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Evans v. Columbia University In The City of New York

United States District Court, S.D. New York

April 13, 2015

ELIZABETH EVANS, Plaintiff,
v.
COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY IN THE CITY OF NEW YORK, EILEEN EVANINA, and WILLIAM ENLOW, Defendants.

OPINION & ORDER

NELSON S. ROMAN, District Judge.

Plaintiff brings this action alleging racial discrimination in connection with her dismissal from the Nurse Anesthesia Program (the "Program") at Columbia University School of Nursing. Defendants the Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York ("Columbia") (erroneously captioned as "Columbia University in the City of New York"), Eileen Evanina, and William Enlow move to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the following reasons, Defendants' motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

BACKGROUND[1]

Plaintiff, an African American female, enrolled in the Program in May 2009. (Campl. ¶ 14, ECF No. I.) The Program is divided in two. During the first twelve months, students are evaluated based on allegedly "objective" measures such as examinations and papers. (Id. ¶ 16.)

The remaining portion of the Program is a "clinical period" consisting of seminars and clinical rotations at various hospitals. (Id. ¶ 14-18.) Although seminars are graded based on objective measures, grading for clinical rotations is allegedly "subjective." (Id. ¶ 20.) Students are evaluated each day by "preceptors" employed by the various hospitals. (Id. ) Preceptors give students "1" for the day if they "exceed expectations, " "2" if they "meet expectations, " or "3" if they "need improvement" in various subject areas. (Id. ¶ 21.) Students also receive a midterm and final evaluation. (Id. ¶¶ 19-24.) The Columbia faculty then assigns letter grades for the semester based on the preceptors' daily evaluation forms and the midterm and final evaluations. (Id. ) Plaintiff alleges that Eileen Evanina, the Director of the Program, and William Enlow, Assistant Professor of Nursing and the Assistant Director of the Program, were the Columbia faculty members responsible for grading Plaintiff. (Id. ¶¶ 10, 12.)

Plaintiff alleges that her performance during the "objective" portion of the Program was "excellent" ( id. ¶ 17), but that her grades for her clinical rotations suffered because of racial bias, leading to her dismissal. Plaintiff received a C for a clinical course in December 2010, which Plaintiff claims was unsupported because "almost all" of her preceptor evaluations were 1s or 2s. (Id. ¶¶ 25, 29, 30-34.) The next semester, she allegedly received one negative evaluation from a preceptor who had a reputation for racial discrimination. (Id. ¶¶ 35-39.) As a result of the poor evaluation, Evanina and Enlow directed Plaintiff to attend biweekly "training" sessions, which were a sham because no additional training was provided. (Id. ¶¶ 42-47.) Plaintiff claims that at one of these sessions, Evanina implied that Plaintiff was a "single mother on welfare, " which Plaintiff claims is untrue and revealed Evanina's assumptions about Plaintiff's race. (Id. ¶¶ 42-47.) Ultimately, Evanina and Enlow gave Plaintiff a second C and Plaintiff was automatically dismissed from the Program pursuant to Columbia's grading policy.[2] (Id. ¶ 48-49.)

Plaintiff grieved her dismissal and was reinstated on the condition that she repeat a semester. (Id. ¶ 52-53.) Upon Plaintiff's return to the Program, Evanina and Enlow assigned Plaintiff to a rotation under Clinical Coordinator Linda Downs, another preceptor with a reputation for racial discrimination.[3] (Id. ¶ 54-58.) On the penultimate day of the semester, Downs told Plaintiff not to return to North Shore, even though Plaintiff's daily and midterm evaluations were positive. (Id. ¶¶ 60-62.) Plaintiff received an F for the course, grieved the F, and was dismissed on May 4, 2012 after the grievance panel upheld the grade. (Id. ¶¶ 65-67.)

Plaintiff offers one comparator to illustrate that she was treated disparately from Caucasian students. One of the reasons listed for Plaintiffs dismissal was that she committed a medication error. (Id. ¶ 75.) However, Plaintiff alleges that a Caucasian student who committed a comparatively more dangerous medication error received "little to no harsh treatment." (Id. ¶ 74.) Plaintiff further alleges that African-American students are dismissed from the Program at a higher rate than students of other races. (Id. ¶ 76.)

Plaintiff asserts that this course of conduct amounts to: (1) a violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d ("Title VI"); (2) a violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981; (3) a breach of contract; (4) a violation of the New York State Human Rights Law, Exec. Law § 296 et seq. ("NYSHRL"); and (5) a violation of the New York City Human Rights Law, N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-107 et seq. ("NYCHRL").

STANDARD ON A MOTION TO DISMISS

To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a plaintiff must supply "factual allegations sufficient to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.'" ATSI Commc'ns, Inc. v. Shaar Fund, Ltd., 493 F.3d 87, 98 (2d Cir. 2007) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). In other words, the complaint must allege "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Starr v. Sony BMG Music Entm't, 592 F.3d 314, 321 (2d Cir. 2010) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). "A claim has facial plausibility 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).

In applying this standard, a court should accept as true all well-pleaded factual allegations, but should not credit "mere conclusory statements" or "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action." Id. A court should give "no effect to legal conclusions couched as factual allegations." Port Dock & Stone Corp. v. Oldcastle Ne., Inc., 507 F.3d 117, 121 (2d Cir. 2007) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

DISCUSSION

I. Plaintiff's Title VI, NYSHRL, and NYCHRL Claims ...


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