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HARRIS v. BEEDLE

March 10, 1994

ADELAIDE SHARNEE HARRIS, Plaintiff,
v.
RALPH E. BEEDLE, individually and as Executive Vice President of the Power Authority of the State of New York, JOHN C. BRONS, individually and as President and Chief Operating Officer of the Power Authority of the State of New York, and the POWER AUTHORITY OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: GERARD L. GOETTEL

 GOETTEL, D.J.

 Plaintiff Adelaide Sharnee Harris brings this cause of action against her former employers the Power Authority of the State of New York ("the Authority"), Ralph E. Beedle, the Authority's former Executive Vice President in charge of Nuclear Operations and John C. Brons, its former President and Chief Operating Officer. Plaintiff alleges that her termination constituted a violation of her First Amendment rights and, accordingly, brings this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983. Defendants now move for summary judgment.

 FACTS

 In November of 1987, plaintiff was hired by the Authority as a secretary in its New York Office. In May of 1991, plaintiff was promoted to the position of secretary to defendant Beedle and transferred to the Authority's White Plains office.

 In April of 1992, plaintiff received a memorandum scheduling her for a Values Program training session. The Values Program was an internal program instituted by the Authority in January of 1992 to emphasize excellence, teamwork, integrity, and innovation. All employees were scheduled to attend a meeting to introduce the program.

 Plaintiff did not attend her scheduled session on April 21, 1992 and left early from a session on Friday, April 24. She claims that she was not feeling well and that the other employees in attendance were laughing and making fun of the presentation. When Beedle saw her at her desk, he told her she should return to the session. Plaintiff refused, saying she had a headache.

 Promotional buttons were made and distributed at the end of each training session along with literature which described the Values Program. The buttons, which were two inch square pins with the four values written on them, were given to employees to wear as a sign of support for the program.

 Because she left her training session early, plaintiff did not receive a Values button. However, on April 27 or 28, 1992, she called Norah Holt, an employee in the Authority's Public Affairs Department and asked if she could have three promotional buttons. Holt dropped three buttons off on the 29th or 30th of April.

 On April 30, 1992, when Salvatore Zulla, Vice President, Nuclear Engineering walked by plaintiff's desk, plaintiff told him that she had Values buttons. When Zulla said that he did not see the buttons, plaintiff pinned one button on each lapel and one button in the area of her stomach. At her deposition, plaintiff stated whether or not the top two buttons were placed over her breasts was a "matter [of] interpretation."

 For approximately a half an hour, plaintiff walked around her floor and displayed the buttons to several Authority employees. According to plaintiff, as she walked around she made comments such as, "Here are my Values buttons," "What do you think of my Values buttons," "Check out my Values buttons," "Look I have my Values buttons," "Nice buttons, here's my buttons," and "I got my Values buttons on." According to plaintiff, her actions were meant to express her criticism of the Values Program which she felt was a waste of employee time and Authority money. During this time period, Authority employees gathered in the hallways discussing plaintiff's antics.

 Beedle, who had been assigned to work at the James A. Fitzpatrick power plant ("JAF") for a few days, was not in the office when plaintiff "made her statement." However, he was told of her actions at JAF by William Josiger, Vice President, Nuclear Operations on the afternoon of April 30th.

 On May 1, 1992, Zulla and Beedle attended a previously scheduled meeting at JAF, and Zulla told Beedle that plaintiff had placed two Values buttons over her breasts and one over her pelvic area and stated "How do you like my values" and that plaintiff had also stated if she had more buttons, she would place them on her posterior. Later that day, Beedle spoke with Alan Weiser, Senior Vice President, Human Resources and told him that he was thinking of terminating plaintiff for inappropriate behavior.

 On Monday, May 4, 1992, Beedle spoke with John Kelly, Director, Radiological Health and Chemical, who repeated Zulla's account of plaintiff's actions. Beedle than contacted Karen Caruso, Director of Employment and told her that he intended to terminate plaintiff due to her improper and offensive conduct. That morning, Beedle convened a meeting with plaintiff and Caruso at which he told plaintiff she was being terminated for inappropriate behavior.

 On March 5, 1992 plaintiff wrote a statement for her personnel file which she also provided to Caruso and defendant Brons. In the statement, plaintiff wrote that she possessed a "joie de vivre, vitality, energy, sensuality, and sexuality that the Authority was not equipped to handle or deal with." In regard to her actions on April 30, she stated that she "always went out of her way to cheer up someone who was down or try to lighten up a ...


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