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Lawson v. Rochester City School District

October 22, 2010

BYRON LAWSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ROCHESTER CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT, AND INTERIM SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOLS WILLIAM C. CALA, JOANNE GIUFFRIDA, INDIVIDUALLY DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael A. Telesca United States District Judge

ORDER AND DECISION

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff, Byron Lawson ("Plaintiff"), brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1981 and 42 U.S.C. §1983, alleging that Defendants, the Rochester City School District ("District"), and Joanne Giuffrida ("Giuffrida")*fn1 and William C. Cala ("Cala") individually, discriminated against him on the basis of race and made stigmatizing statements about Plaintiff that deprived him of a liberty interest.*fn2 Defendants have moved for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure ("Rule 56(c)"), arguing that there is no evidence of racial discrimination or that the alleged stigmatizing statements violated Plaintiff's constitutional rights. Additionally, Defendants argue that Plaintiff's claims for racial discrimination are barred by the applicable statutes of limitations. For the reasons set forth below, this Court finds that Plaintiff's claims for racial discrimination are untimely and grants Defendant's motion for summary judgment with respect to the Plaintiff's remaining claims.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff was employed by the Rochester City School District as a paraprofessional at the John Williams School #5 ("School #5) until he was suspended on January 5, 2001 and subsequently terminated on February 13, 2003. Plaintiff was suspended following a report on December 22, 2000, from Patricia Geer, a speech therapist at School #5, that Plaintiff was found with a male student in a bathroom in the basement of School #5. Geer reported that the student had his back up against a wall and Plaintiff was standing in front of him. The District investigated the report and School Psychologist, Dr. Edward Yansen, interviewed the student and his mother. Dr. Yansen concluded that the student had been sexually abused by Plaintiff. Plaintiff was arrested by the Rochester Police Department on charges of sexual abuse and endangering the welfare of a child, but a Monroe County Grand Jury declined to issue an indictment. The District's Human Resources Director, Rebecca Torres-Lynch also investigated the incident, interviewing ten witnesses and reviewing twenty two documents. In her January 13, 2003 report, Torres-Lynch concluded that the Plaintiff's employment should be terminated, and Plaintiff was terminated on February 13, 2003.

Plaintiff's union, the Rochester Association of Paraprofessionals ("RAP"), brought a grievance against the District for wrongful termination and instituted arbitration on his behalf. Arbitration concluded in 2003 and the Arbitrator issued an opinion on April 27, 2005 directing the District to reinstate Plaintiff because they did not have sufficient cause to terminate his employment. The District then initiated a CPLR Article 75 proceeding in New York State Supreme Court to overturn the Arbitrator's decision, but the District's petition was denied. The District appealed this decision to the Appellate Division, Fourth Department. The Fourth Department denied the District's appeal and the litigation concluded when the New York State Court of Appeals denied the District's motion for leave to appeal the Fourth Department's decision on March 22, 2007.

Prior to the conclusion of the litigation, in October 2006, the Principal at School #5, Joanne Wideman ("Wideman"), learned, after questioning a television station cameraman filming in front of the school, that a local television station would be airing a news program on the sexual abuse of children and sexual abuse in schools. The cameraman did not describe the content of the program in more detail. Wideman subsequently placed an item on the weekly bulletin to inform the staff of the upcoming newscast. The bulletin was distributed to the staff during the first week of October in 2006. The bulletin item read as follows:

There will be a segment on the news regarding the struggles that school districts such as Rochester have in trying to prevent rapists from working with our children. School 5 may be a part of the segment due to an alleged situation several years ago. Be prepared to assure our students that they are safe at School No. 5 if the topic arises.

When the newscast aired the program referred to the incident between Plaintiff and the male student in 2000. Wideman stated that she did not know that the newscast would refer to this incident or that it would mention the Plaintiff by name.

Later in October 2007, the District issued back pay to Plaintiff and offered him a position as a paraprofessional at Charlotte High School. Plaintiff declined this offer because he wanted to return to work at School #5, but the District declined to place him in School #5. Plaintiff then filed this lawsuit on November 7, 2007 alleging several theories of racial discrimination under 42 U.S.C. §1983 and 42 U.S.C §1981 and a "Stigma-Plus" claim under 42 U.S.C §1983 related to the distribution of the October 2006 bulletin.

Program to Air this Sunday

DISCUSSION

A party is entitled to summary judgment if it can demonstrate "that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). On a motion for summary judgment, the court must consider "whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law." See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986). Once the movant has " 'show[n]' " or "point[ed] out ... that there is an absence of evidence to support the non-movant['s] case," the burden shifts to the non-movant. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325-27 (1986). To discharge this burden, "a plaintiff must come forward with evidence to allow a reasonable jury to find in his favor" on each of the elements of his prima facie case. See Lizardo v. Denny's, Inc., 270 F.3d 94, 101 (2d Cir.2001).

The court must draw all factual inferences in favor of the party against whom summary judgment is sought and view the factual assertions in materials such as affidavits, exhibits, and depositions in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255; Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322. However, the non-moving party benefits from such factual inferences "only if there is a 'genuine' dispute as to those facts." See Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 127 S.Ct. 1769, 1776 (2007). The law is well established that "conclusory statements, conjecture, or speculation" are insufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment. See Kulak v. City of New York, 88 F.3d 63, 71 (2d Cir.1996). The non-moving party cannot survive summary judgment simply by proffering "some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts," Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986), or presenting evidence that "is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative." See Savino v. City of New York, 331 F.3d 63, 71 (2d Cir.2003) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50, (citation omitted)). Rather, he must "set out specific facts showing a genuine ...


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