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Agyeman v. Roosevelt Union Free School District

United States District Court, E.D. New York

June 5, 2017

Akousa Agyeman, Plaintiff,
Roosevelt Union Free School District, et al., Defendants.

          Plaintiff is represented by Alan E. Wolin of Wolin & Wolin, Esqs.

          Defendants are represented by Gerald Stephen Smith of Silverman and Associates.


          JOSEPH F. BIANCO United States District Judge

         Plaintiff elementary school teacher Akousa Agyeman (“Agyeman” or “plaintiff”) brings this civil rights action against her employer, the Roosevelt Union Free School District (the “District”), as well as the Board of Education of Roosevelt Union Free School District (the “Board”), Dr. Deborah L. Wortham, Dr. Dionne Wynn, Ronald Grotsky, Nataesha McVea, and Jeremiah Sumter (collectively, “defendants”), pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (“Section 1983”) and New York Civil Service Law § 75-b. She alleges that defendants violated her rights under the First Amendment and retaliated against her for engaging in various forms of protected speech.

         Defendants now move for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants the motion with respect to plaintiff's Section 1983 claim, and the Court declines, in its discretion, to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining New York State law claim, which it dismisses without prejudice to re-filing in state court.

         I. Background

         A. Facts

         The following facts are taken from the parties' Rule 56.1 statements (“Defs.' 56.1, ” ECF No. 43; “Pl.'s 56.1, ” ECF No. 47), as well as the parties' affidavits and exhibits. Unless otherwise noted, the facts are either undisputed or uncontroverted by admissible evidence. Upon consideration of the motion for summary judgment, the Court will construe the facts in the light most favorable to plaintiff as the nonmoving party, and it will resolve all factual ambiguities in her favor. See Capobianco v. New York, 422 F.3d 47, 50 n.1 (2d Cir. 2001).

         1. Plaintiff's Assignment Transfer

         Plaintiff was first hired by the District in 1999. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 1.) In September 2013, plaintiff wrote an email to defendant District Director of Pupil Personnel Services Dr. Dionne Wynn (“Dr. Wynn”) expressing concerns about her recent assignment transfer from Special Education Lead Teacher/ Resource Room Teacher to Self-Contained Teacher. (Id. ¶ 2; Defs.' Exh. C, ECF No. 45-3.) Plaintiff said that “[a]lthough [her] work on both a building and district level ha[d] been extensive in the area of special education . . . [her] suggestions and request for leadership roles and initiatives continue[d] to be overlooked and denied.” (Defs.' Exh. C.) In addition, that same month, plaintiff wrote a letter to defendant District Superintendent Dr. Deborah L. Wortham (“Dr. Wortham”) regarding the transfer to ask about returning to her prior assignment and to seek consideration for Special Education Coordinator positions that were available. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶¶ 3-4; Defs.' Exh. D, ECF No. 45-4.)

         Plaintiff believed that her assignment transfer violated the terms of her union's collective bargaining agreement, and she subsequently requested a meeting to discuss her transfer and the services she was then being asked to assume as a result of the new assignment. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶¶ 6-7.) On October 4, 2013, plaintiff met with Dr. Wynn, defendant District Assistant Superintendent Ronald Grotsky (“Grotsky”), and Jeff Pullin, the President of the District Teachers Association. (Id. ¶¶ 8-9; Defs.' Exh. F, ECF No. 45-7.) Plaintiff was concerned at that time that her assignment transfer would mean that she would no longer provide services to the students to whom she had previously been assigned. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 11.)

         After the meeting, plaintiff wrote a follow-up letter to Grotsky dated October 6, 2013 in which she mentioned her application for a vacant position; alleged violations of various New York State statutes and the collective bargaining agreement between the District and plaintiff's union as a result of the assignment transfer; and alleged unlawful changes to District students' Individualized Education Plans (“IEPs”). (Id. ¶¶ 13-16; Defs.' Exh. F.)

         2. Plaintiff's E-mail Correspondence

         Following the October 4, 2013 meeting, plaintiff sent several e-mails contesting her assignment transfer and expressing concerns about various District policies and practices. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 28.) For example, in an e-mail to Dr. Wynn and others dated January 13, 2014, plaintiff stated that the District had failed to schedule Committee on Special Education (“CSE”) meetings that had been requested and said that the “denial of procedural requirements prohibit[ed] the opportunity to provide necessary access to education programs and facilities . . . .” (Defs.' Exh. H, ECF No. 45-9.)

         On January 30, 2014, plaintiff sent another e-mail to, inter alia, Dr. Wynn and defendant District Principal Nateasha McVea (“McVea”) expressing her concerns regarding a student's reentry into the classroom after returning from home instruction and stating that the District had not followed protocol and regulations by permitting the student to return without any meeting, intervention, or plan of action. (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 117; Defs.' Exh. J, ECF No. 45-11.) Plaintiff testified that, on that same day, Dr. Wynn and defendant District Assistant Principal Jeremiah Sumter (“Sumter”) pulled her out of her classroom, reprimanded her in front of a student, and later charged her with insubordination. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 23.)

         On March 21, 2014, plaintiff e-mailed Dr. Wynn and McVea and expressed concerns regarding District administration of New York State education assessments. (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 116; Defs.' Exh. I, ECF No. 45-10.) Subsequently, on March 28 and March 31, 2014, plaintiff sent e-mails to Dr. Wynn, McVea, Sumter, and others regarding the treatment of a particular student by plaintiff's co-workers and the administration of that student's IEP. (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 118; Defs.' Exh. K, ECF No. 45-12.) Thereafter, on April 14, 2014, plaintiff sent an e-mail regarding whether plaintiff and other teachers would be provided time during the school day to prepare for annual student review meetings. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 29.) The following day, plaintiff e-mailed Dr. Wynn, McVea, and others and said that the District had failed to address teachers' concerns with reference to a student's current status, placement, and IEP, and plaintiff said that the teachers wanted “to absolve all responsibility for the current status and or decision making for this student.” (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 120; Defs.' Exh. L, ECF No. 45-13.)

         3. Plaintiff's April 11, 2014 Letter

         In a letter dated April 11, 2014[1] (the “April 11, 2014 Letter”) and sent to two separate offices within the New York State Education Department-the office of Special Education Quality Assurance (“SEQA”) and the Office of State Assessment-plaintiff stated that she had “an obligation and duty to notify the proper authorities on the inconsistencies and negligence of the [D]istrict to ensure that all students were provided and received mandated accommodations as noted on their IEP for the 2014” New York State education assessment. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 38; Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 122; Defs.' Exhs. M and N, ECF Nos. 45-14 and 45-15.) Plaintiff said that the District had failed to respond to her complaints and stated that, although she was “very concerned of [sic] [D]istrict's familiar ‘malice tactics' of retaliation especially to whistle blowing (as [she] ha[d] already encountered many instances thus far) [she was] very concerned about the rights of the students [she] serve[d].” (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 122; Defs.' Exhs. M and N.) The April 11, 2014 Letter sent to SEQA is stamped as having been received on April 23, 2014 (Defs.' Exh. M), and in correspondence dated May 1, 2014, an investigator from the New York State Education Department indicated that the Department had received the April 11, 2014 Letter on April 21, 2014 (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 48).

         Plaintiff testified that she also sent a copy of the April 11, 2014 Letter to the District. (Id. ¶ 36.) However, she does not know who might have received that correspondence. (Id. ¶ 45.) Further, she said that the copy of the April 11, 2014 Letter sent to the District was addressed to 315 Wagner Place, Roosevelt, New York 11757, but plaintiff admits that (1) the correct address at the time for the District office was 240 Denton Place, Roosevelt, New York 11571; and (2) at no point in 2014 was 315 Wagner Place an address associated with a District office, school, or other property. (Id. ¶¶ 41-43.) Neither copy of the April 11, 2014 Letter sent to the New York State Education Department indicates that plaintiff e-mailed that correspondence to the District. (Id. ¶ 44.) Plaintiff also did not inform anyone at the District that she was planning to send a letter to the New York State Education Department. (Id. ¶ 49.)

         By letter dated May 1, 2014, the New York State Education Department informed the District that it had received plaintiff's April 11, 2014 Letter on April 21, 2014 and would be investigating her allegations. (Id. ¶ 94.)

         4. Investigation of Plaintiff

         On April 21, 2014, plaintiff reported to work and was due to enter her class grades into the District computer system. (Id. ¶ 50.) Plaintiff later represented that she was unable to do so because of computer issues. (Id. ¶ 51.) On that day, plaintiff informed Chris Repetti (“Repetti”) of the District's Technology Department that files had been deleted from her computer. (Id. ¶ 52.) As a result, Repetti remotely accessed plaintiff's computer and found a very sparse desktop with three icons and no start menu. (Id. ¶ 53.) Repetti then accessed the file system on the same computer and found that plaintiff's desktop folder was missing. (Id. ¶ 54.) He learned that plaintiff had saved all missing data to her desktop computer rather than the District's network, which potentially made recovery of the data very difficult, and further investigation revealed that there were data located in the computer's recycle bin that appeared to belong to plaintiff, indicating that the data had been deleted manually by someone sitting at the computer. (Id. ¶¶ 55-56.) The bulk of the data had been deleted on two dates: Friday April 4, 2014, between 8:30 p.m. and 9:00 p.m.; and April 11, 2014, between 10:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. (Id. ¶ 57.)

         Plaintiff confirmed for Repetti that the data located in the computer recycle bin were the missing files. (Id. ¶ 58.) Repetti then physically accessed plaintiff's computer and recovered all data to her new profile, as well as to the network. (Id. ¶¶ 59-60.) Thereafter, Repetti printed a report showing when a particular user logs on, unlocks, or logs off of any computer on the District's network. (Id. ¶ 62.) The report established that plaintiff's account had been used to log on to her computer at 8:30 p.m. on April 4, 2014 and to unlock the same computer on April 11, 2014 at 9:58 p.m., indicating that someone had been physically sitting at plaintiff's computer at those times. (Id. ¶ 63.) Repetti then reviewed security footage from those dates and times, and he found that at approximately 8:20 p.m. on April 4, 2014 and at 9:54 p.m. on April 11, 2014, plaintiff entered the school and proceeded to her classroom. (Id. ¶ 64.) Repetti provided these findings, including copies of the security footage, to Grotsky. (Id. ¶ 65.) Grotsky then communicated this information to Dr. Wortham and District counsel. (Id. ¶ 66.) After being informed of Repetti's findings, the Board and Dr. Wortham met with District counsel and agreed that further investigation was necessary. (Id. ¶ 67.)

         As part of that investigation, Dr. Wortham reviewed the security footage with District counsel. (Id. ¶ 68.) The videos showed plaintiff being let into the school building by District employee David Dillon (“Dillon”) on April 4, 2014 at approximately 8:20 p.m. with a child identified as plaintiff's daughter. (Id. ¶¶ 69, 80.) At approximately 8:48 p.m., Rich Adams (“Adams”)-the father of plaintiff's daughter and an individual employed as a cleaner at another District school-entered the school building. (Id. ¶ 70.) Adams then went to plaintiff's classroom where he remained until approximately 9:38 p.m. (Id.) At around 11:43 p.m., another individual entered plaintiff's classroom, and about five minutes later, plaintiff, her daughter, and that individual left the classroom. (Id. ¶ 71.)

         Video footage also depicted Dillon allowing plaintiff into the same District school building on April 11, 2014 at approximately 9:54 p.m. (Id. ¶ 72.) Plaintiff then entered her classroom, where she remained until about 11:30 p.m. (Id. ¶ 73.) A few minutes later, plaintiff allowed Adams into the building, and the two then entered plaintiff's classroom. (Id. ¶¶ 74-75.) Adams and plaintiff left the classroom at approximately 11:49 p.m. and 11:56 p.m., respectively. (Id. ΒΆΒΆ 76-77.) The District interviewed Dillon on April 27, 2014, and he confirmed that he had allowed ...

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