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Benatouil v. The Calhoun School

Supreme Court, New York County

December 26, 2012

Daniele Benatouil, Plaintiff,
v.
The Calhoun School, Defendant.

Plaintiff represented by: Preston A. Leschins, Esq.

Defendant represented by: HOEY, KING, EPSTEIN, PREZIOSO & MARQUEZ, by Rhonda L. Epstein, Esq.

SHLOMO S. HAGLER, J.

Defendant The Calhoun School ("the School" or "defendant"), moves, under motion sequence #004, for an order pursuant to CPLR § 3212 granting it summary judgment dismissing this action. Plaintiff Daniele Benatouil ("Benatouil" or "plaintiff") opposes the motion and cross-moves, under motion sequence #005, for an order pursuant to CPLR § 3212 granting her summary judgment on her cause of action for breach of her teacher employment contract dated March 18, 2010 between plaintiff and defendant for the school year 2010-2011. (See Exhibits "A" and "B" to the motion, and Exhibit "A" to the cross-motion). Defendant opposes the cross-motion. Both the motion and cross-motion are consolidated herein for disposition.

Background

Plaintiff is a French teacher who was employed for twelve years at the School, which is a private school located at 433 West End Avenue, New York, New York. On or about March 18, 2010, the parties entered into a contract wherein the School agreed to employ Benatouil as a French teacher for the 2010-2011 academic year at an annual salary of $80, 082.00 plus certain benefits ("the Contract").

In May, 2010, Benatouil accompanied six of her high school seniors to a school sponsored trip to France. In order to participate in this educational trip, the parents and students were supposed to complete a "France Registration Form 2009-2010" which included, in part, the following pertinent guideline:

"I will abstain from all alcohol and drugs (except for medications prescribed by my doctor) during the trip."

(See Exhibit "K" to the motion).

Despite this guideline, Benatouil requested written permission from the parents "to let your children drink a glass of wine" during the upcoming trip to France. (See Exhibit "B" to the cross-motion). All the parents subsequently gave such written permission. (Id.) Benatouil then permitted the children to have a glass of wine with dinner in France.

When they returned from France, the students prepared and presented a video and/or slide-show to the rest of the school which showed some of them having wine with dinner. Laverne McDonald ("McDonald"), the associate director of the School, saw the presentation and told Benatouil "that it was very difficult to witness the children having alcohol, given the expectations of our school." (See McDonald Deposition at p. 54, lines 10-13 attached as Exhibit "O" to the motion).

In June, 2010, Benatouil met with McDonald and with director of the School, Dr. Jennifer de Forest ("de Forest"). At that meeting, they discussed Benatouil's performance and the trip to France. What transpired at the meeting is unclear and hotly disputed. Both de Forest and McDonald aver that Benatouil was insubordinate and conducted herself inappropriately and that she voluntarily resigned and packed her belongings immediately after the meeting. Benatouil claims that she acted professionally but was terminated from employment and asked to leave the building. The Head of School, Steven Nelson ("Nelson"), followed-up with a letter to Benatouil dated June 25, 2010, stating that he understood that she had resigned her employment with the School and, if she had not done so, her employment was terminated "for cause" as described in its Employee Handbook. (See Exhibit "H" to the motion and Exhibit "D" to the cross-motion). Nelson cited the following cause for termination:

Your willful disregard of Calhoun's policies regarding alcohol during the recent trip to France and your insubordinate, profane and inappropriate behavior during and following the June 18th meeting are violations of ...

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