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Mello v. Siena College

United States District Court, N.D. New York

March 14, 2017

JEFFREY A. MELLO, Plaintiff,
v.
SIENA COLLEGE, Defendant.

          GLEASON, DUNN, WALSH & O'SHEA Counsel for Plaintiff

          LISA F. JOSLIN, ESQ.

          TOBIN & DEMPF, LLP Counsel for Defendant

          MICHAEL L. COSTELLO, ESQ.

          DECISION AND ORDER

          GLENN T. SUDDABY, Chief United States District Judge

         Currently before the Court, in this employment discrimination action filed by Jeffrey Mello (“Plaintiff”) against Siena College (“Defendant”), is Defendant's second motion for summary judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. (Dkt. No. 41.) For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion is granted.

         I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND

         A. Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint

         Plaintiff's Amended Complaint asserts the following five claims: (1) a claim that Defendant retaliated against Plaintiff for reporting and complaining of unlawful employment practices, in violation of N.Y. Exec. Law (“NYSHRL”) § 296(1)(e); (2) a claim that Defendant breached Plaintiff's employment contract when it reduced his salary after he was removed from his position as Dean of the School of Business; (3) a claim that Defendant retaliated against Plaintiff by removing him from his position as Dean of the School of Business and reducing his salary after he complained of unlawful employment practices, in violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a); (4) a claim that Defendant violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. § 215(a)(3), as modified by the Equal Pay Act (“EPA”) of 1963, 29 U.S.C. § 206(d) et seq., when it retaliated against Plaintiff by removing him from his position as Dean of the School of Business and reducing his salary after he complained of unlawful employment practices; and (5) a claim that Plaintiff is entitled to an award of attorneys' fees and expenses pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b) and 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). (Dkt. No. 3, ¶¶ 50-69 [Pl.'s Am. Compl.].) Familiarity with the factual allegations supporting these claims in Plaintiff's Amended Complaint is assumed in this Decision and Order, which is intended primarily for the review of the parties.

         B. Statement of Undisputed Material Facts

         Before reciting the material facts of this case, the Court must address two issues it has identified in Plaintiff's response to Defendant's Statements of Material Facts, made pursuant to Local Rule 7.1(a)(3) of the Local Rules of Practice for this Court. First, with respect to many of Defendant's factual assertions, Plaintiff admits “but denies the materiality of” those assertions. (See, e.g., Dkt. No. 47, ¶¶ 39-41, 59-62 [Pl.'s Rule 7.1 Response].) Of course a party may not be awarded summary judgment on the basis of undisputed immaterial facts. As a result, a party opposing a motion for summary judgment may object that particular facts (disputed or undisputed) are immaterial to the motion. However, the materiality of an assertion of fact on a motion for summary judgment is a legal conclusion to be made by the Court. See, e.g., Davis v. United States, 11-CV-1211, 2015 WL 11142426, at *2, n.2 (N.D.Ga. March 31, 2015) (“[M]ateriality . . . [is] . . . a legal conclusion to be made by the Court . . . .”); cf. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986) (“As to materiality, the substantive law will identify which facts are material.”). As a result, where a non-movant has merely objected to the materiality of a properly supported fact, and the Court has concluded that the fact is material, the fact will be deemed admitted. See, e.g., Newmark v. Lawrence Hosp. Ctr., 07-CV-2861, 2008 WL 5054731, at *8, n.7 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 20, 2008) (finding two material facts admitted where the non-movant merely objected to the materiality of the facts); accord, Bourne Co. v. Hunter Country Club, Inc., 990 F.2d 934, 938 (7th Cir. 1993); Lee v. Univ. Underwriters Ins. Co., 12-CV-3540, 2014 WL 11858159, at *1 (N.D.Ga. June 25, 2014); Cunningham v. Enter. Rent-a-Car Co., 07-CV-1615, 2010 WL 724507, at *2, n.3 (W.D. Pa. Mar. 1, 2010). Moreover, a non-movant denying a movant's factual assertion in a statement of facts is required to support that denial by “set[ting] forth a specific citation to the record where the factual issue arises.” N.D.N.Y. L.R. 7.1(a)(3). Furthermore, “[t]he Court shall deem admitted any properly supported facts set forth in the [moving party's] Statement of Material Facts that the [non-moving] party does not specifically controvert.” Id. Simply stated, regardless of whether some or all of the facts to which Plaintiff responds as set forth above are immaterial for purposes of Defendant's motion for summary judgment, the issue of whether those facts are properly disputed is a separate matter.

         Second, at various points throughout Plaintiff's Rule 7.1 Response, he “admits” facts asserted by Defendant in its Rule 7.1 Statement but then includes additional facts and/or legal argument in those responses. In these instances, the Court will treat Defendant's assertions as undisputed. (See, e.g., Dkt. No. 47, ¶¶ 17, 21, 37 [Pl.'s Rule 7.1 Response].) See also CA, Inc. v. New Relic, Inc., 12-CV-5468, 2015 WL 1611993, at *2 n.3 (E.D.N.Y. Apr. 8, 2015) (holding that “the Court will consider the statement provided by [Plaintiff] as undisputed because [Defendant's] initial response in each instance is, in fact, ‘Undisputed'”); Washington v. City of New York, 05-CV-8884, 2009 WL 1585947, at *1 n.2 (S.D.N.Y. June 5, 2009) (holding that “the statement provided by Defendants is taken as true because Plaintiff[']s initial response in each instance is ‘Admit'”); see also Baity v. Kralik, 51 F.Supp.3d 414, 418 (S.D.N.Y. 2014) (noting that plaintiff's responses failed to comply with the court's local rules where “Plaintiff's purported denials . . . improperly interject arguments and/or immaterial facts in response to facts asserted by Defendants, often speaking past Defendants' asserted facts without specifically controverting those same facts”); Goldstick v. The Hartford, Inc., 2002 WL 1906029, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 19, 2002) (striking plaintiff's Rule 56.1 Statement, in part, because plaintiff added “argumentative and often lengthy narrative in almost every case the object of which is to ‘spin' the impact of the admissions plaintiff has been compelled to make”). To the extent that Plaintiff wanted to set forth additional material facts that he contends are in dispute, he was required by Local Rule 7.1(a)(3) to do so in separately numbered paragraphs. Johnson v. City of Troy, 14-CV-0817, 2016 WL 5107124, at *8 n.12 (N.D.N.Y. Sept. 20, 2016) (Suddaby, C.J.).

         Unless otherwise noted, the following facts were asserted and supported with accurate record citations by Defendant in its Statement of Material Facts (“Rule 7.1 Statement”) and expressly admitted by Plaintiff in his response thereto (“Rule 7.1 Response”). (Compare Dkt. No. 41, Attach. 1 [Def.'s Rule 7.1 Statement] with Dkt. No. 47 [Pl.'s Rule 7.1 Response].)

         1. On May 18, 2010, Plaintiff was appointed Dean of the School of Business at Siena College and a tenured faculty member in the Department of Marketing and Management.

         2. Plaintiff's appointment as Dean was an administrative appointment governed by the Siena College Administrators' Handbook, which he acknowledged receiving and reviewing. The advertisement for the deanship set forth the duties and responsibilities for the position.

         3. Plaintiff's immediate supervisor as Dean was Dr. Linda Richardson, the Vice President for Academic Affairs who served as the College's Chief Academic Officer.

         4. On January 7, 2013, Dr. Richardson met with Plaintiff and informed him of her concerns regarding his inadequate performance. She advised him in writing that, “if things do not improve, you will no longer serve as Dean of the School of Business at the conclusion of this semester. Furthermore, any egregious behavior on your part may call for immediate dismissal as Dean.” Plaintiff acknowledged receipt of the memorandum of this meeting.

         5. On February 1, 2013, Dr. Richardson met with Plaintiff to review his written response, dated January 10, 2013, to Dr. Richardson's concerns, as outlined in her letter dated January 7, 2013, regarding Plaintiff's performance and leadership as Dean.

         6. Thereafter, Dr. Richardson sent a letter to Plaintiff, dated February 26, 2013, in which she referenced their meeting that was held on February 1, 2013, and raised new concerns regarding Plaintiff's performance.

         7. On May 22, 2013, following the College's commencement, Dr. Richardson met with Plaintiff.[1]

         8. By letter dated June 4, 2013, Dr. Richardson informed Plaintiff that the College had decided to terminate his appointment as Dean.

         9. According to Dr. Richardson, Plaintiff's removal from his position as Dean was based on a series of ongoing problems and concerns including the following: lacking effective leadership in the School of Business; becoming more detached; being less enthusiastic and interested in his responsibilities; being more aggressive and demeaning with some faculty members; lacking engagement; lack of responsibility; engaging in public disagreements with the Account Department; causing a breakdown in communications; breaching the confidentiality of faculty status meetings involving decisions on tenure and promotion, which compromised the College President's ability to make any changes or reconsider any of what had already been announced by Plaintiff; and being absent for Board of Trustees functions.[2]

         10. During the 2012-2013 academic year, Dr. Richardson expressed her increasing dissatisfaction with Plaintiff's performance of his administrative responsibilities to President Rev. Kevin Mullen.

         11. During the academic year, an intervention was arranged by President Mullen and conducted by Dr. Joseph Pastore, a former chair of the Siena Board of Trustees and Provost of Pace University, to address relational issues and tensions within the School of Business, particularly interactions between the members of the Accounting Department.

         12. In May of 2013, following commencement, based on the recommendation of Dr. Richardson, President Mullen made the decision to remove Plaintiff from the position of Dean of the School of Business.

         13. President Mullen's decision to remove Plaintiff from his deanship was based on several factors relating to his recent performance with the key decisive factor in his decision being the breach of confidentiality of the promotion and tenure review process by Plaintiff (approximately three months before), thereby compromising the President's ability to make a final decision regarding promotion and tenure decisions advanced by the Faculty Status Committee.[3]

         14. Although President Mullen appreciated that Plaintiff acknowledged that he had made a mistake, President Mullen viewed Plaintiff's breach of confidentiality as egregious and a very serious mistake because he believed it tended to undermine the trust of everyone participating in the functioning of the Faculty Status Committee and its process.[4]

         15. President Mullen determined that the cumulative effect of Plaintiff's impaired performance and diminished confidence coupled with the serious breach of confidentiality was the key decisive factor leading to his decision to remove him as Dean.[5]

         16. Plaintiff never discussed, presented, documented or commented or conveyed any concerns, complaints, reports to President Mullen involving gender inequity or gender bias regarding the salaries of female faculty members of Siena College.

         17. At no time did any administrator, faculty member, staff member, or trustee ever present or discuss, document, comment or convey to President Mullen any concerns, complaints, reports or references to gender inequity or gender bias with respect to the salaries of female faculty members of Siena College.

         18. President Mullen's decision to remove Plaintiff as Dean of the School of Business was not grounded in, or motivated by, non-managerial factors or reasons including alleged complaints or concerns of gender inequity or gender bias regarding the salaries of female faculty members of the College.[6]

         19. President Mullen determined to continue Plaintiff's salary as Dean at the same level following his removal during the summer months of 2013.

         20. Following removal from his position as Dean, Plaintiff retreated to a faculty position.

         21. President Mullen's decision regarding Plaintiff's salary reduction when he retreated to a faculty position was based on performance factors, the recommendation of Dr. Richardson, and the recognition that Plaintiff did not possess the accomplishments to warrant any further extensions of his salary as Dean.[7]

         22. Cynthia King-LeRoy, the Assistant Vice President for Human Resources at Siena College, never received any comment, expression of concern or complaint from Elaine Phelan involving gender bias regarding her compensation or title.

         23. Plaintiff never met with Christine Hammill-Cregan, the Equal Opportunity and Employee Relations Specialist and Title IX Coordinator at Siena College, regarding any complaints or concerns involving gender inequity, gender bias, or discrimination at Siena College.

         24. Sandra Mulay Casey, College counsel for Siena, does not recall Plaintiff ever raising, conveying, discussing or presenting any specific concerns, reports or complaints to her regarding gender inequity or gender bias involving the salaries or compensation of Siena faculty.

         25. At no time during Professor Paul Dwyer's service as Chair of the General Faculty Committee did Plaintiff ever raise, convey, present or discuss any concerns or complaints to Professor Paul Dwyer or the General Faculty Committee regarding gender inequity or gender bias involving the salaries of Siena College faculty members.

         26. At no time during Professor Dwyer's tenure as a faculty member did Plaintiff ever raise, convey, present or discuss any concerns or complaints regarding gender inequity or gender bias involving the salaries of Siena College faculty members.

         27. At no time during Professor Dwyer's service as Chair of the General Faculty Committee did any faculty member, administrator, or officer ever raise, convey, present or discuss any concerns or complaints to Professor Dwyer or to the General Faculty Committee regarding gender inequity or gender bias involving the salaries of Siena College faculty members.

         28. Professor Dwyer personally observed significant tensions and discord between members of the Accounting and Business Law Department and Plaintiff during Plaintiff's tenure as Dean of the School of Business.

         29. Professor Elaine Phelan personally observed an ongoing absence of harmony between the members of the Accounting Department and Plaintiff in his role as Dean of the School of Business.

         30. Professor Wanda Causseaux, an Assistant Professor in the Accounting Department at the School of Business, is not aware of any employees of Siena College who alleged gender discrimination or gender disparity or discrimination in general in their compensation at Siena College.

         31. Professor Causseaux is not aware of any current or former employees of Siena College who have alleged ...


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