Coach’s Claim Is Dismissed After Failing to Prove District’s Stated Reason Was Pretext

Dec 19, 2008

A federal judge from the Western District of New York has granted a defendant school district’s motion to dismiss in a case in which a coach claimed that she was denied reappointment based on her gender.
Plaintiff Mary Dorman had alleged specifically that in subjecting her to disparate treatment and denying her reappointment that the school district and a former superintendent violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C.S. § 2000e et seq., and the New York State Human Rights Law, N.Y. Exec. Law § 290 et seq.
Dorman began her employment at the Webster Central School District in September 2000 as a physical education teacher. She began serving as the school’s varsity swim coach in 2002 and continued in that role until 2005.
After initiating her lawsuit, the defendants moved for summary judgment.
The court quickly granted the former superintendent Thomas Strining’s motion, noting that “individuals are not generally subject to liability under Title VII.” Dorman “has not alleged any overt acts by defendant Strining that might give rise to an exception. See e.g., Tomka v. Seiler, 66 F.3d 1295, 1313 (2d Cir. 1995). Accordingly, plaintiff’s claims against Strining are dismissed.”
Turning to the claim against the school district, the court employed the burden-shifting analysis articulated in McDonnell-Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S. Ct. 1817, 36 L. Ed. 2d 668 (1973). “First, plaintiff must establish a prima facie case of discrimination by demonstrating: (1) membership in a protected class; (2) satisfactory job performance; and (3) an adverse employment action, occurring under (4) circumstances giving rise to an inference of discrimination. See Collins v. New York City Transit Authority, 305 F.3d 113, 118 (2d Cir. 2002). Once plaintiff has established a prima facie case, the burden shifts to defendant to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse employment action. See James v. New York Racing Ass’n, 233 F.3d 149, 154 (2d Cir. 2000). The burden then returns to plaintiff, to supply evidence that the legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason offered by the defendant is a mere pretext for discrimination. See St. Mary’s Honor Center v. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502, 508, 113 S. Ct. 2742, 125 L. Ed. 2d 407 (1993).”
Initially, the District argued that the plaintiff had failed to demonstrate that she was subjected to an adverse employment action, because “it is undisputed that plaintiff’s position was a seasonal appointment, which concluded at the end of each season, after which a new appointment – or reappointment – would be made.”
In “interpreting the evidence in the light most favorable to plaintiff,” the court found “that the District’s serial prior renewal of plaintiff’s position, combined with the District’s admitted policy and practice that coaches who received positive performance evaluations would be reappointed, while coaches who received negative performance evaluations may not be, suggest that Dorman might have had some reasonable expectation of entitlement to be reappointed. As such, I find that Dorman has sufficiently demonstrated, for purposes of setting forth her prima facie case of discrimination, that she was subjected to an adverse employment action.
“Nonetheless … the coach’s undisputed failure to satisfy the requirements of her position by attending clinics and shadowing other programs, as well as the lack of evidence indicating gender-based animus on the part of the district, she could not demonstrate that the district’s reason for declining to reappoint her to the coaching position was pretextual. As such, the coach’s claim that the district discriminated against her when it failed to reappoint her to the girls varsity swim coach position for a fourth season had to be dismissed. To the extent that the coach’s complaint alleged a “pattern and practice” of discrimination by the district with respect to the coaching staff, that claim also had to be dismissed, as the coach had not identified anything other than “isolated” and “sporadic” incidents of allegedly discriminatory action by the district.”
Mary Dorman v. Webster Central School District, Thomas J. Strining, Superintendent of Schools; W. D.N.Y.; 06-CV-6160L, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 73586; 9/12/08
Attorneys of record: (for plaintiff) Christina A. Agola, LEAD ATTORNEY, Rochester, NY. (for defendant) Colleen Walsh Heinrich, LEAD ATTORNEY, Ferrara, Fiorenza, Larrison, Barrett & Reitz, P.C., East Syracuse, NY.


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