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Claudio v. Mattituck-Cutchogue Union Free School District

United States District Court, E.D. New York

April 16, 2014

ANTHONY M. CLAUDIO, Plaintiff,
v.
MATTITUCK-CUTCHOGUE UNION FREE SCHOOL DISTRICT, Defendant.

Plaintiff is represented by Frank J. Blangiardo, Frank J. Blangiardo, Esq., Cutchogue, NY.

Defendant is respected by Jeltje DeJong, Joshua S. Shteierman, and Kelly E Wright, Devitt Spellman Barrett, LLP, Smithtown, NY.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

JOSEPH F. BIANCO, District Judge.

A jury found that the Matttituck-Cutchogue Union Free School District ("defendant" or "District") unlawfully terminated the employment of Anthony M. Claudio ("plaintiff' or "Claudio") on the basis of plaintiff's age, in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"). The jury awarded $70, 000.00 as back pay damages.

Presently before the Court is plaintiff's motion for reinstatement of a position, front pay, lost benefits, attorneys' fees, and costs. For the reasons that follow, plaintiff's motion is granted in part and denied in part. First, the Court orders that defendant reinstate plaintiff to a teaching position in the District for which plaintiff is qualified. Specifically, on August 1, 2013, for the reasons stated on the record, the Court ordered orally on the record that defendant reinstate plaintiff to a teaching position in the District, defendant complied with the Court's order, and plaintiff has been teaching for the District since September 2013. This Memorandum and Order contains analysis memorializing the Court's reinstatement decision. In particular, the Court finds that there are positions available in the District for which plaintiff is qualified, and that this litigation has not irreparably damaged the relationship between plaintiff and defendant. However, although the Court orders reinstatement, the Court also concludes that plaintiff is not entitled to reinstatement with tenure, and that the seniority credit he accrued before his unlawful termination does not apply in his new teaching position. Second, the Court awards plaintiff front pay damages in the amount of $19, 745, which represents plaintiffs lost wages in between the jury's verdict and the date of his reinstatement. Third, the Court orders defendant to make the contributions to plaintiff's pension plan that defendant would have made had plaintiff continued to work full-time as a teacher from the date of his unlawful termination until the date of the jury's verdict. However, because the record is unclear as to whether plaintiff would have been entitled to any automatic salary increases over that period of time (such that it would have affected the amount of contributions to his pension), the Court orders that the parties submit supplemental letters on that issue before the Court determines the specific amount of contributions defendant must make to plaintiffs pension. Fourth, the Court awards plaintiff $83, 447.50 in attorneys' fees, which represents 333.79 hours of his attorney's time at a rate of $250 per hour. Because plaintiff's attorney has not submitted documentation supporting plaintiffs request for costs, the Court defers decision on this request and grants plaintiff the opportunity to submit such documentation.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Facts

The Court has set forth the background facts of this case in a prior order denying defendant's post-trial motions, see Claudio v. Mattituck-Cutchogue Union Free Sch. Dist., 955 F.Supp.2d 118 (E.D.N.Y. 2013), and does not repeat those facts here. Instead, the Court discusses all relevant facts in conjunction with its analysis of each issue raised by the instant motion.

B. Procedural Background

Plaintiff commenced this action against defendant on December 1, 2009. He alleged gender and age discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000(e) et seq., the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the ADEA, as well as under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983, the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, and New York laws against discrimination.

Plaintiff subsequently withdrew his federal claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act and his claims under New York State law. On September 29, 2011, the Court denied orally on the record defendant's motion for summary judgment on both plaintiff's ADEA claim and gender discrimination claim under Title VII; the Court granted the motion as to all other federal claims.

The remaining claims-gender discrimination under Title VII and age discrimination under the ADEA-were tried before a jury from October 9, 2012 to October 22, 2012. On October 22, 2012, the jury returned a unanimous verdict for plaintiff on his age discrimination claim, finding that defendant had discriminated against plaintiff based upon his age in connection with its termination of his employment as a teacher. The jury awarded $70, 000.00 as back pay damages and $1.00 in nominal damages against the District. With regard to plaintiffs gender discrimination claim, the jury returned a verdict in defendant's favor.

Following the jury's verdict, defendant moved for (1) judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(b), and (2) a new trial pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59. Plaintiff crossmoved for reinstatement of a position, front pay, lost benefits, attorneys' fees, and costs. On July 24, 2013, the Court denied defendant's Rule 50 and Rule 59 motions, except insofar as the Court vacated the jury's award of nominal damages to plaintiff. The Court also ordered supplemental briefing on the issues of reinstatement, front pay, and lost benefits, and ordered plaintiff to submit supplemental documentation in support of his motion for attorneys' fees.

On August 1, 2013, the Court held a hearing on the issue of reinstatement. At the end of the hearing, the Court granted orally plaintiff's motion for reinstatement. After the Court's reinstatement order, plaintiff resumed teaching for the District as a fourth grade teacher.

On September 16, 2013, plaintiff submitted supplemental briefing on his motion for reinstatement, front pay, lost benefits, attorneys' fees, and costs. Defendant submitted a supplemental memorandum in opposition to plaintiff's motion on October 4, 2013, and plaintiff replied on October 17, 2013. Defendant filed a sur-reply letter on October 21, 2013. The Court has fully considered all of the parties' submissions.

II. POST-TRIAL REMEDIES

A. Reinstatement

1. Legal Standard

The Second Circuit has "repeatedly emphasized the importance of equitable relief in employment cases." Reiter v. MTA NY.C. Transit Auth., 457 F.3d 224, 230 (2d Cir. 2006). The ADEA, in particular, "confers upon the courts a broad grant of remedial authority' with which district judges are encouraged to fashion remedies designed to ensure that victims of age discrimination are made whole.' Banks v. Travelers Cos., 180 F.3d 358, 364 (2d Cir. 1999) (quoting Whittlesey v. Union Carbide Corp., 742 F.2d 724, 727-28 (2d Cir. 1984)). "Among the forms of equitable relief explicitly authorized by the ADEA is reinstatement of the plaintiffs employment." Id. The ADEA provides, in relevant part:

In any action brought to enforce this chapter the court shall have jurisdiction to grant such legal or equitable relief as may be appropriate to effectuate the purposes of this chapter, including without limitation judgments compelling employment, reinstatement or promotion, or enforcing the liability for amounts deemed to be unpaid minimum wages or unpaid overtime compensation under this section.

29 U.S.C. § 626(b). Reinstatement, coupled with an award of back pay damages, is the preferred remedy for a victim of age discrimination because it "involve[s] the least amount of uncertainty." Whittlesey, 742 F.2d at 728; see, e.g., Morgenstern v. Cnty. of Nassau, No. 04-CV-58 (ARL), 2009 WL 5103158, at *5 (E.D.N.Y. Dec. 15, 2009) ("[R]einstatement is the preferred remedy rather than front pay." (internal quotation marks and citations omitted)); Reiter v. Metro. Transp. Auth. of NY., No. 01-C2762 (JGK), 2003 WL 22271223, at *13 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 30, 2003) ("Reinstatement is the favored form of relief in discrimination and retaliation cases."); Miano v. AC&R Adver., Inc., 875 F.Supp. 204, 224 (S.D.N.Y. 1995) ("The court recognizes the strong preference for reinstatement as the remedy for future lost earnings in discrimination cases."). "[I]n effect, [reinstatement and back pay] reestablish the prior employment relationship between the parties and at the same time assure the plaintiff of employment free of discrimination based on age." Whittlesey, 742 F.2d at 728.

Although reinstatement is the preferred remedy for employment discrimination, the Second Circuit has held that reinstatement is not a possible remedy where (1) there is "no position available for plaintiff at the time of judgment" or (2) "the employer-employee relationship [was] irreparably damaged by animosity associated with the litigation." Id .; see, e.g., Banks, 180 F.3d at 364 ("We have recognized, however, that reinstatement is not always feasible for instance, because no position may be available or because animosity may impede the resumption of a reasonable employer-employee relationship."); see also Zakre v. Norddeutsche Landesbank Girozentrale, 541 F.Supp.2d 555, 570 (S.D.N.Y. 2008) ("In the instant case, reinstatement is not feasible, given the damaged relationship between the parties."), aff'd, 344 F.Appx. 628 (2d Cir. 2009). In such a circumstance, "[w]here an ADEA plaintiff is entitled to forward-looking relief but reinstatement is inappropriate, the district court has discretion to award front pay." Kirsch v. Fleet St., Ltd., 148 F.3d 149, 169 (2d Cir. 1998); see Whittlesey, 742 F.2d at 729 ("[W]e think that front pay is, in limited circumstances, an appropriate remedy under the ADEA."); Vernon v. Port Auth. of N.Y. & N.J., 220 F.Supp.2d 223, 236 (S.D.N.Y. 2002) ("[T]he Second Circuit repeatedly has upheld awards of front pay, when reinstatement is not an option.").

Neither reinstatement nor front pay are appropriate, however, "where the employment term would already have ended by the time of judgment." Banks, 180 F.3d at 365; see Kirsch, 148 F.3d at 169 ("[R]einstatement is a forward-looking remedy that should not be awarded where the plaintiff's eligibility for relief under the ADEA has terminated before judgment"); Geller v. Markham, 635 F.2d 1027, 1036 (2d Cir. 1980) (reinstatement was inappropriate where plaintiff had been hired for only a one year term, unlawfully fired at the beginning of that term, and that term had expired before judgment). In other words, a court should not fashion remedies that give a victim of age discrimination more than he would have received in the absence of such discrimination.

2. Application

As an initial matter, defendant maintains that plaintiff is not entitled to any forward looking remedy (either reinstatement or front pay) because plaintiff was not entitled to employment with the District beyond his probationary term of one year, covering the 2008-2009 academic year. The Court disagrees. Although defendant is correct that prospective relief is inappropriate "where the employment term would already have ended by the time of judgment, " the Second Circuit held in Banks that prospective relief is available where the plaintiff introduces evidence "from which it could be inferred that she would have been retained... had she not been discharged discriminatorily." Banks, 180 F.3d at 365. Here, the entire premise of the jury's back pay award was that plaintiff would have been employed by the District after the 2008-2009 academic year, but for unlawful age discrimination. In its July 24, 2013 Memorandum and Opinion, the Court held that this verdict was supported by the evidence. See Claudio, 955 F.Supp.2d at 160-61. In other words, there was sufficient evidence introduced at trial from which it could be inferred that plaintiff would have been retained by the District had he not been subject to age discrimination. Accordingly, the Court concludes that prospective relief is appropriate in this case.

Next, the Court must decide whether reinstatement is a possible form of forwardlooking relief in the instant case, keeping in mind the Second Circuit's preference for reinstatement over front pay damages. Defendant argues that reinstatement is inappropriate because there are no vacant positions for which plaintiff is qualified, and this litigation has irreparably damaged plaintiff's relationship with the District and its employees. For the following reasons, the Court disagrees, and holds that reinstatement is an appropriate remedy in this case.

First, the Court finds that there is an available teaching position within the District for which the plaintiff is qualified. Although defendant previously submitted evidence that there were no vacant positions in the District ( see McKenna Aff. ¶ 4, Jan. 22, 2013), by letter dated July 30, 2013, defense counsel informed the Court "that there is one vacant position in the elementary school which falls within Mr. Claudio's area of certification" (ECF No. 84). At the August 1, 2013 hearing, the Court did not require the District to reinstate plaintiff to that particular position, but the Court did find that the school district was hiring teachers. In other words, reinstating plaintiff to a teaching position with the District would not entail the termination of an innocent third party. Cf. Wylucki v. Barberio, No. 99-CV-1036SR, 2001 WL 34013676, at *3 (W.D.N.Y. Aug. 24, 2001) ("Since reinstatement ...


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