United States District Court, D. New Jersey
BRUCE M. SKOORKA, Plaintiff,
KEAN UNIVERSITY et al., Defendants.
plaintiff Dr. Bruce M. Skoorka brings this action, one of
several asserting claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights
Act against two groups of defendants. The first group
(referred to as the "Kean Defendants") consists of
Kean University, the Board of Trustees of Kean University
(together, "Kean"), and the State of New Jersey.
The second group (referred to as the "Union
Defendants") consists of the Kean Federation of
Teachers, the Council of New Jersey State Locals
("CNJSL"), and the American Federation of Teachers.
Now before this Court is the motion of the Kean Defendants to
partially dismiss the complaint and the motion of the Union
Defendants to dismiss all claims. For the reasons set forth
in this Opinion, the motions are granted in part and denied
Skoorka has been a professor at Kean University since 1996.
(EEOC Charge ¶ 1). Around 2000, he was granted tenure.
(Id.). Dr. Skoorka is a member of the Jewish faith,
a fact relevant to his claims. (EEOC Charge ¶ 2). Dr.
Skoorka asserts that he engaged in protected Title VII
activities during his time at Kean University.
(Id.). In particular, he has filed numerous EEOC
charges, discrimination claims, and internal complaints
against the defendants. (Id. ¶¶ 1-10).
Before reviewing the facts of this action, I will survey the
history of Dr. Skoorka's claims.
2001 New Jersey state court action
November 2001, Dr. Skoorka brought a state court action
against Kean, his union, and several individual defendants
(the "2001 State Court Action". (Opinion A at *3
(affirming trial court's dismissal of the amended
complaint after a jury trial); see also Opinion B
(affirming in part and reversing in part the trial
court's pretrial discovery orders, summary judgment
opinion, and order regarding the plaintiffs motion to
2001 State Court Action, Dr. Skoorka alleged retaliation and
discrimination on the basis of religion. (Opinion A at *3).
He also alleged retaliation for reporting discrimination and
other allegedly illegal conduct. (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.
at *1). In the end, Dr. Skoorka was unsuccessful on all
counts. (Id. at *11). The Appellate Division
affirmed the trial court's rulings, as well as the
jury's verdict, in August 2011. (Id.).
2006 EEOC charge and 2007 federal court action, refiled as
2009 action, subsequently consolidated with 2014
24, 2006, while his New Jersey state court suit was pending,
Dr. Skoorka filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC.
(See No. 09-cv-3428, DE 123-5, p. 10-21.)
April 6, 2007, Dr. Skoorka brought an action in this federal
court (the "2007 Action"). (See No. 07-cv-1629, DE
1.) 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.
(See No. 07-cv-1629, DE 32.) The order stipulated
that if Dr. Skoorka refiled his complaint, the date of filing
would relate back to the original filing date of April 6,
the end of that 120-day period, Dr. Skoorka refiled his
complaint (the "2009 Action"). (Opinion C). The
2009 Action attempted to relitigate some of the matters on
which Skoorka had failed to prevail in the New Jersey state
court action. (Opinion C at *3). 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.).
June 2, 2015 opinion, this Court, addressing the 2009 Action,
granted summary judgment for defendants on the CEPA, NJLAD,
and Title VII discrimination claims. (Opinion C). The Union
Defendants were granted summary judgment in their favor.
(Opinion C at *24). I surveyed some 15 allegations, many of
which had been updated since the filing of the 2009
complaint. (Opinion C). Twelve of them, I found, were
unsupported by any evidence at all. (Id.). Three, I
found, had some minimal record support, and those three I
discussed in light of the governing summary judgment
standard. [Id.). The only claim to survive summary
judgment was Dr. Skoorka's Title VII claim of
retaliation, asserted against Kean. (Id.).
February 25, 2016 opinion, this Court consolidated the 2009
Action with a later action, filed on June 27, 2014 in the
U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York but
transferred here, (the "2014 Action", 14cv4561;
see Opinion D). See also Skoorka v. Kean
Univ., No. 14-cv-4561 KM MAH, 2015 WL 3561610, at *1
(D.N.J. June 5, 2015) (denying plaintiffs motion for leave to
appeal the interlocutory transfer order and finding that the
transfer was proper). The allegations in the 2014 Action
virtually duplicated those in the 2009 Action. Dr. Skoorka
frankly acknowledged that he was forum-shopping, filing the
same action again in a different federal court because
"to date, it has not been possible for Plaintiff to
obtain a fair hearing of his claims against Defendants in New
Jersey." (See No. 14-cv-4561, DE 11 at 21.) Because the
2009 and 2014 Actions appeared to be essentially identical, I
consolidated them. (Opinion D). After doing so, however, I
granted Dr. Skoorka leave to file a supplemental and amended
complaint alleging that there were facts in the 2014 Action
that post-dated (and therefore did not duplicate) the 2009
Action. (Id.). The Court further instructed that the
supplemental and amended complaint should not rehash claims
already disposed of on summary judgment opinion in the 2009
action. (Id.). On April 22, 2016, Dr. Skoorka filed
the "Supplemental Amended Complaint," No.
09-cv-3428, DE 145. Despite the Court's instructions,
much duplication nevertheless remained.
June 30, 2017 opinion, this Court, considering the
supplemental amended complaint in the consolidated 2009 and
2014 Actions, granted a motion to dismiss, with one
exception: supplemental allegations of retaliatory
deprivation of office equipment and supplies would be
permitted to go forward in the context of the Title VII
retaliation claim that had already survived summary judgment
in the 2009 Action. (Opinion E). The Court also permitted
limited additional discovery on the subject of the equipment
and supplies. (Opinion E at *7). As of the date of this
opinion, discovery in the consolidated 2009 and 2014 Actions
has not yet closed.
2015 EEOC charge and 2016 federal court action
Skoorka filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC on
February 16, 2015. After several amendments, Dr. Skoorka
received a right to sue letter, and filed a second complaint
in the Southern District of New York on June 2, 2016 (the
"2016 Action"). (See No. 16-cv-3842, DE 1
("2016 Action Complaint").) Venue of that case was
transferred to this District on June 28, 2016. (See No.
16-cv-3842, DE 3.)
June 26, 2018 opinion, this Court, considering the 2016
Action, granted motions to dismiss with the exception of a
Title VII retaliation claim. (Opinion F at *3). The complaint
in that 2016 SDNY Action, like the 2014 SDNY Action, seemed
to raise or refer to allegations already disposed of in the
Court's summary judgment opinion in the 2009 Action, but
it also asserted more recent factual allegations.
(Id.). The claims were for the most part dismissed.
(Id. at *15). The surviving claims are Title VII
retaliation, as against the Kean Defendants for transferring
him to a nonteaching position, and as against the Union
Defendants for failure to press grievances.
opinion concluded with the following note:
The Court is not unaware that Dr. Skoorka continues to
reassert similar allegations in new actions, nor can it be
blind to a history in which very few of his prior allegations
were found to have even minimal evidentiary support. A fact
finder may also be skeptical of a litigant's endless
daisy chaining of "retaliation" claims, each time
claiming that workplace grievances occurred in retaliation
for prior, unsuccessful claims. That determination, however,
is for another day.
(Opinion F at *15). (See also Opinion G at *6
(Skoorka v. Kean Univ., No. CV 16-3842 (KM), 2017 WL
6539449 (D.N.J. Dec. 21, 2017) (denying a motion for an
injunction and sanctions against plaintiff under Fed.R.Civ.P.
11, but warning plaintiff that "[t]here comes a point
beyond which a litigant cannot simply daisy-chain claims
ad infinitum, each time claiming that the defendant
is 'retaliating' for the unsuccessful claim
The 2016 EEOC charge and this 2017 federal court
20, 2016, Dr. Skoorka again filed charges with the EEOC.
(Cplt. p. 6). The EEOC issued a Notice of Right to Sue letter
on January 23 and January 31, 2017. (Id. p. 6).
April 10, 2017, Dr. Skoorka filed the Complaint in this
action (the "2017 Action") in yet a
fourth forum: the U.S. District Court for the
Eastern District of New York, where it was assigned to Judge
LaShann DeArcy Hall. On July 21, 2017, Judge Hall transferred
the case to the District of New Jersey, where it was assigned
to me. (DE 4) Post-transfer, on August 23, 2017, Dr.
filed an application for reconsideration of the transfer
order (as he had done, unsuccessfully, with respect to the
2014 SDNY action). (DE 10).
September 29, 2017, Magistrate Judge Michael A. Hammer filed
an order (DE 20) staying this case pending the outcome of
dispositive motions in the 2016 Action. On October 24, 2017,
Dr. Skoorka filed a motion for reconsideration regarding the
order to stay (DE 23), which I denied. (DE 26). On July 10,
2018, Magistrate Judge Hammer lifted the stay. (DE 28).
31, 2018, the Kean Defendants filed the motion to dismiss (DE
29) that is now before this Court. The Kean Defendants move
the Court to dismiss Dr. Skoorka's religious
discrimination claim, discussed infra, and also his
claims based on failure to promote and scheduling
interference with Dr. Skoorka's secondary employment at
NYU. (DE 29). On August 1, 2018, the Union Defendants filed a
motion, also now before this Court, to dismiss the Complaint
in its entirety. (DE 30). On October 22, 2018, Dr. Skoorka
filed an opposition to both motions. (DE 37). On October 20,
2018, the Kean Defendants filed their reply to Dr.
Skoorka's opposition. (DE 35). On October 23, 2018, the
Union Defendants submitted their reply. (DE 36).
Factual Allegations of this Complaint
some exceptions, the factual allegations raised in Dr.
Skoorka's current 2017 Complaint and the underlying EEOC
charges are updates of his 2016 Action-i.e., they
are similar in nature but are alleged to begin after the
factual allegations of the 2016 Action end. I note generally
that the Complaint and EEOC Charges often fail to specify the
dates on which alleged events occurred. (See e.g.,
EEOC Charge ¶ 19) ("Kean interfered with my
religious observance by . . . attempting to deliver mail to
me, late Friday afternoon, and by certified mail requiring
signature confirming receipt on Yom Kippur and the
Sabbath."). I will assume, however, that the claims in
the complaint correspond to those in the EEOC charge, and
that Dr. Skoorka therefore intends for this 2017 Action to
cover the period from the end of September 2015 through July
2016. (See id. ¶ 14) (claiming in the EEOC
Charge that "examples of unlawful conduct against me
during the past 300 days . . . [are] set forth
below") (emphasis added).)
Skoorka alleges that Kean prevented him from teaching during
the Spring 2016 and Fall 2016 semesters. (EEOC Charge
¶¶ 21, 26). Kean, he says, requires him to
"sign in" and "sign out" of work every
week day. As a result, he is required to sit in his office
from 9am to 5pm. (Id. ¶¶ 15, 21, 26).
NYU teaching position
Skoorka makes the sweeping allegation that the defendants
have interfered with his secondary employment at NYU. (EEOC
Charge ¶ 31).
demanded that Dr. Skoorka attend a disciplinary interview. On
or about September 24, 2015, Dr. Skoorka sent Kean an e-mail
requesting that Kean provide "certain information prior
to any 'disciplinary hearing.'" (EEOC Charge
¶ 16). On or about October 8, 2015, Dr. Skoorka sent
Kean another e-mail with a similar request. (Id.).
The information is not specified. Kean did not provide Dr.
Skoorka with the information he requested, and allegedly
denied Dr. Skoorka representation. (Id.).
September 30, 2015, and October 1, 6, 14, 20, and 23, 2015,
Kean allegedly sent Dr. Skoorka e-mails, memos, and letters
raising false accusations and criticisms against him. (EEOC
Charge ¶ 17). Dr. Skoorka does not allege what
accusations or criticisms were raised. (Id.).
Broadly, he avers that "Kean has been stuffing my
personnel file with these false and defamatory materials to
coerce my resignation, set me up for adverse action and cause
me to suffer damagers including damages to my
reputation." [Id.). In October 2015, Kean
issued an "Official Written Reprimand" to Dr.
Skoorka and placed it in his file. [Id. ¶ 21).
Dr. Skoorka alleges that the reprimand was baseless.
September 30 and October 14, 2015, Kean forced Dr. Skoorka to
attend "frivolous meetings with the administration,
during which [he] was subject to discrimination, harassment
and retaliations." (EEOC Charge ¶ 18). Dr. Skoorka
alleges that similar meetings occurred at other unspecified
times. (Id.). He does not allege what specifically
occurred during any of these meetings. (Id.).
December 2015, Kean issued "Tenure Charges" against
Dr. Skoorka. (EEOC Charge ¶ 22). Dr. Skoorka does not
allege what specifically the charges asserted, but broadly
characterizes them as "false, discriminatory and
retaliatory." (Id.). Dr. Skoorka also avers
that the charges did not allege any actual tenure violations.
(Id.). This statement is conclusory and based on
facts and agreements not before me. Dr. Skoorka also argues
that his collective bargaining agreement does not permit
Kean's actions. (Id.).
Skoorka's response to the Tenure Charges was due on
February 17, 2016. (Id. ¶ 23). Dr. Skoorka does
not allege that he filed a response. (EEOC Charge).
January 26, 2016, Kean sent a letter to Dr. Skoorka
implementing a three-day unpaid suspension for the period of
February 3-5, 2016. (Id. ¶ 25).
2016, Kean sent Dr. Skoorka another set of Tenure Charges,
which raise the same accusations and criticisms contained in
the December 2015 Tenure Charges. (Id. ¶ 28).
Through those charges, Kean seeks to suspend Dr. Skoorka for
ten days and, allegedly, to coerce Dr. Skoorka's
resignation "and/or set [him] up for further adverse
employment action." (Id.).
Religious holidays /sabbath
Skoorka alleges that, during the fall of 2015, Kean sought to
schedule a meeting with Dr. Skoorka on Rosh Hashanah and the
evening of Yom Kippur. (EEOC Charge ¶ 19). Also on Yom
Kippur, Kean sent mail to Dr. Skoorka that would have
required a signature to confirm receipt. (Id.). Dr.
also alleges that Kean attempted to deliver mail late on
Friday, or mail that would have required a signature
confirming receipt on the Sabbath.
(Id.).Dr. Skoorka does not allege the specific
dates on which these Friday or Sabbath delivery
"attempts" occurred, or even allege how many times
these events occurred. He does not state that he actually did
receive these letters or sign for them. After these events
occurred, but at some unidentified time, an unidentified Kean
representative allegedly stated to some unidentified person
that Dr. Skoorka had failed to attend meetings and accept
Failure to promote
Skoorka alleges that, at some unspecified time, the position
of Department Coordinator became available in his department.
(EEOC Charge ¶ 27). The incumbent Coordinator, who was
the only other tenured faculty member in the department,
became ill. (Id.). At that point, Dr. Skoorka had
been "on the job" for more than 20 years and was
the most senior professor remaining in the department.
(Id.). He does not allege that he applied for the
position, but rather asserts that under "seniority"
and his Collective Bargaining Agreement ("CBA") he
was "next ...