Kohlhausen v. Suny Rockland Cmty. Coll., CASE NO. 7:10-CV-3168

CourtUnited States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
Writing for the CourtJAMES S. GWIN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
PartiesDR. KIMBERLY ANN KOHLHAUSEN, Plaintiff, v. SUNY ROCKLAND COMMUNITY COLLEGE, et al., Defendants.
Decision Date09 February 2011
Docket NumberCASE NO. 7:10-CV-3168

DR. KIMBERLY ANN KOHLHAUSEN, Plaintiff,
v.
SUNY ROCKLAND COMMUNITY COLLEGE, et al., Defendants.

CASE NO. 7:10-CV-3168

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK

February 9, 2011


OPINION & ORDER
[Resolving Doc.
Nos. 22, 26 ]

JAMES S. GWIN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE:

In this sex and marital status discrimination, harassment, and retaliation case, Defendants SUNY Rockland Community College ("SUNY Rockland"), the County of Rockland, the Board of Trustees of SUNY Rockland Community College, Ian Blake Newhem, Clifford Wood, Martha Rottman, Clifford Garner, and the SUNY Rockland Community College Federation of Teachers Local 1871 move to dismiss Plaintiff Kimberly Ann Kohlhausen's complaint for lack of jurisdiction and failure to state a claim. [Doc. 22; Doc. 24; Doc. 27; Doc. 35.] The Plaintiff opposes. [Doc. 30; Doc. 32.] For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART the Defendants' motions to dismiss.

I. Background

Dr. Kohlhausen worked at SUNY Rockland Community College from 2003 until her termination in 2009. [Doc. 32 at 6.] In 2007, Kohlhausen was appointed Chairperson of the SUNY

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Rockland English Department and approximately one year later was appointed to a tenure-track Instructor of Philosophy position. [Doc. 1 at 6.] Kohlhausen also joined the Federation of Teachers Union, in 2007, as a paying member.

During her employment at SUNY Rockland, Kohlhausen was variously supervised by Defendants Ian Blake Newhem, Martha Rottman, and Clifford Garner. As Kohlhausen's supervisors, Newhem, Rottman, and Garner reviewed her work and were responsible for recommending her for promotions, rehiring, and reappointment as Chairperson of the Philosophy and Religious Studies Departments. [Doc. 1 at 6-7.]

A. Newhem's Harassment

Kohlhausen says that when Newhem, who she says is an openly gay male, became her direct supervisor, he began to verbally abuse her using vulgar and demeaning language. [Doc. 1 at 7.] Kohlhausen says Newhem's offensive behavior escalated as time passed. In the summer of 2007, Kohlhausen says that Newhem played a pornographic video of a 17-year-old SUNY Rockland student while insisting that Kohlhausen watch. Beginning the fall of 2007, Kohlhausen asserts that she was subjected to verbal abuse and offensive name-calling: an alleged daily parade of horribles that is not repeated here. [See Doc. 1 at 7-8.] Newhem's alleged tirades included explicit threats to Kohlhausen's life, health, and job,[Doc. 1 at 7, 13-15, for example], and did not cease even when Kohlhausen was twice hospitalized for a severe kidney stone attack, [Doc. 1 at 8-9].

Kohlhausen's complaint also alleges that Newhem intruded into Kohlhausen's personal life. On repeated occasions, Kohlhausen says Newhem made comments such as, "he is no prize but neither are you," "you are a 51 year old spinster with a dried up bag of ovaries and a cat," or "you look like an old hag!" [Doc. 1 at 11.] When Kohlhausen and Defendant Garner, the Teachers Union

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President, became romantically involved, Newhem reportedly "intensified" his harassment, and later reprimanded Kohlhausen after she and Garner ended their relationship. [Doc. 1 at 11-14.]

B. Complaints to the Teachers Union, SUNY Rockland Officials and Board of Trustees

Kohlhausen says she reported Newhem's behavior to Garner, Newhem's close friend, in Fall 2007. [Doc. 1 at 10.] Although Garner initially offered his assistance, Kohlhausen says the harassment from Newhem continued unabated and that at times Garner himself would participate in the harassment. Kohlhausen says Garner had "turned on her" for complaining of Newhem's behavior. [Id.] She additionally alleges that Garner discouraged her from filing a formal complaint, [Doc. 1 at 10], and that when she ultimately sought union assistance in filing a complaint against Newhem, Garner refused to represent her unless the complaint went through Newhem as Grievance Chair, [Doc. 1 at 15].

Kohlhausen also says she complained in June 2008 about Newhem's behavior to various SUNY Rockland officials, including the school's President and Vice President. [Doc. 1 at 16.] Kohlhausen says she then sent President Wood a letter asking that SUNY Rockland ensure her safety and prevent further harassment. [Doc. 1 at 18-19.] Rather than address her complaints, school officials allegedly disclosed the subject of Kohlhausen's complaints to third parties, thereby leading to further retaliation from Newhem. [Doc. 1 at 16.] Kohlhausen asserts that although President Wood noted his surprise that "Newhem hated them [women]," Wood ultimately concluded that the school's job was to help Newhem "grow up" and that Kohlhausen should refrain from her "doom and gloom." [Doc. 1 at 17.]

When, in October and November 2008, Kohlhausen again scheduled meetings with Rockland's President and Vice President to discuss Newhem's behavior. She says neither official

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encouraged her to file a complaint, and that Wood instead participated in spreading rumors about her. [Doc. 1 at 21-22.] Kohlhausen says that when she reported Newhem's behavior to SUNY Rockland's Board of Trustees—by way of her father, a Board member—the Board, too, ignored her complaints. [Doc. 1 at 11-12.]

C. Anonymous Threats: Slashed Tires, Breaking and Entering, and "The Taco Bell Chihuahua
Incident"

At various points throughout this period, Kohlhausen says the tires of her car were slashed. She reports that Newhem's car had been parked next to hers and another faculty member had observed Newhem walking around and looking inside Kohlhausen's car. [Doc. 1 at 19-20.] Kohlhausen also alleges two incidents in which someone broke into her office. The first occurred in December 2008, when an intruder accessed her office computer and potentially viewed confidential files and documents. [Doc. 1 at 24.] The second incident occurred in April 2009, when the intruder allegedly placed a confidential letter from Vice President Baker on her desk. Her bookshelves and a large picture from on her wall were also allegedly loosened, leading them to fall onto Kohlhausen as she sat down at her desk. [Doc. 1 at 31.] Many of these events occurred after the school had established an agreement requiring Newhem to avoid Kohlhausen. [Doc. 1 at 21.]

Moreover, in 2008 Kohlhausen says she began receiving harassing telephone calls from an anonymous male caller who she says "disguised his voice to mimic the Taco Bell 'Mexican Chihuahua[,]'" the fast food chain's former spokes-dog. [Doc. 1 at 19-20.] The Taco Bell Chihuahua threatened Kohlhausen, directing her to stay off the SUNY Rockland campus. Kohlhausen says she was forced to change her cell phone number as a result of these calls, and only gave the new number to a handful of SUNY Rockland administrators. Yet the Taco Bell Chihuahua somehow fetched this

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new number and, Kohlhausen says, resumed the threatening phone calls throughout July and August 2008. [Id.] Kohlhausen reported these incidents to the Union and to Defendant Wood. [Doc. 1 at 20.]

D. The "JC Student Issue": Kohlhausen's Suspension and Termination

On December 2, 2008, Kohlhausen, through her attorney, requested that SUNY Rockland initiate a formal investigation into Newhem's alleged harassment. Kohlhausen says that the school did not investigate until February 2009, and that in the interim she experienced an increase in retaliation by school officials. [Doc. 1 at 24-25.]

On March 17, 2009, Kohlhausen emailed Dean of Students Suzanne Phillips, the Chairperson of SUNY Rockland's Behavioral Awareness and Intervention Committee, about "a series of disruptive incidents" by a student in Kohlhausen's class, "JC." She emailed copies to Rottman and Garner, her supervisors at the time. [Doc 1 at 27.] Kohlhausen also spoke with two Rockland instructors about the student in question, and later requested, without success, Union representation in connection with her report. [Doc. 1 at 27, 30.] As part of the school's investigation of this report, Rottman questioned several of Kohlhausen's students, in the classroom with "JC" present. [Doc. 1 at 30.]

Approximately one month later, on April 21, 2009, Wood informed Kohlhausen that the school's investigation into Newhem's behavior had concluded and had found no evidence to corroborate her harassment and retaliation allegations. [Doc. 1 at 31.] Nine days later, on April 30, campus officials came to Kohlhausen's classroom, told her that she had been suspended for the remainder of the academic year, and publicly escorted her off campus. [Id.] The school said it was suspending Kohlhausen because she had fabricated the "JC student issue" and could not function

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in SUNY Rockland's collegial environment. [Doc. 1 at 32.] The school encouraged Kohlhausen to bring any remaining concerns to its attention. [Id.]

On May 13, 2009, the SUNY Rockland Board of Trustees permanently rescinded Kohlhausen's reappointment for the upcoming school year. [Id.]

Kohlhausen says these incidents have caused her extreme emotional distress, anxiety, fear, and humiliation, and that she has required treatment from several specialists. [Doc. 1 at 8-9 (Newhem's verbal abuse allegedly delayed Kohlhausen's surgery recovery), 34.] She now brings claims against the Defendants for: (1) discrimination, harassment, and retaliation in violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and New York Human Rights Law; (2) discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title IX, 20 U.S.C. § 1681; (3) discrimination and retaliation in violation of Kohlhausen's First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; and (4) intentional infliction of emotional distress under New York state law.

II. Legal Standard

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8 provides the general standard of pleading and only requires that a complaint "contain . . . a short plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). Rule 8 does not require "detailed...

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