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Stembridge v. Nyc Department of Education

United States District Court, S.D. New York.

June 27, 2014



J. PAUL OETKEN, District Judge.

Plaintiff brings this action against the New York City Department of Education ("DOE"), New York City Leadership Academy ("the Academy"), and the New York City Office of General Counsel. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants violated his rights under State and Federal law by (1) expelling him from the Academy; (2) demoting him from the position of assistant principal to the position of teacher, and ultimately substitute teacher; (3) attempting (unsuccessfully) to recoup salary paid to him while an assistant principal; (4) creating a hostile work environment for him; (5) manufacturing allegations of sexual harassment and verbal abuse against him; and (6) failing to hire him for principal positions. Defendants move to dismiss the complaint under Rules 12(b)(1), (b)(2), and (b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons that follow, Defendants' motion is granted.

I. Background

The following factual background is based on Plaintiff's well-pleaded factual allegations, which are assumed true for purposes of this motion.

Plaintiff is currently a substitute teacher in New York City public schools. He aspires to be a principal. In July 2006, Plaintiff enrolled in the Academy's "Aspiring Principals" program. In August of the same year, he was removed from the program and demoted from the position of "assistant principal" to the position of "teacher." Nonetheless, Plaintiff continued to receive an assistant principal's salary until March 20, 2008. Plaintiff alleges that this was not a mere oversight, but rather an attempt by the DOE to fraudulently fix the accrual date of his cause of action in 2006, rather than in 2008, where Plaintiff believes it ought to be.

When it ceased to pay Plaintiff an Assistant Principal's salary, DOE sought to recover the amount it believed it had overpaid Plaintiff over the preceding two school years by withholding the difference from Plaintiff's paychecks during 2008. Plaintiff took exception with this, and the matter went to arbitration. Plaintiff prevailed and DOE was ordered to repay Plaintiff the amount it had withheld. It did.

In June 2009, Plaintiff was demoted to a "substitute teacher, " which is the title he currently holds. In September 2009, Plaintiff was transferred from Frederick Douglass High School to Chelsea High School, where he was harassed by the principal, subjected to a hostile work environment, and falsely charged with sexual harassment and verbal abuse of his students.

Throughout the relevant period (2006-2013), Plaintiff interviewed for "hundreds" of Principal positions throughout New York City. None of these attempts was successful because-according to several principals and superintendents with whom Plaintiff has discussed the matter-DOE's Executive Officer had told all the hiring schools that Plaintiff should be "blacklisted." (Dkt. No. 12, Plaintiff's Amended Complaint, at 1, 5.)

In August 2009, Plaintiff, then represented by counsel, brought suit against Defendants in New York State Supreme Court, alleging employment discrimination in violation of the New York State Human Rights Law ("NYSHRL") and the New York City Human Rights Law ("NYCHRL"). On March 18, 2010, the State Court dismissed Plaintiff's action on statute of limitations grounds. This ruling was upheld by the Appellate Division, Stembridge v. New York City Dep't of Educ., 88 A.D.3d 611 (1st Dep't 2011), and the Court of Appeals denied leave to appeal, 19 N.Y.3d 802 (2012) (unpublished). The state courts found that Plaintiff's causes of action against DOE "accrued on August 15, 2006, when he was terminated from an Aspiring Principals program." Stembridge, 88 A.D.3d 611.

Plaintiff brought the instant lawsuit on September 18, 2012. Chief Judge Preska dismissed the suit sua sponte on statute of limitations grounds, initially denying leave to amend. (Dkt. No. 4, Order of Dismissal.) Upon Plaintiff's request, Judge Preska allowed Plaintiff an opportunity to amend his pleadings with instructions that he cure the defects of his prior pleadings-namely, that he plead violations of law that occurred recently enough to be within the relevant statutes of limitations. (Dkt. No. 10.) This case was subsequently reassigned to the undersigned.

II. Discussion

A. Legal Standard

To survive a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a plaintiff must plead sufficient factual allegations "to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). A claim is facially plausible "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Courts must accept as true all well-pleaded factual allegations in the complaint, and "draw... all inferences in the plaintiff's favor." Allaire Corp. v. Okumus, 433 F.3d 248, 249-50 (2d Cir. 2006) (internal quotation marks omitted). But mere threadbare assertions of legal conclusions are not presumed true. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Pro se complaints are read with special solicitude, and ...

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