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Hofstra Student Worker Can Bring Retaliation Claim After All

By Robyn Hagan Cain on February 21, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals went meta this week, finding that a former Hofstra grad student could proceed with her retaliation claim against the school.

This is pretty much the Inception of retaliation suits. The student, Lauren Summa, claims that she lost her student job at the University because she filed a retaliation claim against the University after she lost a previous student job.

Take a moment to wrap your head around that.

Summa was a graduate student at Hofstra University from 2006 through 2009. She worked served as a team manager for the school's football team during the fall 2006 season. Summa complained to the coaching staff that some of the players' inappropriate comments amounted to harassment, the New York Daily News reports.

Based on the discussions with the coaches during her hiring and throughout the fall, Summa understood that she would also serve as team manager for the spring 2007 football season. When she called to get the spring schedule, she learned that she no longer had the job because the coaching staff "had not yet heard from her."

Later that spring, Summa was offered a graduate assistantship position in the Office of University Relations. At the same time, she was preparing a complaint against the University alleging that her replacement as team manager was unlawful retaliation for her harassment complaints.

In June 2007 -- after Hofstra became aware of Summa's complaint -- the Office of University Relations discovered an internal oversight in Summa's assistantship paperwork. Suddenly, it seemed like a good idea for Vice President for University Relations Melissa Connolly to personally interview Summa. Connolly criticized Summa's resume as imprecise -- even though the University's own career department had reviewed it multiple times and never objected. Between imprecision, a lukewarm reference, and "overstated" importance from a past internship, the University rescinded Summa's employment offer.

In January 2008, Summa filed her current retaliation lawsuit. She actually continued to work at Hofstra until the summer of 2008, at which point the Director of Human Resources terminated Summa's privilege of student employment because the University discovered she had double-counted some of her hours in violation of campus policies. Big surprise: The Director had never terminated any other student's privilege of student employment in the past nor had she investigated any other student's billing practices.

So Summa tacked on another retaliation claim to her suit.

The district court dismissed Summa's three retaliation claims, concluding that she had failed to meet the criteria outlined in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, but the Second Circuit reinstated her claims this week. According to the appellate court, Summa presented sufficient evidence to survive summary judgment.

Maybe the University had completely legitimate reasons for severing its employment ties with Summa all three times, but this looks like a hard case to prove to a jury.

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