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Nelson v. Mount Vernon City School District

United States District Court, S.D. New York

March 22, 2017

MOUNT VERNON CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT and DR. HASNA MUHAMMAD, as Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources and individually, Defendants.

          Paula J. Kelly, Esq.Law Offices of Paula Johnson Kelly Counsel for Plaintiff

          Gerald S. Smith, Jr., Esq. Karen C. Rudnicki, Esq. Silverman & Associates Counsel for Defendants

          OPINION & ORDER


         Plaintiff Lovetta S. Nelson (“Plaintiff”) brings this Action against the Mount Vernon City School District (“School District” or “District”) and Dr. Hasna Muhammad (“Dr. Muhammad” and collectively, “Defendants”), alleging that Defendants unlawfully retaliated against her for making complaints about sexual harassment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and the New York State Human Rights Law (“NYSHRL”), N.Y. Exec. Law § 290 et seq. (See generally Am. Compl. (Dkt. No. 15).)Defendants have filed a Partial Motion To Dismiss the Amended Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) (the “Motion”), seeking to dismiss Plaintiff's NYSHRL claims. (Dkt. No. 16.) For the reasons stated below, the Motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Background

         A. Factual Background

         The following facts are drawn from Plaintiff's Amended Complaint and the documents appended thereto, and are taken as true for the purpose of resolving the Motion. Only the facts necessary to the resolution of the Motion are recounted below.

         Plaintiff began working for the School District in 2007 as a per diem substitute teacher. (Am. Compl. ¶ 14.) Plaintiff continued in that position until 2013. (Id. ¶ 15.) In January 2013, the School District hired Dr. Muhammad to serve as the Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources. (Id. ¶ 23.) On February 28, 2013, Plaintiff was summoned to a meeting with Dr. Muhammad, during which Dr. Muhammad questioned Plaintiff about a sexual misconduct complaint Plaintiff made in January 2011 against a fellow teacher. (Id. ¶¶ 24, 67.) Dr. Muhammad stated she was going to be “looking into” the incident, (id. ¶ 24 (internal quotation marks omitted)), and informed Plaintiff that Plaintiff's name was going to be removed from the “active” substitute teacher list for the duration of the investigation, (id. ¶ 25 (internal quotation marks omitted)).

         Before this initial meeting with Dr. Muhammad, Plaintiff had been assigned to work as a substitute teacher at the Longfellow Elementary School in March 2013. (Id. ¶ 29.) Plaintiff continued to appear as assigned despite Dr. Muhammad's indication that Plaintiff was being removed from the substitute teaching list. (Id.) On March 11, 2013, Plaintiff was removed from a classroom at Longfellow and directed to appear again before Dr. Muhammad. (Id. ¶ 30.) Dr. Muhammad stated that she was still looking into the sexual harassment complaint and told Plaintiff that she was suspended until Dr. Muhammad told her otherwise. (Id.) Plaintiff nonetheless accepted other substitute teaching assignments in the District in April and May 2013. (Id. ¶ 43.)

         On September 24, 2013, Dr. Muhammad sent Plaintiff a memorandum stating that Plaintiff had been insubordinate by accepting substitute teaching positions in the District and informed Plaintiff that she could no longer serve as a substitute teacher. (Id. ¶¶ 44-47; see also Id. Ex. 4.) Plaintiff thereafter submitted a letter to the School District's Superintendent, dated October 1, 2013, stating that Dr. Muhammad's actions were discriminatory. (Id. ¶ 50; see also Id. Ex. 3-A.) The Superintendent did not respond to the letter. (Id. ¶ 50.)

         Throughout November and December 2013, Plaintiffs counsel communicated with the Superintendent and counsel for the School District. First, on November 8, 2013, Plaintiffs counsel sent a letter to the Superintendent in an attempt to resolve the matter. (Id. ¶ 51; see also Id. Ex. 3-B.) Plaintiff did not receive a response from the Superintendent. Plaintiffs counsel was thereafter contacted by a lawyer for the School District, who represented that he was “authorized to discuss the . . . matter with [Plaintiffs counsel] in all respects.” (Id. Ex. 3-C.) On November 29, 2013, Plaintiffs counsel submitted a settlement demand letter to the School District's counsel. (Id. Ex. 3-D.) The letter noted that Plaintiff understood that counsel for the School District had to present the settlement proposal to the Board of Directors for the School District before a settlement could be reached. (Id. Ex. 3-D, at 2.) After failing to hear from counsel for the School District for several weeks, Plaintiffs counsel sent an email to the School District's counsel asking him whether he presented the settlement proposal to the Board of Directors, and informing the School District of Plaintiff s intention to file a charge of retaliation with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). (Id. Ex. 3-E.) Plaintiff did not receive a response to these communications. (Id. ¶ 53.) In January 2014, Plaintiff filed a charge with the EEOC, alleging Defendants violated Title VII. (Id. ¶ 54.)[1]

         In August 2014, Plaintiff applied to be a substitute teacher for the School District, the same position she held before Dr. Muhammad fired her. Plaintiff was advised by a District representative that the District was not hiring. (Id. ¶ 58.) Plaintiff alleges that the School District hired other substitute teachers for the 2014-2015 school year. (Id. ¶ 59.) After Plaintiff learned that the School District was in fact hiring, Plaintiff attempted to apply a second time. (Id. ¶ 60.) A different School District employee informed Plaintiff that Plaintiff could not be given an application “because of what Dr. Muhammad said.” (Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).)

         Plaintiff again attempted in August or September 2015 to apply for substitute teaching positions with the School District. (Id. ¶ 62.) School District employees did not return Plaintiff's calls inquiring about being re-hired by the School District. (Id.)

         Plaintiff alleges that Defendants' decision to suspend and terminate her employment with the School District was in retaliation for complaining about sexual harassment in 2011. (Id. ΒΆΒΆ 67-69.) The School District's retaliatory conduct allegedly continues to this day because it ...

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