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Shands v. Lakeland Central School District

United States District Court, S.D. New York

March 30, 2017


          Annette Shands Cortlandt Manor, NY Pro Se Plaintiff

          Denise M. Cossu, Esq.James A. Randazzo, Esq. Gaines, Novick, Ponzini, Cossu & Venditti, LLP White Plains, NY Counsel for Defendants

          OPINION & ORDER

          KENNETH M. KARAS, District Judge

         Pro se Plaintiff Annette Shands (“Plaintiff”) filed the instant Action pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq., the New York State Human Rights Law (“NYSHRL”), N.Y. Exec. Law § 296, the New York City Human Rights Law (“NYCHRL”), and the New York State Education Law against the Lakeland Central School District (“School District”), George E. Stone (“Stone”), Tammy Cosgrove (“Cosgrove”), Mary Ellen Herzog (“Herzog”), Jim Van Develde (“Van Develde”), Jean Miccio (“Miccio”), and Raymond Morningstar (“Morningstar, ” and collectively, “Defendants”), alleging that Defendants discriminated against her on the basis of her age, sex, and race, and violated the Education Law by drafting a vacancy announcement in such a way that it favored certain candidates. (See generally Second Am. Compl. (“SAC”) (Dkt. No. 6).) Before the Court is Defendants' Motion To Dismiss the Second Amended Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Dkt. No. 44.) For the reasons explained herein, Defendants' Motion is denied in part and granted in part.

         I. Background

         A. Factual Background

         The following facts are drawn from Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint, the documents appended thereto, and the filings Plaintiff submitted in opposition to the instant Motion, and are taken as true for the purpose of resolving the Motion.

         Plaintiff alleges that she is an African American over the age of 65 and is “duly qualified to be employed as an [a]dministrator within the school systems of the State of New York.” (SAC ¶ 1.) She earned her permanent teaching certification in February 1995. (Id. ¶ 4; id. Ex. A.)

         In May 2014, Plaintiff became aware of an Assistant Principal position with the School District. (Id. ¶ 5.) She went to a School District facility on May 16, 2014 and inquired about the position, but was told that the application window might be closed that day. (Id. ¶ 6.) Plaintiff was further told that she was not within the School District's database of persons listed as having permanent certifications and that only persons in that database would be considered for the Assistant Principal position. (Id. ¶ 7.) Plaintiff left the facility and applied for the position online. (Id. ¶ 9; id. Ex. C, at 1.) Prior to submitting the application, Plaintiff verified with the New York State Department of Education that she was listed in the state's database as having permanent certification as an administrator. (Id. ¶ 9.)

         During the application process, Plaintiff noticed that the vacancy announcement stated that a successful candidate would have a “background in middle school education.” (Id. ¶ 10 (internal quotation marks omitted); id. Ex. B.) Plaintiff alleges that this requirement “violates and effectively alters the New York State requirement for permanent certification as an administrator which accepts any teaching experience for a stated number of years in grades Nursery/Kindergarten (N/K) through 12.” (Id. ¶ 11.) Essentially, she contends that the School District limited the pool of candidates for the middle school Assistant Principal position to “only those with middle school experience, thus depriving those candidates, including [her], ” “with little or no middle school experience, ” but “with comparable administrative experience in other school settings[, ] . . . [of] the opportunity to be employed.” (Id. ¶¶ 13, 15.) This requirement also allegedly favors applicants younger than Plaintiff because middle school administrative certification became available only after Plaintiff earned her permanent certification. (Id. ¶ 16.)

         Plaintiff was not hired for the Assistant Principal position. According to Plaintiff, “there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that . . . [her] application or cover letter w[ere] given any consideration.” (Pl.'s Aff'n in Opp'n to Defs.' Mot. (“Pl.'s Aff'n”) 2 (Dkt. No. 47).) A “younger, less-experienced[, ] and less qualified Caucasian male was” ultimately hired. (Pl.'s Aff'n 3; see also SAC ¶¶ 17-18.) Because she was not hired, Plaintiff filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). It issued a notice of right to sue letter in February 2015. (SAC Ex. C, at 2.)

         B. Procedural Background

         Plaintiff filed a Complaint on May 26, 2015. (Dkt. No. 2.) On June 10, 2015, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint. (Dkt. No. 4.) The instant Second Amended Complaint was filed on June 18, 2015. (Dkt. No. 6.) Pursuant to a Scheduling Order, (Dkt. No. 43), Defendants filed their Motion and supporting papers on March 31, 2016, (Dkt. Nos. 44-46). Plaintiff filed opposition papers on May 12, 2016. (Dkt. Nos. 47-48.) Defendants filed a reply on June 3, 2016. (Dkt. No. 51.)

         II. Discussion

         A. Standard of Review

         The Supreme Court has held that although a complaint “does not need detailed factual allegations” to survive a motion to dismiss, “a plaintiff's obligation to provide the ‘grounds' of his [or her] ‘entitlement to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (alteration omitted). Instead, the Supreme Court has emphasized that “[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, ” id., and that “once a claim has been stated adequately, it may be supported by showing any set of facts consistent with the allegations in the complaint, ” id. at 563. A plaintiff must allege “only enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. at 570. But if a plaintiff has “not nudged [his or her] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible, the[] complaint must be dismissed.” Id.; see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009) (“Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will . . . be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense. But where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not ‘show[n]'-‘that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” (second alteration in original) (citation omitted) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2))).

         For purposes of Defendants' Motion, the Court is required to consider as true the factual allegations contained in the Second Amended Complaint. See Ruotolo v. City of New York, 514 F.3d 184, 188 (2d Cir. 2008) (“We review de novo a district court's dismissal of a complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), accepting all factual allegations in the complaint and drawing all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor.” (internal quotation marks and italics omitted)); Gonzalez v. Caballero, 572 F.Supp.2d 463, 466 (S.D.N.Y. 2008) (same). “In adjudicating a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a district court must confine its consideration to facts stated on the face of the complaint, in documents appended to the complaint or incorporated in the complaint by reference, and to matters of which judicial notice may be taken.” Leonard F. v. Isr. Disc. Bank of N.Y., 199 F.3d 99, 107 (2d Cir. 1999) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Because Plaintiff is proceeding pro se, the Court construes her “submissions . . . liberally” and interprets them “to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest.” Triestman v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 470 F.3d 471, 474 (2d Cir. 2006) (internal quotation marks omitted). Furthermore, it is appropriate to consider “materials outside the complaint to the extent that they are consistent with the allegations in the complaint, ” Alsaifullah v. Furco, No. 12-CV-2907, 2013 WL 3972514, at *4 n.3 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 2, 2013) (internal quotation marks omitted), including “documents that a pro se litigant attaches to his opposition papers, ” Agu v. Rhea, No. 09-CV-4732, 2010 WL 5186839, at *4 n.6 (E.D.N.Y. Dec. 15, 2010); see also Walker v. Schult, 717 F.3d 119, 122 n.1 (2d Cir. 2013) (noting that a court may consider “factual allegations made by a pro se party in his papers opposing the motion” (italics omitted)); Rodriguez v. Rodriguez, No. 10-CV-891, 2013 WL 4779639, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. July 8, 2013) (“Although the [c]ourt is typically confined to the allegations contained within the four corners of the complaint, when analyzing the sufficiency of a pro se pleading, a court may consider factual allegations contained in a pro se litigant's opposition papers and other court filings.” (citation and internal quotation marks omitted)).

         B. Analysis

         Defendants make four arguments in support of their Motion. First, they contend that Plaintiff failed to exhaust her Title VII claim. They have attached the charge Plaintiff submitted to the EEOC as evidence of her failure. (See Decl. of James A. Randazzo, Esq., in Supp. of Defs.' Mot. To Dismiss Ex. 2 (“EEOC Charge”) (Dkt. No. 45).) Second, they argue that Plaintiff's claims against the individual Defendants must be dismissed because neither Title VII nor the ADEA subjects individuals to personal liability. Third, Defendants argue that the Motion should be granted because the School District had a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for not hiring Plaintiff. ...

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