United States District Court, N.D. New York
MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER
Lawrence E. Kahn U.S. District Judge.
Darlene Colandrea commenced the present action against
Defendants Hunter-Tannersville Central School District
(“HTCSD”) and Patrick Darfler-Sweeney alleging
discrimination and unlawful retaliation in violation of the
Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), 29
U.S.C. § 621 et seq., and the New York State
Human Rights Law (“NYSHRL”), N.Y. Exec. Law
§ 290 et seq. Dkt. No. 1
(“Complaint”). Presently before the Court is
Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. Dkt. Nos. 23
(“Motion”), 23-2 (“Defendants'
Memorandum”), 23-3 (“Defendants' Statement of
Material Facts”); see also Dkt. Nos. 31
(“Opposition”), 32 (“Plaintiff's
Statement of Material Facts”), 33
(“Plaintiff's Statement of Material Facts
Response”). For the following reasons, Defendants'
Motion is denied.
has been employed as a teacher by HTCSD since approximately
September 1981, and she is fifty-nine years old. Dkt. No. 34
(“Colandrea Affidavit”) ¶¶ 3-4.
Colandrea teaches prekindergarten and, until 2014, had
uniformly received exemplary performance reviews.
Id. ¶¶ 5, 7-8. In 2014, Colandrea became
the first teacher in her district to receive the New York
State Elementary Classroom Teachers Association
(“NYSECTA”) Pre-K Teacher of the Year Award.
Id. ¶ 35. Throughout her time at HTCSD,
Colandrea participated in various after-school, mentoring,
and professional development programs. Id. ¶
10. She also worked as a summer school teacher and spent ten
years as the coordinator of the summer school program.
Id. ¶ 39.
2013, HTCSD established the Community Rural Opportunities
Program (“CROP”), which runs throughout the
school year and the summer. Dkt. No. 23-1 (“Lynch
Affirmation”) ¶ 20. CROP has two different types
of employees: a Site Coordinator, who runs the program, and
Activity Leaders, who are supervised by the Site Coordinator.
Id. ¶ 22. Colandrea applied to be the Site
Coordinator for the 2013-2014 school year, and she was
appointed to the position despite objections from Sweeney,
who was the District Superintendent until retiring on June
30, 2016. Colandrea Aff. ¶¶ 12, 65. Although
Sweeney eventually recommended Colandrea for the position, he
did so only under the direction of the Board of Education
(the “Board”). Dkt. No. 24-1 (“Sweeney
Deposition”) at 52:14-53:8. Until May 2014, Colandrea
received excellent evaluations for her work as Site
Coordinator during the 2013-2014 school year. Colandrea Aff.
10, 2014, while she was Site Coordinator, Colandrea led a
field trip to the Bronx Zoo for children in kindergarten
through seventh grade. Id. ¶ 13; Lynch Affirm.
¶ 25. Afterward, two of the parents who attended the
trip wrote letters complaining about their experience.
Colandrea Aff. ¶ 14. They complained that the school
buses were too slow, the trip ended late, and the teachers
were texting each other. Id. Colandrea responds that
the complaints were unreasonable because the bus may not
travel faster than fifty-five miles per hour, the trip ended
late because the bus made an emergency stop to bring a child
to the bathroom, and the teachers were texting each other to
keep track of the children, as various parents were violating
policy by leaving early with their children. Id.
¶¶ 14-15. Furthermore, Colandrea was not
reprimanded after the trip, and she claims that Sweeney
“did not blame [her] or the teachers, but rather the
parent chaperones for the chaos.” Id. ¶
16. Sweeney wrote an email to the complaining parents and
informed them that he was changing CROP's policy so that
parents could no longer serve as chaperones, and that parents
would need to sign their children out directly with Colandrea
in the future. Sweeney Dep. Ex. 28.
following month, Colandrea was involved in an incident at the
school cafeteria with a student's parent, though not
during a CROP event. Pl.'s SMF Resp. ¶ 23. On June
17, 2014, Colandrea reprimanded a student for throwing a
“super ball” near glass punch bowls and glass
picture frames, while the child's parent, Jessika
McKinnie, was in the cafeteria. Colandrea Aff. ¶¶
26-27. McKinnie said that Colandrea had no right to
discipline her child while McKinnie was present. Id.
Colandrea responded by telling McKinnie that “if she
was the parent, then she should go be the parent, as her
child [was] crying.” Id. ¶ 28. Both
McKinnie and Colandrea raised their voices. Dkt. No. 24
(“Colandrea Deposition”) at 36:23-37:1.
Defendants claim that Colandrea “was screaming at
[McKinnie] and said that [McKinnie] was not a good mother, or
words to that effect, ” Lynch Affirm. ¶ 28, but
both McKinnie and Colandrea deny this claim, Colandrea Aff.
¶ 29; Dkt. No. 30-3 (“McKinnie Affidavit”)
¶ 10. McKinnie also states that she never discussed the
incident with Sweeney. McKinnie Aff. ¶¶ 12-15.
following day, Colandrea received an email from Sweeney
stating that he would not recommend her for reappointment as
Site Coordinator for the 2014 summer program. Dkt. No. 30-5
(“Sweeney CROP Email”). Sweeney provided no
explanation for his decision, id., and the following
day he recommended that the position be given to Rosie
Iacono, who was less qualified than Colandrea but
approximately four years younger, Colandrea Aff. ¶
Over the summer of 2014, Colandrea also applied multiple
times to be an Activity Leader, but her applications were
denied. Id. ¶¶ 44, 57. Instead, a
teacher's aide, who was younger and less qualified than
Colandrea, was hired for the position. Id. ¶
45. According to Defendants, Colandrea was not hired for the
CROP positions because of the problems with the trip to the
Bronx Zoo and because of the incident with McKinnie. Lynch
Affirm. ¶ 32. Colandrea disagrees and notes that a
younger teacher, Tina Schlegal, had a similar incident with
McKinnie on October 29, 2015, but Schlegal never received a
counseling memorandum and continued working as an Activity
Leader. Colandrea Aff. ¶ 61. Colandrea claims that the
real reason she was not rehired as Site Coordinator is that
Defendants wanted her to retire from teaching, but she
refused to do so. Id. ¶ 37.
is one of the oldest teachers in her school district and is
the oldest teacher at her school. Id. ¶ 6. She
is also a member of the district's teachers' union
and is covered by a collective bargaining agreement
(“CBA”) between HTCSD and the teachers'
union. Defs.' SMF ¶ 4. The CBA contains a provision
for an early retirement incentive that amounted to $41, 000
for Colandrea. Id. ¶ 6; Dkt. No. 30-7
(“Murin Affidavit”) ¶ 4. Once a teacher
becomes eligible for the early retirement incentive, the CBA
provides a window in which eligible teachers may elect to
take the incentive, but teachers must submit a written
application to the District Superintendent at least 120 days
prior to the last day of their employment. Defs.' SMF
¶¶ 6-7. Teachers may also apply to extend the
window of eligibility for the retirement incentive on a
year-to-year basis, but such applications must be made six
months before the expiration of the eligibility window.
Id. ¶ 8. The District Superintendent must
recommend a teacher to the Board, Sweeney Dep. Ex. 15B at 1,
and the final decision on an extension request is made by a
vote of the Board, Defs.' SMF ¶ 10.
eligibility window for the retirement incentive closed in
June 2014, Lynch Affirm. ¶ 11, and she timely applied
for an extension on December 13, 2013, Colandrea Aff. ¶
18. Colandrea applied for the extension in part because her
daughter has a life-long disability, and Colandrea knew that
issues surrounding her daughter's disability insurance
would not be resolved until after July 1, 2014. Id.
¶ 24. When Colandrea raised the issue with Sweeney, he
told her that she should retire because she would make more
money, and he said that he would not bring her extension
request to the Board for a vote. Id. ¶ 18.
After discovering that her request for an extension had been
placed on the Board's meeting agenda, Colandrea reached
out to the individual members of the Board to inform them of
her daughter's health insurance situation. Id.
¶ 19. The Board ultimately denied Colandrea's
extension request in a 5-0 vote. Defs.' SMF ¶ 14.
8, 2014, Colandrea received a counseling memorandum from
Sweeney reprimanding her for reaching out to individual
members of the Board “in clear violation of state
education law and procedural process.” Sweeney Dep. Ex.
15A at 1. Sweeney went on to state that Colandrea had shown a
“pattern of defiance of authority and
rude/disrespectful behavior.” Id. Colandrea
responded that this was the first negative letter she had
received in her personnel file in thirty-three years of
teaching, and that she was not negotiating with the Board;
she was only informing them of her daughter's health
insurance situation, which Sweeney had failed to do on her
behalf. Sweeney Dep. Ex. 15B at 1.
the Board's vote and Sweeney's May 2014 counseling
memorandum, Sweeney gave Colandrea several more opportunities
to accept the retirement incentive without the normal
requirement of 120 days' written notice. Defs.' SMF
¶ 15. In fact, Colandrea and Sweeney met four times
between June 20, 2014, and July 1, 2014, to discuss the
retirement incentive. Colandrea Aff. ¶ 40. Ultimately,
Colandrea rejected the early retirement incentive, and she
continues to be employed as a teacher by HTCSD. Lynch Affirm.
¶¶ 18-19. Although Defendants claim that Colandrea
was never pressured to retire, id. ¶ 16,
Colandrea tells a different story, Colandrea Aff.
¶¶ 40-43; Colandrea Dep. 15:16-15:20.
claims that Sweeney took several steps to coerce her into
retiring. Colandrea Aff. ¶¶ 18, 37. First, on June
18, 2014, Sweeney informed Colandrea that he would not
recommend her for the Site Coordinator position. Id.
¶ 32. As a result, Colandrea claims to have lost a
significant amount of potential income and pension benefits.
Id. ¶¶ 46-47. Indeed, Colandrea claims
that-assuming she would have worked five more years as Site
Coordinator before retiring, and that she would have lived
for thirty years after retiring-she lost $100, 000 in
potential income, and she lost an additional $400, 000 from
her pension. Id. Second, Sweeney rejected
Colandrea's June 22, 2014 application to work as an
Activity Leader in the CROP program. Id. ¶ 44.
Third, in a June 30, 2014 meeting, Sweeney informed Colandrea
that she would not be considered for any extra paid work
assignments that were not guaranteed by her contract during
the upcoming school year. Id. ¶ 52. Finally,
Sweeney did not publicly recognize Colandrea for receiving
the NYSECTA Pre-K Teacher of the Year award, and he
prematurely removed the announcement from the elementary
school billboard. Id. ¶ 35.
her applications for the Site Coordinator and Activity Leader
positions were rejected, Colandrea filed a complaint with the
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”)
and the New York State Division of Human Rights
(“NYSDHR”) on July 8, 2014. Id.
¶¶ 33, 44, 55. Defendants were notified of the
complaint sometime in August 2014, and Colandrea claims that
Sweeney retaliated against her for filing those complaints.
Id. First, Colandrea submitted additional
applications for the CROP positions in July and August 2014,
which were also rejected. Id. ¶ 57. Second,
Colandrea was not asked to mentor any new staff members.
Opp'n at 22-23. Third, on September 9, 2014, Colandrea
received a counseling memorandum from Sweeney reprimanding
her for her behavior during the June 17, 2014 incident with
McKinnie. Sweeney Dep. Ex. 16A. Colandrea claims that the
timing of the counseling memorandum-which she received months
after the incident, but just weeks after the school learned
of her age discrimination complaint-shows that it was
retaliatory. Colandrea Aff. ¶ 55. Defendants, on the
other hand, claim that the counseling memorandum was not
retaliation; the memorandum was delayed only because the
incident occurred just before summer break. Lynch Affirm.
April 14, 2015, Colandrea filed the Complaint in this action,
alleging that Defendants discriminated and retaliated against
her in violation of the ADEA and NYSHRL. On July 14, 2016,
Defendants filed the Motion for Summary Judgement. Colandrea
submitted an opposition, but Defendants did not file a reply.
of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure instructs courts to
grant summary judgment if “there is no genuine dispute
as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a).
Although “[f]actual disputes that are irrelevant or
unnecessary” will not preclude summary judgment,
“summary judgment will not lie if . . . the evidence is
such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the
nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); see also Taggart v.
Time, Inc., 924 F.2d 43, 46 (2d Cir. 1991) (“Only
when no reasonable trier of fact could find in favor of the
nonmoving party should summary judgment be granted.”).
party seeking summary judgment bears the burden of informing
the court of the basis for the motion and of identifying
those portions of the record that the moving party claims
will demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material
fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323
(1986). Similarly, a party is entitled to summary judgment
when the nonmoving party carries the ultimate burden of proof
and has failed “to establish the existence of an
element essential to that party's case, and on which that
party will bear the burden of proof at trial.”
Id. at 322.
attempting to repel a motion for summary judgment after the
moving party has met its initial burden, the nonmoving party
“must do more than simply show that there is some
metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.”
Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp.,
475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). At the same time, a court must
resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences in
favor of the nonmoving party. Reeves v. Sanderson
Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000);
Nora Beverages, Inc. v. Perrier Grp. of Am., Inc.,
164 F.3d 736, 742 (2d Cir. 1998). Thus, a court's duty in
reviewing a motion for summary judgment is “carefully
limited” to finding genuine disputes of fact,
“not to deciding them.” Gallo v. Prudential
Residential Servs., Ltd. P'ship, 22 F.3d 1219, 1224
(2d Cir. 1994).
brings claims of discrimination and retaliation against both
HTCSD and Sweeney under the ADEA and the NYSHRL. Compl.
¶ 1. Claims under the NYSHRL and the ADEA are analyzed
under the same standard: the burden-shifting framework
established in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411
U.S. 792 (1973). Robles v. Cox & Co., 987
F.Supp.2d 199, 205-06 (E.D.N.Y. 2013); see also
Abdu-Brisson v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., 239 F.3d 456, 467
(2d Cir. 2001) (“Although there are differences between
the State HRL . . . and the [ADEA], age discrimination suits
brought under the State HRL . . . are subject to the same
analysis as claims brought under the ADEA.”).
the McDonnell Douglas framework, a plaintiff
alleging age discrimination must first make out a prima facie
case by showing that: (1) she was over the age of forty, (2)
she was qualified for the position in question, (3) she
suffered an adverse employment action, and (4) the adverse
action took place under circumstances giving rise to an
inference of discrimination. Terry v. Ashcroft, 336
F.3d 128, 137-38 (2d Cir. 2003). “A plaintiff's
burden of establishing a prima facie case is de
minimis.” Abdu-Brisson, 239 F.3d at 467. If
the plaintiff meets this minimal burden, the employer must
offer a “clear and specific” nondiscriminatory
reason for the adverse employment action. Meiri v.
Dacon, 759 F.2d 989, 996-97 (2d Cir. 1985). Once such a
reason is provided, the plaintiff can no longer rely on her
prima facie case but may still prevail if she can show that
the employer's determination was in fact the result of
discrimination. Holcomb v. Iona College, 521 F.3d
130, 138 (2d Cir. 2008). “‘[A] plaintiff bringing
a disparate-treatment claim pursuant to the ADEA must prove,
by a ...