Teacher’s Sexual Orientation Discrimination Claim Against the NYC Dept. of Education Survives Dismissal

In Kaplan-DiNola v. NYC Dept. of Education, 2019 WL 1779601 (S.D.N.Y. April 23, 2019) – a sexual orientation discrimination case – the court denied defendant’s motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s employment discrimination claims.

In this case, plaintiff, a teacher who describes herself as “homosexual”, alleges (inter alia) that throughout her tenure as teacher at P.S. 207 she was discriminated against by (since retired) principal and named defendant Linda Spadaro and her successor, principal and named defendant Eileen Davies, on the basis of her sexual orientation and retaliated against for her complaints of sexual orientation discrimination, harassment, and a hostile work environment.

Defendant DOE moved for summary judgment, solely on the ground that a principal cannot be a “final policymaker” for purposes of imposing municipal liability under Monell v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978).

In rejecting this argument, the court explained:

The question presented by the Board’s motion is a legal one and must be resolved on the basis of state law. … In making this determination, we must look to the specific conduct at issue, as the official in question need not be a municipal policymaker for all purposes. … Thus, whether [Spadaro or Davies] is a municipal policymaker turns on whether, under New York law, she had final decisional authority on the challenged employment action. …

The Board elides the conduct-specific nature of this inquiry, arguing generally that school boards cannot be held liable for the discriminatory or retaliatory actions of their principal-employees because New York City school principals or assistant principals do not have final policy making authority over employment decision [sic] concerning teachers in their schools. … Courts applying New York law, however, have consistently rejected the proposition that the lack of authority to hire or fire teachers is dispositive of a principal’s status as policymaker in other areas. …

We join these courts in concluding that principals can be final policymakers in certain circumstances.

However, the court noted that “[w]hether those circumstances exist in the present case … is unclear” and that “[s]uch an affirmative finding would require a more robust record than the one presently before the Court, which does not include evidence of the underlying discrimination or retaliation that plaintiff was allegedly subjected to.”

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