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Constance Graham v. Elmira City School District

July 14, 2011

CONSTANCE GRAHAM, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ELMIRA CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT, ELMIRA CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT, BOARD OF EDUCATION DEFENDANTS.



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

DECISION and ORDER

Introduction

Plaintiff, Constance Graham ("Plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983 and the New York State Human Rights Law, N.Y. Exec. Law § 296, claiming that she was discriminated against because of her race by her employer, the Elmira City School District and the Elmira City School District Board of Education (collectively, "the District"). Specifically, Plaintiff contends that she was the victim of a hostile work environment, retaliation and racially disparate treatment.

The District moves for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) ("Rule 12(c)"). Plaintiff opposes the District's motion and moves for leave to amend her Complaint pursuant to Rule 15(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure ("Rule 15(a)"). For the reasons set forth herein, the District's motion for judgment on the pleadings is granted with respect to Plaintiff's hostile work environment and New York State Human Rights Law claims and those claims are hereby dismissed with prejudice. Plaintiff's motion for leave to amend her federal retaliation and racially disparate treatment claims is granted.

Background

The following facts are set forth in the Amended Complaint*fn1 and Plaintiff's complaint to the New York State Division of Human Rights (SDHR), which is incorporated into the complaint by reference. See Blue Tree Hotels Inv. (Canada), Ltd. v. Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc., 369 F.3d 212, 217 (2d Cir. 2004) (the scope of review for a motion to dismiss is limited to the complaint and any documents incorporated into the complaint by reference). In assessing the sufficiency of the Amended Complaint, the Court accepts as true all non-conclusory allegations and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the Plaintiff. Id.

Plaintiff was hired as Principal of Divan Elementary School ("Divan") in the District in August 2007. She states that at the time she was hired the hiring committee notified her that New York State had classified Divan as 'in need of improvement.' Plaintiff alleges that during her tenure as Principal there was a high turnover rate of administrative staff and that she experienced hostility from the teachers union. She also states that union and school board members interfered with her work by holding meetings during school hours and interrupting staff meetings. In addition, the same individuals told her that she was not the first choice for the position and that her performance was inadequate.

Plaintiff states that "racially toxic commentary was a regular occurrence" in her school citing the following five examples from her tenure with the District: (1) Caucasian District employees admitted to referring to African Americans as "niggers"; (2) a Caucasian District employee stated that his dog "only barks at black people"; (3) a Caucasian District employee stated that an African American employee was "shucking and jiving," which Plaintiff alleges implies laziness; (4) a Caucasian employee said "get that nigger out of here," referring to Plaintiff; and (5) a Caucasian employee stated that he did not want a "colored person" (Plaintiff) employed as the principal.

Plaintiff also alleges that every Caucasian principal employed by the District had a full-time, permanent assistant principal assigned to their building. Plaintiff was not assigned an assistant principal. Plaintiff further alleges that all past principals of Divan and her successors were Caucasian and were given approximately four years to show progress at Divan. Plaintiff states that she was removed from her position for lack of progress within a year. Plaintiff also alleges that she was evaluated more harshly than other Caucasian principals.

Plaintiff states that she complained to the district of the alleged discriminatory treatment. Thereafter, she states that the District placed "untrue and unfair" evaluations of her performance in her personnel file. Then, in June 2008, the District informed Plaintiff she would be removed as principal and transferred to the assistant principal position. Plaintiff rejected the transfer, and the District then offered her the position of Deputy Director of Human Resources, which she "accepted with reservation." As a result of the transfer, Plaintiff's salary was reduced and she was no longer under contract or represented by the union. She also was unable to accrue time toward administrative tenure and job seniority.

Discussion

I. Plaintiff's Motion to Amend

Plaintiff moves for leave to amend her Complaint under Rule 15(a). Rule 15(a) states that leave "shall be freely given when justice so requires." Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 15. Absent evidence of undue delay, bad faith, undue prejudice, dilatory motive or futility, a party should be granted the opportunity to correct any deficiencies in the complaint. See Forman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962). The District argues that permitting the proposed Amended Complaint would be futile, as the neither the Complaint nor the Amended Complaint set forth a plausible claim for relief. See Def. Mem. of Law in Opposition to Pl. Cross-Motion to Amend, Docket #16 (citing EEOC v. Nichols Gas & Oil, Inc., 518 F. Supp. 2d 505, 509 (W.D.N.Y. 2007); Ruffolo v. Oppenheimer & Co., 987 F.2d 129, 131 (2d Cir. 1993)).

As set forth below, this Court finds that Plaintiff's claims for retaliation and disparate treatment are sufficiently plausible to withstand a motion to dismiss; but Plaintiff's federal and New York state claims for a hostile work environment and her New York State claims for retaliation and disparate treatment must be dismissed. ...


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