Senese v. Longwood Cent. Sch. Dist., 2:15-cv-07234 (ADS)(AYS)

Decision Date03 August 2018
Docket Number2:15-cv-07234 (ADS)(AYS)
Citation330 F.Supp.3d 745
Parties Adam SENESE, Plaintiff, v. LONGWOOD CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT, Along With Laura Hopkins, Cara Chudyk, and Janine Rozycki, in their individual capacity as aiders and abettors, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of New York

Zabell & Associates, P.C., Counsel for the Plaintiff, 1 Corporate Drive, Suite 103, Bohemia, NY 11716, By: Saul D. Zabell, Esq., Of Counsel

Sokoloff Stern LLP, Counsel for the Defendants, 179 Westbury Avenue, Carle Place, NY 11514, By: Adam I. Kleinberg, Esq., Kaitlyn R. McKenna, Jr., Esq., Of Counsel

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION & ORDER

ARTHUR D. SPATT, United States District Judge

On December 18, 2015, the Plaintiff Adam Senese (the "Plaintiff" or "Senese") brought this federal discrimination action against the Defendants, Longwood Central School District ("LCSD" or the "District"), along with Laura Hopkins ("Hopkins"), Cara Chudyk ("Chudyk"), and Janine Rozycki ("Rozycki (collectively, the "Defendants"), alleging gender-based discrimination, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. ("Title VII"), and the New York State Human Rights Law, N.Y. Exec. L. § 290 et seq. ("NYSHRL"), based on the Plaintiff's suspension and termination from his position as a probationary special education teacher with the District.

Presently before the Court is a motion for summary judgment filed by the Defendants, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (" FED. R. CIV. P. " or "Rule") 56 seeking to dismiss the complaint.

I. BACKGROUND

Unless otherwise noted, the following facts are undisputed and are drawn from the parties' Local Rule 56.1 statements.

A. THE FACTUAL BACKGROUND
1. The Plaintiff's Teaching Background

The Plaintiff is a male who is approximately 6'2? and weighs roughly 250 pounds. Prior to working for the District, Senese worked for Eastern Suffolk Board of Cooperative Educational Services ("BOCES"). In 2009, after graduating from college, the Plaintiff began work as a substitute teaching assistant at BOCES. In the fall of 2010, he was hired as a full-time teaching assistant. Three years later, Senese received tenure as a teaching assistant at BOCES. That same year, 2013, he also obtained a New York State teaching certification. Senese is certified to teach elementary students from grades one through six and disabled students from grades one through six. During the course of his employment with BOCES, the Plaintiff became certified in Nonviolent Crisis Prevention ("NCP") at the Crisis Prevention Institute ("CPI").

In June 2013, the Plaintiff applied for a teaching position with the District, a public school district located in Suffolk County. On his employment application, the Plaintiff noted his CPI training. Chudyk, a District teaching assistant with LCSD since 2007, also applied for the same position but was subsequently rejected. The Plaintiff was selected for an initial interview, which was conducted by a panel composed of female employees. He then performed a lesson to a group of special education students for Scott Schuster ("Schuster"), the Director of Elementary Special Education, Yvette Tilley, a school principal, and Jen McCarthy, a Director of Secondary Special Education. Following the lesson, the Plaintiff was interviewed by Kevin McCarthy, an Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources ("AS McCarthy"), and Debra Winter, the Assistant Superintendent for Pupil Services. At some point thereafter, AS McCarthy called the Plaintiff to offer him a probationary teaching position with the District. Neither side contends that gender was a factor during the hiring process.

The Plaintiff accepted the position and was assigned to work as a special education teacher at Ridge Elementary School ("Ridge"), one of the District's four elementary schools, for the 2013-2014 school year. Senese was subject to a two-year probationary period with the District, rather than the typical three-year period because of at the time of his hire, he was a tenured employee with BOCES. Ridge contained students in kindergarten through fourth grade in addition to special education classes of various ages. At all relevant times, Rozycki was employed as Ridge's Principal and Hopkins was employed as Assistant Principal. In 2010, Hopkins received her CPI certification, but by the 2014-2015 school year, it had lapsed.

2. The 2013-2014 School Year

Specifically, the Plaintiff was assigned to teach developmentally disabled students from grades three through five in the District's Alternative Learning Program ("ALP"). ALP contained developmentally and intellectually disabled students. Students were assigned to ALP based on the recommendations of the District Committee of Special Education and typically remained in the program until twenty-one years of age. ALP included students with severe disabilities. During the 2013-2014 school year, the Plaintiff's class was originally assigned eight students, but later in the year, that number decreased to seven. Senese had one teaching assistant, Melissa Lopez ("Lopez") in addition to four, one-to-one aides who were assigned to assist individual students on a daily basis. One of those one-to-one aides was Vanessa Holzhauser ("Holzhauser"). The Plaintiff reported to Schuster, Rozycki, and Hopkins. Throughout the year, Schuster and Rozycki conducted multiple classroom observations and performance evaluations and did not indicate any problems with Senese's performance.

During the Plaintiff's deposition, he testified that he did not recall any incidents during his first year with the District where he physically restrained a student. Hopkins testified that at some point during the school year, she witnessed the Plaintiff bring Student R, a male student, into the bathroom, and observed him in the stall with the student. When Hopkins inquired as to why he was assisting Student R with toileting, Senese explained that female aides were uncomfortable doing so as the student recently "discovered himself." Hopkins testified that she told Senese: "[J]ust as I would tell anybody, please step into the threshold of the bathroom and not be in the stall with him because, again, you're putting yourself at risk as misinterpretation as to why you're in the stall with him." The Plaintiff did not recall this incident.

At the conclusion of the 2013-2014 school year, the Plaintiff was asked to return for his second and final probationary year.

3. The 2014-2015 School Year

The Plaintiff's class for the 2014-2015 school year consisted of seven students, with three of his students returning from the previous year, and four new students. Lopez was no longer the Plaintiff's teaching assistant as she was promoted to a teaching position in the District before the new school year. The District replaced her with Chudyk, who had worked in the District for eight years. Chudyk had previously applied for a position within the District as a teacher and at that point was unsuccessful in attaining such a position. Many of Senese's one-to-one aides returned from the prior year. His new aides included Gina Grasso ("Grasso") and David Glover ("Glover"). Senese was also joined every morning by Tara Rider ("Rider"), a vision teacher, who spent approximately one to two hours with a visually-impaired student in his class.

In February 2015, the Plaintiff was sent by the District for CPI training, which consisted of a three-day, off-site course. He joined Scott Jackson ("Jackson"), a speech teacher at Ridge, Diane Porter, an ALP teacher, and JoMara Lopez, a District administrator, as representatives of the District at CPI training. After attending the training, the Plaintiff discussed what he had learned with AS McCarthy. Later that spring, the Plaintiff was invited by Schuster to attend the District's Aspiring Administrator Academy ("AAA"). AAA is a District-wide initiative to identify teachers that demonstrate leadership abilities and train them for future careers as administrators with the District.

Prior to February of 2015, the Plaintiff did not physically restrain any students, nor did he witness any other teachers doing the same. Further, at that time, to the Plaintiff's knowledge, no aides or teaching assistants had ever employed such methods in his classroom.

4. Incidents of Physical Restraint

Between February 2015 and April 2015, the Plaintiff was involved in at least two incidents with Student B where she had to be restrained physically. Student B was a disabled student in Renee Mintel's ("Mintel") class. Mintel was another ALP teacher at Ridge during the relevant time period. The first incident occurred when Mintel called the Plaintiff into her classroom to help restrain Student B, who was acting physically aggressive. During his deposition, Senese testified that only himself, Mintel, and Student B were present in the classroom at the time of the incident and that he does not recall the specifics of what occurred that day.

In the second incident, Mintel called both the Plaintiff and Jackson to assist with physically restraining Student B. The Plaintiff's deposition revealed that he did not recall any of the specifics of the incident, including who else was in the classroom at the time, Student B's behavior, or how he and Jackson physically restrained her. In one of the incidents, Student B was in the process of physically attacking Mintel by the time he arrived. Mintel had sent for the Plaintiff when the altercation began, and one of Mintel's aides found and retrieved the Plaintiff soon after. Senese utilized a defensive CPI technique which involves holding the student's wrist with one hand and using the other hand to protect your body. Rozycki was present for one of the above-mentioned incidents and witnessed the Plaintiff and Jackson use a "team hold" to physically restrain Student B.

During the Plaintiff's deposition, he recalled bringing Student B into a conference room to help calm her down, although he could not remember if it was...

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