Ex-Lovers' Spat Will Stay in High School, Not Court

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By Hassan Kanu

June 9 — A teacher in New York can't pursue a sex discrimination and retaliation lawsuit alleging that the school district treated him unfairly after his ex-wife, who is also his supervisor, reported that he was harassing her during the school day, a federal judge has ruled ( Jaeger v. N. Babylon Union Free Sch. Dist. , 2016 BL 182520, E.D.N.Y., No. 15-cv-5452, 6/7/16 ).

None of the actions John Jaeger complained of are actually “adverse employment actions” under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Judge Arthur Spatt of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York ruled.

The decision illustrates that “everyday workplace grievances, disappointments and setbacks do not constitute adverse employment actions” sufficient to support a lawsuit under Title VII, the court said, quoting from a 2009 U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit decision.

Jaeger and Kristy Middleton began divorce proceedings in 2012, after several years as married co-workers. After some allegedly hostile workplace incidents, Middleton filed administrative complaints and a police report and then obtained a restraining order against Jaeger.

Among her complaints were that Jaeger brought printouts of private messages about their ongoing divorce to a department meeting and interrupted her conversation with another colleague to say, “Excuse me Kristy can you tell me where my kids are?”

Jaeger alleged that he was administratively investigated and faced “heightened scrutiny” because of the North Babylon Union Free School District's response to Middleton's complaints. The district also put him “in a compromising position by” by failing to prevent Middleton from being in common spaces with him, in violation of the restraining order, he said.

Jaeger said the district's actions were retaliatory and that he was discriminated against as a man because Middleton didn't face the same repercussions.

Complainants must show a “materially adverse change in the terms and conditions of employment,” such as a demotion, to maintain a Title VII lawsuit, Spatt explained. Jaeger alleged he “suffered a series of minor indignities, which he found to be personally offensive, but which had no discernible impact on the material terms and conditions of his employment,” the court said in the June 7 decision.

No Evidence of Gender Bias

Jaeger’s retaliation claim was based on an allegation that some of the actions taken against him were in reprisal for his complaining about being supervised by his ex-wife.

He said administrators held a meeting to discuss his “emotional stability” and that the principal said he'd had a “bad year.” He also alleged he was denied classroom resources and promotions.

The court said the alleged denials of “unspecified classroom resources” and “unspecified promotions” are simply speculative. “Further, the allegations of discriminatory treatment, even if accepted as true, do not support the proposition that the District acted unfairly ‘because of' Jaeger's sex” or due to any retaliatory animus, Spatt wrote. “Rather, the challenged employment actions apparently all stemmed from Middleton's specific complaints.”

Jaeger argued that Middleton's accusations of harassment were false, but the court said the assertion “appears to be somewhat contradicted by the issuance of an order of protection.”

The “instant lawsuit appears to be the latest salvo in the ongoing personal and familial dispute between Jaeger and Middleton, which is, unfortunately, already waging in the halls of a high school, but lacks a sufficient legal implication to proceed in this Court,” Spatt wrote.

Zabell & Associates PC represented Jaeger. Sokoloff Stern LLP represented the school district.

To contact the reporter on this story: Hassan Kanu in Washington at hkanu@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at smcgolrick@bna.com