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Stephanie Bucalo v. Shelter Island Union Free School District

April 21, 2011

STEPHANIE BUCALO, PLAINTIFF,
v.
SHELTER ISLAND UNION FREE SCHOOL DISTRICT, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hurley, Senior District Judge:

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

Plaintiff Stephanie Bucalo ("plaintiff" or "Bucalo") filed suit against defendant Shelter Island Union Free School District ("defendant" or the "District") for violations of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. ("Title VII"), and the New York State Human Rights Law ("NYSHRL"), claiming that she was discriminated against on the basis of her age and in retaliation for filing a claim of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). The case was tried before a jury over a period of four days, at the conclusion of which the jury returned a verdict in favor of defendant. The jury found that plaintiff did not prove by a preponderance of the evidence that she was denied employment with defendant: (1) because of her age, (2) in retaliation for filing an age-based EEOC Charge, or (3) in retaliation for filing a gender-based EEOC Charge. (See Verdict Sheet, dated March 19, 2010, Docket No. 106.)

Presently before the Court is plaintiff's motion pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(b) for judgment as a matter of law or, in the alternative, for a new trial pursuant to Rule 59. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is denied.

BACKGROUND

In July 1999, plaintiff applied for the position of Library Media Specialist with the District. She was interviewed by then Superintendent Gilbert DeCicco who declined to hire her. She subsequently filed a charge of age and sex discrimination against the District with the EEOC but did not file a lawsuit arising out of this incident.

Thereafter, in May 2003, plaintiff reapplied for the same position. She was 46 years old. Of the twelve candidates who applied, Kenneth Lanier ("Lanier"), the District's new Superintendent, selected four candidates to receive interviews; Plaintiff was not chosen. Both parties agree that Lanier was the sole decision maker in this regard. The four finalists were interviewed by a six-person committee, including Lanier. The position was ultimately offered to Christina Chrabolowski, a 32-year old female.

Plaintiff initiated the present lawsuit on July 27, 2004, alleging discrimination based on her age and retaliation based on her initial EEOC complaint. In February 2005, defendant noticed Lanier for a videotaped deposition. Lanier responded that he was too ill with Lou Gehrig's disease to be deposed. However, on March 16, 2005, Lanier provided defendant with an affidavit wherein he advanced his rationale for not granting plaintiff an interview and explained why the District ultimately decided to hire Ms. Chrabolowski. Plaintiff synopizes the substance of that affidavit thusly: "At paragraphs 12 and 23 of his March 16, 2005 barred-as-inadmissible-hearsay affidavit, Lanier sets forth a number of alleged legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons he claims to have been the grounds for his decision to reject plaintiff for the Library Media Specialist position at the initial, pre-interview stage of the 2003 hiring process. Specifically in that regard, he cites, at paragraph 12, (a) plaintiff's lack of 'staying power,' as evidenced by her having 'held approximately 13 positions since 1992,' and by those positions having been 'short service positions (primarily one year or less)'; (b) 'her longest tenure in any one position [having been] that of real estate broker'; (c) her 'not [having] worked in the field [o]f library science since 2000'; and, at paragraph 13, (d) her 'lack of full fledged and relevant teaching experience over the past decade.'" (Pl.'s Mem. at 3 (footnote omitted).)

On June 21, 2005, Lanier produced a second affidavit wherein he affirmed the statements made in his previous affidavit and asserted that his health was deteriorating rapidly. Approximately six weeks later, on August 7, 2005, Lanier passed away. That development caused plaintiff to file several unsuccessful motions for summary judgment based on Lanier's unavailability. (See this Court's Memoranda and Orders filed on February 1, 2007 (Docket No. 46), September 13, 2007 (Docket No. 56), and January 15, 2010 (Docket No. 81), all of which discuss, to varying degrees, arguments which largely track those currently advanced by plaintiff in support of the relief requested.) During that same time frame, specifically on November 16, 2009, the Court issued a bench decision denying defendant's motion in limine and ruling that Lanier's affidavits would not be admissible at trial. Finally, with respect to pretrial motions, the Court, on March 15, 2010, issued a bench decision denying plaintiff's motions in limine, which sought to prevent defendant at trial from (1) offering any evidence in support of its alleged nondiscriminatory reason for not granting plaintiff an interview, and (2) disputing that plaintiff meet the qualification prong of her prima facie case.

Trial commenced March 16, 2010. At the conclusion of defendant's case, both parties moved for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Rule 50. Both motions were denied for the reasons stated on the record. The jury rendered its verdict on March 19, 2010, and plaintiff's motion was filed March 26, 2010.*fn1 No citations to the trial record are provided by plaintiff in connection with the present motion.

DISCUSSION

I. Legal Standards

A. Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law -- Rule 50(b)

"The standard governing motions for judgment as a matter of law [ ] pursuant to Rule 50 [of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure], formerly denominated motions for directed verdict or motions for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, is well established." Galdieri-Ambrosini v. Nat'l Realty & Dev. Corp., 136 F.3d 276, 289 (2d Cir. 1998) (internal citations omitted). A Rule 50 motion "'may only be granted if there exists such a complete absence of evidence supporting the verdict that the jury's findings could only have been the result of sheer surmise and conjecture, or the evidence in favor of the movant is so overwhelming that reasonable and fair-minded [persons] could not have arrived at a verdict against [it].'" Kinneary v. City of New York, 601 F.3d 151, 155 (2d Cir. 2010) (alterations in original) (quoting Brady v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 531 F.3d 127, 133 (2d Cir. 2008)). In considering the motion, "[a] court 'must give deference to all credibility determinations and reasonable inferences of the jury,' and may not weigh the credibility of witnesses or otherwise consider the weight of the evidence." Caruolo v. John Crane, Inc., 226 F.3d 46, 51 (2d Cir. 2000) (quoting Galdieri-Ambrosini, 136 F.3d at 289); see also This is Me, Inc. v. Taylor, 157 F.3d 139, 142 (2d Cir. 1998) (noting that the issue on a Rule 50 motion is whether "'the evidence is such that, without weighing the credibility of witnesses or otherwise considering the weight of the evidence, there can be but one conclusion as to the verdict that reasonable [people] could have reached.'" ) (quoting Cruz v. Local Union No. 3, Int'l Bd. of Elec. Workers, 34 F.3d 1148, 1154-55 (2d Cir. 1994)).

B. Motion for a New Trial -- Rule 59

A "motion for a new trial 'ordinarily should not be granted unless the trial court is convinced that the jury has reached a seriously erroneous result or that the verdict is a miscarriage of justice.'" Patrolmen's Benevolent Ass'n of City of New York v. City of New York, 310 F.3d 43, 54 (2d Cir. 2002) (quoting Atkins v. New York City, 143 F.3d 100, 102 (2d Cir. 1998)). "A new trial may be granted, therefore, when the jury's verdict is against the weight of the evidence." DLC Mgmt. Corp. v. Town of Hyde Park, 163 F.3d 124, 133 (2d Cir. 1998). "Unlike judgment as a matter of law, a new trial may be granted even if there is substantial evidence supporting the jury's verdict." Id. at 134; accord Manley v. AmBase Corp., 337 F.3d 237, 244 (2d Cir. 2003). On a motion for a new trial pursuant to Rule 59, a court may weigh the evidence and need not view the evidence in a light most favorable to the defendants. See Song v. Ives Labs., Inc. 957 F.2d 1041, 1047 (2d Cir. 1992). Indeed, "the district court is permitted to 'examine the evidence through its own eyes.'" Green v. City of New York, 359 Fed. Appx. 197, 199 (2d Cir. Dec. 30, 2009) (summary order) (quoting Meloff v. New York Life Ins. Co., 240 F.3d 138, 147 (2d Cir. 2001)). "A court considering a Rule 59 motion for a new trial must bear in mind, however, that the court should only grant such a motion when the jury's verdict is 'egregious.' Accordingly, a court should rarely disturb a jury's evaluation of a witness's credibility." DLC Mgmt. Corp., 163 F.3d at 134 (citing Metromedia Co. v. Fugazy, 983 F.2d 350, 363 (2d Cir. 1992), abrogated on other grounds by Gustafson v. Alloyd Co., 513 U.S. 561 (1995)).

II. Positions of the Parties

A. Plaintiff's Position

Plaintiff's position is essentially three pronged: (1) Lanier was admittedly the sole decision maker and, accordingly, no one else was able to provide direct evidence of the reasons underlying his decision not to interview plaintiff, (2) circumstantial evidence was inadmissible for that purpose, thereby precluding defendant from "carrying its burden at the second stage of the McDonnell Douglas burden - shifting scheme" of proffering a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for not affording plaintiff an interview (Pl.'s Mem. at 1), and (3) that scenario, coupled with the Court's conclusion at ...


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