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STEMBRIDGE v. CITY OF NEW YORK

March 24, 2000

EVERETT STEMBRIDGE, PLAINTIFF,
V.
CITY OF NEW YORK, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

  OPINION

Plaintiff, Everett Stembridge, an African-American male, brought this employment discrimination suit against his former employer, the New York City Department of Transportation ("DOT") and the City of New York, pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. ("Title VII"). He alleged discrimination based on race and/or national origin, with respect to: termination of employment, constructive discharge, failure to promote, unequal terms and conditions of employment, hostile work environment and harassment, retaliation for opposing unlawful employment practices, intentional infliction of emotional distress, slander per se, defamation of character, assault and battery, and continuing violation. Plaintiff initially acted pro se but ultimately obtained counsel.

In a prior decision in this case, defendants were granted summary judgment on all causes of action except the constructive discharge, retaliation, hostile work environment and disparate treatment claims. Defendants now move for summary judgment under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure on all of the remaining causes of action, seeking to dismiss the action in its entirety. As discussed in the opinion below, the court now grants defendants' motion for summary judgment as to plaintiff's disparate treatment claims relating to his transfer and suspension, his claim of hostile work environment, constructive discharge claim and his retaliation claim.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background

Plaintiff, an African-American male, began working for the New York City Department of Transportation in 1989. Amended Complaint ¶ 2 ("Am.Compl."). Plaintiff interviewed with Richard Matarangelo, Chief of the Parking Control Unit ("PCU"), and was offered a position in the newly formed PCU. Id. On or about August 7, 1989, Matarangelo assigned plaintiff the position of Associate Staff Analyst. Declaration of John Weiss Ex. 1. In his new post, plaintiff's immediate supervisor was Matarangelo. Id.

At the start of his tenure at the PCU, plaintiff's superiors gave him positive performance evaluations and recommended him for raises and special programs. For the periods between August 1989 and December 1991, plaintiff received overall performance ratings of "outstanding." Weiss Ex. 3. On May 29, 1990, Matarangelo recommended plaintiff for a merit raise. Weiss Ex. 4. On November 2, 1990, in a memorandum addressed to "All Personnel," Matarangelo assigned plaintiff to the position of Assistant Chief of Operations Analysis. Weiss Ex. 5. Later, in 1991, Matarangelo recommended plaintiff for the Career Development Program, describing plaintiff as one of the unit's "most dedicated and enthusiastic employees." Weiss Ex. 6.

After 1991, plaintiff became the subject of disciplinary actions and close monitoring. He then began to complain that he was the subject of discrimination by his supervisors. On May 27, 1992, Matarangelo sent a memorandum to plaintiff limiting the flexibility of plaintiff's work schedule and requesting weekly progress reports from plaintiff. Weiss Ex. 9. Shortly thereafter, on June 1, 1992, plaintiff filed a discrimination complaint with the DOT's Equal Employment Opportunity Office ("EEO") alleging racial discrimination, complaining of Matarangelo's "overbearing behavior" and "dominance/supremacy problem." Weiss Ex. 10. On July 1, 1992, plaintiff received a formal reprimand from Matarangelo for walking out of a training session. Weiss Ex. 12. Matarangelo then withdrew plaintiff from participation in the telecommuting prorgram on July 6, 1992. Pl.'s Aff. Opp'n to Summ. J. Ex. G. In a July 31 report, after meeting with Matarangelo and plaintiff separately, the EEO director found that there was no evidence of discrimination or harassment by Matarangelo. Weiss Ex. 11.

Plaintiff alleges that Matarangelo made several offensive comments while plaintiff was assigned to PCU. Plaintiff claims that Matarangelo referred to him as being "different from other minorities in the office." Pl's Aff. Opp'n to Summ. J. ¶ 8. Plaintiff also alleges that Matarangelo referred to African-American youths as "animals" during a conversation about a murder at a local rap concert. Id. Finally, plaintiff complains that Matarangelo repeatedly referred to then Mayor David Dinkins as a "washroom attendant." Id.

Towards the end of September 1992, a controversy arose surrounding plaintiff's use of the facsimile machine, resulting in further discrimination allegations by plaintiff. In the course of attempting to send a personal facsimile, a dispute ensued between plaintiff and the Authorized Fax Operator. Pl's Aff. Opp'n to Summ. J. ¶ 13. This dispute resulted in a several-week long exchange of memoranda regarding the episode. Weiss Ex. 14. Included in this exchange was a memorandum from the Fax Operator to an Assistant Chief in the PCU complaining that she felt harassed by plaintiff during the incident. Id. Finally, on or about October 5, 1992, Deputy Chief Michael Gregorio called plaintiff in for a meeting to discuss the matter. Id. In an October 7, 1992 memorandum to Matarangelo, Deputy Chief Gregorio suggested that plaintiff should seek counseling. Id. In response, plaintiff wrote a memorandum complaining that Gregorio's statement constituted racial discrimination. Id. On October 16, 1992, plaintiff filed a complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights ("NYSDHR") alleging that Matarangelo and Gregorio had been treating him in a discriminatory manner-specifically referring to Gregorio's comment in the addendum to the complaint. Weiss Ex. 15.

On December 3, 1992, after receiving notice of plaintiff's second discrimination complaint, the Employee Relations Office decided to transfer plaintiff to the Safety Engineering Unit ("SEU") pending resolution of the discrimination complaint. Weiss Ex. 16, 17. Plaintiff complained of several discriminatory acts occurring both at PCU and at SEU. On December 24, 1992, on plaintiff's last evening at PCU, plaintiff claims that Michael Raykowski, a member of the management team at PCU, threatened to lock plaintiff in the office or to have him arrested if he did not leave by 6:30 p.m., and then called plaintiff an "uppity nigger." Pl's Aff. Opp'n to Summ. J. ¶ 15; Weiss Ex. 18. As of December 31, 1992, plaintiff received an overall performance rating of "good," with a notation that his "[l]evel of performance declined sharply." Weiss Ex. 19. Plaintiff complains that while he was working at SEU, a co-worker hung a black doll on an office door which was taken down the next day after plaintiff brought it to the attention of his supervisor. Pl's Aff. Opp'n to Summ. J. ¶ 18; Pl's Aff. Opp'n to Summ. J. Ex. F. Plaintiff also alleges that an anonymous note was left on his desk saying "dump the dink." Plaintiff believes this was a reference to then Mayor David Dinkins. Id. at ¶ 19.

On July 14, 1993, an altercation occurred between plaintiff and one of his supervisors which led to plaintiff's suspension and ultimate resignation from DOT. According to plaintiff, during the dispute, his supervisor, Joel Friedman, called him "boy," hit plaintiff in the chest, and slammed plaintiff up against a file cabinet. Pl's Aff. Opp'n to Summ. J. Ex. I at 78-79. The encounter ended with the police escorting plaintiff from the DOT building. Id. On July 15, 1993, plaintiff was suspended without pay. Weiss Ex. 24. The suspension was subsequently lifted effective July 26, 1993, and a disciplinary hearing was scheduled for August 18, 1993. Weiss Ex. 28; Weiss Ex. 24; Def.'s Mem. Supp. Summ. J. at 6. Plaintiff had been charged with, among other things, grabbing Friedman's arm during the July 14, 1993 episode. Weiss Ex. 25. When plaintiff returned to work, he was directed to perform a research assignment at Police Plaza. Weiss Ex. 27. On August 18, 1993, plaintiff resigned from his position at DOT and the disciplinary hearing was canceled at his attorney's request. Weiss Ex. 28.

B. Procedural Background

Plaintiff filed an amended complaint on October 27, 1995, adding claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress, slander and defamation. In a March 31, 1997 order, Judge Wood dismissed plaintiff's state law claims and granted partial summary judgment in favor of defendants, finding that: (1) plaintiff's state law claims were time barred, (2) plaintiff failed to allege facts to support claims of termination and failure to promote, and (3) plaintiff's continuing violation claim does not constitute a distinct cause of action. Order dated March 31, 1997. Accordingly, the claims remaining before this court are plaintiff's claims of disparate treatment involving his transfer and suspension, hostile work environment, retaliation and constructive discharge causes of action. The case was reassigned to this court from Judge Wood on October 30, 1998.

At the close of discovery, defendants moved for partial summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, claiming that plaintiff has failed to demonstrate a prima facie case of racial discrimination under Title VII and that plaintiff has not met his burden of proof in establishing his claims. At this point, plaintiff finally retained counsel. The motion for partial summary judgment having been fully briefed by both parties, and hearing having been held on the motion, in accordance with the discussion below, the court now grants defendants' motion for summary judgment as to all of plaintiff's remaining claims: disparate treatment, hostile work environment, retaliation and constructive discharge and dismisses this action in its entirety with prejudice.

II. ANALYSIS

A. Summary Judgment ...


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