57 F.3d 243 (2nd Cir. 1995), 1451, Murray v. New York University College of Dentistry

Docket Nº:1451, Docket 94-9085.
Citation:57 F.3d 243
Party Name:Patricia MURRAY, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. NEW YORK UNIVERSITY COLLEGE OF DENTISTRY, Defendant-Appellee.
Case Date:June 16, 1995
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
 
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Page 243

57 F.3d 243 (2nd Cir. 1995)

Patricia MURRAY, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

NEW YORK UNIVERSITY COLLEGE OF DENTISTRY, Defendant-Appellee.

No. 1451, Docket 94-9085.

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

June 16, 1995

Argued April 14, 1995.

Page 244

Debra L. Raskin, New York City (Anne L. Clark, Vladeck, Waldman, Elias & Engelhard, on the brief), for plaintiff-appellant.

Ada Meloy, New York City (S. Andrew Schaffer, on the brief), for defendant-appellee.

Arnold & Porter, New York City (Peter L. Zimroth, Deborah Goldberg, Julie Goldscheid, Deborah A. Ellis, NOW Legal Defense and Educ. Fund, of counsel), filed a brief for amicus curiae NOW Legal Defense and Educ. Fund in support of appellant.

McGuire, Kehl & Nealon, New York City (Terri E. Simon, Shelley Sanders Kehl, Jeffrey A. Kehl, of counsel), filed a brief for amici curiae Albany Medical College, Alfred University, American Ass'n of Dental Schools, Ass'n of American Medical Colleges, Brown University, The Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York, The Johns Hopkins University, Manhattan College, Mount Sinai School of Medicine of the City University of New York, The New School for Social Research, Pace University, Rochester Institute of Technology, Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, St. Francis College (NY), St. John Fisher College, Teachers College, The University of Notre Dame du Lac, and Yeshiva University, in support of appellee.

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Before: FEINBERG, VAN GRAAFEILAND, and KEARSE, Circuit Judges.

KEARSE, Circuit Judge:

Plaintiff Patricia Murray appeals from a judgment of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, Lawrence M. McKenna, Judge, dismissing her claims under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. Sec. 1681-1688 (1988) ("Title IX"), for gender discrimination based on sexual harassment. The district court dismissed the complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) on the principal ground that it failed to allege sufficient facts to support a finding that defendant New York University College of Dentistry ("NYU" or the "College") either (1) had notice of the alleged sexual harassment prior to its cessation, or (2) retaliated against Murray after she informed NYU that the harassment had occurred. On appeal, Murray contends that the complaint sufficiently alleged the necessary elements of a "hostile environment" gender-discrimination claim under Title IX. For the reasons that follow, we reject her contentions and affirm the judgment of the district court.

I. BACKGROUND

After successfully completing the first-year dental curriculum at NYU, Murray commenced the second-year course of study, which included participation in a dental clinic providing services to the public, in August 1992. Taking all of the allegations in the complaint as true, the subsequent events were as follows.

  1. The Alleged Sexual Harassment

    In September or October 1992, a patient in the clinic, Mitchell Davidson, began to harass Murray, initially by staring at her, commenting on her appearance, and asking her for dates. In late October or early November 1992, another dental student, identified in the complaint only as "Fabiola," told the chief of the dental clinic, Dr. Esther Kuyinu, that Davidson was "unstable" and that he was "sexually harassing" Murray. (Complaint p 10.) In response to Fabiola's report, Kuyinu warned Davidson to cease his offensive behavior. Despite this reprimand, Davidson continued to importune Murray for dates and to make professions of love to her; he also began to stalk Murray, following her both at the clinic and in other parts of the College and outside of NYU. On several occasions, he followed Murray to a friend's apartment and waited outside for her. In an effort to avoid Davidson, Murray began to enter the clinic through a back door, use the stairways rather than the elevators, and alter her routes to and from the clinic. Kuyinu made no further inquiry about Davidson's conduct and took no action to ensure that it had stopped.

    In March 1993, while receiving treatment at the clinic within view of where Murray was treating another patient, Davidson began "staring at Murray and trying to get her attention." (Complaint p 12.) Murray was "distracted" and sought help from faculty member Dr. Ira Gulker, the first doctor she could find. Gulker told Murray "that he did not want to hear about her problem with Davidson and that she should 'grow up' and deal with it herself." (Id.) Davidson's conduct continued throughout Murray's second year and became "so persistent, open and notorious that numerous other students at the College were aware of his behavior and teased Murray about her 'boyfriend.' " (Id. p 13.) The harassment finally ended in the early summer of 1993.

    Of the 28 courses in the regular second-year curriculum at the College, Murray passed 18, received a grade of incomplete in four, and failed six. In September 1993, Murray received a letter from Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Frederick G. More, informing her that, based on this performance, the Academic Standing Committee at the College (the "Academic Committee" or "Committee") had recommended that Murray be required to repeat the second-year curriculum. Murray had already commenced her third-year courses and had made informal arrangements with individual instructors to rectify the deficiencies in her second-year record. The letter stated that if Murray wished to appeal the decision, she should contact More.

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    In October 1993, Murray met with More concerning her academic standing. At the meeting, Murray described Davidson's conduct, told More she had informed a faculty doctor (meaning Gulker) about Davidson's behavior, and explained that the harassment had adversely affected her performance during the previous academic year. More did not ask Murray to provide him with the names of her harasser or the doctor to whom she had complained. More reviewed a draft explanatory letter Murray had prepared and informed her that she could attend the meeting of the Academic Committee at which the Committee's initial recommendation would again be considered.

    Prior to appearing before the Committee, Murray sent More the final version of her letter, dated October 20, 1993, requesting that the College allow her to continue with the third-year curriculum while she corrected the deficiencies in her second-year academic record, and pointing to "several extenuating circumstances" that had contributed to her poor academic results, (Murray Letter dated October 20, 1993, at 1). The letter first asserted that "[d]ue to a serious illness in my family, I was saddled with a great emotional burden. During this most stressful time, I was not able to give my school work the full attention it deserved." (Id. at 2.) She added that her financial situation required her to work part-time, which further limited the amount of time she could devote to her studies. The letter then described Davidson's harassment at length:

    Another situation I was presented with, is difficult for me to discuss, but I feel it is important that I bring it to your attention. Last year ... a patient, although not assigned to me, began to sexually harass me. At first, he repeatedly told me that he found me attractive and that he wanted to date me. I immediately told him I was not interested and discouraged any further comments and overtures. However, he persisted and began following me around the school and surrounding neighborhood. This was brought to the Clinic Chief's attention and the patient was warned against future harassment. This did not stop him. In fact, his conduct became worse. The harassment and comments became more explicit and frightening. On several occasions he followed me to a classmate's apartment nearby school and waited for me outside the apartment building. As I hope you can imagine, this person's behavior was extremely frightening and distracting while I was at school. I became afraid to go into the clinic and even the Dental Center itself. This situation even affected my life outside of school causing me to spend sleepless nights worrying about what this person would do next. I did not know what to do or who [sic ] to turn to. I hesitated to secure help from either school or outside officials, out of fear of what this obviously disturbed person might do. I realize now that this may have been an error in judgment, but I feel that my judgment was clouded by shear [sic ] terror.

    (Id.) Murray asserted that the harassment had detracted from her academic performance during the previous year, but that "the situation has improved...." (Id.)

    On October 22, Murray appeared before the Academic Committee, of which Gulker was a member. Although Murray was permitted to address the Committee concerning the reasons for her second-year academic results, the members did not ask her any questions about the sexual harassment or its impact on her performance. Following the meeting, Murray sent a second letter to More, stating that she had already corrected most of her deficient grades, reiterating her request not to repeat the second-year curriculum, and stating that she could rectify the remaining deficiencies in her record with "only a minimal amount of work." (Murray Letter dated October 25, 1993, at 1.) Murray further noted that, already having borrowed more than $117,000 to finance her dental school education, she would be unable to obtain sufficient funding to finance an extra year of studies.

    Around the same time, Murray also lodged a complaint concerning the harassment with the Equal Employment Opportunity ("EEO") office at the College. None of the College officials who knew of Davidson's sexually harassing behavior had told Murray about the

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