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MEYERS v. SIMONS

August 9, 1995

ANNE MEYERS, Plaintiff, against RICHARD D. SIMONS, as Temporary Chief Judicial Officer of the Unified Court System and Chairman of the Administrative Board of the Courts, MATTHEW T. CROSSON, as Chief Administrator of the Courts, JOSEPH TRAFICANTI, JR., as Deputy Chief Administrative Judge of the Courts Outside New York City of the UNIFIED COURT SYSTEM (OFFICE OF COURT ADMINISTRATION) of the STATE OF NEW YORK, ANGELO J. INGRASSIA, as Administrative Judge of the Ninth Judicial District, GILBERT RABIN, individually and as Chief Judge of the City Court of the City of Yonkers, GEORGE BERGHORN, individually and as a Court Clerk of the City Court of the City of Yonkers, ANNA M. CARRIELLO, individually and as Chief Clerk of the City Court of Yonkers, EDWARD V. REGAN, Comptroller of the State of New York and Administrative Head of the New York State Employees Retirement System, and/or THE NEW YORK STATE EMPLOYEES' RETIREMENT SYSTEM, and THE STATE OF NEW YORK, Defendants.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: BARRINGTON D. PARKER, JR.

 BARRINGTON D. PARKER, JR., U.S.D.J.

 FACTS

 This action under 42 U.S.C. ┬ž 1983 for the violation of civil rights is before this Court on the Defendants' motion for summary judgment. The Plaintiff, Anne Meyers ("Meyers"), seeks declaratory, injunctive and monetary relief for her allegedly retaliatory discharge from employment with the City Court of the City of Yonkers ("the City Court") in violation of her First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and association and to free exercise of religion.

 The Defendants are Richard Simons, Temporary Chief Judicial Officer of the Unified Court System and Chairman of the Administrative Board of the Courts, Matthew T. Crosson, Chief Administrator of the Courts, Joseph Traficanti, Jr. Deputy Chief Administrative Judge of the Courts Outside New York City of the Unified Court System (Office of Court Administration) of the State of New York, Angelo J. Ingrassia, Administrative Judge of the Ninth Judicial District, Gilbert Rabin, individually and as Chief Judge of the City Court of Yonkers, George Berghorn, individually and as Court Clerk of the City Court of the City of Yonkers, Anna M. Cariello, individually and as Chief Clerk of the City Court of Yonkers, Edward V. Regan, Comptroller of the State of New York and Administrative Head of the New York State Employees Retirement System, and/or The New York State Employees' Retirement System, and the State of New York.

 On May 21, 1992, Meyers was appointed on a "contingent permanent basis" to the position of court assistant in the City Court. She was informed that her appointment was "subject to the successful completion of a probationary period, in accordance with the Rules of the Chief Judge." The Rules of the Chief Judge provide that an individual must serve "a probationary term of not less than 26 nor more than 52 weeks," but that "if the conduct or performance of a probationer is not satisfactory, his or her employment from such position may be terminated at any time after eight weeks."

 Meyers began her appointment in the landlord/tenant division of the City Court under the immediate supervision of Defendant George Berghorn ("Berghorn"). Berghorn reported to the Deputy Chief Clerk, Mary D'Alessio ("D'Alessio"), who in turn reported to the Chief Clerk, Defendant Anna Cariello ("Cariello"). Berghorn assigned Lesley Steinberg ("Steinberg"), a court assistant, to train Meyers in her duties, which included calling the court's calendar, data entry and processing judgments and warrants.

 After three weeks of supervising Meyers's work and consulting with Steinberg, on June 11, 1992, Berghorn met with both Meyers and Steinberg to review Meyers's performance. He informed Meyers that she needed to be more organized, particularly in sorting and marking files during the morning calendar call, and that she needed to raise her voice when she called the calendar. He also told her that he felt that her willingness to learn and help in the back office would make her an asset to the City Court in the long run.

 In their depositions, Steinberg, Berghorn and D'Alessio all testified that Meyers's performance did not improve, that she refused to follow instructions and that she demonstrated poor judgment on other occasions as well. Meyers does not deny that Steinberg, D'Alessio and Berghorn testified to these allegations, but she disputes their truth. She denies that certain incidents referred to by Steinberg, Berghorn or D'Alessio occurred or offers an alternate scenario. In addition, she denies that her work performance was unsatisfactory. Effective August 25, 1992, Meyers was transferred to the traffic division of the City Court.

 On August 21, 1992, her final day in the landlord/tenant division, Meyers observed an eviction proceeding in which the court issued a warrant of eviction and a judgment against the defendants, Stephen and Perry Fiorni ("the Fiornis"). On September 8, 1992, while the Fiornis' eviction proceeding was still pending, Meyers wrote a check in the amount of nearly $ 3,000 to the Coalition for the Homeless of Westchester and earmarked it "for the Fiorinis." Meyers claims that she made the donation in accordance with her religious belief as a member of the Jewish Faith to satisfy the religious commandment of Tzedakh. The next day, the parties to the eviction proceeding appeared before the court. The landlord's attorney informed the judge that the action had settled because an employee of the court had contributed to the payment of rent arrearage and that he felt there was a breach of the court's duty to appear impartial. The judge confirmed with Meyers that she had made the donation and reported the matter to the Chief Judge, who met with Cariello and D'Alessio to discuss the matter.

 On September 17, 1992, Berghorn completed a performance evaluation of Meyers, in which he listed the areas in which he was dissatisfied with her performance and recommended her for termination. Meyers received the evaluation on the same day, and Cariello and Berghorn discussed it with her. She was terminated, effective October 21, 1992.

 Meyers claims that she was discharged because of her donation, in violation of her First Amendment rights. The Defendants now move for summary judgment on the grounds that (1) the government's compelling interest in maintaining the judiciary's appearance of impartiality outweighs any minimal interference with Meyers's First Amendment rights, and (2) an assessment of Meyers's performance record would have resulted in a decision to discharge her anyway and Meyers's donation simply made the Defendants more certain of their decision.

 In Mt. Healthy City School District Board of Education v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274, 97 S. Ct. 568, 50 L. Ed. 2d 471 (1977), the Supreme Court held that even though an employee's constitutionally protected conduct was a "substantial factor" in an employment decision, relief was justified only if the employer would not have made the same decision solely on the basis of the employee's performance record. Because the Defendants have offered considerable evidence of Meyers's unsatisfactory performance as the basis for their decision and Meyers has offered no significantly probative evidence that she would not have been discharged absent her protected conduct, the Defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted.

 Because the Court grants the Defendants' motion for summary judgment on the basis that Meyers has failed to introduce evidence creating a genuine issue of material fact as to whether she would have been discharged even absent her allegedly protected conduct, the Court does not reach the constitutional question of ...


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