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Edwards v. Jericho Union Free School Dist.

United States District Court, E.D. New York

November 16, 2012

Lisa EDWARDS, Plaintiff,
v.
JERICHO UNION FREE SCHOOL DISTRICT, Jericho Union Free School District Board of Education, Henry L. Grishman, in his official capacity as Superintendent and individually, Benjamin Ciuffo, in his official capacity as Assistant Superintendent and individually, Barbara Bauer, in her official capacity as Assistant Superintendent and individually, Joseph Prisinzano, in his official capacity as Principal and Individually, and Antony Sinanis, in his official capacity as Principal and individually, Defendants.

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Dandeneau & Lott by: Dawn A. Lott, Esq., Melville, NY, for Plaintiff.

Ingerman Smith, L.L.P. by: David F. Kwee, Esq., Hauppauge, NY, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

HURLEY, Senior District Judge.

Plaintiff Lisa Edwards (" plaintiff" ) commenced this action against Jericho Union Free School District (the " District" ), Jericho Union Free School District Board of Education (the " Board" ), Henry L. Grishman, Benjamin Ciuffo, Barbara Bauer, Joseph Prisinzano, and Antony Sinanis, (collectively, " defendants" ) asserting causes of action under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (" Title VII" ), 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983, and the New York Human Rights Law, N.Y. Exec. Law § 296 (" NYHRL" ), which stemmed from the termination of plaintiff's employment with the District. Presently before the Court is defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (" Rule" ) 12(c) and plaintiff's cross-motion to amend her Complaint, made pursuant to Rule 15. For the reasons set forth below, both motions are granted in part and denied in part.

BACKGROUND

The following facts are drawn from the allegations contained in the proposed Amended Complaint (" Am. Compl." ).

I. The Parties

Plaintiff is an African-American female who resides in Suffolk County, New York. The District is an educational body organized under and governed by the laws of the State of New York, and is comprised of all public schools within the Public School System of Jericho, New York. The Board is " a duly constituted administrative body" that has the power to, inter alia, appoint and hire employees of the District. (Am. Compl. ¶ 7.)

Grishman was employed by the District at all relevant times as the Superintendent

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of the District. Ciuffo worked as the District's Assistant Superintendent of Personnel and Educational Operations, and Bauer worked as the Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction for the District. Prisinzano was the Principal of Jericho High School (" Jericho High School" ), and Sinanis worked as the Principal of Cantiague Elementary School (" Cantiague" ).

II. Plaintiff's Employment Between 2006 and 2009

In January 2006, plaintiff was hired as a part-time reading teacher, part-time tutor, and per diem substitute teacher in the District. ( Id. ¶ 17.) In July 2006, plaintiff was appointed to a three-year probationary position as a Reading and ELA Support Teacher at Jericho High School. ( Id. ¶ 20.) During her three-year probationary period, plaintiff was observed and evaluated by Prisinzano as well as other non-party " Curriculum Associates" employed by the District. ( Id. ¶ 21.) These observations and evaluations were generally positive. ( Id. ¶¶ 22, 23.) Toward the end of her probationary period, however, Ciuffo informed plaintiff that " he would not be recommending her for a tenured position." ( Id. ¶ 24.) Ciuffo was " unable to provide [p]laintiff with an explanation for this decision." ( Id. ¶ 25.) Customarily, the Jericho Teachers' Association (the " Union" ) received advanced notice from the District when a probationary teacher, such as plaintiff, was in jeopardy of not receiving tenure. ( Id. ¶ 28.) In this case, however, the Union did not receive any advanced notice that plaintiff " was at risk of being denied tenure or that her performance was unsatisfactory." ( Id. ¶ 29.)

At plaintiff's request, a meeting regarding this decision was held in March 2009 and was attended by plaintiff, Bauer, Ciuffo, Prisinzano, other unnamed District employees, and a Union representative. ( Id. ¶ 30.) For the first time, plaintiff was advised " that those present at this meeting ... had ‘ serious' concerns about Plaintiff's job performance," although no specific examples of such concerns were given. ( Id. ¶¶ 32, 33.) Plaintiff and her Union representative " voiced their concern that the Defendants' conduct was unsubstantiated, unprecedented and racially motivated." ( Id. ¶ 34.) During a subsequent meeting between plaintiff, her Union representative, and Bauer, plaintiff was given " a list of ‘ goals' to be implemented for the remaining 2008-2009 school year." ( Id. ¶ 36.) Plaintiff informed Bauer that she believed these stated goal " contradicted the evaluations, observations, and feedback that Plaintiff recently received." ( Id. ) Plaintiff's final observations and evaluations for the school year were positive in nature. ( Id. ¶ 39.)

III. Plaintiff's Transfer

Subsequently, plaintiff was offered a fourth probationary year. Bauer and Ciuffo informed plaintiff that she " would receive a mentor and additional guidance to ensure her success" in the District. ( Id. ¶ 37.) Plaintiff accepted the offer. ( Id. ¶ 38.) Plaintiff learned, however, that she was to be transferred from Jericho High School to Cantiague. Both plaintiff and her Union representative " objected to this reassignment[,] stating that such a decision was unprecedented, discriminatory and implemented to sabotage the Plaintiff's chances of receiving tenure." ( Id. ¶ 41.) Throughout plaintiff's probationary employment period with the District, she had worked only at the middle school or high school level— never in elementary schools. At the time of plaintiff's transfer, " there was at least one other teacher within the school district who had more experience with elementary children and who was available for reassignment." ( Id. ¶ 43.)

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Plaintiff's position at Jericho High School was filled by a " part-time Caucasian teacher who had less experience than the Plaintiff." ( Id. ¶ 44.)

IV. Plaintiff's Fourth Probationary Year at Cantiague

Plaintiff commenced work at Cantiague in August 2009 under the supervision of Sinanis. Plaintiff contends that her " work environment became stressful and hostile" and that she was " subjected to unscheduled and unannounced classroom observations which caused her to feel anxious and intimidated." ( Id. ¶ 46.) Sinanis would " enter the Plaintiff's classroom unexpectedly" and " stare at her from the back of the class and leave," in an effort to " harass and intimidate" her. ( Id. ¶ 47.) Plaintiff was " repeatedly asked to document every step," although Caucasian teachers were not required to do so. ( Id. ¶ 49.)

Between November 14, 2009 and December 11, 2009, plaintiff was out of work on medical leave, which was " due [to] stress related symptoms caused by the treatment she was receiving while at work." ( Id. ¶ 50.) During her leave, plaintiff " received multiple harassing phone calls from District administrators questioning her intentions to return to work," even though she had already supplied the District with the appropriate paperwork. ( Id. ) When plaintiff returned to work, her " need for medical leave was held against her and she was accused of not completing assignments while absent." ( Id. ¶ 52.)

According to plaintiff, defendants continued to engage in " discriminatory intimidation" against her after her return from medical leave. ( Id. ¶ 53.) Defendants alleged that she had failed to administer tests and provide student services, even though these allegations " were contradicted by the Plaintiff's records." ( Id. ¶ 54.) Although plaintiff " worked with a team of Caucasian teachers, she was singled-out when an issue arose." ( Id. ¶ 55.) Plaintiff learned that certain documents in her personnel file had been " falsified to cover up the discriminatory and disparate treatment to which she was subjected." ( Id. ¶ 56.) On a separate occasion, plaintiff " was directed to provide false information to a parent thereby jeopardizing her job and relationship with her student." ( Id. ¶ 57.)

V. Plaintiff's Employment is Terminated

In January 2010, plaintiff and her Union representative met with Sinanis and Ciuffo, and plaintiff learned that she was to be terminated effective April 30, 2010. Ciuffo offered to write plaintiff a recommendation letter if she voluntarily resigned immediately. Plaintiff was told that if she did not resign, Ciuffo " had a lot of connections to other school districts." ( Id. ¶ 59.) Plaintiff refused to resign effective immediately. Subsequently, the Board " accepted the recommendation" that plaintiff's employment be terminated, and her last day of work was April 30, 2010. ( Id. ¶ 67.) Plaintiff alleges that she " is unaware of any instance where a fourth year teacher was not granted tenure." ( Id. ¶ 66.)

DISCUSSION

I. Legal Standard


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