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Okor v. Borough of Manhattan Community College

United States District Court, S.D. New York

June 16, 2015

DAVID OKOR, Plaintiff,
v.
BOROUGH OF MANHATTAN COMMUNITY COLLEGE and CHAIM GINSBERG, Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

J. PAUL OETKEN, District Judge.

Plaintiff David Okor brings this suit against Defendants Borough of Manhattan Community College ("BMCC") and Chaim Ginsberg, Chair of the Business Management Department ("the Business Department") at BMCC. Okor, an adjunct professor in the Department, alleges that Defendants discriminated against him on the basis of race, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 ("Section 1981"), when they failed to promote him to a full-time professor position.[1] Defendants move to dismiss the suit. For the reasons that follow, Defendants' motion is denied.

I. Background[2]

A. Factual Background

Okor has been an adjunct business professor at BMCC since 1985. (Dkt. No. 11 ("Am. Compl.") ¶ 12.) He is 75 years old, black, and of Nigerian descent. ( Id. ¶ 7.) He is regarded as "qualified, competent and hard-working, " and has received only "positive evaluations and ratings" during his tenure. ( Id. ¶ 12.)

In 1985, Okor approached Ginsberg to inquire about potential promotion to a full-time professor position. ( Id. ¶ 16.) (A full-time professor at BMCC earns "tens of thousands of dollars more" than an adjunct professor. ( Id. ¶ 29.)) Ginsberg informed Okor that a "hiring freeze" was in place for full-time professors. ( Id. ¶ 17.) Okor later learned, however, that this was false, and that full-time professors were in fact being hired. ( Id. )

Okor nonetheless continued to ask Ginsberg for a promotion. He did so repeatedly-and unsuccessfully-between 1985 and 2010. ( Id. ¶ 18.) Okor renewed his request for a promotion in 2011, but Ginsberg denied it again. ( Id. ¶ 19.) That same year, however, Ann Marie Basic-a Caucasian adjunct professor with "fewer qualifications than [Okor] to teach Business courses"- was promoted to a full-time professor position in the Business Department. ( Id. ¶ 21.)

In 2011, Okor met with Ben O'Laughlin, of BMCC's Human Resources Department, to discuss his failure to be promoted. ( Id. ¶ 24.) O'Laughlin "told [Okor] that he was denied promotions because he lacked a Ph.D." ( Id. ) This, Okor alleges, was false and a mere pretext for discrimination, because many full-time professors in the Business Department do not have a Ph.D. ( Id. ) Okor met with O'Laughlin again in 2012 for the same purpose, and was again given "a false reason for his denied promotions." ( Id. ¶ 25.)

Okor also lodged formal complaints about this alleged discrimination. In November 2011, he submitted, via letter, a complaint with BMCC. ( Id. ¶ 26.) BMCC took no action on the complaint. ( Id. ) Okor filed another complaint expressing the same concerns in December 2012, this time directed to BMCC President Antonio Perez. ( Id. ¶ 27.) That complaint was likewise without effect. ( Id. )

B. Procedural History

Okor filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") on July 1, 2013.[3] (Dkt. No. 28, Ex. D.) The EEOC issued a right to sue letter on December 9, 2013. ( Id. Ex. E.) Okor then filed this action on March 7, 2014, against BMCC, Ginsberg, the State of New York ("the State"), and ten John Doe Defendants. (Dkt. No. 2.) After the State moved to dismiss (Dkt. No. 4), the Court entered a stipulation dismissing Okor's claims against the State with prejudice, withdrawing the State's motion to dismiss as moot, and directing Okor to file an amended complaint (Dkt. No. 10). Okor did so on August 29, 2014, asserting claims against BMCC and Ginsberg only. (Dkt. No. 11.) Defendants filed the present motion to dismiss the amended complaint on February 6, 2015. (Dkt. No. 27.) Okor filed an opposition to the motion on March 20, 2015 (Dkt. No. 32), and Defendants replied on April 3, 2015 (Dkt. No. 33).

II. Legal Standard

To survive a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint "must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). The standard of "facial plausibility" is met when "the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. Plausibility is distinct from probability, and "a well-pleaded complaint may proceed even if it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of the facts alleged is improbable, and that a recovery is very remote and unlikely." Nielsen v. Rabin, 746 F.3d 58, 62-63 (2d Cir. 2014) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556) (internal brackets and quotation marks omitted). At the same time, a court is "not bound to accept as true a legal ...


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