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Edwards v. Jericho Union Free Sch. Dist.

United States District Court, E.D. New York

October 29, 2014

LISA EDWARDS, Plaintiff,
JERICHO UNION FREE SCHOOL DISTRICT, JERICHO UNION FREE SCHOOL DISTRICT BOARD OF EDUCATION, HENRY L. GRISHMAN, in his official capacity as Superintendent and individually, BENJAMIN CIUFFO, in his official capacity as Assistant Superintendent and individually, BARBARA BAUER, in her official capacity as Assistant Superintendent and individually, JOSEPH PRISINZANO, in his official capacity as Principal and individually, ANTONY SINANIS, in his official capacity as Principal and individually, Defendants

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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For the Plaintiff: Dawn A Lott, Esq., Gerald V. Dandeneau, Esq., DANDENEAU & LOTT, Melville, NY.

For the Defendants: Christopher M. Powers, Esq., David Ferdinand Kwee, Esq., INGERMAN SMITH, LLP, Hauppauge, NY.

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Denis R. Hurley, Senior United States District Judge.

Plaintiff Lisa Edwards (" Edwards" or " plaintiff" ) commenced this action against defendants Jericho Union Free School District (the " District" ), Jericho Union Free School District Board of Education (the " Board" ), Henry Grishman (" Grishman" ), Benjamin Ciuffo (" Ciuffo" ), Barbara Bauer (" Bauer" ), Joseph Prisinzano (" Prisinzano" ), and Antony Sinanis (" Sinanis" ) (collectively " defendants" ) asserting claims of race-based discrimination, a hostile work environment, and retaliatory employment practices in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 2000e (" Title VII" ), 42 U.S.C. § 1981, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, New York State Human Rights Law (" NYSHRL" ), Executive Law § 296, and state claims of intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress. Presently before the Court is defendants' motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 (" Rule 56" ) seeking dismissal of all of plaintiff's claims. For the reasons set forth below, the defendants' motion is granted.


The following facts, drawn from the parties' Local Rule 56.1 statements and the parties' submissions are undisputed unless otherwise noted.

Plaintiff's Employment at the District

Plaintiff is an African-American woman. Plaintiff began her employment at the District as a part-time Middle School one-on-one reading teacher and a per diem substitute teacher and Learning Center Tutor. Plaintiff began working as a probationary Reading Teacher and ELA Support Teacher at Jericho High School (" the High School" ) in September of 2006. Plaintiff's responsibilities included providing reading instruction to students with disabilities and providing students with additional support services to help them with the ELA curriculum. It is undisputed that plaintiff was appointed for a probationary period of three years and that generally the Superintendent of Schools, who at all times relevant to this case was Grishman, makes a recommendation to the Board to grant tenure to a probationary teacher. Generally, such a recommendation is made after consulting with administrators such as assistant superintendents, curriculum associates, and building principals.

During the time that plaintiff was employed, the District had a practice of conducting at least four observations per year of all probationary teachers as well as one mid-year evaluation and one end-of-year evaluation of each probationary teacher. As part of this practice, those conducting the observations created written reports, and the teacher and the observer participated in meetings to discuss the observation. In addition, principals and curriculum associates performed informal observations by way of a " walk-through" whereby the administrator would come in the teacher's room and observe a segment of a lesson.

Throughout plaintiff's three year probationary period, she received various criticisms and recommendations. For example, Prisinzano, the principal at the High School testified that upon review of plaintiff's 2006-07 mid-year evaluation, he had " a very serious concern" about plaintiff's " alignment of activities and skill attainment." (Prisinzano Dep. at 55-56.) Moreover, plaintiff's January 2009 evaluation contains various suggestions regarding plaintiff's performance as an ELA teacher including a statement that " [a]dditional work planning for differentiation will need to be accomplished for this setting to be more successful." The evaluation also states that " flexible grouping is a must to better meet the varied functioning levels in

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these classes." (Ex. N.) Similarly, plaintiff's June 2009 evaluation states, inter alia, that plaintiff's " needed area of growth . . . would be to provide opportunities for students to engage in active reading and writing" and again reiterates the need for " [f]lexible grouping." (Ex. O.)

On or about March of 2009, Ciuffo, the Assistant Superintendent of Personnel and Education Operations, advised plaintiff that there was a possibility that she would not receive tenure. At or around this time plaintiff also met with Bauer, the Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction. Subsequently, plaintiff requested a meeting with various administrators including Ciuffo and a union representative that took place in March of 2009. At this meeting, plaintiff informed those present that she was being treated differently than other teachers and that she " kn[ew] what this [was] about," but she did not mention race. (Pl.'s Dep. at 358.) At some point during the meeting, plaintiff was advised that the District agreed to extend her probationary period another year and plaintiff agreed to accept this offer. In March of 2009, administrators provided plaintiff with a written plan with instructional goals that would assist her in focusing on the areas she needed to improve upon.

Plaintiff claims that while at the High School Prinsinzano covertly expressed racial bias toward her through his evaluations, daily communications, and conferences. Moreover, she claims that Prisinzano was " getting more aggressive in terms of being critical" during the 2007-08 year. Plaintiff, however, admits that she never made a formal complaint about discrimination to anyone involved with the District's administration.

Plaintiff's Employment at Contiague Elementary

In or about May of 2009, plaintiff was advised that she would be transferred to the District's Elementary school for her fourth probationary year, the 2009-10 school year. The District claims that it had a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for transferring plaintiff because there was a reading position open at Contiague, and there was not an immediate need for a full-time reading teacher at the High School. Plaintiff, however, claims that there was a need for a reading teacher at the High School as evidenced by the fact that upon her departure, the District hired Robyn Stern, a white Caucasion female, to replace her. Defendants admit that in August of 2009, after more accurately assessing the High School's needs, the District did advertise for a part-time reading teacher at the High School and that they ultimately hired Robyn Stern.

Sinanis, the principal at Contiague, typically performed " announced" observations of teachers, meaning that he would inform the teacher ahead of time when he was going to be conducting an observation. Sinanis testified that he " had concerns about [plaintiff's] instruction." (Sinanis Dep. at 83.) Additionally, plaintiff's mid-year evaluation report of January 2010 noted that plaintiff had difficulty " engag[ing] in long-term planning for students to meet individual goals and scaffold skills and activities according to needs and achievement levels" and " determin[ing] deep, clearly aligned lesson objectives and provid[ing] multiple pathways for students to attain them." (Ex. T.)

Plaintiff claims she felt intimidated by Sinanis although she admits that Sinanis stood outside her classroom door to informally observe her less than five times during the 2009-10 school year spending no more than five to ten minutes each time. Plaintiff, however, claims that she was ...

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