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LAMBERTSON v. KERRY INGREDIENTS

June 11, 1999

MARY LAMBERTSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
KERRY INGREDIENTS, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Spatt, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER

Mary Lambertson ("Lambertson" or the "plaintiff") initiated this action against Kerry Ingredients, Inc. ("Kerry" or the "defendant") by filing a complaint in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of Nassau. The complaint, dated June 1, 1998, alleges that she was subjected to gender based discrimination and sexual harassment in violation of the New York State Human Rights Law, N.Y. McKinney's Executive Law §§ 290 et seq. ("NYHRL") and Chapter 21 of the Nassau County Administrative Code §§ 21-9.0 et seq. (the "Nassau Code"). On August 5, 1998 the defendant removed the case to this Court.

Presently before the Court are: (1) the motion by the defendant for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure ("Fed.R.Civ.P."); and (2) the motion by the defendant for attorneys' fees and costs.

I. BACKGROUND

In 1983, the plaintiff began her employment as an Executive with Baker's Aid, a company specializing in manufacturing food and ingredient products. Baker's Aid was acquired by DCA Food Industries/Allied Lyon ("DCA") in January 1994. In 1995, DCA was acquired by Kerry. From January 1, 1995 to July 18, 1997, the plaintiff was employed by Kerry as a Vice President. The plaintiff's primary job responsibility was to supervise the day-to-day operations of Baker's Aid.

The plaintiff contends that she was compelled to resign on July 18, 1997 due to the constant and unrelenting sexual harassment by her supervisors. Specifically, the plaintiff alleges that she was told by the chairman of DCA that "it is a good thing you have a contract, because women do not stand a chance of holding your type of position in any of the Kerry Companies." The plaintiff also asserts that Kerry initiated and sustained a course of conduct designed to reduce her authority and to eventually force her to terminate her employment. For example, the plaintiff charges that Kerry demanded that she work seven days a week; reneged on a promise for a promotion; and failed to make-good on a promised bonus. In addition, the plaintiff claims that she was subjected to offensive and derogatory language by supervisors. For example, the plaintiff claims that she was asked whether she was "an idiot" by Dave Shepard, Vice President of Operations at Baker's Aid.

On March 24, 1997, the plaintiff wrote to the President of Baker's Aid and announced that she was resigning. The "Resignation Letter" stated

    In compliance with my employment agreement dated
    11/18/93, I hereby submit written notice of
    resignation.
    In accordance with the provisions of the agreement,
    this written notice precedes an anticipated
    termination date not less than twelve months from
    date of written notice.

The plaintiff's Resignation Letter referenced the November 18, 1993 "Employment Agreement" which states, in relevant part, that:

    the Executive shall be employed by the Company and
    such employment shall continue subject to the
    provisions hereinafter contained until (and be
    inclusive of) the last day of the month in which
    the Executive reaches age 65 (sixty-five) unless it
    is terminated before such day by either party
    giving to the other not less than twelve months'
    notice in writing effective not earlier than
    December 31, 1994.

In connection with her resignation, the plaintiff signed a "Resignation Agreement" dated April 1, 1997, which states as follows:

Dear Mary:

    This letter is to confirm yesterday's discussions
    concerning your resignation and the conditions of
    your severance. It will also clarify your role and
    responsibilities as a Baker's Aid employee during
    the transition period.
      * The Company and you have agreed to continue
    your service to the Company so that a transition of
    information regarding operations, customers, and
    products may be made. This transition period will
    not exceed six months and, at the Company's option,
    can be reduced. The Company will strive to shorten
    the transition period without jeopardizing its
    future.
      * This agreement will remain confidential to
    yourself and Company executives.
      * You will not inform customers, employees, or
    industry contacts of your leaving the Company until
    notified by Tom Daniel, President, that it is
    appropriate to do so.
      * Specific duties required of you during the
    transition period will be assigned to you by Tom
    Daniel. The duties will include, ...

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