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CIFRA v. GENERAL ELEC. CO.

August 26, 1999

KATHLEEN M. CIFRA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
GENERAL ELECTRIC COMPANY AND LOCKHEED MARTIN CORPORATION, AS ITS SUCCESSOR, DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

From August 2 through August 5, 1999, the court conducted a bench trial in this action. Plaintiff Kathleen M. Cifra brought suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., claiming that her supervisor, Kenneth Meashey ("Meashey"), subjected her to adverse and discriminatory working conditions on account of her gender, which ultimately resulted in her termination. At the end of plaintiff's case, defendants moved pursuant to Rule 52(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for judgment as a matter of law.*fn1 The court reserved on that motion. At the end of all the proof, defendants renewed their motion and the court once again reserved decision. The court now denies defendants' Rule 52(c) motions. For the reasons set forth below, the court finds in favor of defendants and dismisses plaintiff's complaint. Based upon the evidence presented at trial with respect to the relevant issues in this matter, the following constitutes the court's findings of fact and conclusions of law as required by Rule 52(a).

BACKGROUND

In 1986, plaintiff was hired by General Electric Company ("GE") as an industrial hygienist. She was responsible for recognizing, evaluating and controlling environmental, health and safety hazards to employees. She was primarily responsible for the industrial hygiene program at GE's three sites in Syracuse, New York, which encompassed at least twenty buildings. Her performance evaluations were good. Consequently, plaintiff received a promotion to senior industrial hygienist in 1987.

Unlike plaintiff, Meashey did not have a formal educational background in environmental, health and safety issues. Rather, he held undergraduate and graduate degrees in management, and had served as a law enforcement and counter-intelligence officer in the U.S. Air Force.

Aside from his lack of formal education in environmental, health and safety matters, Meashey had a different leadership style than his predecessor. Many employees, including plaintiff, did not respond well to him. Credible testimony from several witnesses established that Meashey could be verbally intimidating, disrespectful and demeaning. Much of this behavior, though directed at all employees, was particularly trained on plaintiff. This may have been the result of an early gaffe by plaintiff, when she questioned Meashey's qualifications to lead the EHS department.

While it is undisputed by the parties that plaintiff had excellent technical skills, Meashey required plaintiff and other EHS employees to take responsibility and "ownership" roles over projects they were involved in. He emphasized time and time again that he wanted plaintiff and others under his direction and control to not only identify the environmental problems in the Syracuse General Electric facilities, but once identification had been made to devise a correctional plan and then to assume responsibility for implementing the same. Plaintiff, however, viewed her role as confined to her expertise in environmental analysis and recommendations as to corrective action to be taken, leaving implementation up to others in the chain of command. These different views of plaintiff's employment requirements were apparently never resolved between Meashey and plaintiff.

Meashey soon started documenting plaintiff's performance problems, which may have sprung, in part, from their differing views as to her job requirements. In September, 1990, Meashey first wrote her up. See Pl.'s Ex. 8. Plaintiff was warned that she was "close" to being put on a performance improvement plan, which would require her to quickly improve, or be terminated. Plaintiff responded to Meashey in writing, disputing the appraisal point-by-point. See Def.Ex. 32. Meashey had never received a written rebuttal from a dissatisfied employee before. Plaintiff was again written up for poor performance in January, 1991. See Def. Ex. 42. She was then written up in February, 1991, and placed on a performance improvement plan. See Def.Exs. 46 and 47. Plaintiff again disputed the performance appraisal in writing. See Pl.'s Ex. 48. At no point did plaintiff ever admit to having a performance problem, or for that matter, conform to Meashey's expectations. Plaintiff was terminated on June 5, 1991. See Pl.'s Ex. 78. Another female was hired to replace her.

DISCUSSION

The McDonnell Douglas three part test applies to gender discrimination claims under Title VII. See McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973). First, plaintiff is required to establish a prima facie case. See Austin v. Ford Models, Inc., 149 F.3d 148, 152 (2d Cir. 1998). If plaintiff makes this showing, the burden shifts to the employer to provide "a legitimate, non-discriminatory purpose for its adverse employment action." Id. at 153. "Any such stated purpose is sufficient to satisfy the defendant's burden of production; the employer does not have to persuade the court that the stated purpose was the actual reason for its decision." Id. Plaintiff is then required to show that the employer's proffered reasons are a pretext for discrimination. See id.

A. PRIMA FACIE CASE

A prima facie case of gender discrimination under Title VII consists of four elements: (1) membership in a protected class; (2) qualification for the position; (3) an adverse employment decision or termination; and (4) that the discharge or adverse decision took place under circumstances giving rise to an inference of discrimination.*fn2 See Austin, 149 F.3d at 152; Shumway v. United Parcel Serv., Inc., 118 F.3d 60, 63 (2d Cir. 1997); Luciano v. Olsten Corp., 110 F.3d 210, 215 (2d Cir. 1997); McLee v. Chrysler Corp., 109 F.3d 130, 134 (2d Cir. 1997); Fitzgerald v. Henderson, 36 F. Supp.2d 490, 503 (N.D.N Y 1998); Cleveland v. Int'l Paper Co., 1998 WL 690915, at *3 (N.D.N.Y. 1998); Passonno v. State Univ. of New York at Albany, 889 F. Supp. 602, 606 (N.D.N.Y. 1995); and Harker v. Utica College of Syracuse Univ., 885 F. Supp. 378, 387 (N.D.N.Y. 1995).

While it is a close question, the court finds that plaintiff made out a prima facie case. Plaintiff testified that she was treated differently than her male co-workers, not allowed to attend a certification test and training courses, targeted for termination, exposed to hostile attitudes of her male colleagues, and not given the same support as male co-workers to get jobs done. Anthony Maiurino, though equivocating, testified that Meashey was particularly tough on plaintiff, and forced him to "mentor" plaintiff. Mary Delay broadly accused Meashey of targeting plaintiff and other females, and testified that Meashey questioned females to a higher degree. Frank Collis testified that plaintiff was the focus of much more intense treatment by Meashey than other employees. He also testified that both he and plaintiff received identical poor ratings, and were placed on nearly identical performance improvement plans, though plaintiff was fired and he was not. While the vast majority of this evidence failed to show that plaintiff was treated differently because she was a woman, the evidence, taken together, allowed plaintiff to narrowly make out a prima ...


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