The opinion of the court was delivered by: MORRIS E. LASKER
An argument with a co-worker and seconds of shirt grabbing on the job led to Vincent Moodie's termination at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York ("Bank"). Moodie now sues his former employer, pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., alleging that the Bank's decision to fire him was motivated, at least in part, by his race. The case was tried to the bench with able presentations by both parties.
Moodie, a 57-year-old black male of Jamaican descent, had been working as a senior computer operator at the Bank's Computer Contingency Center ("CCC") in Pearl River, New York. On October 4, 1989, he became involved in an altercation with a white co-worker, Tony Riolo. After the incident, the Bank conducted an internal investigation and, on October 13, 1989, dismissed him.
The events leading up to Moodie's dismissal are not in dispute. On Saturday, September 30, 1989, Moodie worked alone at the CCC on the night shift. His responsibilities included labeling some 600 computer tapes. At the end of the shift, Moodie left 65 tapes unlabeled, to be taken care of by the next shift. On Sunday, October 1, 1989, Tony Riolo, also a senior computer operator, wrote in the shift's turnover report: "On my arrival this morning, there were approximately 65 tapes that somebody was to [sic] lazy to label" (Ex. 11).
The following Tuesday, Moodie saw the comment in the turnover report. When he arrived at work on the evening of Wednesday, October 4, 1989, Moodie encountered Riolo -- who was finishing up on the second shift -- in the computer room and confronted him about the "lazy" remark. After exchanging words, Moodie and Riolo became physically engaged and were separated by other second shift employees present in the computer room. Of the three employees who witnessed the altercation, none saw what happened in its entirety. These three employees reported the incident to the second shift supervisor, Carlton Burgess, who is black. Burgess then contacted his superior, assistant chief of the CCC Andrew Howard, who is also black. Howard advised Burgess to let the CCC chief Joseph Furey, who is white, handle the matter the next day (Tr. 375).
The next morning, October 5, Furey, upon arrival at work, was told by the first shift supervisor, Guy Gordon, that there had been an altercation between Moodie and Riolo the night before and that "apparently Vinnie had choked Tony" (Tr. 616). Furey was also advised that Moodie had come in to see him even though he was not scheduled to work that morning, and that Riolo had left a message for Furey to call him at home. Furey telephoned his superior at the home office in New York City, Kenneth Leffler, and told him that there had been an incident involving Moodie and Riolo. Leffler instructed Furey to talk to both Moodie and Riolo, and stated that he would contact personnel for guidance on how to proceed. Furey then summoned Moodie, who complained to Furey about the remark in the turnover report. When Furey asked Moodie about Gordon's report of an altercation, Moodie told Furey that "he and Tony were fooling around and he definitely did not choke Tony" (Tr. 617). After meeting with Furey, Moodie went home. Furey then telephoned Riolo, who accused Moodie of choking him.
Leffler, who had spoken to the Bank's personnel department in the interim, telephoned Furey and directed him to speak to any witnesses and to document his findings.
Later in the day, when the second shift employees who had witnessed the altercation -- Jesus Sanchez, Michael Barnett and Stevenson Cantave -- began arriving for work, Furey called them to his office one by one to determine what had in fact occurred. Furey asked assistant chief Howard and second shift supervisor Burgess to be present during the individual interviews he conducted with them and Riolo. At the close of the interviews, Furey read to Howard and Burgess his notes of what Riolo and each witness had stated. Furey, Howard and Burgess all testified that Furey's notes accurately reflected what each employee had said at his interview (Furey, Tr. 636; Howard, Tr. 843; Burgess, Tr. 377).
According to Furey's notes (Ex. G), the three witnesses described the events as follows:
"Jesus Sanchez - stated that Vinny and Tony were talking about the turnover and that Tony was obscured from his vision by Vinny due to his size but that it appeared that Vinny was choking Tony. He heard Tony say, 'You hurt me - I can't breath'. Jesus said that he yelled for Vinny to stop and said: 'Vinny, do you realize what you're doing - you can lose your job.' Jesus said that Vinny let go then and that he saw bruises on Tony's neck.
Mike Barnett - stated that he was on the telephone with the Head Office and didn't really hear or see all of what happened. He heard them saying something about the turnover and backups. He said he heard Tony say 'I can't breath' and heard Jesus say 'Vinny enough, enough.' He also said that he could not see where Vinny's hands were but that he jumped up from his seat and tried to pull Vinny away from Tony but couldn't.
Stevenson Contave [sic] - said that Vinny and Tony were talking about the turnover and that Tony was sitting and Vinny standing in front of him. Steve said that he saw Vinny grab Tony by the neck but at first thought that they were only kidding. He said that he heard Tony tell Vinny that Guy told him to put something in the turnover report about the tape labels and that Vinny said 'Well I'll go for Guy next.' 'I'm going to choke you.' Steve said that he heard Tony say 'I can't breath' and that he tried to pull Vinny off but couldn't."
At trial, Sanchez -- the only one of the three called by the parties -- further testified that he heard Moodie say to Riolo, "You wrote that remarks [sic] in the turnover. I am going to kick your ass" (Tr. 299); that he did not see where Moodie's hands were but that he "separated the two men" as "they were connected" (Tr. 301).
After these interviews, Furey summoned Moodie back to his office and confronted him with the witnesses' statements. According to Furey's notes, Moodie admitted he had grabbed Riolo but let go as soon as he saw that Riolo was getting upset (Ex. G). At this point, Furey telephoned Leffler and read his notes to Leffler before faxing a written copy in memorandum form. The Furey memorandum did not contain any conclusions or recommendations but simply recorded the statements of Moodie, Riolo and the witnesses.
On the following day, October 6, Leffler sent his own memorandum to the Bank's personnel office, in which he concluded:
On Wednesday, October 4, 1989 at approximately 10 p.m. Mr. Moodie physically attacked Mr. Anthony Riolo, a second shift computer operator at the CCC. An investigation of the incident . . . indicates that Mr. Moodie was totally at fault, and that Mr. Riolo could have been ...