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Williams v. Department of Education of City of New York

United States District Court, Second Circuit

June 3, 2013



RONALD L. ELLIS, Magistrate Judge.



Plaintiff Carolyn Williams ("Williams") brings this action pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., Williams claims that the Department of Education of the City of New York ("DOE") discriminated against her on the basis of race by terminating her employment as a full-time probationary paraprofessional. The DOE moves for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. For the reasons that follow, I recommend that the DOE's motion be GRANTED.


Williams identifies as an African-American. (Caroline Williams Dep., June 26, 2012 ("Williams Dep.") 10:1-2.) Starting in January 2008, she was employed by the DOE as a substitute paraprofessional on a part-time, as-needed basis at P.S. 176X, a school for children with special needs and autism. (Decl. of Principal Rima Ritholtz ("Ritholtz Decl.") ¶¶ 2, 8-10; Williams Dep. 41:7-13.) P.S. 176X has approximately 765 students between the ages of five and twenty-one. (Ritholtz Dccl. (1-2.) A certified teacher, assisted by one or more paraprofessionals, runs a class of six to twelve students (Ritholtz Decl. 2.)

In November 2010, P.S. 176X Principal Rima Ritholtz approved Williams for a full-time paraprofessional position. (Ritholtz Decl.¶¶ 7-8.) Williams began her probationary period on November 23, 2010. (Decl. of Neal Brandenburg ("Brandenburg Decl.") ¶ 3.) The probationary period for full-time paraprofessionals is ninety-two school days, excluding holidays and weekends, after which a paraprofessional acquires grievance rights pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement that governs DOE employment. ( Id. )

Williams worked in a classroom that was divided by bookcases into two separate areas. (Williams Dep. 57:4-5, 14-24.) Williams was responsible for assisting Angela Guglielmo, a teacher at the school. (Williams Dep. 51:3-5; 53:7-15.) Guglielmo's class contained four students, with two students being assigned to their own paraprofessionals. (Williams Dep. 78:16-25.) Guglielmo worked on one side of the classroom, while another teacher, Danielle Zoella, along with her own paraprofessional, Dulce Infante, supervised a different class on the other side of the classroom. (Williams Dep. 57:4-5, 14-24; 135:21-22.)

A. Williams's Incident with Angela Guglielmo

On February 11, 2011, Williams had an argument with Guglielmo while students were in the classroom. Williams raised her voice, was described as being upset, and told Guglielmo to "go and get your mother." (Williams Dep. 123: 16-24; 124:18.) Several staff members at P.S. 176X reported that Williams was yelling at Guglielmo, banging her hand on the desk, slamming the lockers in the classroom, and told Guglielmo that she did not "care if you go get your momma." (Decl. of Assist. Corp. Counsel Damion K.L. Stodola ("Stodola Decl."), Ex. F.) Williams admits that she "started closing doors, " but testified that she "wasn't running around slamming doors." (Williams Dep. 126: 2-5.)

Principal Ritholtz was not present in the classroom at any time during the incident. (Ritholtz Decl. ¶ 11.) Both Zoella, the teacher in the adjoining classroom, and Infante, the classroom paraprofessional in the adjoining classroom, witnessed the incident and provided written statements. (Ritholtz Decl. ¶ 13.) In addition, Vernee Butterfield, a speech therapist, who witnessed the incident, and Kimberly DiDio, a teacher, who was in an other adjoining classroom, provided witness statements. (Ritholtz Decl. ¶ 13.)

B. Williams's Termination

By letter dated February 18, 2011, Ritholtz terminated Williams's probationary service. (Ritholtz Decl. ¶ 14.) The letter describes the allegations concerning the February 11, 2011 incident, and stated that several staff members reported to assistant principal Yvette Berger that Williams lost her temper and was yelling at a teacher in front of her students. (Stodola Decl., Ex. F.) The termination letter also stated that when asked to assist an autistic student Williams was insubordinate and her conduct was "unbecoming [of] a professional educator." ( Id. )

Before the February 11, 2011 incident, Williams had met with Ritholtz and other members of the classroom to discuss general classroom friction. (Ritholtz Decl. ¶ 18.) She was not ...

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