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

United States District Court, S.D. New York

September 16, 2014

JOAN MAZUR, Plaintiff,

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For Joan Mazur, Plaintiff: Steven Anthony Morelli, LEAD ATTORNEY, The Law Office of Steven A. Morelli, Garden City, NY; Paul Andrew Bartels, Law Office of Louis D. Stober, Jr., LLC, Garden City, NY.

For New York City Department of Education, Regina Dominguez, Defendants: Amy Jacobson Kessler, LEAD ATTORNEY, Ricardo Tapia, Jr, NYC Law Department, New York, NY.

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ANALISA TORRES, United States District Judge.

In 2003, Plaintiff, Joan Mazur, a 49-year-old teacher, began working at Grover Cleveland High School in Queens, New York. In 2008, she injured her ankle and was absent from school for six weeks. Plaintiff claims that after her injury, her supervisor, Assistant Principal Regina Dominguez, began to treat her unfairly by giving Plaintiff unjustified, negative reviews and burdening her with extra work. The New York City Department of Education (" DOE" ) referred administrative charges against Plaintiff in 2010 and 2012. Hearings were held in both instances, and Plaintiff was twice disciplined. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants, Dominguez and the DOE, discriminated against her on the basis of her age and disability and created a hostile work environment in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (" ADEA" ), the Americans with Disabilities Act (" ADA" ), New York State Executive Law § 290 (" NYSHRL" ), and Title 8 of the New York City Administrative Code (" NYCHRL" ). Plaintiff also alleges that Defendants retaliated against her for filing discrimination complaints. Because Defendants have shown that a reasonable jury could not find that Plaintiff was discriminated against, Defendants' motion for summary judgment is GRANTED.


I. Plaintiff's Prior Employment at the Department of Education

Plaintiff began working for the DOE as a substitute teacher in 1988. Pl. 56.1 Counter-Statement of Material Facts (" Pl. 56.1" ) ¶ 2. She stopped working for the DOE in 1994 but continued to work in other educational settings for the next decade. Pl. 56.1 ¶ 3. Plaintiff began working for the DOE again in 2003 at Grover Cleveland High School as a Spanish teacher and an English as a Second Language (" ESL" ) teacher. Pl. 56.1 ¶ 4. She briefly taught at Far Rockaway High School from 2004 to 2005 and then returned to teach at Grover Cleveland for the 2005-2006 school year up through the 2011-2012 school year. Pl. 56.1 ¶ ¶ 6-7. Plaintiff received tenure in 2006. Pl. 56.1 ¶ 10.

II. 2003-2007 School Years

When Plaintiff began at Grover Cleveland, she was supervised and reviewed by Assistant Principal Ana Zambrano-Burakov. Pl. 56.1 ¶ 5. In a December 8, 2003 classroom observation, Zambrano-Burakov rated Plaintiff's lesson as satisfactory and offered several recommendations for improvement, including writing more detailed lesson plans and asking Plaintiff to share copies of the plans with Zambrano-Burakov for her review. Pl. Ex. E, at 313. For Plaintiff's 2003-2004 annual professional performance review, Plaintiff received a satisfactory rating. The 2003-2004 review also noted nine absences. Pl. Ex. E, at D000098. At the time, Dominick Scarola was the Principal of Grover Cleveland and signed off on Plaintiff's annual performance reviews. Pl. 56.1 ¶ 15. Beginning in 2005, Assistant Principal Regina Dominguez became Plaintiffs supervisor. Dominquez is three years older than Plaintiff. Pl. 56.1 ¶ ¶ 8, 14. In a December 6, 2006 classroom observation, Dominguez rated Plaintiff's lesson as satisfactory. Pl. Ex. E, at 309. As part of her recommendations for improvement, Dominguez suggested that Plaintiff collect and review

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homework and have students correct the grammar in their work before reading it. In her 2005-2006 annual performance review, Plaintiff received a satisfactory rating, and the review noted ten absences. Pl. Ex. E, at D000097. In another classroom observation conducted on March 20, 2007, Plaintiff received a satisfactory rating from Dominguez. Suggestions for this lesson included having a tardy log out and visible, adhering to class rituals and procedures, and managing lesson time better. Pl. Ex. E, at 307. Plaintiff received a satisfactory rating for her 2006-2007 annual performance review, and the review noted six absences. Pl. Ex. E, at D000096.

III. 2008-2009 School Year

In February 2008, Plaintiff sprained her ankle and did not return to Grover Cleveland for approximately six weeks until April 8 or April 9. Pl. Ex. D (" Mazur Dep." ) 31:12-14, 34:7-13. Plaintiff was unable to drive and required assistance walking during the six-week period. Mazur Dep. 33:15-24. While Plaintiff was out, she exchanged " [a] few telephone calls and a few emails" with Dominguez in which Dominquez asked about when Plaintiff might return, potential substitutes for Plaintiff's class, and other things. Mazur Dep. 35:10-23.

In her deposition, Plaintiff described Dominguez's tone on the telephone as " very annoyed, very irritated, [and] very angry." Mazur Dep. 36:11. When asked whether there was anything discriminatory or any mention of her age in the email exchanges between Plaintiff and Dominguez, Plaintiff said that there was nothing discriminatory but that Plaintiff was being very accommodating because most teachers on sick leave did not offer to assist while out. Mazur Dep. 40:25-41:22. Plaintiff said the usual approach to leave was " I'm home sick and that's the end of it and you'll see me when I get back." Mazur Dep. 41:10-12. When Plaintiff returned to Grover Cleveland, her relationship with Dominguez was " still cordial." Mazur Dep. 42:15-18.

Dominguez conducted a classroom observation of Plaintiff in June 2008 and gave her a " minimally satisfactory" rating. Def. Ex. M. The observation made several recommendations, including making grammar corrections first before reading assignments and managing lesson time better. Plaintiff's annual performance review, dated June 28, 2008 and covering the 2007-2008 school year, rated Plaintiff as satisfactory and indicated thirty absences. Def. Ex. N.

On December 18, 2008, Dominguez conducted a classroom observation of Plaintiff and rated her lesson as unsatisfactory. Def. Ex. O. The report stated that the lesson was wanting " because there were major problems due to your failure to implement a well planned lesson" and the lesson was " sketchy" and " incomplete." Def. Ex. O. The report listed several areas where Plaintiff's performance had been deficient, including her failure to collect homework, failure to adhere to rituals, and failure to manage lesson time appropriately. Although Plaintiff disagreed with the criticisms and recommendations in the observation, Plaintiff did not believe that her unsatisfactory rating in December 2008 was connected to her age but rather to her ankle injury. Mazur Dep. 60:4-7.

As a result of the unsatisfactory observation, Dominguez requested that Plaintiff provide her with her weekly lesson plans in order to allow Dominguez to review and assist Plaintiff in her planning techniques. Def. Ex. O. In a " Log of Assistance," dated March 4, 2009, Dominguez offered to meet with Plaintiff regarding her course instruction and suggested that Plaintiff observe two other ESL teachers, Ms. Mosquea and

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Ms. Rozos. Def. Ex. P. Plaintiff observed the two other ESL teachers, who were both younger than Plaintiff, and noted in her deposition that the ESL teachers were more skilled in using classroom technology and that this was a " very good thing." Mazur Dep. 64:11-66:18. Plaintiff ultimately received a satisfactory rating in her 2008-2009 annual performance review and report, and the review noted fifteen absences. Def. Ex. Q.

IV. 2009-2010 School Year

During the 2009-2010 school year, Dominguez conducted classroom observations on October 22, 2009, March 11, 2010 and March 18, 2010, and she rated Plaintiff's lessons as satisfactory on these occasions. Def. Exs. R, S, T. Some of the recommendations for improvement included better lesson structure and time management. See, e.g., Def. Ex. S. At Plaintiff's deposition, Plaintiff agreed with the October rating and did not believe that there was anything discriminatory about the October observation. Mazur Dep. 74:6-11. Although Plaintiff believed that Dominguez wanted to give her an unsatisfactory rating, she said that Dominguez " wanted to work on one teacher at a time" and had already planned to give another teacher an unsatisfactory rating. Mazur Dep. 75:1-19. Plaintiff conceded that the other teacher who ultimately received an unsatisfactory rating was fifteen years younger than Plaintiff, and Plaintiff did not believe her October satisfactory rating was connected to her 2008 ankle injury. Mazur Dep. 76:6-12. Similarly, although Plaintiff believed that the March satisfactory ratings were subjective, Plaintiff did not think that the March observation rating was connected to her age or her ankle injury. Mazur Dep. 79:1-19; 80:1-3.

By letter dated April 29, 2010, Assistant Principal Thadia Louis admonished Plaintiff for her excessive tardiness and absenteeism. Def. Ex. U. The letter stated that Louis, Plaintiff, and Plaintiffs union representative Brian Gavin had met on October 22, 2009 and on April 28, 2010 to discuss the absences and that continued infractions would result in an unsatisfactory rating and/or termination.

In her 2009-2010 annual performance review, Plaintiff received an overall rating of unsatisfactory due to unsatisfactory " [a]ttendance and punctuality." Def. Ex. V. The review indicated that Plaintiff had been absent more than thirteen days. Plaintiff did not understand why she was rated unsatisfactory, as she had received satisfactory ratings throughout the year and she had not received an unsatisfactory rating in previous years despite having more absences and unsatisfactory observations. Mazur Dep. 81:10-82:7. Plaintiff appealed the unsatisfactory rating, but it was upheld. Mazur Dep. 87:23-90:5.

V. The First Disciplinary Hearing

As a result of Plaintiff's tardiness and absenteeism, the DOE brought administrative charges against Plaintiff in September 2010. Mazur Dep. 90:6-11. Pursuant to New York Education Law 3020-a and Plaintiff's union contract, Plaintiff participated in a disciplinary hearing for tenured teachers (a " 3020-a hearing" ) in October 2010 that was presided over by impartial hearing officer Arthur A. Riegel. Def. Ex. W; Mazur Dep. 90:17-22. Plaintiff was represented by counsel and had the opportunity to present evidence and question witnesses. At the hearing, the DOE provided a record of Plaintiff's tardiness and absences and argued that such behavior undermined the students' education and burdened the school's administrators, teachers and budget. Def. Ex. W, at D000057. Plaintiff admitted that the tardiness was her own fault and due to traffic

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in her commute, but she argued that it minimally impacted her students because other teachers covered for her. Regarding her absences, Plaintiff did not deny that she was often absent but argued that it resulted from " various health issues, ranging from common colds, and viruses she has caught from students to minor surgery." Def. Ex. W, at D000058.

On November 5, 2010, the hearing officer found that Plaintiff had been excessively tardy and absent in the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 school years and fined her $2,500. Def. Ex. W, at D0000610. Regarding the 2008-2009 school year, he found that although Plaintiff had submitted medical documentation to account for some of the absences, " none of the medical notes submitted give reason as to why [Plaintiff] is unable to go to work. The medical notes are vague and insubstantial, often indicating that the teacher has a 'medical problem' and otherwise simply positing that she has come into the office to see the doctor." Def. Ex. W, at D000059. The hearing officer also found that Plaintiff failed to notify the school in a timely manner and that her attitude toward attendance reflected a poor understanding of her role and influence on students. Def. Ex. W, at D000059. Regarding the 2009-2010 school year, the hearing officer similarly found that the medical notes were " insubstantial" and that Plaintiff's absences occurred in a suspect pattern on Mondays, Fridays, or near extended weekends or holidays, thereby undermining her credibility. Def. Ex. W, at D000060. The hearing officer concluded that " [g]iven the fact that the teacher does not suffer from a chronic ailment or serious medical condition, coupled with the number and suspicious nature of her absences, [Plaintiff's] defense is rendered null." Def. Ex. W.

VI. 2010-2011 School Year

On September 30, 2010, Dominguez and two other assistant principals observed Plaintiff's lesson. Plaintiff received an unsatisfactory rating. Def. Ex. X. The observation noted a failure to correct or address previous recommendations, including a lack of classroom rituals and a failure to make corrections first or review homework. As a result, Dominguez required Plaintiff to provide certain materials such as weekly ESL lesson plans, corrected exams, grade books and parent outreach logs for her review. In a February 17, 2011 letter following up on a recent meeting between Plaintiff and Dominguez, Dominguez provided a list of recommendations that she had made to Plaintiff, including observing three other teachers. Def. Ex. Y. On March 11, 2011, Dominguez sent another letter to Plaintiff stating that Dominguez had not received any of the materials requested in the February 17, 2011 letter and requesting that they be delivered immediately. Def. Ex. Z.

On March 25, 2011, Plaintiff attended a meeting with Dominguez, Gavin and Celia Foster, an assistant principal. According to a March 26, 2011 letter memorializing the meeting, the parties discussed Plaintiff's ongoing obligation to provide Dominguez with the materials requested in the October observation. Def. Ex. AA. After Plaintiff failed to provide a copy of her lesson plan for the week of April 4, Dominguez sent her another letter on April 5, 2011 reminding Plaintiff of their recent discussions and Plaintiff's obligations. Def Ex. BB.

Dominguez conducted a classroom observation on May 20, 2011 and rated Plaintiff's lesson as satisfactory. Def. Ex. CC. Recommendations from the observation included having students make grammar corrections first and incorporating more diverse ...

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