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Johnson v. New York City Dep't of Educ.

United States District Court, E.D. New York

August 19, 2014

AWAD JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
THE NEW YORK CITY DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION; JOEL I. KLEIN, as Chancellor for the New York City Department of Education; MARIANNE T. FERRARA, individually and in her capacity as Superintendent of Community School District No. 22; PHYLLIS F. MARINO, individually and in her capacity as Principal at I.S. 78, Defendants

For Awad Johnson, Plaintiff: Etta Ibok, Brooklyn, NY.

For The New York City Department of Education, Joel I. Klein, as Chancellor for the New York City Department of Education, Marianne T. Ferrara, individually and in her capacity as Superintendent of Community School, District No. 22, Phyllis F. Marino, individually and in her capacity as Principal at I.S. 78, Defendants: Daniel Chiu, LEAD ATTORNEY, Michael A. Cardozo, Corporation Counsel of the City of New York, New York, NY; Devor Deland Perry, LEAD ATTORNEY, NYC Law Department, New York, NY.

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Plaintiff Awad Johnson brings this action after being denied tenure as an intermediary school principal in the New York City public school system. Alleging that his tenure was denied because of his race, Plaintiff asserts claims for violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act; the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983; and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. Defendants contend that Plaintiff has failed to establish a prima facie case of racial discrimination. Additionally, they offer non-discriminatory reasons for denying Plaintiff tenure. As the undisputed facts fail to establish that Plaintiff was denied tenure under circumstances giving rise to an inference of discrimination, the Court holds that Plaintiff cannot state a prima facie case for discrimination and, accordingly, grants Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment.


I. Events Leading to Denial of Plaintiff's Tenure

Plaintiff has been employed by Defendant New York City Department of Education

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(" DOE" ) since October 1986. Dkt. 52 (Pl.'s Decl. in Opp. to Mot. for Summary Judgment (" Pl.'s Decl." )), ¶ 3. Plaintiff first worked as a school aide and para-professional before becoming a teacher in September 1991. Id. ¶ ¶ 3-4. In March of 2003, Plaintiff was appointed Assistant Principal (" AP" ) at Roy H. Mann Intermediate School (" I.S. 78" ) for a five-year probationary period. Id. ¶ 5. At the completion of the five-year period, Plaintiff was eligible for tenure. Id.

Plaintiff served as an AP under five different principals at I.S. 78. Dkt. 47 (Defs.' R. 56.1 Statement of Undisputed Facts (" Defs.' St." )), ¶ 5. From April 2006 to September 2007, non-party William Woods served as principal of I.S. 78 and supervised Plaintiff. Id. In March and April 2006, after two incidents involving a student bringing a loaded .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol to the school, I.S. 78 was placed on the State of New York's Persistently Dangerous School List (" the List" ). Id. ¶ 7. During this time, Plaintiff was I.S. 78's School Safety Designee. Id. ¶ 6.

In June 2006, Woods gave Plaintiff an " S" (or " satisfactory" ) rating. Id. ¶ 9. Woods stated in his deposition that he gave Plaintiff an " S" because Woods had only been at I.S. 78 for a few months. Id.[1] In June 2007, I.S. 78 was removed from the List and Plaintiff again received a satisfactory rating from Woods. Defs.' St. ¶ 10. Woods testified at his deposition that he gave Plaintiff a satisfactory rating because of Plaintiff's work as School Safety Designee and role in removing I.S. 78 from the List. Id. ¶ 11.[2] Woods also testified that despite giving Plaintiff an " S," he believed that Plaintiff could improve his instructional leadership, which includes supervising and observing teachers, and controlling classrooms. Defs.' St.¶ 12.[3]

Defendant Phyllis Reggio (formerly known as and referred to in the Complaint and Plaintiff's papers as Phyllis " Marino" ) took over as principal at the beginning of the 2007-08 school year. Id. ¶ 5. Upon arrival, she asked Plaintiff to remain in the role of School Safety Designee. Id. ¶ ¶ 22, 24; Pl.'s Decl. ¶ ¶ 60, 68. And while there is some disagreement as to how many times and the exact nature of this request,[4] it is undisputed that Plaintiff declined to continue in this position, citing his 2007-08 school year responsibilities with the 8th grade students. Pl.'s St. ¶ 24; Pl.'s Decl. ¶ 61; Defs.' St. ¶ 22.

II. Denial of Tenure

On January 2, 2008, Reggio verbally informed Plaintiff that he would not be

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granted tenure. Pl.'s Decl. ¶ 7. The next day, Defendant Marianne T. Ferrara, Superintendent of Community School District No. 22, formally denied Plaintiff tenure in a written letter. Id. ¶ 8.

In support of the denial of tenure, Defendants cited Plaintiff's refusal to stay on as School Safety Designee; his failure to implement instructional initiatives, particularly with teacher evaluations; and his failure to order student textbooks. Defs.' St. ¶ 24. Defendants allege that Plaintiff gave every teacher that he observed a satisfactory rating, even when Woods or Reggio would have given the teacher an unsatisfactory rating. Id. ¶ ¶ 13, 21. At her deposition, Reggio testified that Plaintiff was requested to order 500 student textbooks in September 2007, but failed to do so and then lied when asked about the incident. Id. ¶ 23. Reggio also testified that race was not a factor in the decision to deny Plaintiff tenure. Id. ¶ 24.

During their tenures, both individual Defendants appointed African-American APs. Id. ¶ 27. Reggio appointed an African-American AP, Gwendolyn Wiggins-Walcott, as one of Plaintiff's replacements. Id. Ferrera appointed at least six African-American APs. Id. Ferrera granted tenure to at least three African-American APs. Id. During Ferrara's time as superintendent, the only two individuals to whom she denied tenure were Plaintiff and a Caucasian. Id. Furthermore, while AP Cusumano covered Plaintiff's duties for the remainder of the 2007-08 school year following Plaintiff's tenure denial, one of the ultimate replacements for Plaintiff, namely Wiggins-Walcott, was African-American. Id.

Plaintiff opposes Defendants' factual allegations. He provides two teacher review reports from 2006 in which he gave teachers unsatisfactory ratings. Pl.'s Decl. ¶ 34; Dkt. 57-1 (Decl. of Etta Ibok (" Pl.'s Ex." )), Ex. 13.[5] Plaintiff also requests that the Court strike Reggio's testimony because Reggio did not identify the teachers that she believed deserved unsatisfactory ratings.[6] Pl.'s St. ¶ 23; Pl.'s Decl. ¶ ¶ 32-33. With regards to book ordering, Plaintiff denies that he failed to fulfill the book order and characterizes Reggio's testimony as a fabrication to cover up her discriminatory animus. Pl.'s St. ¶ 26. Citing to his own declaration, Plaintiff alleges that Anthony Cusumano, another AP for the 2007-08 school year and a Caucasian male, volunteered to purchase the books, but then failed to obtain authorization for the payments to the vendor. Id.; see also Pl.'s Decl. ¶ ¶ 72-76. Plaintiff testified that as soon as he was informed that the books had not been delivered, he resolved the situation within one hour. Pl.'s Decl. ¶ 75.

The parties present mixed evidence regarding Plaintiff's discrimination claims. At his deposition, Plaintiff testified that he liked working with Reggio and noted that she awarded him a letter of accommodation in November, prior to denying him tenure. Defs.' St. ¶ 26; see ...

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