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KOPPENAL v. NEPERA

December 1, 1999

MONICA KOPPENAL, PLAINTIFF,
v.
NEPERA, INC. AND RICHARD J. SEIDEL, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: William C. Conner, Senior District Judge.

OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff, Monica Koppenal has brought this action against her former employer Nepera, Inc. ("Nepera") and its president, Richard J. Seidel, claiming that her employment was unlawfully terminated in violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, as amended ("Title VII"), and in violation of New York Executive Law § 296. Defendants now move for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, the motion is denied.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff was hired as an administrative assistant for Seidel, the president of Nepera, on October 6, 1992. Plaintiffs duties included: serving as secretary for Seidel, administrator of the phone system and the company car, MIS backup, oversight of operation of non-computer office equipment, and sorting mail. (Pl.Ex.G.)

In April 1996, plaintiff took a five-week leave of absence to undergo surgery to enable her to get pregnant. Seidel knew the reason for plaintiffs leave. While plaintiff was out, Anita Halstead performed plaintiff's duties. Halstead became a full-time Nepera employee in 1982, and was administrative assistant to the president from 1988 to 1992. From 1995 to 1997, Halstead was a community relations and training specialist.

On January 27, 1997, plaintiff informed Seidel that she was pregnant. Seidel congratulated her and asked if she would return to work after having the baby. Plaintiff assured Seidel that she would return to work because she had to pay for a new house and provide for a baby. Seidel commented that many women say that they plan to return to work but, after having their child, decide to stay home. Plaintiff alleges that defendant asked who would do his work, but defendant denies having asked this question. (Seidel Dep. at 85.) David Bona, Director of Human Resources at Nepera, testified that Seidel spoke with him after learning of plaintiffs pregnancy and was concerned about who was going to do his work while plaintiff was out. (Bona Dep. at 27-28.)

Reduced profitability during the second half of 1996 caused Nepera to implement cost reduction measures, including a reduction in its workforce. Seidel worked with the managers at Nepera to determine how to reduce the workforce in each department. In evaluating each employee for lay-off, Seidel and the managers considered skills, job performance and years of service. In April and May 1997, Nepera laid off plaintiff and three other salaried employees and two hourly employees. of all the administrative workforce at Nepera, plaintiff had the shortest tenure and the second lowest performance evaluation. The employee with the lowest performance evaluation was also laid off.

Halstead, a single employee who was not pregnant, took over plaintiffs duties as administrative assistant to the president in May 1997. Halstead testified that she continued to perform her duties as a community relations specialist while also performing plaintiffs duties. (Halstead Dep. at 31.) Halstead continued to work forty hours per week, as she had before taking on plaintiffs duties. No one was hired to perform Halstead's community relations duties, although Halstead's former training duties are now conducted by the Human Resources Department. Halstead testified that about 50% of her time from May through December 1997 was spent acting as administrative assistant to the president. (Id. at 30.) Halstead answered the telephone as administrative assistant to the president and community relations specialist, but in her voice mail greeting she identifies herself as the administrative assistant to the president.

Plaintiff contends that Seidel told her that her position had been eliminated. (Pl. Aff. ¶ 22.) Defendants dispute whether anyone ever told plaintiff that her position had been eliminated. The other administrative assistant that was laid off, Betty Torrance, had provided administrative assistance to Nepera's manager of environmental services and director of regulatory affairs. After Torrance's lay-off, these two employees handled their own secretarial services or utilized another member of the administrative staff on an "as needed" basis. (Seidel Aff. ¶ 12.)

After making the decision to lay-off plaintiff, Seidel asked the Human Resources Department about Nepera's pregnancy leave policy, in an effort to ensure that plaintiffs severance package would include benefits equal to what plaintiff would have received on a pregnancy leave.

DISCUSSION

I. Summary Judgment Standard

A district court may grant summary judgment only if the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion, presents no genuine issue of material fact, and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). The court must resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. See Quaratino v. Tiffany & Co., 71 F.3d 58, 64 (2d Cir. 1995), vacated and remanded on other grounds, 166 F.3d 422 (1999). "If, as to the issue on which summary judgment is sought, there is any evidence in the record from which a reasonable inference could be drawn in favor of the nonmoving party, summary judgment is improper." Vann v. City of New York, 72 F.3d 1040, 1049 ...


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