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CHRISTOPHER-KETCHUM v. AGWAY ENERGY PRODS.

December 29, 1997

PHYLLIS CHRISTOPHER-KETCHUM, Plaintiff, against AGWAY ENERGY PRODUCTS and AGWAY PETROLEUM CORPORATION, Defendants.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: MCAVOY

 I. BACKGROUND

 This case concerns allegations of sex discrimination and sexual harassment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2 et seq. Presently before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. For the reasons stated below, the Court will grant Defendants' motion.

 Plaintiff Phyllis Christopher-Ketchum was employed at defendant Agway Energy Products, a division of defendant Agway Petroleum Corporation (collectively referred to as "Agway"), until July, 1995. Plaintiff began her employment with Defendants at the Agway Petroleum plant in Whitney Point, New York in July, 1971. In October, 1983, Plaintiff was promoted to plant manager at the Whitney Point facility. Almost ten years later, in September, 1993, Plaintiff was promoted to Customer Finance Supervisor at Agway's offices in Syracuse, New York. Plaintiff's promotion to Customer Finance Supervisor was part of an initiative undertaken by Agway to transfer consumer credit functions from Agway's individual plants to a centralized office in Syracuse.

 On January 4, 1994, Plaintiff was again promoted, this time to Consumer Credit Manager. This promotion resulted in Plaintiff moving from a Level 5 to a Level 6 pay grade and made her responsible for recruiting, interviewing, training, and supervising 24 specialists and two managers at the Syracuse center, as a well as coordinating, implementing, and training various regional and plant managers in her area.

 Plaintiff's ascendency within Agway ended on August 19, 1994, when John Hamilton, Vice-President of Distribution, informed Plaintiff that she would no longer be the Consumer Credit Manager. Plaintiff claims that Hamilton put Kevin Williams in her job as Consumer Credit Manager because she is a woman. Defendants state, however, that Williams did not replace Plaintiff, but instead replaced Plaintiff's supervisor, Mark Lesney.

 Plaintiff bases her claim of sex discrimination on the following statements by Agway managers. According to Plaintiff, on being informed of her demotion she asked Hamilton about the change and "she was informed that such removal did not involve a structural or performance issue, but a cultural issue." (Plf's Aff. P 14). Plaintiff argues that Hamilton's use of the term "cultural," was a reference to Plaintiff's sex. On August 16, 1994, Plaintiff met with Mark Lesney and states: "I asked him why Kevin [Williams] was replacing me as Consumer Credit Manager. He indicated that it was because John Hamilton believed that Kevin could do my job better because he was a male." (Plf's Aff. P 15). Plaintiff then asserts that she spoke to Kevin Williams who told her that "John Hamilton had a problem with my 'outspoken honesty' and stated that 'John does not want the truth always from a man, much less a woman.'" (Plf's Aff. P 16).

 Defendants argue that Plaintiff's allegations are unsupported hearsay and that Plaintiff's reduced job responsibilities were the result of the reorganization of her department. Defendants state that "culture" referred to the philosophy and tenor of the organization; and that Hamilton used the term in reference to the problems Agway was experiencing in shifting local credit management from the individual plants to a central credit office. (Hamilton Dep. at 49-50; McGraw Dep. at 86). Agway also asserts that the changes were in response to strong employee resistance to the consolidation of the credit functions and that some region and plant managers complained that Plaintiff was inflexible in dealing with them. (Hamilton Dep. at 58-60; Williams Dep. at 47).

 According to Plaintiff, in September, 1994, she began performing the duties of Western Division Specialist Manager reporting to Kevin Williams. However, in April, 1995, Alan Lincoln replaced Williams as Plaintiff's supervisor. Plaintiff claims that Lincoln then engaged in a continuous campaign of harassment in order to force her to resign from her position. Specifically, Plaintiff states, inter alia, that "Alan Lincoln repeatedly and intentionally mischaracterized my comments as being negative statements about the company or evidence of my unwillingness to work with others in the company"; "Lincoln incorrectly indicated that I had expressed dissatisfaction with my present position"; and that Lincoln "falsely indicated that I had difficulty accepting [his] hiring approach [and] incorrectly claims that I was frustrated with my present level of authority and his management style." (Plf's Aff. P 22).

 On May 22, 1995, Plaintiff learned that there was an opening for the plant manager's position in Newark Valley, New York. Prior to that time Plaintiff states that she told John Hamilton and Alan Lincoln that she was interested in a plant manager's job. On the day she learned of the Newark Valley position, Plaintiff again told Lincoln of her interest in the job. According to Plaintiff, "in response to my statement, he informed me that I had burned some bridges in Syracuse. When I asked him what he meant, he pointed to John Hamilton's office." (Plf's Aff. P 28).

 After Plaintiff did not get the position, she discovered that Joe McGraw, the Human Resources Director, had not put her on the list of candidates. According to Plaintiff, when she met with McGraw on June 2, 1995, she was told that "I was not considered for the Newark Valley position because of problems interacting with others in the company. However, when asked to do so, they could not provide specifics of such problems." (Plf's Aff. P 37).

 II. DISCUSSION

 Pursuant to Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a court may grant summary judgment if it appears "that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986). It is the substantive law that will determine what facts are material to the outcome of a case. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250.

  Initially, the moving party has the burden of informing the court of the basis of its motion. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986). If the moving party satisfies its burden, the burden then shifts to the non-moving party to come forward with "specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e). The Court must then resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences against the moving party. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538, 106 S. Ct. 1348 (1986). However, the non-moving party must do more than simply show "that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586. Only when the Court concludes that no rational finder of fact can find in favor of the non-moving party should summary judgment be granted. Gallo v. Prudential Residential, Servs., Ltd., 22 F.3d 1219, 1223 (2d Cir. 1994).

 A. Sexual Discrimination

 Initially, the Court notes that although summary judgment is no longer a disfavored process for the elimination of groundless claims, see Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322 (summary judgment favored to dispose of meritless claims), a district court should be wary of granting summary judgment in a discrimination case because the device is generally inappropriate where, as is typical, an employer's state of mind is relevant. Gallo, 22 F.3d at 1224. This is not to say that summary judgment is wholly inappropriate; rather, as the Second Circuit has noted, "the summary judgment rule would be rendered sterile . . . if the mere incantation of intent or state of mind would operate as a talisman to defeat an otherwise valid motion. The purposes of summary judgment . . . apply no less to discrimination cases than to . . . other areas of litigation." Meiri v. Dacon, 759 F.2d 989, 998 (2d Cir. 1985). Considering the relative ease of bringing a suit alleging discrimination and the difficulty and expense of defending against such a suit, courts correctly find summary judgment proper where allegations of discriminatory intent are merely conclusory.

 Title VII protects against, among other things, disparate treatment of employees due to sexual discrimination. An employer consequently is prohibited from discharging or otherwise discriminating against an individual on the basis of sex. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a). A plaintiff claiming sexual discrimination can proceed under either of two theories: quid pro quo discrimination or hostile work environment harassment. See Karibian v. Columbia Univ., 14 F.3d 773, 777 (2d Cir. 1994). To establish a claim of quid pro quo discrimination, Plaintiff must show "that she was denied an economic benefit either because of ...


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