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Jordan v. Corning Community College

United States District Court, W.D. New York

May 12, 2015

EDITH JORDAN, Plaintiff,
v.
CORNING COMMUNITY COLLEGE, et al., Defendants.

DECISION and ORDER

MICHAEL A. TELESCA, District Judge.

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Edith Jordan ("plaintiff") commenced this action against defendant Corning Community College (the "College") and its employees, Patrick Pariso ("Pariso"), Michael Marrone ("Marrone"), Rick Churches ("Churches"), Bruce Gugliotta ("Gugliotta") (collectively "defendants") alleging gender discrimination and retaliation under Title IX, 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983, and the New York Human Rights Law ("NYHRL").

Before the Court is defendants' motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint in which they assert that the parties' Stipulation of Settlement (the "settlement agreement"), which was executed on July 6, 2009, precludes plaintiff's present claims.

For the reasons set forth below, defendants' motion for summary judgment is denied.

BACKGROUND

Unless otherwise noted, the following facts are taken from plaintiff's complaint, including the documents incorporated therein by reference, the documents submitted by parties in support of, and in response to, the motion, and deposition testimony.

On January 17, 2007, plaintiff began attending the Southern Tier Law Enforcement Academy (the "Academy") as the only female cadet in her class. Plaintiff alleges that she was immediately treated differently from the male cadets. The complaint states that plaintiff was singled out from the male cadets by: (1) being referred to as the "weakest link" and a "senior citizen"; (2) not receiving the same opportunities to make up physical training requirements; (3) being the only cadet told to make a choice between her family, her part-time jobs, and the Academy; and (4) having to travel ten miles to another location for separate changing and bathroom facilities. Plaintiff complained of the discriminatory treatment to her class leader, as well as defendants Pariss and Marrone, and, in February 2007, plaintiff was forced to resign from the Academy upon the threat of termination for violation of Academy rules. Although there is testimony and other evidence in the record concerning the alleged discrimination and the circumstances of plaintiff's termination from the Academy, the narrow issue before this Court is whether plaintiff's present cause of action is precluded by the terms of a settlement agreement entered into by the parties and whether defendants are entitled to summary judgment.

Plaintiff filed complaints with the New York State Division of Human Rights (the "Division") in November 2007 and February and April 2008, resulting in a finding by the Division that probable cause existed that defendants had engaged in unlawful discrimination. The parties subsequently entered into a settlement agreement that disposed of plaintiff's pending discrimination claims. Pursuant to the Stipulation of Settlement, formalized by the parties on July 6, 2009, defendants agreed, when requested, to provide "neutral" references to plaintiff's prospective employers stating that she left the Academy for "personal reasons."

Defendants contend that they are entitled to summary judgment because the parties' settlement agreement precludes the present discrimination claims. Plaintiff responds that the settlement agreement is void on public policy grounds by calling for the commission of a fraud on third parties because it requires defendants to falsely state in response to requests for future reference letters that plaintiff left the Academy for "personal reasons." Plaintiff further asserts that defendants violated the settlement agreement by informing a prospective employer, the Spring Garden Police Department, that the Academy requested plaintiff to withdraw from her program and leave the Academy.

Under the terms of the settlement agreement, defendants also agreed to reimburse plaintiff for the cost of tuition in addition to providing "neutral" oral and written responses to reference requests by plaintiff's prosepective employers. The settlement agreement specifically provided that the references were required to be "neutral" and state the following: "[plaintiff] attended the Southern Tier Law Enforcement Academy beginning on January 17, 2007 and leaving for personal reasons on February 1, 2007. During this period, Ms. Jordan excelled academically and had been appointed squad leader by her peers." Stipulation of Settlement, exhibit A. In return, plaintiff agreed to withdraw her complaints before the Division and release defendants from liability for all discrimination and retaliation claims arising thereunder.

In support of her claim that defendants violated the settlement agreement, plaintiff points to evidence in the record that Detective James Hott of the Spring Garden Police Department (a prospective employer) contacted the Academy as part of her background check and was told that plaintiff did not leave the Academy for financial reasons, as she stated on her October 2009 application, but rather she was asked to withdraw from the program. See Spring Garden Police Department Findings of Fact (exhibit number 22), p. 3. The individual defendants, Marrone, Churches, Gugliotta, and Pariso, also deny responding to any reference or information requests regarding plaintiff after July 6, 2009. Marrone further testified that he ended his employment with the College in August 2009.

DISCUSSION

I. Summary Judgment ...


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