Zhao v. State University of N.Y., No. 04-CV-0210 JFB RML.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
Writing for the CourtBianco
Citation472 F.Supp.2d 289
PartiesJin ZHAO, Plaintiff, v. STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK, Research Foundation of the State University of New York, and Dr. Olcay Batuman, Defendants.
Decision Date09 January 2007
Docket NumberNo. 04-CV-0210 JFB RML.
472 F.Supp.2d 289
Jin ZHAO, Plaintiff,
v.
STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK, Research Foundation of the State University of New York, and Dr. Olcay Batuman, Defendants.
No. 04-CV-0210 JFB RML.
United States District Court, E.D. New York.
January 9, 2007.

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Susan C. Warnock, Hockert, Warnock amp; Donnelly, New York, NY, for Plaintiff.

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Clement J. Colucci, Attorney General's Office, Department of Law, David Bruce Diamond, Office of the New York State Attorney General, Cathleen Ann Giannetta, Michael J. D'Angelo, Rebecca R. Embry, Landman, Corsi, Ballaine & Ford P.C., New York, NY, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

BIANCO, District Judge.


Plaintiff Dr. Jin Zhao ("Dr.Zhao") brings this action alleging employment discrimination on the basis of her national origin and a hostile work environment, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., ("Title VII"), the Civil Rights Act of 1866, 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and the New York State Human Rights Law, Executive Law § 269 et seq. ("NYSHRL"), against defendants State University of New York ("SUNY"), SUNY Downstate Medical Center, the Research Foundation of SUNY, and Dr. Olcay Batuman ("Dr.Batman"). In addition, plaintiff alleges breach of employment contract against the Research Foundation of SUNY and Dr. Batuman.1

Defendants now move for summary judgment on all claims, pursuant to Fed. R.Civ.P. 56(c). For the following reasons, Dr. Batuman's motion for summary judgment as to the Title VII and breach of contract claims is granted and her motion as to the NYSHRL claim is denied. The motions by defendants SUNY and the Research Foundation are denied in their entirety.

I. BACKGROUND
A. THE FACTS
1. The Parties

SUNY is a state-created public university system established under the Education Law of the State of New York. (Defs.' Joint Rule 56.1 Statement ("Defs.' 56.1") ¶ 1.)2 SUNY Downstate Medical Center ("SUNY DMC") is a state university healthcare facility established as a part of SUNY under the Education Law of the State of New York.3 (Id. ¶ 12.)

The Research Foundation of SUNY ("the Research Foundation") is a private, nonprofit corporation established by the New York State Board of Regents, pursuant to Section 216 of the Education Law of the State of New York, and is a corporate entity separate from SUNY. (Id. ¶¶ 4-5.) The mission of the Research Foundation since its inception in 1951 has been to administer research grants awarded to SUNY and its faculty, and to provide other services in support of the research, instruction and public service missions of SUNY. (Declaration of James R. Dennehey ¶¶ 4-5.)

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Dr. Batuman is an Associate Professor of Medicine and an Associate Professor of Anatomy and Cell Biology at SUNY DMC, and has held those positions since 1992 and 1997, respectively. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 13.) The primary focus of Dr. Batuman's scientific research since joining SUNY DMC has been to understand the role of blood vessel cells, also known as endothelial cells, in various blood cancers, including the form of blood cancer known as multiple myeloma. (Id. ¶ 19.)

Plaintiff Dr. Jin Zhao is a woman of Chinese national origin, who was employed as a post-doctoral associate in a scientific research laboratory run by Dr. Batuman at SUNY DMC, from January 14, 2002, until she received a formal termination letter from Dr. Batuman on October 25, 2002. (Id. ¶ 16.)

2. Dr. Batuman's Laboratory

In connection with her role as an academic physician-scientist, Dr. Batuman operates a research laboratory located at SUNY DMC. (Id. ¶ 14.) Funding for the research conducted in Dr. Batuman's laboratory is provided through grants obtained from public and private health institutions, such as the National Institute of Health, the Veterans Administration, the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association (Brooklyn Chapter), the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, and through grants provided by private pharmaceutical companies. (Id. ¶ 15.) Grants for Dr. Batuman's laboratory are obtained through a competitive application process pursuant to which Dr. Batuman, as the principal investigator on a proposed research project, submits a grant proposal in the appropriate form to one of the public or private institutions from which funding for such projects is available. (Id. ¶ 16.) The operation of Dr. Batuman's laboratory is strictly dependent on the receipt of funds from such grants, and the production of publishable research by the laboratory is essential to obtaining new grants, as well as extensions or renewals of existing grants. (Id. ¶ 17.)

Applications for the grants are made through the Research Foundation, which holds and administers the funds that scientists at SUNY campuses obtain from sources other than SUNY to conduct their research activities (hereinafter, "extra-mural funding"). (Id. ¶¶ 18-19.) At Dr. Batuman's request, and pursuant to prescribed procedures, the Research Foundation disburses funds and makes payments for expenses related to the research for which Dr. Batuman has obtained extra-mural funding. (Id. ¶ 20.)

Part of Dr. Batuman's role as a member of the faculty at SUNY DMC is to provide research training for medical students, graduate and undergraduate students, and post-graduate clinical residents. (Id. ¶ 21.) Therefore, at any one time, one or more of these types of research trainees may be participating in ongoing research in Dr. Batuman's laboratory. (Id. ¶ 22.) The funds that Dr. Batuman obtains from grants, as administered by the Research Foundation, may be used to pay salaries for post-graduate research fellows or associates, technicians, or other individuals, for their assistance with the laboratory's research. (Id. ¶ 25.) When Dr. Batuman hires an individual to work full-time in the laboratory using funds she has obtained from grants administered by the Research Foundation, the individual's employment is administered by the Research Foundation. (Id. ¶ 26.) The individual's salary and benefits are provided by the Research Foundation and, prior to commencing work, the individual is required to provide the Research Foundation with written acknowledgment that his or her employment is at-will

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and governed by the Research Foundation's policies. (Id. ¶ 27.)

From August 2000 to August 2001, Dr. Hong Zhang, a woman of Chinese national origin, was employed in Dr. Batuman's laboratory as a post-doctoral associate to assist with the laboratory's research. (Id. ¶ 28.) During the spring of 2001, while Dr. Zhang was working in Dr. Batuman's laboratory, she participated in initial research in the lab concerning a relationship between endothelial cells and multiple myeloma. (Id. ¶ 3 1.) In connection with this initial research, Dr. Zhang utilized a process known as flow cytometry to identify and quantify endothelial cells in patient blood samples. (Id. ¶ 32.) The findings that resulted from Dr. Zhang's flow cytometry work and other research work in Dr. Batuman's lab in 2001 led Dr. Batuman to make a grant application to the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation for a Senior Research Award of $100,000 to study the relationship between endothelial cells and the development of multiple myeloma ("MMRF Research"). (Id. ¶ 34.) That grant application was approved in or around October 2001. (Id. ¶ 35.) Before receiving notice of the grant approval, Dr. Zhang accepted a higher paying position in the Department of Surgery at SUNY DMC. (Id. ¶ 36.)

3. Hiring of Dr. Zhao

After Dr. Zhang left Dr. Batuman's laboratory, Dr. Batuman placed an advertisement in the October 2001 issue of Science, seeking post-doctoral associates to assist in the MMRF research and other ongoing research in her lab. (Id. ¶ 39.) Dr. Zhao responded to the advertisement by sending a copy of her resume and, on or about November 6, 2001, Dr. Zhao appeared for an interview at Dr. Batuman's request for one of the advertised positions. (Id. ¶¶ 40-43.) During the interview, Dr. Batuman broadly explained to Dr. Zhao the research that she was conducting and intended to conduct in her laboratory. (Id. ¶ 44.) At Dr. Batuman's request, plaintiff was interviewed for a second time on or about November 22, 2001. (Id. ¶ 47.)

According to Dr. Zhao, at the interviews, she was given the impression from Dr. Batuman's statements that she admired Chinese people because of their capacity to work, that Chinese people had been employed by her in the past and she admired their work ethic, and that she was impressed by the recommendation letter from a doctor which mentioned that on one occasion Dr. Zhao had "slept in the lab" to ensure the proper time course for an experiment. (Zhao Decl. ¶¶ 8-9.) For example, Dr. Zhao testified that, during the interview, Dr. Batuman stated, "I know Chinese students work very hard, long, so I like to employ Chinese." (Zhao Dep., at 154.) Dr. Zhao also testified that, during the interviews, Dr. Batuman "said Chinese work very hard and for a long time, and the people who really produce results are these Chinese people." (Zhao Dep., at 155.)

On November 26, 2001, Dr. Batuman sent Dr. Zhao a letter, via regular mail and email offering her a position as a postdoctoral research associate at a salary of $45,000 per year. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 53.) The letter stated:

This letter is to offer you a postdoctoral research associate in my laboratory with a salary of $45,000 a year for at least two and at most three years.

(Defs.' Ex. 13; see also Defs.' Ex. 12.) On or around November 30, 2001, Dr. Zhao contacted Dr. Batuman and accepted the position. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 54.)

On December 4, 2001, prior to commencing work in Dr. Batuman's laboratory, Dr. Batuman escorted plaintiff to the offices of the Research Foundation where Dr. Zhao

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20 practice notes
  • Emmons v. The City Univ. Of N.Y., No. 09-CV-537 (ENV)(JMA).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
    • July 2, 2010
    ...that “[RFCUNY] acted as a single integrated unit with the University and the individual colleges”); cf. Zhao v. State Univ. of N.Y., 472 F.Supp.2d 289, 313-15 (E.D.N.Y.2007) (refusing to dismiss Title VII claims against CUNY's “Research Foundation” because of the “intertwined relationship” ......
  • Murray v. Visiting Nurse Services of N.Y., No. 05-CV-5462 (RJS)(KNF).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • October 31, 2007
    ..."It is axiomatic that Title VII does not provide a cause of action against individual defendants." Zhao v. State Univ. of N. 472 F.Supp.2d 289, 320 (E.D.N.Y.2007) (citing Wrighten v. Glowski, 232 F.3d 119, 120 (2d Cir.2000), and Tomka v. Seiler Corp., 66 F.3d 1295, 1317 (2d Cir.19......
  • Popat v. Levy, 1:15-CV-01052 EAW
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court of Western District of New York
    • September 17, 2018
    ...levels of government would be impracticable and would implicate ... constitutional concerns.’ " Zhao v. State Univ. of N.Y. , 472 F.Supp.2d 289, 314 (E.D.N.Y. 2007) (quoting Gulino , 460 F.3d at 378 ). The circumstances in Zhao did not involve multiple levels of government; rather, the......
  • Brown v. New York State Dept. of Correc. Services, No. 02-CV-6666L.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court of Western District of New York
    • October 29, 2008
    ...grounds, public employee's claim against state agency for breach of employment contract); Zhao v. State University of New York, 472 F.Supp.2d 289, 320-21 (E.D.N.Y.2007) ("any breach of contract claims against Dr. Bateman [in her capacity as a state university official] are barred by th......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
20 cases
  • Emmons v. The City Univ. Of N.Y., No. 09-CV-537 (ENV)(JMA).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
    • July 2, 2010
    ...that “[RFCUNY] acted as a single integrated unit with the University and the individual colleges”); cf. Zhao v. State Univ. of N.Y., 472 F.Supp.2d 289, 313-15 (E.D.N.Y.2007) (refusing to dismiss Title VII claims against CUNY's “Research Foundation” because of the “intertwined relationship” ......
  • Murray v. Visiting Nurse Services of N.Y., No. 05-CV-5462 (RJS)(KNF).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • October 31, 2007
    ..."It is axiomatic that Title VII does not provide a cause of action against individual defendants." Zhao v. State Univ. of N. 472 F.Supp.2d 289, 320 (E.D.N.Y.2007) (citing Wrighten v. Glowski, 232 F.3d 119, 120 (2d Cir.2000), and Tomka v. Seiler Corp., 66 F.3d 1295, 1317 (2d Cir.19......
  • Popat v. Levy, 1:15-CV-01052 EAW
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court of Western District of New York
    • September 17, 2018
    ...levels of government would be impracticable and would implicate ... constitutional concerns.’ " Zhao v. State Univ. of N.Y. , 472 F.Supp.2d 289, 314 (E.D.N.Y. 2007) (quoting Gulino , 460 F.3d at 378 ). The circumstances in Zhao did not involve multiple levels of government; rather, the......
  • Brown v. New York State Dept. of Correc. Services, No. 02-CV-6666L.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court of Western District of New York
    • October 29, 2008
    ...grounds, public employee's claim against state agency for breach of employment contract); Zhao v. State University of New York, 472 F.Supp.2d 289, 320-21 (E.D.N.Y.2007) ("any breach of contract claims against Dr. Bateman [in her capacity as a state university official] are barred by th......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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