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Grace O. Douglass v. Rochester City School District

July 5, 2012

GRACE O. DOUGLASS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ROCHESTER CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT, SAMUEL RODRIGUEZ, CORNELIUS ZWIERLEIN, CONNIE LEECH, INDIVIDUALLY DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: David G. Larimer United States District Judge

DECISION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Grace O. Douglass ("plaintiff") commenced this action against her former employer, defendant the Rochester City School District (the "District"), its Chief of Secondary Schools, Connie Leech, Global Media Arts high School at Franklin principal Dr. Samuel Rodriguez ("Rodriguez"), and District Director for Health, Physical Education and Athletics Cornelius Zwierlein ("Zwierlein") (collectively "defendants"). Plaintiff claims that during her employment, the defendants separately and together violated her rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1981, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and the New York Human Rights Law, N.Y. Exec. Law §§290 et seq. ("NYHRL"). Plaintiff, who was employed by the District as an Athletic Director, alleges claims of workplace discrimination, harassment, and retaliation based on race and gender.

The defendants now move for summary judgment dismissing the amended complaint in its entirety (Dkt. #12). Familiarity with the underlying facts and evidence submitted in support of, and in opposition to, that motion, is presumed.

DISCUSSION

I. Summary Judgment Standard

To defeat a summary judgment motion properly supported by affidavits, depositions, or other documentation, the non-movant must offer similar materials setting forth specific facts that show that there is a genuine issue of material fact to be tried. See Rule v. Brine, Inc., 85 F.3d 1002, 1011 (2d Cir. 1996). Although all inferences are to be construed in favor of the non-movant, she must present more than a "scintilla of evidence," Belpasso v. Port Auth. of N.Y. & N.J., 2010 U.S. App. LEXIS 23662 at *2 (2d Cir. 2010), or "some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts," Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986), and cannot rely solely on the allegations in her pleadings, "conclusory allegations or unsubstantiated speculation." Fujitsu Ltd. v. Fed. Express Corp., 247 F.3d 423, 428 (2d Cir. 2001).

II. Plaintiff's Title VII Discrimination and Retaliation Claims

A. Harassment and/or Hostile Work Environment

It is well settled that in order to prevail on hostile work environment claim under Title VII, a plaintiff must make a prima facie showing that her workplace was permeated with "discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult ... sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim's employment and create an abusive working environment," and show a specific basis for imputing the conduct that created the hostile work environment to his employer. Harris v. Forklift Systems, Inc., 510 U.S. 17, 21 (1993) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Nonetheless, "Title VII is not a general civility code," Bickerstaff v. Vassar College, 196 F.3d 435, 452 (2d Cir. 1999) (internal quotations omitted), and sporadic, isolated incidents of "boorish or offensive use of language" are not sufficiently egregious to establish a hostile work environment. Benette v. Cinemark U.S.A., Inc., 2003 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 22636 at *18 (W.D.N.Y. 2003). See also Clark County School District v. Breeden, 532 U.S. 268, 270 (2001) (conduct must be severely threatening or humiliating to rise to the level of a hostile work environment); Kotcher v. Rosa & Sullivan Appliance Ctr., 957 F.2d 59, 62 (2d Cir. 1992) ("incidents must be repeated and continuous; isolated acts or occasional episodes will not merit relief").

Here, plaintiff does not allege a series of repeated, continuous, threatening or humiliating incidents sufficient to approach a hostile work environment.

Plaintiff's allegations primarily concern her principal, Rodriguez. Plaintiff claims that Rodriguez communicated with her in a disrespectful tone, reacted with short-tempered anger toward plaintiff and told her it was a "strike against" her when a soccer game had to be rescheduled because the field had not been lined, angrily admonished plaintiff in front of others after student managers failed to provide water for a basketball game, instructed her to "get [your] butt out there and fill up the water buckets" during a game, slammed his hand on a table, referred to plaintiff on one occasion during a meeting as "that lady," failed to provide plaintiff with a District-issued cell phone, and insisted that plaintiff address him as "Dr. Rodriguez" rather than "Dr. Sam." She also claims that Zwierlein left her out of some lunch meetings, denied a request for certain athletic equipment, incorrectly accused plaintiff of failing to give equipment to a coach she supervised, denied plaintiff's request to work with an athletic administration intern, permitted other athletic directors to mock the competency of another athletic director who had been denied tenure, and required plaintiff to travel two hours for a meeting.

Taken as a whole and granting all favorable inferences to plaintiff, these allegations, which do not include any "facts to support her claim that the conduct occurred because of her race [or gender]," do not describe a hostile work environment. Turner v. Nazareth College, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 8324 at *15 (W.D.N.Y. 2011) (emphasis added). See also Mattison v. Potter, 414 F. Supp. 2d 356, 373 (W.D.N.Y. 2007). Initially, plaintiff, who is African-American, makes no allegation concerning any racially charged or gender-specific language or conduct of any kind, nor does the evidence, construed in plaintiff's favor, suggest a discriminatory motive for the alleged conduct by Rodriguez and Zwierlein. See Davis-Bell v. Columbia Univ., 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 38490 at *59-*60 (S.D.N.Y. 2012) (granting summary judgment dismissing hostile work environment claims where plaintiff alleges only that her supervisor treated her harshly, and was nasty, mean and impolite, but never made any racially derogatory comments). Accord Turner, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 8324 at *15 (dismissing race-based hostile work environment claim as insufficiently stated, where plaintiff alleges that her supervising teacher mocked and yelled at her, but does not claim that the mockery or yelling was racially derogatory, that racial epithets were used, or that the conduct was otherwise propelled by a discriminatory motive). In any event, the sporadic verbal altercations and social snubs plaintiff describes do not indicate conduct so continuous, threatening, or offensive as to comprise a hostile work environment. Plaintiff's claim of discrimination and harassment in the form of a hostile work environment is thus dismissed.

B. Retaliation

The plaintiff's retaliation claims are equally unconvincing. Claims of retaliation pursuant to Title VII are subject to the burden-shifting analysis articulated in McDonnell-Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). On a motion for summary judgment, a plaintiff must first establish a prima facie case of retaliation by showing: (1) her participation in a protected activity known to the defendants; (2) an employment action disadvantaging the plaintiff; and (3) a causal connection between the protected activity and the adverse employment action. Once she has done so, the burden shifts to the defendants to establish a legitimate, non-retaliatory basis for the complained-of action. If the defendants do so, the burden returns to plaintiff, who must show that the legitimate, non-retaliatory reason articulated by the defendant is a ...


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