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VELASQUEZ v. GOLDWATER MEMORIAL HOSP.

March 16, 2000

IRIS VELASQUEZ, PLAINTIFF,
V.
GOLDWATER MEMORIAL HOSPITAL, NEW YORK HEALTH AND HOSPITALS CORP., CITY OF NEW YORK, ELIZABETH LOCKHART, DEFENDANTS.



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

  OPINION

Plaintiff Iris Velasquez brings this action alleging that her employers violated her rights pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., as well as 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and New York State and New York City human rights laws.*fn1 Plaintiff alleges that defendants fired her because she is Hispanic and because she complained about a putative language policy. Defendants now move for summary judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. For the reasons set forth below, defendants' motion is granted and the complaint is dismissed.

I. Background and Relevant Facts

In January 1997, plaintiff began her employment with the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation ("HHC") as a patient representative at Goldwater Memorial Hospital, an HHC facility.*fn2 As a patient representative, Velasquez was primarily responsible for interpreting hospital policies to patients and responding to patient concerns.

The job opening for patient representative specified that "Bi-Lingual Spanish" ability was preferred. Plaintiff interviewed first with Monserrate Nieves-Martinez, Director of the Patient Relations Department, who is also Hispanic, and subsequently with named defendant Elizabeth Lockhart, Risk Manager of Goldwater. During her interviews with Martinez and Lockhart, Velasquez was informed that they were seeking a Spanish-speaking patient representative to serve the hospital's large Hispanic patient population. Both Lockhart and Martinez recommended Velasquez for the position, and she was hired for a probationary period of three months. Velasquez's direct supervisor was Martinez, who in turn reported to Lockhart.

During the course of plaintiff's employment as a patient representative, several memoranda, authored by either Martinez or Lockhart, were placed in plaintiff's file detailing problems with her performance. The memoranda included descriptions of conflicts between plaintiff and other members of the department regarding plaintiff's lunch-break and vacation schedule. See Exhs. H, J, K, L to Galani Affidavit. One memorandum described problems that Velasquez had encountered with her fellow employees while taking a mandatory tuberculosis test, in which she was described as being "rude" and was reprimanded for reading her own medical chart in violation of hospital policy. See Exh. M to Galani Affidavit.

Plaintiff had several interchanges with her supervisors and co-workers during her probationary period regarding the use of Spanish in the workplace. On March 17, 1997, while plaintiff and Martinez were speaking to one another in Spanish, Rose McKee, the office manager, approached them and told them not to speak Spanish. See Velasquez Dep. at 116; Martinez Dep. at 54; McKee Dep. at 32. The following day at a meeting, plaintiff asked Lockhart whether there was a policy prohibiting the staff from speaking in a language besides English. See Velasquez Dep. at 119. According to plaintiff, Lockhart's response was "There is no such a policy, but you are not allowed to speak in Spanish here." See Velasquez Dep. at 119. Lockhart testified that she said that "English was the custom when conducting business, however if she [plaintiff] felt the need to speak Spanish, speak Spanish." See Lockhart Dep. at 181. Plaintiff also alleges that Martinez told her several times that the members of the department "don't like it when we speak Spanish." See Velasquez Dep. at 112-14.

One week after Lockhart allegedly informed plaintiff that she was not permitted to speak Spanish, but still during the three month probationary period, plaintiff was terminated.

Several months later, after receiving a no action letter from the EEOC, plaintiff filed this action alleging that she was terminated on the basis of her national origin and retaliated against for complaining about Goldwater's alleged language policy.

II. Discussion

Summary judgment is granted only if "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). On a motion for summary judgment the moving party has the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact and the court must construe the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). The court's task is limited to "discerning whether there are any genuine issues of material fact to be tried, not to deciding them." Kerzer v. Kingly Manufacturing, 156 F.3d 396, 400 (2d Cir. 1998).

A. Employment Discrimination Claims

In a Title VII case, the Court applies the three-step burden shifting analysis of McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802-04, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 1824-25, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973).*fn3 First, a plaintiff must make a prima facie showing of national origin discrimination. In order to establish a prima facie case, a plaintiff must show (1) that she belongs to a protected class; (2) that she was performing her duties satisfactorily; and (3) that her discharge occurred in circumstances giving rise to an inference of discrimination on the basis of her membership in that class. See St. Mary's Honor Ctr. v. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502, 506, 113 S.Ct. 2742, 125 L.Ed.2d 407 (1993); McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973).

If a plaintiff succeeds in establishing a prima facie case, a presumption of discrimination is raised and the burden of production shifts to the defendants to "articulate a legitimate, clear, specific and non-discriminatory reason for discharging the employee." Quaratino v. Tiffany, 71 F.3d 58, 64 (2d Cir. 1995). If the defendants satisfy their burden, the burden of persuasion falls upon the plaintiff to demonstrate that the defendants' proffered reasons are merely a pretext for discrimination. Hicks, 509 U.S. at 515, 113 S.Ct. at 2752; see also Quaratino, 71 F.3d at 64. In order to demonstrate such a pretext, a plaintiff must establish through direct, statistical, or circumstantial evidence that a genuine issue of material fact exists as to whether the ...


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