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Ellen Lunts, and Alexander Lunts v. Rochester City School District

September 13, 2011


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



Plaintiffs Ellen Lunts, and Alexander Lunts, proceeding pro se, bring this action pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), claiming that the defendants Rochester City School District and SUNY Empire State College ("defendants") discriminated against Ellen Lunts ("Lunts" or "plaintiff") on the basis of her gender, race, and national origin. Specifically, plaintiff, who was employed under a two-year renewable contract as an Assistant Professor with Empire State College, alleges that her contract was not renewed on grounds that she is female, Jewish, and is of foreign origin. Plaintiff also alleges that she did not receive equal pay and was harassed because of her gender, race, and origin, and was retaliated against for complaining of discrimination. Plaintiff's husband Alexander Lunts, who was not employed by the defendants, claims that he experienced physical and emotional pain as a result of the discrimination against his wife.


The defendants now move for summary judgment claiming that plaintiffs have failed to establish any facts suggesting that Lunts was discriminated against in any manner. Defendants also contend that plaintiff Alexander Lunts has failed to state a cause of action against the defendants. For the reasons set forth below, the defendants' motions are granted.


Plaintiff Ellen Lunts was born in Russia, and according to her Complaint, graduated with highest honors from the Pedagogical University of Omsk. Upon graduation, plaintiff began a career in Russia teaching math and science. She claims that she was denied entry into a PhD program in Russia because of her Jewish ancestry, and therefore, moved to the United States to pursue such a degree. Plaintiff alleges that she attained a second Master's degree and a PhD degree at the University of Rochester in "record short time."

In August 2004, Lunts signed an employment contract with defendant Empire State College ("Empire State" or "the College")) to become an Assistant Professor/Mentor in the Masters in Teaching Program operated by Empire State. Under the terms of the contract, Lunts was appointed for a two year term, at a starting salary of $52,000.00, with possible continuing appointments, and was considered to be on a tenure track. The contract specifically provided that although the position was considered to be on a tenure track, there was no expectation or guarantee that Lunts would be reappointed.

In her position as an Assistant Professor, plaintiff was assigned to teach and mentor students who were beginning a second career in teaching. These students were typically older students who did not have college degrees in Education. Some of the plaintiff's students were student-teachers in the Rochester City School District (the "School District" or "City School District"). These students were part of a collaborative program between Empire State College and the School District whereby participants who completed the program could receive a Transitional Teaching Certificate. In her role as a Mentor, Lunts taught classes and gave assignments to her students, and also, on occasion, observed the students as they taught their regular classes in School District schools.

One of the students assigned to Lunts was Carol Fries ("Fries"). Initially, Fries and Lunts enjoyed an amicable relationship, and Lunts often praised Fries' work, and awarded Fries good grades in the classes Fries took from Lunts. In October, 2005, however, after Lunts completed an observation session of Fries teaching in Fries' classroom in the City School District, their relationship suffered a severe and almost immediate breakdown. According to Fries, Lunts' improperly introduced herself to Fries' students as Fries' supervisor, an action that Fries complained undermined her authority in the class room. Fries contends that when classroom observations occurred, observers were supposed to enter and leave the classroom with as little disruption as possible, and were not to announce themselves or their purpose for being there. Lunts contends that she did nothing wrong in identifying herself.

In the aftermath of the observation session, and as a result of corrections to Fries' written work suggested by Lunts, Fries sent an email to Lunts explaining in terse and unflattering language that because Lunts was a non-native speaker of English, Fries did not believe that Lunts was qualified to instruct her on the use of the English language. Fries also expressed regret at previously accepting Lunts' instruction, and claimed that she should have stopped Lunts from attempting to instruct her from the very beginning of their relationship. Fries further suggested that Lunts was not qualified to serve as a mentor to teachers teaching in an urban school system because Lunts lacked experience in such settings.

Fries complained of Lunts' behavior to Lunts' supervisor at Empire State College, and also to Marie Costanza, ("Costanza") the Director of the Rochester City School District's Career in Teaching Program. The Career in Teaching Program oversaw, on behalf of the School District, the collaboration with the Empire State College Masters in Teaching program. As a result of her complaint to Empire State, Fries was assigned to another Empire State Assistant Professor. In response to Fries Complaint to the City School District, Costanza, along with Mitch Adams, a School District Human Resources Manager, in November, 2005, held a meeting with Lunts, after which Costanza informed Empire State and Lunts that Lunts was no longer welcome on School District property. Because Lunts was no longer allowed to observe her students while they were teaching their classes, her students were assigned to other Empire State Assistant Professors.

At approximately the same time, Lunts' contract was up for renewal. Although two academic panels recommended that her contract be renewed, Empire State declined to renew her contract, and her employment with Empire State concluded on August 31, 2006. On August 22, 2006, Lunts filed an administrative complaint of discrimination with the EEOC complaining that she had been retaliated against by Empire State and the School District because she complained to her supervisor at Empire State that a City School District student may have been mistreated by Carol Fries, and because she complained that Empire State failed to follow Union Guidelines with respect to the failure of Empire State to reappoint her. She also claimed that she was subjected to unequal pay, and made several other accusations in her 15 page typed, single spaced attachment to her administrative complaint. Upon dismissal of plaintiff's administrative complaint, she filed a 46 page Complaint before this Court alleging, on behalf of herself and her husband, violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

DISCUSSION I. The Defendants' Motions for Summary Judgment Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that summary judgment "should be rendered if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." When considering a motion for summary judgment, all genuinely disputed facts must be resolved in favor of the party against whom summary judgment is sought. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007). If, after considering the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, the court finds that no rational jury could find in ...

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