United States District Court, D. New Jersey
BRUCE M. SKOORKA, Plaintiff,
KEAN UNIVERSITY et al. Defendants.
McNULTY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Bruce M. Skoorka is a tenured professor of Economics and
Finance at Kean University. He has frequently complained of
discrimination and wrongful conduct by Kean University and
persons affiliated with Kean. In this current action, Dr.
Skoorka alleges that Kean University, his union, and persons
affiliated with these entities have retaliated against him
for whistleblowing and because of his religion. Now before
the Court are defendants' motions to dismiss the
the allegations both repeat and supplement those made in
prior actions and earlier in this action, this opinion should
be read in conjunction with the Court's comprehensive
opinion largely granting a prior motion for summary judgment.
See Skoorka v. Kean Univ., No. 9-cv-3428, 2017 WL 2838459
(D.N.J. June 30, 2017).
Bruce Skoorka, a professor at Kean University, alleges that
he has been subject to retaliation for whistleblowing and
because of his religion. (Compl. ¶ 2). Dr. Skoorka
identifies himself as a member of the Jewish faith. (Compl.
¶ 25). Dr. Skoorka sues Kean University, the State of
New Jersey, the Board of Trustees of Kean University, Kean
Federation of Teachers ("KPT"), American Federation
of Teachers ("AFT"), and the Council of New Jersey
State College Locals ("Council"). (Compl.
¶¶ 3-10). He also sues several individuals
associated with Kean: Dawood Farahi (the President of Kean),
Jeffrey Toney (Provost and Vice President for Academic
Affairs), Suzanne Bousquet (Dean), Joy Moskovitz (Assistant
Vice President for Academic Affairs), Kenneth Green
(Counsel), Pamela Mosley Gresham (Ethics Liaison Officer),
Sophia Howlett (Acting Dean and Director Associate Vice
President for Learning Support), Faroque Chowdhury (Human
Resources Director), and Charlie Williams (Title IX
Coordinator, Director of Affirmative Action Programs).
(Compl. ¶¶ 11-13).
Prior Complaints and Lawsuits
Skoorka began working for Kean in 1996. Skoorka v. Kean
Univ., No. 9-3428, 2015 WL 3533878, at *1 (D.N.J. June
2, 2015). He was awarded tenure effective as of the 2001-02
academic year. Id. Over the course of his
employment, he has lodged a number of complaints, some of
which are surveyed here.
Early internal complaints
before 1998, Dr. Skoorka complained internally that the
then-chairperson of his department, Dr. Kempey, had
discriminated against an African American colleague on the
basis of race. Id. He later reported that the
University discriminated against him as a Jewish person.
Id. He also made internal allegations that defendant
Kempey was misappropriating funds from the Economics
Department for personal use. Id. These embezzlement
allegations were based solely on his observation that the
department lacked office supplies, copiers, printers, or
secretarial support. Id.
2001 state court action
November 2001, Dr. Skoorka brought a state court action
against Kean, his union, and several individual defendants.
Id. at *2. He alleged retaliation and discrimination
on the basis of religion. Id. He pursued claims
under the First Amendment, Equal Protection Clause, the
Conscientious Employee Protection Act ("CEPA"), the
New Jersey Law Against Discrimination ("NJLAD"),
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act ("Title VII"),
and Section 1983. Id.
suit took some ten years, two jury trials, and at least two
written opinions from the Appellate Division to fully resolve
itself-although the Appellate Division observed that Dr.
Skoorka's case was "always weak." Id.
In the end, Dr. Skoorka was unsuccessful on all counts.
Id. The Appellate Division affirmed the trial
court's rulings, as well as the jury's verdict, in
August 2011. Id.
2006 EEOC complaint and federal court action
his state court suit was pending, Dr. Skoorka filed a charge
of discrimination with the EEOC on July 24, 2006.
Id. On April 6, 2007, Dr. Skoorka brought an action
in this federal court. Id. On March 20, 2009, the
parties entered into a consent order wherein the judge
dismissed Dr. Skoorka's case and granted him leave to
refile his complaint within 120 days. Id. The order
stipulated that if Dr. Skoorka refiled his complaint, the
date of filing would relate back to April 6, 2007-i.e., the
date he filed his federal lawsuit. Id.
2009 DNJ and 2014 SDNY action
the end of that 120-day period, Dr. Skoorka refiled his
complaint. Id. at *3. (I will call this the
"2009 Action".) The 2009 Action attempted to
relitigate some of the matters on which Skoorka failed to
prevail in the state court action. The 2009 complaint also
incorporated the 2007 complaint's allegations, with the
addition of a few incidents that had allegedly occurred in
the interim. Id.
27, 2014, Dr. Skoorka filed a complaint in the Southern
District of New York (the "2014 Action").
Id. It virtually duplicated the allegations in the
2009 Action. (Skoorka later claimed that many of its
allegations were fresh, or updated, and I afforded him the
opportunity to replead.) Skoorka frankly acknowledged that he
was forum-shopping because "to date, it has not been
possible for Plaintiff to obtain a fair hearing of his claims
against Defendants in New Jersey." (2014 Action ECF no.
11 at 21). The 2014 Action was transferred to this Court and
consolidated with the 2009 Action. Id. (14-4561, ECF
Nos. 39, 40). In essence, it was treated in this district as
an update of the earlier allegations.
June 2, 2015 opinion, this Court granted summary judgment for
defendants on the CEPA, NJLAD claims, and Title VII
discrimination claims. Skoorka, 2015 WL 3533878, at
*4. The union defendants were granted summary judgment in
their favor. Id. I surveyed some 15 allegations,
many of which had been updated since the filing of the 2009
complaint. Twelve, I found, were unsupported by any evidence.
Three, I found, had at least minimal record support, and I
discussed those three in light of the governing legal
standards. The only claim to survive summary judgment was Dr.
Skoorka's Title VII claim of retaliation as asserted
against Kean. Id.
February 16, 2015, Dr. Skoorka filed charges of
discrimination and retaliation against defendants with the
New York District Office of the EEOC. (Compl. ¶ 14). He
amended or supplemented the EEOC charges around March 6,
2015, September 30, 2015, and January 19, 2016. (Compl.
¶ 14). He received a right-to-sue letter in March 2016.
(Compl. ¶ 15). He then filed a complaint in the Southern
District of New York, which was transferred to this Court.
(ECF Nos. 1-4). I will call this the "2016 Action."
This opinion addresses defendants' motion to dismiss the
transferred 2016 Action.
ALLEGATIONS OF THE COMPLAINT
complaint in this 2016 Action seems to raise or refer to
allegations that have been discussed or dismissed in prior
actions, and especially in my summary judgment opinion in the
2009 Action, Skoorka v. Kean Univ., No. 9-cv-3428,
2015 WL 3533878 (D.N.J. June 2, 2015). It also contains some
new or updated allegations. I survey the allegations here.
Skoorka claims that he was falsely accused of violating
policies or practices regarding accommodations for students
with disabilities. (Compl. ¶ 45). According to Dr.
Skoorka, a student requested to use a tape recorder for notes
but Dr. Skoorka recommended a note taker instead, apparently
because his class uses visual aids. (Compl. ¶ 55). Dr.
Skoorka filled out the "Student Disability Accommodation
Form" for the student and wrote in "note
taker." (Compl. ¶¶ 47-49). He alleges that
"Kean suspiciously removed the note-taker option from
the 'form' presented to Dr. Skoorka ... to set Dr.
Skoorka up for a false accusation" of "denying a
disability accommodation for a student and altering a
form." (Compl. ¶¶ 47-49). Defendant Farahi
sent Dr. Skoorka a letter about this matter around January
19, 2015 and placed the letter in Dr. Skoorka's personnel
file. (Compl. ¶ 52). Dr. Farahi's letter stated that
Dr. Skoorka's actions were "inappropriate" but
did "not constitute a violation of the State
Policy." (Compl. ¶ 53). The letter stated that
"the information available revealed concerns about your
professionalism, i.e., demeanor, collegial conduct, etc. in
your interactions with students" and thus "this
matter will be referred to the Office of Human Resources for
appropriate action." (Compl. ¶ 53). No. further
action is alleged.
Office Hours and Administrative Policies
Skoorka alleges that he was falsely accused of failing to
comply with office-hours and other administrative policies.
(Compl. ¶¶ 56-74). Kean stated that Dr. Skoorka
failed "to update [his] office hours for the Fall 2014
semester" and requested a meeting to discuss that issue
and "other administrative matters such as your general
lack of responsiveness." (Compl. ¶ 59). Kean
allegedly threatened Dr. Skoorka if he failed to attend such
meeting. (Compl. ¶ 59). On October 23, 2014, Dr. Skoorka
filed rebuttals stating that he had done nothing wrong.
(Compl. ¶ 60). He claims that he has kept regular office
hours; uses his personal email address because Kean failed to
provide him with a working computer and appropriate access to
Kean email; has provided his course syllabi to all students;
does not submit a never-attended report because it is
unnecessary and creates other problems; and does not check
his voicemail because Kean has not provided him with a
working phone. (Compl. ¶65).
Skoorka admits that he did not submit a self-assessment
review report that was required for his faculty review.
(Compl. ¶ 65). According to Skoorka, "given the
ongoing unlawful conduct against me and ongoing litigations,
it would be impossible for me to receive an unbiased
[faculty] review." (Compl. ¶ 65).
Skoorka alleges that many non-Jewish faculty members used
non-Kean email addresses, failed to post office hours, and
failed to keep regular office hours. (Compl. ¶ 66-67).
These faculty members were allegedly not subject to adverse
actions. (Compl. ¶¶ 66-67). Skoorka claims that Dr.
Kempey, who is not Jewish, was granted deferral of faculty
evaluation because of Skoorka's litigation with Kean.
(Compl. ¶ 72).
Skoorka claims that Kean stripped him of his teaching duties
in January 2015. (Compl. ¶ 75). On or about December 26,
2014, Kean requested that Dr. Skoorka attend
"professional development days" alongside his
colleagues. (Compl. ¶ 77). Dr. Skoorka requested a
waiver and received one; he did not attend the program.
(Compl. ¶¶ 78-79). The day after the program, Kean
reassigned Dr. Skoorka to "professional development and
nonteaching assignment for the Spring 2015 semester" and
requested a meeting. (Compl. ¶ 82). Kean relied on
Skoorka's absence from the professional development
program as the basis for removing him from teaching duties.
(Compl. ¶ 86). Dr. Skoorka alleges that the program was
"sparsely attended" and that "[n]o one"
in his department attended. (Compl. ¶ 87). Dr. Skoorka
claims that he was entitled to teach every semester and his
union's collective bargaining agreement did not permit
such nonteaching duty. (Compl. ¶ 88).
set up a meeting with Dr. Skoorka on January 21, 2015 to
discuss the situation. (Compl. 89). Dr. Skoorka's union
told Dr. Skoorka and Kean that a union representative was
entitled to attend the meeting. (Compl. ¶ 92). Kean said
"this is a work assignment" meeting, not an
"employment meeting," and that therefore the union
representative could not attend. (Compl. ¶ 92). Dr.
Skoorka claims that the union should have filed a grievance.
(Compl. ¶ 93). Kean also did not allow Dr. Skoorka to
bring a court reporter to the meeting. (Compl. ¶ 92).
meeting, defendant Bousquet and Kean stated that Dr. Skoorka
did not post his course syllabi, did not use a Kean email
address, and had not filed a faculty report. (Compl. ¶
94). Dr. Skoorka claims these accusations were
"frivolous" and "petty," and that his
actions did not violate the collective bargaining agreement
or the law. (Compl. ¶ 95).
Skoorka remained on a nonteaching assignment for the Spring
2015 semester. (Compl. ¶ 98). He was required to work
five days per week on campus from 9am to 5pm; he also had to
sign in and out each day. (Compl. ¶ 98). Defendant
Bousquet stated that Dr. Skoorka needed to revamp the
"old" course outlines, that he would be required to
give two guest lectures in other faculty's classes, and
that the assignment was not given on a "punitive"
basis. (Compl. ¶ 99). Dr. Skoorka maintains that other
faculty members are not required to work more than four days
a week on campus, and that these assignments conflicted with
him teaching at NYU on Thursdays and observing the Sabbath on
Fridays. (Compl. ¶ 102). He claims that his collective
bargaining agreement requires one semester's advance
notice to reassign a faculty member, which he did not
receive. (Compl. ¶¶ 103-04). Additionally, Dr.
Skoorka was required to submit timesheets while other faculty
members were not; this, he says, was prohibited by the union
collective bargaining agreement. (Compl. ¶ 105). Several
months later, Kean raised the issue of timesheets on a
faculty-wide basis. The union stated that this was prohibited
for tenured faculty members. (Compl. ¶ 106).
Skoorka alleges that he was very popular with students and
had a significant number of registrations for his spring 2015
classes. (Compl. ¶¶ 115-16). Students told Dr.
Skoorka that they filed a petition on his behalf when they
learned he was not teaching that semester. (Compl. ¶
NYU Teaching Position
Skoorka had been teaching at NYU as an adjunct faculty member
since around 1988/89. (Compl. ¶ 121). Kean's
requirement that Dr. Skoorka work on campus from 9am to 5pm
on Thursdays prevented him from maintaining his employment at
NYU. (Compl. ¶ 122). (Previously, Skoorka claimed that
he taught at NYU only at night. Skoorka, 2015 WL
3533878 at *17. The discrepancy is unexplained.) In February
2015, Kean accused Dr. Skoorka of non-compliance with state
ethics requirements for failing to file a questionnaire
regarding his teaching capacities as an NYU adjunct. (Compl.
¶ 148). Dr. Skoorka completed an online training on
ethics in February 2015 and again in May 2015. (Compl.
to Dr. Skoorka, Kean faculty members regularly hold outside
employment. (Compl. ¶¶ 123, 151-54). He states that
Dr. Kempey held outside employment with the "New Jersey
Council on Economics Education" and was given
"release time" (i.e., he was excused from teaching
six credits of courses) because of that position. (Compl.
January 30, 2015, Kean removed Dr. Skoorka's class
rosters and teaching schedules, including archives from
previous semesters, from Keanwise-i.e., Kean's online
system. (Compl. ¶ 146). Presumably this was in
connection with his being relieved of teaching duties.
Grievance Process and Assignments
did not process Dr. Skoorka's grievance regarding his
nonteaching assignment. (Compl. ¶ 124). On January 21,
2015, Dr. Skoorka requested that the union intervene. (Compl.
¶ 125). Dr. Skoorka sent the union a detailed memorandum
on January 25, 2015. (Compl. ¶ 126). On or about January
30, 2015, the union, at Dr. Skoorka's insistence, filed
four grievances on his behalf. (Compl. ¶ 127). Under the
collective bargaining agreement, Kean was required to address
the grievances within twenty days-i.e., by February 19, 2015.
(Compl. ¶ 127).
offered to hold a hearing on April 2, 2015. (Compl. ¶
132). Dr. Skoorka wanted to return to the classroom during
the spring semester and felt that this hearing date was too
late; he objected to Kean's offer. (Compl. ¶¶
133-34). Thursday, April 2, 2015, was also a date that Dr.
Skoorka was scheduled to teach at ...