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Skoorka v. Kean University

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

September 19, 2019

BRUCE M. SKOORKA, Plaintiff,
v.
KEAN UNIVERSITY, et al., Defendants. BRUCE M. SKOORKA, Plaintiff,
v.
KEAN UNIVERSITY, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION

          Michael A. Hammer, United States Magistrate Judge

         I. Introduction

         Before the Court is a motion by Kean University, The Board of Trustees of Kean University and the State of New Jersey to consolidate two matters currently pending before the Court, Skoorka v. Kean University, et al., 16-3842 (KM) (MAH) (“the 2016 Action”), and Skoorka v. Kean University, et al., 17-5484 (KM) (MAH) (“the 2017 Action”), and to stay discovery in the consolidated cases pending completion of proceedings initiated in the New Jersey Office of Administrative Law. Def’s. Mot. To Consolidate Cases and Stay Discovery, the 2016 Action, Mar. 22, 2019, D.E. 55. Each matter was brought by the same Plaintiff, Dr. Bruce M. Skoorka, who opposes both the motion to consolidate and the motion to stay. Pl’s. Opp’n. Br., the 2016 Action, July 2, 2019, D.E. 66.

         The Court has considered the motion, opposition, reply, sur-reply, as well as two additional letters by the parties. Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78 and Local Civil Rule 78.1, the Undersigned has decided this motion on the papers and without oral argument. For the reasons set forth below, the motion to consolidate cases and stay proceedings is granted in part and denied in part.

         II. Background

         Dr. Bruce M. Skoorka was a tenured associate professor of Economics and Finance at Kean University beginning in 1996 and continuing through 2015. Opin., the 2017 Action, Mar. 11, 2019, D.E. 38. Beginning in 2007, Dr. Skoorka filed suit in this federal court against Kean University and other related entities for discrimination allegedly based on his status as an individual of Jewish faith, harassment, and retaliation. Id. at 3-4. There have been several suits filed by Dr. Skoorka concerning the same overarching claims of discrimination and retaliation, although at different time periods during his employment with Kean. Id. Dr. Skoorka filed an action in 2007, [1] which was amended and refiled in 2009, and subsequently consolidated with a second lawsuit filed by Dr. Skoorka in 2014 against the same defendants. Id. at 3. The 2009 and 2014 cases remain pending. Id. at 5.

         The 2016 Action was filed on June 2, 2016 in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. Compl., The 2016 Action, June 2, 2016, D.E. 1. It was then transferred to this Court sua sponte on June 28, 2016. Order, the 2016 Action, June 28, 2016, D.E. 3. The 2017 Action was filed on March 10, 2017 in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York and was subsequently transferred sua sponte to this Court on July 21, 2017. Order, the 2017 Action, July 21, 2017, D.E. 4. In each case, the allegations are nearly identical. See generally Compl., the 2016 Action, June 2, 2016, D.E. 1; Compl., the 2017 Action, Apr. 10, 2017, D.E. 1.

         In the 2016 Action, Dr. Skoorka alleged six counts against the Kean University, the State of New Jersey, the Board of Trustees of Kean University (“the Kean Defendants”), and Kean Federation of Teachers, the Council of New Jersey State College Locals, the American Federation of Teachers (“the Union Defendants”), and several individuals in their official capacity as Kean University employees and individually. Compl., the 2016 Action, June 2, 2016, D.E. 1. Each count alleged unlawful harassment, unlawful employment practices, discrimination, and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C.A § 2000e et seq., in addition to claims of harassment and discrimination under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, the New Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act, the New York City Human Rights Law, and the New York State Human Rights Law. Id. at 13-24. All claims in the 2016 Action have since been dismissed against all Defendants, save for Dr. Skoorka’s Title VII claims for retaliation against: 1) the Kean Defendants for allegedly retaliating against him for filing lawsuits and EEOC charges that claimed religious discrimination; and 2) the Union Defendants for allegedly retaliating against him by breaching their duty of fair representation when they failed to press his grievances against Kean. Order, the 2016 Action, June 26, 2018, D.E. 45.

         The 2017 Action centers on alleged violations under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, alleging harassment, discrimination, and retaliation against the same Kean and Union Defendants as in the previous actions. Compl., the 2017 Action, Apr. 10, 2017, D.E. 1. United States District Judge Kevin McNulty dismissed the Title VII discrimination claims against the Kean Defendants and the Title VII retaliation claims against the Kean Defendants, “except for those based on nonteaching assignments and unfounded disciplinary proceedings.” Order, the 2017 Action, Mar. 11, 2019, D.E. 39. All claims against the Union Defendants in the 2017 Action were also dismissed. Id.

         The remaining claims in both cases are those for retaliation under Title VII against: 1) the Kean Defendants based on Dr. Skoorka’s demotion to a non-teaching position and disciplinary actions by Kean University against Dr. Skoorka (in both the 2016 and 2017 Actions); and 2) the Union Defendants for retaliating against him by breaching their duty of fair representation when they failed to press his grievances against Kean (in only the 2016 Action).[2] Order, the 2017 Action, March 11, 2019, D.E. 39; Order, the 2016 Action, March 19, 2019, D.E. 39. Dr. Skoorka claims Kean’s actions in denying him a teaching schedule in 2014 and 2015 were unfounded. See generally Compl., the 2017 Action, Apr. 10, 2017, D.E. 1.

         On March 22, 2019, the Kean Defendants moved to consolidate the 2016 and 2017 Actions and stay discovery pending resolution of four proceedings in the Office of Administrative Law concerning disciplinary actions by Kean against Dr. Skoorka. Def’s. Mot. to Consolidate and Stay Discovery, the 2016 Action, Mar. 22, 2019, D.E. 55. The administrative proceedings concern the same controversy as the 2016 and 2017 Actions and have been consolidated into a single proceeding which is still pending. Id. The Union Defendants do not oppose the motion. Letter, the 2017 Action, Mar. 28, 2019, D.E. 43. Dr. Skoorka has filed an opposition to the motion. Pl’s. Opp’n. Br., the 2016 Action, July 2, 2019, D.E. 66. The Kean Defendants filed their reply brief on June 7, 2019. Reply Brief, June 7, 2019, D.E. 61. Plaintiff sought leave to file a sur-reply, which was granted on June 20, 2019. Order, June 20, 2019, D.E. 64. Plaintiff filed his sur-reply on June 25, 2019. Letter, June 24, 2019, D.E. 65. The Kean Defendants filed a letter with the Court on August 9, 2019 to notify the Court that the hearing dates on the appeals before the OAL have been moved from September 2019 to February 2020. Letter, Aug. 9, 2019, D.E. 67. Plaintiff filed a letter with the Court on August 26, 2019, objecting to Defendants’ August 9, 2019, letter because they did not seek leave of Court before filing the letter. Letter, Aug. 26, 2019, D.E. 68.

         III. Analysis: Consolidation and Stay of Discovery

         A. Consolidation of the 2016 and 2017 cases

         The Kean Defendants proffer that under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 42, the 2016 and 2017 Actions should be consolidated. Def’s. Mot. To Consolidate and Stay Discovery, the 2016 Action, Mar. 22, 2019, D.E. 55. Rule 42 provides that a court may consolidate actions before it if they “involve a common question of law or fact.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 42. The Kean Defendants argue that consolidation is proper because Judge McNulty’s March 11, 2019 Opinion “establish[es] that Dr. Skoorka’s 2016 and 2017 Cases should be ...


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