LEWIS A. KAPLAN, District Judge.
The sole claim remaining in this case is Mr. Von Feasel's claim that he was terminated as a probationary inspector by the New York City Taxi & Limousine Commission ("TLC") by reason of his Caucasian race in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
This is the Court's decision following a nonjury trial.
Plaintiff took and passed a civil service examination for the position of inspector with the TLC and was provisionally appointed to that position in 1990. Under the terms of the appointment, he was subject to termination without a hearing if the TLC determined within the probationary period that his performance was unsatisfactory. He was terminated, allegedly for unsatisfactory performance, effective on May 31, 1991, during the probationary period. He contends that the real reason for the termination was his race. In essence, he claims that his supervisor during a critical period preceding the termination, and whose evaluation played a role in the decision to terminate, was African-American and prejudiced against plaintiff on account of plaintiff's race.
Following plaintiff's training period, he was assigned to TLC Squad 1, the supervisory inspector, or supervisor, of which was Marvin Jones and the senior inspectors, or seniors, of which were Leander Yarrell and a man named Goldstein.
Jones and Yarrell are African-American, but plaintiff had no difficulty during, and admitted at trial that he makes no allegation of racial discrimination concerning, the period while he was in Squad 1. In February 1991, Supervisor Jones gave him a periodic personnel evaluation and rated his overall performance as "good."
On February 17, 1991, Squad 1 was broken up and plaintiff was assigned to Squad 4 where he again found himself under Supervisor Jones and Senior Yarrell.
That is when the trouble appears to have begun.
The TLC contends that plaintiff, shortly after being assigned to Squad 4, began to evidence overly aggressive and physical behavior toward drivers regulated by the Commission, that he resisted efforts to change his attitude, and that it ultimately decided to fire plaintiff because his quick and excessive resorts to force were unacceptable. Although plaintiff admits much concerning the incidents in question, he characterizes his actions as appropriate, the TLC's contentions as exaggerated, and the complaints of his superiors as racially motivated and pretextual. The Court finds the following to have occurred:
On March 25, 1991, plaintiff was assigned to radio motor patrol with Inspector Glenn, who is African-American. Plaintiff and Glenn stopped another vehicle in Queens, and plaintiff exited his car to approach the other driver. While plaintiff was on foot, the driver of the stopped vehicle put his car in gear and sped off, passing very close to plaintiff. Plaintiff was enraged and quickly returned to his vehicle, and he and Glenn took off in pursuit of the car. Another TLC car, manned by Inspectors Csikortas (white) and Graham (African-American) was in the vicinity, saw the attempted sideswipe of plaintiff and followed plaintiff in the chase. All three cars proceeded through Queens at a high rate of speed.
At Sutphin Boulevard and South Road, Supervisor Jones saw all three cars run through a red light and followed, ordering via public address system
that the chase be broken off. The TLC cars did not respond to the order. In the course of the chase, they ran a number of red lights and raced past a school bus that was discharging children, all at a high rate of speed. Eventually, the fleeing subject entered the Van Wyck Expressway, and the first two TLC cars pulled to the side of the road. Supervisor Jones arrived, jumped out of his car, encountered Csikortas first, and angrily and profanely asked what he was doing. At about that time, Senior Yarrell arrived on the scene. Jones directed Yarrell to collect the memo books of the four TLC inspectors, sent the inspectors and Yarrell to 125th Street off Sutphin Boulevard, paused to collect himself, made identical entries critical of each of the inspectors in their memo books, and then followed to the 125th street location where he had Yarrell distribute the memo books to the inspectors. Even assuming the truth of plaintiff's contention that TLC inspectors, with the knowledge and acquiescence of seniors and supervisors, often pursued fleeing subjects of car stops and exceeded posted speed limits in doing so,
the Court finds that the actions of the plaintiff and the three other inspectors on this occasion well exceeded any norm, endangered the lives and well-being of the inspectors and the public, and properly was the subject of censure by Supervisor Jones -- censure that was meted out in equal portions to two black and two white inspectors.
On April 2, 1991, plaintiff was involved in another incident. During the course of another vehicle stop, plaintiff and his partner for the day, Inspector Csikortas,
got into an altercation with the driver. When Jones responded to their call for back up, plaintiff claimed that the driver, an elderly man, had tried to attack plaintiff with a bat. Upon being questioned by Jones, the driver contended that he had given plaintiff his license and registration without difficulty, that plaintiff and his partner had been unnecessarily physical, and that the driver had not used the bat.
On the following day, April 3, 1991, there was still another episode, this one at 234th Street and White Plains Road. Yarrell reported to Jones that he had seen plaintiff and Inspector Glenn try physically to remove a driver of a for-hire-vehicle (i.e., gypsy cab) from his car. While Yarrell indicated that he had concluded that the stop was appropriate, he concluded that the attempt to pull the driver out of the vehicle was improper and that plaintiff, who had no authority to make arrests, had been overly aggressive. Jones reported the incident to Assistant Director Allen, who convened a meeting with plaintiff, Jones and Yarrell on the same day at which plaintiff was reprimanded for being aggressive with drivers.
But this did not end the problem.
On April 24, 1991, Yarrell reported to Jones that he again had seen plaintiff use unnecessary force in another car stop, this one in Brooklyn. The stop initially was made by Inspectors Nieves and Csikortas, who had a problem with the driver and called for assistance. A crowd gathered. Plaintiff and Inspector Glenn were among those who responded. Yarrell reported that he arrived in time to see plaintiff slam the driver against the car with his full body weight and then fall to the ground on top of the driver. Jones himself saw plaintiff drag someone out of a produce store in the midst of general disorder, although he was unaware of any basis for plaintiff having done so in view of the fact that plaintiff was not permitted by TLC policy to make arrests. Plaintiff, it should be noted, admitted at trial that he had a physical altercation with the driver, although he claimed that he was provoked.
Five days later, plaintiff was on patrol with Inspector Graham, and the two made a car stop at Intervale Avenue and Southern Boulevard. On the following day, Graham reported to Senior Yarrell that plaintiff, in the apparent belief that the driver, Eladio Quinones, had hit Graham, placed Quinones in a head lock
and nearly choked him. Plaintiff then insisted that Graham handcuff Quinones, persisting even after Graham told him that Quinones had done nothing wrong. Yarrell reported also that Quinones complained about the incident to TLC.
When Yarrell's report came to the attention of Assistant Director Allen, Allen called Graham to his office and questioned him regarding the incident. Graham asked that he not be assigned to work with plaintiff again, as plaintiff had a reputation for being overly aggressive in handling gypsy cab drivers. He recounted the April 29 incident, telling Allen that plaintiff had placed the driver in a choke hold for no apparent reason and refused to release him until Graham pleaded with him to do so.
On the same day that Graham reported to Allen, Mr. Quinones filed a written complaint against plaintiff with TLC's disciplinary unit. (DX 20) He stated that plaintiff attacked him without provocation, choked him until he became dizzy, lifted him off the ground by his neck, threw him against the car, threatened to bash his head in with plaintiff's walkie-talkie, and called him an "asshole." (Id.)
Allen promptly took the matter up with Joseph Midolo, then Assistant Commissioner for Enforcement. After hearing what reportedly had transpired, Midolo directed Allen to contact Elise McKay, then Deputy Counsel in TLC's Disciplinary Unit, to request an investigation.
He also authorized plaintiff's reassignment from the Enforcement Division to the Safety and Emissions Division in order to get him "off the street," a reassignment that took place on May 13, 1991.
On May 7, 1991, plaintiff was in the inspectors' room at TLC headquarters in Woodside, Queens, which is located down the hall from a hearing room. Plaintiff heard yelling and screaming from the hearing room and went there to see what was going on. The source of the noise was an angry respondent. The inspector in the hearing room with the irate respondent was a short woman. Inspector Herbert Miller was standing in the hall watching what was transpiring through the door. Yet another inspector, Audrey Scrivens, who was assigned to hearings at the time, appeared and asked plaintiff to leave. Plaintiff, who claims that Miller asked him to stay, responded in substance that if there was going to be a problem, he would rather be in it than out of it and threatened to lock up the respondent. Scrivens then called Midolo and reported that plaintiff had threatened to assault the respondent at the hearing and refused to leave when requested.
Shortly after the hearing room incident and plaintiff's transfer to Safety and Emissions, Supervisor Jones completed a formal evaluation of plaintiff's work in Squad 4. (DX 6) Although plaintiff was rated "good" in certain respects, Jones rated him as "unsatisfactory" in dealing with the public and wrote:
"There has been a reversal in this employee's attitude and demeanor when dealing with the FHV Industry and public. His 'new demeanor' and attitude are in direct contrast with what he was taught in training or to which he maintained or displayed during the previous evaluatory period. He's been involved in numerous situations which could have been avoided had he not been of such a negative nature! Employee has been counseled by supervision and management."