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Hoag v. Fallsburg Central School District

United States District Court, S.D. New York

September 5, 2017

JILLIAN HOAG, Plaintiff,

          Justin S. Clark Matthew J. Blit Lewis G. Spicer Levine & Blit, PLLC New York, New York Counsel for Plaintiff.

          Adam L. Rodd Drake Loeb PLLC New Windsor, New York Counsel for Defendant.

          OPINION & ORDER

          CATHY SEIBEL, U.S.D.J.

         Before the Court is Defendant's motion for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, the motion is GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Facts[1]

         Plaintiff Jillian Hoag was hired by Defendant Fallsburg Central School District (the “District”) in 2008. (Doc. 44 (“P's 56.1 Resp.”) ¶ 5.) She was initially hired as a leave replacement teacher for seventh grade English at the District's Junior/Senior High School (“JSHS”), which houses seventh through twelfth grades. (Id. ¶¶ 6-7.) Michael Williams, the principal of the JSHS, participated in Plaintiff's 2008 interview and recommended that the District hire her. (Id. ¶ 8.) During the 2008/2009 school year, Plaintiff worked as a leave replacement teacher in seventh grade English, eighth grade English, and math/science/technology, and as a substitute teacher and either an aide or a teacher's aide. (Id. ¶ 9.) From September 2009 to March 2010, Plaintiff worked as a front desk aide. (Id. ¶ 10.) In March 2010, Principal Williams interviewed Plaintiff and recommended her for an open teacher's assistant position. (Id. ¶¶ 11-12.) The District hired her as a teacher's assistant, and Plaintiff held this position from March 2010 through the 2011 school year. (Id. ¶¶ 13-14.) During the 2010/2011 school year, Plaintiff did not perform any extracurricular hourly or stipend duties. (Id. ¶ 15.)

         During the summer of 2010, Plaintiff began a romantic relationship with math teacher Daniel Redmond, (id. ¶ 16), which relationship she ended in February or March 2011, (id. ¶ 17). After Plaintiff ended the relationship, Plaintiff alleged that Redmond engaged in a pattern of harassment toward her that included: entering Plaintiff's classroom while she was teaching; leaving notes on her computer; blocking Plaintiff's path if she did not answer his questions; trying to kiss Plaintiff; and sending Plaintiff text messages threatening to expose their relationship. (Id. ¶ 18.)

         Plaintiff complained to School Resource Officer Robert Noller in March 2011 and asked him to advise Redmond to give Plaintiff space and not enter her classroom. (Id. ¶ 19.) Noller notified Superintendent Ivan Katz about Plaintiff's complaint against Redmond, (id. ¶ 20; Doc. 31 (“Katz Aff.”)), and Katz immediately placed Redmond on a leave of absence, (P's 56.1 Resp. ¶ 21). Katz, together with other District administrative personnel, investigated Plaintiff's allegations of Redmond's harassment, including conducting interviews with Plaintiff, Redmond, and other witnesses. (Id. ¶ 22.) Katz concluded that Plaintiff's allegations were founded. (Id. ¶ 23.) As a result, on March 16, 2011 the District's Board of Education rescinded its grant of tenure to Redmond based on its finding of inappropriate conduct on his part. (Id. ¶ 26.)[2] On March 21, 2011, Katz issued Redmond a formal written reprimand, which was placed in Redmond's permanent personnel file. (Id. ¶ 27; Doc. 35 Ex. M.) The formal reprimand: indicated that Redmond's classroom would be moved away from Plaintiff's classroom; instructed Redmond not to communicate with Plaintiff “unless and until she indicates a willingness to communicate;” required Redmond to attend harassment training specified by the District; and warned Redmond that “any additional incidents may well subject you to further disciplinary sanctions, up to and including discharge.” (Doc. 35 Ex. M at 2.) Redmond stopped harassing Plaintiff, and Plaintiff did not ask anyone from the District to take further action. (P's 56.1 Resp. ¶ 29.)

         In March or April 2011, Principal Williams made a comment to Plaintiff to the effect of that if this were fifty years ago, the woman (Plaintiff) would have been fired and the man would have been brought back. (Doc. 42 (“D's 56.1 Reply”) ¶ 81.)[3]

         In June 2011, Plaintiff complained to Principal Williams and Ilona Lindsey, the school nurse and Plaintiff's union representative, (Doc. 33 (“Lindsey Aff.”) ¶¶ 1, 3; P's 56.1 Resp. ¶ 39), regarding derogatory comments about Plaintiff made by female players on the basketball team coached by Redmond, (P's 56.1 Resp. ¶¶ 30, 32(a)). That same month, Principal Williams spoke with the players involved and told them to stop making disparaging comments about Plaintiff, (id. ¶ 31), and Lindsey told them that their comments were inappropriate, (id. ¶ 32(a)). The players' comments stopped, (id. ¶ 33(a)), and Plaintiff did not complain to Principal Williams again regarding their conduct, (id. ¶ 32(b)).

         On her performance evaluation for the 2010/2011 schooxl year, Plaintiff received the highest score (“outstanding, exceptional, above standards”) for seventeen out of eighteen categories, and the second highest score (“consistently meets standards”) for the remaining category. (Doc. 35 Ex. P.) The evaluation stated that Plaintiff “works effectively with staff and students” and that she “is helpful and cares about the academic success of her students.” (Id. at 2.)

         Plaintiff continued as a full time teacher's assistant for the 2011/2012 school year. (P's 56.1 Resp. ¶ 34.) She applied for and was selected to work additional hours as an extended-day teacher, as well as in the stipend position of class advisor. (Id. ¶¶ 35-36.)

         Stephen Javone, a ninth grade English Language Arts teacher, retired on June 30, 2012, and his position was subsequently eliminated. (D's 56.1 Reply ¶ 86; Doc. 32 (“Evans Aff.”) ¶ 3.) In his affidavit, Assistant Superintendent Matthew Evans stated that it is District protocol to eliminate a vacant teaching position if it is no longer needed, (Evans Aff. ¶ 3), and that Javone's former position was not needed to meet the requirements established by the New York State Education Department, (id.; D's 56.1 Reply ¶ 56). Plaintiff contends, however, that the District had a budget surplus at the time. (See Doc. 45 Ex. I (“Katz Dep.”) at 27-28.) She never indicated interest in Javone's position because she felt that if she were “to put in for any position now, they wouldn't hire [her].” (Doc. 35 Ex. G (“P's Dep.”) at 88-89.)

         At some point during the fall of 2012, custodian Remington Parker told Plaintiff that Parker's supervisor, Jay Shapiro, told Parker to stay away from Plaintiff because she liked to get people fired. (P's 56.1 Resp. ¶ 37.) Principal Williams and Superintendent Katz both stated in their affidavits that Plaintiff did not report Shapiro's or Parker's comments to them in the fall of 2012, (Doc. 30 (“Williams Aff.”) ¶ 13; Katz Aff. ¶ 27), and Williams stated that Plaintiff never reported the comments to him at all, (Williams Aff. ¶ 13). Plaintiff informed union representative Lindsey about the comments, but did not request that Lindsey do anything in response. (P's 56.1 Resp. ¶ 39.) After her complaint to Lindsey, Plaintiff was not aware of any other similar comments by Shapiro. (Id. ¶ 40.)

         Plaintiff testified that in September or October 2012, Principal Williams began appearing at her classroom and “checking to see if [she] was where [she] was supposed to be.” (P's Dep. at 42-43.) Plaintiff asked Williams about his conduct, and he replied that he was checking on her based on another employee's report to him that Plaintiff had been leaving work early. (P's 56.1 Resp. ¶ 42.) Plaintiff never filed a complaint or grievance regarding Williams's behavior, and she did not suffer any decrease in salary or benefits as a result. (Id. ¶ 43.)

         On December 5, 2012 the District's Board of Education voted to grant Plaintiff tenure as a teacher's assistant, effective January 24, 2013. (Id. ¶ 44.)

         During the 2012/2013 school year, Plaintiff applied for and was selected to work additional hours as an extended-day teacher and at the stipend position of Class Advisor. (Id. ¶¶ 45-46.) Plaintiff received a favorable performance review at the end of the 2012/2013 school year. (Id. ¶ 47.)

         From March or April to June 2013, Plaintiff noticed that Superintendent Katz would check in on her while she used the District's weight room. (Id. ¶ 48.) The District had a policy requiring anyone using the weight room to be accompanied by another. (Id. ¶ 49.) Plaintiff was never reprimanded or written up for her use of the weight room, and did not suffer a decrease in salary or benefits as a result. (Id. ¶ 50.) She never filed any complaints regarding Katz's checking on her use of the weight room. (Id. ¶ 51.) Katz stated in his affidavit that because his office was near the weight room, when he heard the machines being used he would check to make sure the policy was being followed, but never singled Plaintiff out. (Katz Aff. ¶ 16.)

         On September 9, 2013, Plaintiff informed her union representative Lindsey and Principal Williams that her schedule afforded her insufficient break time, (id. ¶ 52), and Williams corrected the issue that same day, (id. ¶ 53).

         Also in September 2013, the District was investigating Redmond for issues regarding inappropriate contact with students. (Id. ¶ 55.) Redmond was placed on administrative leave for the duration of the investigation. (Williams Aff. ¶ 29.) The District requested to interview Plaintiff as part of this investigation, (id. ¶ 23), but Plaintiff refused to cooperate and complained to Lindsey, Principal Williams, and Superintendent Katz, (P's 56.1 Resp. ¶ 56). On September 22, 2013, Plaintiff emailed Williams and Katz, stating that she felt that “being dragged into” the new investigation of Redmond was retaliation “for speaking up and saying something about the hostile work environment . . . created by” Redmond's harassment of her. (Doc. 35 Ex. DD.) After learning that Plaintiff would not participate in the District's investigation of Redmond, Williams made a comment to the effect that it was not good for Plaintiff to refuse to cooperate with the District and that Plaintiff had “burned her bridges.” (D's 56.1 Reply ¶ 91; Doc. 45 Ex. G (“Lindsey Dep.”) at 22-23.) Williams stated in his affidavit that this comment “reflected [his] disappointment in the fact that [Plaintiff] objected to participating in the 2013 investigation of Redmond.” (Williams Aff. ¶ 25.)

         Assistant Superintendent Michael Evans was assigned to review Plaintiff's complaint, (P's 56.1 Resp. ¶ 58), and issued a report of his findings on November 25, 2013, (id. ¶ 59; Doc. 35 Ex. EE). The District also retained an outside human resources specialist, David Smith, to investigate Plaintiff's allegations of discrimination and retaliation. (P's 56.1 Resp. ¶ 60.) Both concluded that Plaintiff had not been subjected to discrimination or retaliation. (Id. ¶¶ 59, 61; Doc. 35 Exs. EE, FF.)

         On November 20, 2013, Plaintiff filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). (P's 56.1 Resp. ¶ 62; Doc. 35 Ex. B (“EEOC Charge”).)

         Sometime during the spring of 2014 after Redmond had returned to work, he was scheduled for lunch duty at the same time as Plaintiff. (P's 56.1 Resp. ¶ 76.) Redmond did not harass her during lunch duty, (id. ¶ 77), and Plaintiff did not complain to any District administrator about the scheduling, (id. ¶ 78.) Plaintiff testified, however, that because Williams “had made it clear that he did not want [her] coming hear him, ” she complained to her union representative, Lindsey, instead. (P's Dep. at 87.)

         At the end of the 2013/2014 school year, a teacher's assistant at the elementary school needed to be transferred to the JSHS because of an allergy problem she had at the elementary school. (P's 56.1 Resp. ¶ 63.) As a result, the District needed to transfer a teacher's assistant from the JSHS to the elementary school. (Id. ¶ 64.) When asked by union representative Lindsey, no teacher's assistants at the JSHS volunteered for the transfer. (Id. ¶ 65.)[4] Principal Williams stated in his affidavit that he advised Assistant Superintendent Evans that no one had volunteered for the transfer, (Williams Aff. ¶ 30; see Doc. 32 (“Evans Aff.”) ¶ 13), and Evans selected Plaintiff for the transfer, (P's 56.1 Resp. ¶ 67). Williams was not involved in the selection of Plaintiff. (Williams Aff. ¶ 30.) At the time, Plaintiff was the only teacher's assistant at the JSHS who had teaching certifications in both literacy and English. (P's 56.1 Resp. ¶ 68.)[5]Evans stated in his affidavit that he selected Plaintiff for the transfer because she was the most qualified to address the elementary school's literacy needs at the time. (Evans Aff. ¶ 14.) On August 17, 2014, Evans advised Plaintiff that she would be transferred from the JSHS to the elementary school and would hold her same position of teacher's assistant. (P's 56.1 Resp. ¶ 70.)

         Plaintiff worked as a teacher's assistant for the 2014/2015 and 2015/2016 school years before resigning at the end of the 2015/2016 year. (Id. ¶ 71.) During those two years, the elementary school's extended-day program ran for two hours - before school from 8:00 am to 9:00 am and after school from 4:00 pm to 5:00 pm - while the JSHS's extended-day program ran only for one hour and forty-five minutes after school. (Id. ¶¶ 74-75.) Plaintiff stated in her affidavit, without further explanation, that she could not work the morning extended hour session in the elementary school “because of the position [she] had there.” (Doc. 46 (“Hoag Aff.”) ¶ 10.) The elementary school's principal, Mary Kate Stinehour, stated in her affidavit, however, that Plaintiff's position did not prevent her from working the 8:00 am to 9:00 am extended hour because her position only required her to work from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm. (Doc. 41 (“Stinehour Aff.”) ¶ 2-3.) Further, Stinehour was not aware of Plaintiff ever raising this issue to her or anyone else at the elementary school. (Id. ¶ 3.)

         Plaintiff received annual salary increases from the 2010/2011 through 2015/2016 school years, (P's 56.1 Resp. ¶ 72), and her salary and benefits were never cut or reduced during that time, (id. ¶ 73).

         B. Procedural History

         Plaintiff initiated this action by filing a complaint on December 31, 2014, alleging claims for sex discrimination, hostile work environment, and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) and the New York State Human Rights Law (“NYSHRL”). (Doc. 1.) Plaintiff amended her complaint on March 2, 2015, alleging the same violations, (Doc. 6), and Defendant answered on June 5, 2015, (Doc. 8). Defendant filed the instant motion, (Doc. 28), following discovery.


         A. ...

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