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Robin Ray v. James P. Klyczek and State University of New York Niagara County Community College

February 15, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: William M. Skretny Chief Judge United States District Judge



Plaintiff Robin Ray commenced this action in June 2008, alleging violations of her civil rights, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983, and 1985, and employment discrimination in violation of New York State Human Rights Law. Pending before this Court is the motion of Defendants James P. Klyczek and State University of New York Niagara County Community College seeking summary judgment dismissing the complaint. For the reasons discussed below, this Court finds the matter fully briefed and oral argument unnecessary, and concludes that Defendant's motion should be granted.


A. Factual Background

Plaintiff, an African-American woman, was first hired by Defendant State University of New York Niagara County Community College ("NCCC") as a Technical Assistant in December 1988, and she served in that position until June 30, 2000 (Affidavit of Plaintiff Robin Ray, Docket No. 48, ¶¶ 2-3). In May 2000, she was notified of her appointment as a member of the faculty, specifically to a term position as an Instructor/Counselor in the Financial Aid Office for the period of July 1, 2000 through August 31, 2001. (Pl's Aff. ¶ 4; Declaration of Defendant James P. Klyczek, Docket No. 41-3, ¶¶ 6; Docket No. 41-13 at 14). Plaintiff was reappointed to several one year terms thereafter, with her title becoming "Assistant Professor/Counselor" in 2002. (Pl's Aff. ¶ 5; Docket No. 41-7 at 2). Her final reappointment in 2004 was scheduled to end on August 31, 2005. (Pl's Aff. ¶ 5).

On March 24, 2005, Ray was informed by letter from Defendant James P. Klyczek, President of NCCC, that her appointment would not be renewed for the 2005-2006 academic year. (Pl's Aff. ¶ 6; Docket No. 41-9). An objection to this non-renewal was raised by the NCCC Faculty Association on the ground that, pursuant to the governing collective bargaining agreement ("CBA"), Plaintiff was automatically entitled to a tenured, continuing appointment based upon her length of service. (Klyczek Decl. ¶¶ 19-20; Docket No. 41-11; Docket No. 41-13 at 8). The CBA limited the use of term appointments for faculty members holding full academic rank, such as Plaintiff, to a period of no more than five years. (Klyczek Decl. ¶¶ 19; Docket No. 41-11; Docket No. 41-13 at 8). The CBA also provided that reappointment at the end of five years of service "shall be a continuing appointment;" in other words, a tenured appointment for an indefinite period (Docket No. 41-11; Docket No. 41-13 at 8). In his response to the Faculty Association, Klyczek denied that Plaintiff would be automatically entitled to tenure at the end of her current term, but he acknowledged that allowing Plaintiff's current term to extend beyond June 30, 2005 would violate the CBA's five-year limitation, inasmuch as her initial term appointment began on July 1, 2000. (Klyczek Aff. ¶ 20; Docket No. 41-11).

Klyczek subsequently recommended to NCCC's Board of Trustees that Plaintiff's final term appointment be shortened by two months to avoid a violation of the CBA. (Klyczek Aff. ¶¶ 20-21). By letter dated May 26, 2005, Klyczek informed Plaintiff that the Board of Trustees had approved that amendment to her appointment, and that her employment term would end on June 30, 2005 instead of August 31, 2005. (Pl's Aff. 8; Klczek Aff. ¶ 20; Docket No. 41-12). Plaintiff nonetheless reported to work on July 5, 2005 pursuant to the terms of her original 2004-2005 appointment, and left under protest when asked to leave (Pl's Aff. ¶ 9). A grievance was then filed by the Faculty Association on her behalf in accordance with the CBA, resulting in arbitration. (Pl's Aff. ¶¶ 9-10; Arbitrator's Opinion and Award ("Arb. Opinion"), Docket No. 41-13, at 3-4, 18). Following a hearing, the arbitrator determined that NCCC had violated the terms of the CBA by amending the period of Plaintiff's term appointment to end on June 20, 2005, and awarded her salary and benefits due from July 1, 2005 to August 31, 2005. (Pl's Aff. ¶ 10; Arb. Opinion at 36, 48).

B. Procedural Background

Plaintiff commenced the instant action in this Court on June 30, 2008, alleging that Defendants discriminated against her on the basis of race in violation of New York State Human Rights Law (first and second causes of action); denied her right to make and enforce contracts on the basis of race in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (third cause of action); deprived her of property without due process in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (fourth cause of action); and conspired to violate her civil rights in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1985 (3). (Complaint, Docket No. 1, ¶¶ 28-44). After Defendants filed their Answer (Docket No. 4), they filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12 (b)(6) and (c), which this Court construed as only a motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12 (c). (Docket Nos. 16, 31). Plaintiff withdrew her claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1985 and the New York State Human Rights Law in response. (Docket No. 21). This Court then dismissed Plaintiff's fourth cause of action in its entirety, and her third cause of action to the extent that she alleged that she was denied the same opportunity as white employees to enter into a new contract, i.e. the denial of a continuing, tenured appointment, both on statute of limitations grounds. (Docket No. 31 at 3-6). Remaining is Plaintiff's § 1981 claim that Defendants' early termination of her existing appointment was improperly based on her race. (Docket No. 31 at 5). Defendant now moves for summary judgment on that claim.*fn1


Summary judgment is appropriate, even in a discrimination case, where the materials in the record, including depositions, documents, affidavits or declarations, and stipulations, show that there are no genuine issues regarding any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. see FED.R.CIV.P. 56 (a), (c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986); Weinstock v. Columbia Univ., 224 F.3d 33, 41 (2d Cir. 2000), cert denied 540 U.S. 811 (2003). A court's function on a summary judgment motion "is not to resolve disputed questions of fact but only to determine whether, as to any material issue, a genuine factual dispute exists." Kaytor v. Electric Boat Corp., 609 F.3d 537, 545 (2d Cir. 2010). "A dispute regarding a material fact is genuine 'if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.' " Weinstock 224 F.3d at 41, quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). In reaching a determination, the record is not to be considered "in piecemeal fashion, trusting innocent explanations for individual strands of evidence; rather, [a court] must 'review all of the evidence in the record.' " Kaytor, 609 F.3d at 545, quoting Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150, 120 S.Ct. 2097, 147 L.Ed.2d 105 (2000). Further, a court must "construe the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and must resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences against the movant." Dallas Aerospace, Inc. v. CIS Air Corp., 352 F.3d 775, 780 (2d Cir. 2003).

Plaintiff's only remaining claim is her allegation that Defendants violated her right to enforce her 2004-2005 term employment contract in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981. This statute provides that "[a]ll persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall have the same right . . . to make and enforce contracts . . . and to the full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of persons and property as enjoyed by white citizens." 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (a). Thus, "discrimination with respect to the enjoyment of benefits, privileges, terms, and conditions of a contractual relationship, such as employment" is prohibited. Patterson v. County of Oneida, N.Y., 375 F.3d 206, 224 (2d Cir. 2004). In determining a motion for summary judgment on a § 1981 claim, courts apply the familiar burden-shifting framework of McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802-805, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973). See Ruiz v. County of Rockland, 609 F3d 486, 491 (2d Cir. 2010).

Under this framework, a plaintiff must first establish a prima facie case by demonstrating (1) that she was a member of a racial minority; (2) defendants' intention to discriminate on the basis of race; and (3) the discrimination concerned one of the activities enumerated in the statute, such as the right to enforce a contract. Brown v. City of Oneonta, New York, 221 F.3d 329, 339 (2d Cir. 2000), cert denied 534 U.S. 816 (2001). This initial burden is de minimus, and once a plaintiff meets it, the burden shifts to the defendants to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for alleged discriminatory action. See Ruiz, 609 F3d at 492; see also Carlton v. Mystic Transp., Inc., 202 F.3d 129, 134 (2d Cir. 2000), cert denied 530 U.S. 1261 (2000)(describing a plaintiff's initial burden as minimal). "Upon Defendant's articulation of such a non-discriminatory reason . . . , the presumption of discrimination arising with the establishment of the prima facie case drops from the picture." Weinstock, 224 F.3d at 42. A plaintiff must then come forward with sufficient evidence that the articulated reason is a mere pretext for actual discrimination, as well as sufficient evidence upon which a trier of fact may reasonably conclude that plaintiff's assertion of ...

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