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Mitchum v. ITT Educ. Servs., Inc.

United States District Court, Second Circuit

September 25, 2013

ITT EDUC. SERVS., INC., Defendant.

MICHAEL H. SUSSMAN, ESQ., SUSSMAN & WATKINS, Goshen, NY, Council for Plaintiff.

JOHN E. HIGGINS, ESQ, NIXON PEABODY LLP, Albany, NY, Counsel for Defendant


GLENN T. SUDDABY, District Judge.

Currently before the Court, in this employment discrimination action filed by Amanda Mitchum ("Plaintiff") against ITT Educational Services, Inc. ("Defendant" or "ITT"), is Defendant's motion for summary judgment. (Dkt. No. 32.) For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion is granted, and Plaintiff's Complaint is dismissed.


A. Plaintiff's Complaint

Generally, liberally construed, Plaintiff's Complaint alleges that Plaintiff, an African-American female, was terminated from her employment at ITT on the basis of her race. ( See generally Dkt. No. 1 [Plf.'s Compl.].) More specifically, Plaintiff alleges as follows.

In 2008, Defendant hired a new director, Michael Mariani, a Caucasian. ( Id. ) At the time, Plaintiff was the Registrar of ITT, where she was the only minority administrator (along with her assistant). ( Id. ) Shortly after his arrival, Mr. Mariani began altering longstanding ITT policies and procedures. ( Id. ) Among these changes was the prospective elimination of the "dual major option, " by which enrollees could concurrently have two majors. ( Id. )

After the implementation of that new policy, Defendant's academic departments rebelled against the new policy and allowed students to switch back and forth between majors throughout their studies, thereby perpetuating dual majors. ( Id. ) Plaintiff reported the departmental circumvention of his new policy to Mr. Mariani on two occasions. ( Id. )

However, Mr. Mariani took no effectual measures to enforce his new policy with the administrators who were circumventing it. ( Id. ) Instead, he terminated Plaintiff for "believing" the former dean (i.e., Dan Nicolaescu, who was terminated months before Plaintiff and for entirely different reasons), for permitting dual majors, and for (Mr. Mariani claimed) being responsible for certain allegedly missing documents from the dual majors' files. ( Id. )

However, these reasons were entirely pretextual. ( Id. ) This is because, when he fired Plaintiff on February 1, 2012, Mr. Mariani knew that white administrators had intentionally circumvented the same policy he claimed Plaintiff had violated and had not imposed any sanctions or discipline upon them (including Dean Nicolescu and Associate Dean Berryman and members of the finance team, each of whom signed off on dual majors after Mr. Mariani directed that the practice desist). ( Id. ) In addition, the documents that Mr. Mariani claimed Plaintiff was responsible for were not the responsibility of the Registrar-a fact that Plaintiff explained to Mr. Mariani on February 1, 2010. ( Id. )

Despite this fact, Mr. Mariani terminated Plaintiff and replaced her with a Caucasian. ( Id. ) Following her termination, Plaintiff has not found comparable employment, despite diligent efforts to do so. ( Id. ) Because of Defendant's actions, Plaintiff has been denied substantial income and benefits and has suffered substantial emotional distress, anxiety, anguish and stress, resulting in her suffering the loss of a child she had been carrying. ( Id. )

Based on these (and other) factual allegations, Plaintiff's Complaint asserts the following three claims: (1) a claim of race discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. ("Title VII"); (2) a claim of race discrimination under 42 U.S.C. § 1981; and (3) a claim of race discrimination under Section 296 of the New York State Human Right's Law ("NYHRL"). ( Id. ) Familiarity with the remaining factual allegations supporting these claims in Plaintiff's Complaint is assumed in this Decision and Order, which is intended primarily for review by the parties. ( Id. )

B. Undisputed Material Facts

Unless otherwise noted, the following recitation of material facts is derived from a comparison of Defendant's record-supported factual assertions in its Statement of Material Facts ("Rule 7.1 Statement") and Plaintiff's response thereto ("Rule 7.1 Response"). ( Compare Dkt. No. 32, Attach. 2 [Def.'s Rule 7.1 Statement] with Dkt. No. 38 [Plf.'s Rule 7.1 Response].)

1. Background Facts About the Parties

Defendant owns and operates a group of ITT Technical Institutes, "all of which are part of a leading private college system focused on technology-oriented programs of study and actively involved in the higher education community in the United States since 1969."

Plaintiff, who is African-American, was initially hired by Defendant as a sales representative at ITT in 2001. She was promoted to the position of Registrar of ITT's Albany campus on February 4, 2004, and she remained in that position until she was terminated six years later, on February 1, 2010.

At the time of her termination, Plaintiff reported directly to Michael Mariani, who was the Director of ITT's Albany campus at the time. Mr. Mariani was promoted to this position effective April 1, 2008, after working in a variety of other positions for ITT's campus in Getzville, New York.

2. Plaintiff's Responsibilities as Registrar

As the Registrar, Plaintiff was one of five functional managers of ITT's Albany campus who reported directly to Mr. Mariani; the four others were the Dean, the Director of Finance, the Director of Recruitment, and the Director of Career Services. In general, Plaintiff was responsible (as the Registrar) for "managing student course scheduling... in accordance with Company goals and objectives, " and "manag[ing] student records and enrollment status from admissions through graduation." In addition to these general responsibilities, Plaintiff was required (as the Registrar) to perform a number of "essential job functions, " including the following: (1) managing the college's course scheduling system and processes; (2) determining course schedules for students and resolving conflicts with the Dean regarding student and course schedules; (3) managing requests for student program and course status changes, student requests for transcripts, and enrollment and/or degree verification; (4) conducting degree audits to ensure students met program requirements and approving graduation eligibility of students; and (5) directing the maintenance and security of student admissions and security records. No other functional manager of ITT's Albany campus had these same specific duties and responsibilities, and no other functional manager was responsible (as was Plaintiff) for actually registering students for programs and scheduling them for courses.[1]

In addition, Plaintiff was the "policy owner" of ITT's Registration Admissions Policy Manual, which governed her duties as Registrar. Plaintiff knew that she was an "at will employee, " and that she could be terminated by ITT at any time and for any lawful reason. Plaintiff also knew that ITT reserved the right under its policies to terminate any employee immediately, and without any lesser forms of corrective action depending on the circumstances, if deemed necessary by Human Resources. Among other things, ITT Albany has a written "Corrective Action Process, " which generally consists of three levels of discretionary action, and which states as follows, in pertinent part:

The corrective action process is applied at the sole discretion of ITT[] and begins at any time and at any level deemed appropriate by ITT[].... Depending on the situation... ITT[] may... modify [or] omit... any corrective action without reference to the levels of corrective action. ITT[] also reserves the right to terminate employees immediately, if such action is deemed necessary by Human Resources. All corrective actions are determined on a case-by-case basis and at the discretion of ITT[].

(Dkt. No. 37, Attach. 5, at 2.)

3. Plaintiff's Job Performance Generally

Between approximately February of 2003 and February of 2009, Plaintiff received reviews with a final rating of "standard" or "usually above standard." (Dkt. No. 33, Attach. 5, at 2-17; Dkt. No. 34, Attach. 1, at 3-43.) In addition, in 2009, she received a "Manager of the Year" award.[2]

In approximately June of 2008, Plaintiff asked Director Mariani for training for advancement, although she did not ask to be enrolled in any particular training program.[3] He responded, "Okay, we'll talk about it."[4]

In approximately September of 2008, Director Mariani stopped Plaintiff's practice of pulling from class students who had not, within 30 days of starting class, provided to ITT Albany his or her immunization records (which were required by New York State law): specifically, he directed her to, instead of pulling the students from class, send them additional correspondence and then, if they still failed to provide the immunization records, direct them to go speak to Director Mariani personally.[5]

4. Plaintiff's Registration of "Dual Majors"

As of at least May of 2006, ITT's Albany campus permitted students to enroll in dual programs of study; at the time, Plaintiff had certain questions for Lisa Burr (ITT's National Register at the time) regarding the process.[6] By mid-June of 2006, Plaintiff was required to document the "[d]ual [m]ajor process" (pursuant to which any student who wished to dual enroll had to send an email to the Dean with an official request, the Dean approved or ...

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