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Marita Hyman v. Cornell University and

July 1, 2011


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



Plaintiff brought this action pursuant to 20 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq., also known as Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972, as well as Section 296(7) of the New York Executive Law (the New York State Human Rights Law) and Section 40-c of the New York State Civil Rights Law. Currently before the Court are Defendants' motion to dismiss and Plaintiff's motion to amend her complaint, as well as Plaintiff's counsel's motion to withdraw as attorney.


This case arises from a series of emails sent between Plaintiff, then a graduate student in Cornell University's Department of Anthropology (the "Department"), and Defendant Greenwood, a senior faculty member in the Department. Plaintiff entered Cornell during the Fall 2002 semester to pursue a doctoral degree in education; and, in the Spring 2004 semester, she applied to switch to the Department of Anthropology. See Complaint at ¶¶ 7, 9. Plaintiff approached Defendant Greenwood regarding her application, and he agreed to support it. See id. at ¶¶ 10-11. However, the Admissions Committee rejected Plaintiff's application. See id. at ¶ 12. Defendant Greenwood expressed surprise at this decision and encouraged Plaintiff to reapply to the Department for the following academic year and volunteered to help her in this endeavor. See id. at ¶ 13. To this end, Defendant Greenwood prepared a letter of support on Plaintiff's behalf, which two other faculty members signed, and emailed it to her at 12:08 am on April 27, 2004. See Complaint at ¶ 15. In May of 2004, the Department admitted Plaintiff. See id. at ¶ 16.

Plaintiff and Defendant Greenwood maintained email contact during and after Plaintiff's transfer admission process. See Complaint at ¶ 17. However, during the spring and summer of 2004, Plaintiff sent Defendant Greenwood a series of emails which he found to be inappropriate. On May 1, 2004, with her admission to the Department already secured, Plaintiff sent Defendant Greenwood a message which began with Plaintiff's wondering about "how best to approach this next phase of our relationship," see Article 78 Record on Appeal ("Art. 78 Rec.") at 80, and included an ambiguous discussion about love, in which Plaintiff indicated that it is "powerful . . . for productive work," see id. at 82. On July 15, 2004, Plaintiff emailed a message to Defendant Greenwood that contained a discussion of Plaintiff's relationship with her husband, with references to their sexual relationship, and Plaintiff's feelings about the choices she makes with her body. See id. at 108. The following day, Defendant Greenwood stated his intent to cease communication with Plaintiff and his encouragement that Plaintiff "mov[e] on with life." See Complaint at ¶ 22.

On November 1, 2004, Defendant Greenwood emailed Plaintiff and demanded that she not contact him again, including a no-contact agreement within the body of his email. See Complaint at ¶ 34. Plaintiff responded, expressing her agreement not to contact him. See id. at ¶ 37. On or about November 23, 2006, Plaintiff responded to a campus-wide email from Cornell University President David Skorton which asked for input on his review of the Cornell Code of Conduct. See Complaint at ¶ 40. Plaintiff protested the treatment she received within the Department, stating that faculty members had repeatedly violated her rights under the Code. See id. Plaintiff copied Defendant Greenwood on the email to President Skorton. See id. at ¶ 40.

The day after Plaintiff copied Defendant Greenwood on her email to President Skorton, Defendant Greenwood emailed Plaintiff's Dean to complain that Plaintiff had violated their no-contact agreement. See Complaint at ¶ 41. Defendant Greenwood contacted the Office of Workforce Diversity, Equity and Life Quality ("OWDELQ") and described Plaintiff's alleged inappropriate behavior and her breach of the agreement. See id. at ¶ 42. On December 1, 2006, Defendant Greenwood submitted a report to Mary Grant of Cornell's Office of the Judicial Administrator ("JA"). See id. at ¶ 43. On December 12, 2006, JA Grant informed Plaintiff that Defendant Greenwood had filed a complaint against her. See id. at ¶ 44.

On March 23, 2006, JA Grant contacted Defendant Greenwood to follow up on their previous communication regarding Plaintiff and to determine if Plaintiff had contacted Defendant Greenwood in the meantime. See Art. 78 Rec. at 780-81. In his reply to JA Grant, Defendant Greenwood expressed surprise that she had followed up with him regarding Plaintiff's behavior. See Complaint at ¶ 47. Defendant Greenwood emailed JA Grant on April 16, 2007, and clarified that he had not yet filed a formal complaint against Plaintiff and that he considered any complaints that Plaintiff filed to be additional harassment. See Art. 78 Rec. at 783.

On April 17, 2006, Plaintiff filed a formal complaint with OWDELQ, alleging that Defendant Greenwood had violated Cornell's sexual harassment policy in relation to his conduct toward her. See Complaint at ¶ 46. On May 4, 2007, JA Grant emailed Plaintiff to inform Plaintiff that she had been mistaken in her December 12, 2006 email and that Defendant Greenwood had only made an inquiry to seek advice and had not filed a complaint. See id. at ¶ 49.

On May 25, 2007, Defendant Greenwood filed a formal complaint. See Complaint at ¶ 50. On September 18, 2007, the University Hearing Board met to discuss Defendant Greenwood's complaint against Plaintiff. See id. at ¶ 12. The panel ultimately found that Plaintiff's decision to cc Defendant Greenwood on her email to President Skorton was made with the intent to harass him and that Plaintiff violated the Code of Conduct when she sent it to Defendant Greenwood in breach of their no-contact agreement. See id. at ¶ 53. The panel imposed a punishment of a further no-contact order and a letter of reprimand. See id. The University Review Board later denied Plaintiff's appeal of this decision. See id. at ¶ 63.

On December 11, 2007, the Cornell University Division of Human Resources released an investigative report regarding Plaintiff's complaint that Defendant Greenwood's behavior toward her violated Policy 6.4, the University policy prohibiting discrimination, harassment, and bias. See Complaint at ¶ 64. The report concluded that Plaintiff's complaint was "fundamentally frivolous" and determined that Defendant Greenwood did not violate Policy 6.4. See id. On January 7, 2007, Plaintiff appealed the Division of Human Resources' decision to Dean Peter Lepage of the College of Arts and Sciences, and Dean Lepage informed Plaintiff that he had accepted the Division of Human Resources' conclusions, denied her appeal, and stated that he would take no further action in the matter. See id. at ¶¶ 65-66 Plaintiff states that she has exhausted all remedies for which the university policy provides. See id. at ¶ 67.


A. Defendants' motion to ...

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