Court Dismisses Hofstra Tennis Director’s Gender Discrimination Complaint Dismissed; Misconduct Allegations, Not Gender, Were Reason for Termination

In Menaker v. Hofstra University, 17-cv-5562, 2018 WL 4636818 (E.D.N.Y. Sept. 26, 2018), the court granted defendant’s motion, under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), to dismiss plaintiff’s gender discrimination complaint against Hofstra University.

In sum, defendant fired plaintiff (defendant’s Director of Tennis and Head Coach of men’s and women’s varsity tennis teams) for “unprofessional conduct” based on several allegations against him, including that he subjected a student to sexual harassment and made comments to his students about his divorce.

Plaintiff sued, claiming that he was subjected to gender discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. As summarized by the court:

Plaintiff claims that he was wrongfully terminated because he is a man, after “false accusations” of inappropriate conduct toward one of his female team members (as well as female members of opposing teams) were brought against him. Plaintiff insists that Defendant failed to conduct a thorough investigation into the claims, and that Defendant violated its own policies in the way Defendant’s employees handled his termination.

The court disagreed:

Even assuming that Plaintiff’s recitation of all of the relevant facts is true, as the Court must do on a motion to dismiss, there are no allegations in the Amended Complaint that give rise to a plausible inference that Plaintiff’s termination was related to his gender. Rather, it is apparent that Plaintiff was terminated based on the allegations of “unprofessional conduct” brought against him. … There is nothing in the record that would suggest that the circumstances would have been different if Plaintiff had been a woman who had been accused of the same misconduct toward a young student.

It rejected plaintiff’s “primary argument in support of his claim of gender discrimination is that the people who made the decision to terminate his employment were all women,” noting “[f]irst, and foremost, the mere fact that a decisionmaker does not share a protected characteristic with an aggrieved employee does not give rise to a claim of discrimination,” and second, that it was untrue that only women were involved in his termination.

Next, the court rejected plaintiff’s reliance on the “atmosphere of harsh criticism of colleges and universities generally, and Hofstra in particular, for allegedly not taking complaints of sexual harassment and misconduct against women seriously,” reasoning that he “fails to show that this supposed general atmosphere had any bearing on the circumstances surrounding his own termination” and that “[e]ven if Defendant had a policy of treating sexual harassment accusations with greater weight than other types of harassment accusations, which Plaintiff does not allege, this does not lead to the inference that Plaintiff’s gender was the basis for his termination.”

Finally, the court rejected plaintiff’s reliance on Doe v. Columbia Univ., 831 F.3d 46 (2d Cir. 2016) – where the court found that a male student who had been suspended based on allegations of sexual assault had adequately pleaded facts that plausibly supported at least a minimal inference of sex bias on the part of the university – which, the court held, was not analogous to the instant case for various reasons.