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Jennifer Heaphy v. Webster Central School District

January 28, 2011

JENNIFER HEAPHY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
WEBSTER CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: David G. Larimer United States District Judge

DECISION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Jennifer Heaphy ("Heaphy") brings this action against her employer, the Webster Central School District (the "District") alleging violation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, 42 U.S.C. §2000e(k) ("PDA"), and hostile work environment and retaliation pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. ("Title VII") and the New York Human Rights Law, N.Y. Exec. Law §§290 et seq. ("NYHRL").*fn1 The District now moves for summary judgment (Dkt. #13) dismissing Heaphy's claims. For the reasons that follow, the District's motion is granted, and the complaint is dismissed.

Heaphy is a tenured teacher who has been continuously employed by the District since September 1992. She has worked as an enrichment specialist as well as an elementary level teacher, with a variety of different subject and grade level assignments. In a nutshell, Heaphy alleges that on September 28, 2006, Principal Carmen Gumina, who had heard that Heaphy was pregnant, asked her about her maternity leave plans, and specifically the need for long-term substitutes during Heaphy's absence. Heaphy characterized Gumina's question as "inappropriate" and refused to discuss the matter. She claims that after the September 28, 2006 discussion -- which Heaphy describes as a threatening confrontation -- Gumina discriminated and retaliated against her by placing her on a performance improvement plan in November 2006. She further alleges that Gumina was rude to her and refused to speak with her, and that someone took personal items from her classroom.

On or about October 31, 2006, Heaphy filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). Upon receipt of a Right-to-Sue Notice on January 17, 2008, Heaphy timely filed the instant action on April 11, 2008, alleging that the District had subjected her to pregnancy-based discrimination and retaliation under Title VII.

DISCUSSION

I. Summary Judgment

Summary judgment will be granted if the record demonstrates that "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). See also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986). "When the moving party has carried its burden under Rule 56(c), its opponent must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts. . . . Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no 'genuine issue for trial.'" Matsushita Elec. Industrial Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-587 (1986).

While granting Heaphy the liberal interpretation and favorable inferences due to her as a non-movant, I find that Heaphy has failed to rebut the District's legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for its interactions with her.

I. Heaphy's Pregnancy Discrimination Act Claim

The PDA, which is an amendment to Title VII, incorporates "women affected by pregnancy" into the definition of prohibited gender-based discrimination, 42 U.S.C. §2000e(k), and requires that pregnant employees not be treated differently from other employees. A plaintiff may establish a prima facie case of discrimination under the PDA provisions of Title VII by demonstrating: (1) that she was within the protected group; (2) she was qualified for the position at issue; and (3) she suffered an adverse employment action (4) under circumstances giving rise to an inference of discrimination. See Kerzer v. Kingly, 156 F.3d 396, 401 (2d Cir. 1998).

Initially, it is questionable whether Heaphy suffered an adverse employment action. An adverse employment action is one which causes a "materially adverse change in the terms and conditions of employment." Galabya v. New York City Bd. of Educ., 202 F.3d 636, 640 (2d Cir. 2000) (internal quotations omitted). Heaphy claims only that she was subjected to unnecessarily close monitoring of her performance, that her teaching was evaluated negatively by her principal and vice-principal, she was placed on a performance improvement plan, and removed from an e-mail list which would have notified her of a promotion that was announced six months prior to her return from maternity leave.

Generally, scrutiny of an employee's performance -- particular where, as here, the "scrutiny" consisted solely of classroom observations of a type explicitly authorized by plaintiff's collective bargaining agreement -- does not rise to the level of an adverse employment action. See e.g., Davis v. Verizon Wireless, 389 F. Supp. 2d 458, 478-79 (W.D.N.Y. 2005).

Heaphy's claim that Gumina removed her from an e-mail list which would have notified her of available Teacher Leader positions is unsupported by the evidence of record. Gumina testified, and Heaphy does not dispute, that Gumina never notified any teachers about these positions via e-mail. Rather, they were announced at faculty meetings and via notices placed in all teachers' mailboxes, including Heaphy's. In short, there is no evidence that Heaphy was treated differently from any other faculty member with respect to notifications about the Teacher Leader openings.

Although the negative performance evaluations upon which Heaphy chiefly relies undisputedly did not result in any change to her pay or benefits, the Second Circuit has "made clear that adverse employment actions are not limited to 'pecuniary emoluments.'" Treglia v. Town of Manlius, 313 F.3d 713, 720 (2d Cir. 2002), quoting Preda v. Nissho Iwai Am. Corp., 128 F.3d 789, 791 (2d Cir. 1997). "Lesser actions such as negative employment evaluation letters may also be considered adverse [employment actions]." Treglia, 313 F.3d 713 at 720, citing Morris v. Lindau, 196 F.3d 102, 110 (2d ...


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