treatment, she did so only in relation to Serge and did not mention racial prejudice as a possible motive. When she again told Simpson that she wanted to file a formal complaint, Simpson told her she did not have grounds ...

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