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June 25, 1997

ARTHUR SYKES, Plaintiff, against MT. SINAI MEDICAL CENTER, Defendant.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: MOTLEY


 Defendant in this case has moved for summary judgment against plaintiff, who alleges that he was terminated from his employment with defendant because of his race in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. ยง 2000e et seq.. For the reasons set forth below, plaintiff has failed to establish a genuine issue of material fact with regard to the reason for his discharge, and defendant's motion is therefore granted.


 Prior to his termination on August 4, 1994, plaintiff had been employed for fourteen years by defendant as a supervisor in the Traffic and Information Department (the "Department"), which was responsible for transporting patients as well as laboratory specimens throughout the hospital. (Pl. Dep. at 16, 18-20.) Supervisors such as plaintiff were in charge of managing the dispatchers, who assign calls and trips, and transporters, who actually transport the patients and the laboratory specimens. (Pl. Dep. at 19-20.)

 The evidence submitted to the court indicates that from early in his employment with defendant, plaintiff was the subject of complaints from numerous employees and staff members of many different racial and ethnic groups. For example, in June of 1984, twenty one Department employees, including five African Americans, submitted a petition complaining that plaintiff was rude and disrespectful of employees. (Pl. Dep. at 114-22.) One of plaintiff's supervisors, Michael J. Connelly, sent plaintiff a letter soon thereafter informing him that the employees had complained of his behavior and was told that future incidents could result in "further action." (Pl. Dep. at 114-15, Def. Ex. 16.)

 In October of 1991, an African-American employee complained that plaintiff had spoken to her in an abusive and unprofessional manner, in response to which plaintiff's immediate supervisor, James H. Walls, himself an African-American, wrote a letter to plaintiff, telling him that he had a reputation for verbally abusing departmental employees and staff and that if he wished to continue in his supervisory capacity, he had to cease behaving in this manner. (Walls Aff. Ex. 3, Def. Ex. 22.)

 Plaintiff again appeared to be the subject of a complaint in May of 1993, when a white nurse filed a Report of Episode of Harassment against plaintiff, complaining that he demanded in an intimidating fashion that a particular wheelchair be given to him. (Walls Aff. Ex. 3.) Walls responded with another memorandum, dated June 10, 1993, in which he was again warned to "refrain from . . . aggressiveness when dealing with employees and staff." (Def. Ex. 29.)

 Finally, in August of 1993, a West Indian nurse stated that plaintiff had treated her very rudely, in response to which defendant claims that Walls sent plaintiff a letter dated August 24, 1993, which reads in relevant part:

Your actions continue to be unprofessional and objectionable in spite of the many conferences we have had on this subject, and you continue to be unaware of your perceived threatening and intimidating style.

 Although plaintiff testified at his deposition that he never saw this memo, he also indicated at that time that the nurse had written a letter of complaint about the incident which he must have seen and that Walls did speak to him about it. (Pl. Dep. at 177, 180-81.) Plaintiff now claims that he has no recollection of the incident. (Pl. Mem. at 8.)

 Additionally, each of plaintiff's performance evaluations throughout this period, though generally satisfactory, are replete with criticisms of plaintiff's interpersonal skills. (Defs. Exs 9-14.)

 The actual incident which ultimately led to the firing of plaintiff took place on July 26, 1994. (Pl. Dep. at 203.) At that time, plaintiff was conducting a meeting in the supervisors' office, which was used by five of the seven supervisors in the Department. (Pl. Dep. at 204-05.) In the middle of the meeting, a dispatcher, Albert Rivera, entered the room and spoke to another supervisor about getting access to an oversized wheelchair. *fn1" Plaintiff had earlier complained to Walls about the fact that Rivera had a habit of entering the supervisors' office for no legitimate purpose, and Walls had apparently instructed Rivera not to enter the office unless he had a reason for being there. (Pl. Dep. at 203-204; 208-09.) Plaintiff admitted that he was annoyed by Rivera's entry given the latter's alleged history, and he instructed one of the persons with whom he was having the meeting to close and lock the door behind Rivera as Rivera was leaving. (Pl. Dep. at 218.) Rivera then became antagonistic, refused to leave, and kept his foot in the door so that plaintiff was unable to close it. Some yelling ensued, after which Rivera finally left the office and plaintiff closed the door. (Pl. Dep. at 219-20.)

 However, plaintiff was still angry, and within a few minutes, he left the office and entered the dispatch area in order to resume the argument with Rivera. (Pl. Dep. at 222-24.) Rivera suggested that they go to Central Park to fight with each other, to which plaintiff responded that he would rather go to Madison Avenue, which was closer *fn2" (Unempl. Tr. at 21-22.) The two were on their way to Madison Avenue when they were stopped by other employees. (Unempl. Tr. at 22.) Almost immediately thereafter, both Rivera and plaintiff were suspended pending an investigation during which the two of them, as well as numerous other witnesses to the event, were interviewed and asked to submit written statements about what they had seen. (Walls Aff. at 48.) Following this investigation, Walls recommended that plaintiff be terminated because of his past history of aggressive behavior and because the ...

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