Title IX Sexual Harassment Complaint Dismissed Against Stony Brook University

In Sutton v. Stony Brook University et al, 18-cv-7434, 2021 WL 3667013 (E.D.N.Y. Aug. 18, 2021), the court, inter alia, dismissed plaintiff’s claims of sexual harassment under Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. § 1681, et seq.[1]Plaintiff also alleged violations of the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Here, the court assesses defendants’ motion to dismiss plaintiff’s Third Amended Complaint.

In sum, plaintiff’s allegations arose out of her mid-semester removal from student teaching and eventual dismissal from the Graduate English Education Program; she claimed that she was harassed by her student teaching supervisor/instructor (Mangano), “who allegedly treated her differently because she was the only female student that refused to attend off-campus Saturday breakfast meetings he held with his seminar class.”

As to her sexual harassment claim based on a “hostile environment” theory, the court explained:

Plaintiff also fails to allege sufficient facts with regard to her sexual harassment allegations. Though Plaintiff’s allegation that she subjectively perceived the environment to be hostile is assumed true for purposes of this motion, Plaintiff’s TAC fails to allege any facts demonstrating that she was required to endure an environment that objectively was severely or pervasively hostile. See Torres v. Pisano, 116 F.3d 625, 631 (2d Cir. 1997) (“Conduct that is ‘merely offensive’ and ‘not severe or pervasive enough to create an objectively hostile or abusive work environment—an environment that a reasonable person would find hostile or abusive—is beyond Title VII’s purview.’ ” (quoting Harris v. Forklift Sys., Inc., 510 U.S. 17, 21 (1993))).

Plaintiff conclusively alleges that after she refused to meet Mangano off-campus for breakfast, he “reprimand[ed]” her, and explained that her refusal was “concerning.” (TAC ¶ 25.) Plaintiff further alleges that Mangano emailed, texted, and telephoned her to arrange for another time to meet. (TAC ¶¶ 17-18.) She claims that she felt uncomfortable receiving unwanted phone calls and text messages, and perceived Mangano’s persistence to meet as harassment. (TAC ¶ 18.) However, Plaintiff also alleges that she refused to attend her supervisor’s meetings and failed to respond to his attempts to communicate with her about her student teaching. (TAC ¶¶ 18, 24-25, 30-31, 50.) As alleged, Plaintiff’s co-teacher reminded Plaintiff that communicating with Mangano was part of her duties as a student teacher. (TAC ¶ 30.) Thus, while Plaintiff may have subjectively perceived her supervisor’s attempts to communicate with her as harassment, objectively, and as alleged in the TAC, Plaintiff’s supervisor was attempting to meet with Plaintiff as he was meeting with the other similarly-situated seminar students — both male and female. (TAC ¶¶ 24, 25; Pl. Opp. at 13.)

Likewise, Plaintiff’s allegations that Mangano met with her individually to discuss her performance following her student teaching sessions, expressed concern that she had not responded to his messages, “berated” her and made “demeaning” and “disparaging” remarks about her choice to become a teacher (TAC ¶¶ 24, 43-45), fail to demonstrate that she was subjected to a hostile environment “because of her sex.” Gregory v. Daly, 243 F.3d 687, 694 (2d Cir. 2001) (There must be “factual circumstances that permit the inference that plaintiff was subjected to a hostile [ ] environment because of her sex.” (citing Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Servs., Inc., 523 U.S. 75, 80-81 (1998))). Even drawing all reasonable inferences in Plaintiff’s favor, the TAC does not plausibly allege that her education environment was permeated with discrimination based on her sex. Therefore, Plaintiff fails to allege a hostile educational environment claim.

The court likewise dismissed plaintiff’s sexual harassment based on a “quid pro quo” theory, noting that plaintiff’s complaint “fails to allege any facts demonstrating that she was subject to sexual advances by Mangano or any other SBU official” and finding that “Plaintiff’s allegations that Mangano made numerous attempts to contact her, shook her hand, and on one occasion touched her upper arm are insufficient to show sexual conduct to establish a quid pro quo claim.” (Citations omitted.)

References
1 Plaintiff also alleged violations of the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
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