Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

ROBINSON v. TIME WARNER INC.

April 21, 2000

J. EDWARD ROBINSON, PLAINTIFF,
V.
TIME WARNER INC. AND MICHAEL HAYES, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sweet, D.J.

      OPINION

Defendants Time Warner, Inc. ("TWI") and Michael Hayes ("Hayes") have moved, pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, for summary judgment to dismiss the amended complaint of plaintiff J. Edward Robinson ("Robinson") alleging racial discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and the New York State Human Rights Law, N.Y. Exec. Law § 290 et. seq., and tortious interference with prospective economic advantage. For the reasons set forth below, the motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

The Parties

Robinson was an employee of TWI (or Warner Communications, Inc., prior to its merger with Time Inc.) in its Internal Audit Department (the "Department") from October 1986 until September 12, 1997, and claims race-based discrimination and/or retaliation from 1988 through the termination of his employment.

TWI is a corporation located within the state of New York.

Hayes was the Vice President of the Department from April 1995 until Robinson's termination in September 1997.

Prior Proceedings

Robinson filed this action asserting claims for race discrimination under 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 1981 ("Section 1981"), and the New York Human Rights Law, N.Y. Exec. Law § 290 et seq. ("NYHRL"), on July 11, 1997, having previously filed a charge of discrimination by the defendants with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") on January 13, 1997. Robinson, a member of the Department, alleged that he had been passed over for promotions between 1988 and 1995, and that beginning in 1995, he had been discriminated against by Hayes, Vice President of Internal Audit, who demoted him, and put him on oral warning in 1996 in retaliation for Robinson's internal complaint of discrimination.

After the Department was outsourced by Ernst & Young ("E & Y"), Robinson amended his pleading to add the allegation that the defendants were responsible for his not being offered a position with E & Y, that they interfered with Robinson's prospect of obtaining employment with E & Y, and that they retaliated against him for his formal and informal complaints of discrimination, thereby violating Section 1981 and the NYHRL and giving rise to a common-law claim for tortious interference with prospective economic advantage.

The parties engaged in comprehensive discovery, exchanging thousands of pages of documents and deposed seventeen witnesses. The instant motion was heard and marked fully submitted on January 17, 2000.

The Facts

The facts set forth below are taken from the parties Rule 56.1 statements, affidavits, and exhibits. What follows is gleaned from these submissions, with any factual inferences drawn in Robinson's favor.

In October 1986, Robinson, who is African-American, commenced employment with Warner Communications, Inc., as an Audit Supervisor in the Internal Audit Department. In 1990, Warner Communications, Inc., merged with Time, Inc., to become TWI.

As an Audit Supervisor, Robinson initially reported to Robert Burkert, an Audit Manager. In 1988, Robinson was promoted to Audit Manager. As Manager, Robinson reported directly to the Vice President of the Department, John W. Thomas. After Thomas's retirement in mid-1993, Robinson began reporting to Thomas's replacement, John LaBarca, until LaBarca's replacement by Hayes in 1995.

During the period in which Robinson reported to Thomas and then LaBarca, Robinson sought but was not granted promotion to manage a satellite office (in either London or Los Angeles). Also, in 1993 an offer for Robinson to fill the Controller position at the DC Comics division was revoked. All of the Robinson sought positions were given to white employees.

During the same period, however, Robinson received sizable merit salary increases, stock options awards, and performance-based bonuses. In 1992 TWI also sponsored Robinson for an Executive MBA program at New York University.

Robinson brought up what he perceived as a problem of institutional racism with Michael Watson ("Watson"), a Human Resources Manager, who told Robinson that there was a low number of minority executives in a company of approximately 44,000 employees, including the Internal Audit Department. Robinson himself observed that there was only African-American who held an executive (i.e. Director or above) financial position at TWI's corporate division.

In April 1995, Hayes became Vice President of the Department. During the thirteen years prior to Hayes joining the Department, during which he had worked elsewhere within TWI, Hayes had a total of five minority employees reporting to him. Of the six Managers and Directors reporting to him during that period, five were white males. The sixth was Tim Harris, who worked for Hayes while Hayes headed the Finance Department, and ultimately worked under him again when he came to the Internal Audit Department.

Prior to Hayes taking over the Department, the essential difference between a Manager and a Director was in terms of job title and salary grade level (Managers were Grade 15 and Directors were Grade 18). The management team for the Department was comprised of both the Directors and the Managers, all of whom reported directly to a Vice President of the Department. Both Directors and Managers issued their own audit reports, were responsible for delegating duties to Department staff — including Audit Supervisors — and had to resolve issues concerning delegation of those duties.

Shortly after becoming head of the Department, after a "get to know" lunch meeting, Hayes asked Robinson if he had watched the movie Hoop Dreams. After Robinson replied that he had not and knew nothing about the movie, Hayes told Robinson that he had attended the college discussed in the movie and stated that "some of my best friends were black."

In April 1995, Robinson told Hayes that he sought a promotion. Hayes did not promote Robinson. In June 1995, Hayes met with Robinson and discussed four performance areas that Hayes said were holding Robinson back from promotion: management of projects and people, business judgment, knowledge of businesses and organizations, and work ethic. At this time, Hayes placed Robinson on an "action plan" to address each of these areas.

Hayes asserted that his comments were based on feedback from division management and audit staff, but refused Robinson's request to speak with Robinson's primary contacts within the divisions. Hayes kept notes concerning his conversations about Robinson with staff members, although some of these notes were not maintained contemporaneously. In addition, although Hayes memorialized a negative comment about Robinson by LaBarca in February 1995, at which time LaBarca was still Vice President of the Department, LaBarca denied making that statement. In fact, during LaBarca's performance evaluation meeting with Robinson that same month, LaBarca gave Robinson a favorable evaluation, a merit salary increase, a bonus, and stock options.

Around the time of the June 1995 meeting, Hayes objected to an expense voucher Robinson had submitted in connection with a lunch involving the New York Urban League. About one month after putting Robinson on an "action plan," Hayes compiled an assessment of the six Audit Managers' and Directors' work in five performance categories. The three white males received among them five "excellent" ratings, nine "above average", and one "average". The two African-American males and one female received among them one "excellent" rating, one "above average", six "average", and seven "below average". Hayes rated Robinson below average in the categories entitled "Drive and "Business Judgment." Hayes had not attended any of Robinson's closings, visited any of his audit sites, or reviewed any of his audit reports.

On August 9, 1995, without notice or discussion, Hayes reduced the authority, duties, and responsibilities of Robinson and another Manager, Tim Harris. Robinson and Harris were the only African-American members of the management team, comprised of Directors and Managers, for the Department. In the past, the authority, duties, and responsibilities of Directors and Managers were equivalent. Robinson and Harris were now required to report to Burkert, who had previously been promoted to a Director, and to have him review their audit reports before issuance, although in the past Robinson and Harris were responsible for issuing their own audit reports.

Robinson and Harris complained to Watson, the Human Resources Manager responsible for the Department, that the demotions appeared to be racially motivated. Watson told Robinson that he was not aware of a reorganization that would have resulted in the demotions. In this regard, neither Burkert, one of the Department Directors, nor Bijur, the Human Resources Director responsible for the Department, had an understanding either as to why Hayes took actions affecting only Robinson and Harris in August 1995.

Approximately three months later, in November 1995, again without prior discussion or memoranda, Hayes announced a reorganization of the Department into a three-tier structure with each tier headed by a Director reporting to Hayes. According to Hayes, this reorganization was directed by his superiors with the aim of running the Department more efficiently. At the time of the November 1995 reorganization, Hayes had already retained E & Y to study whether a reorganization was necessary but E & Y was not due to submit its recommendations until January 1996.

After the August 1995 demotion and November 1995 reorganization, Robinson's and Harris's authority, duties, and responsibilities were reduced to the level of an Audit Supervisor even though in the past Audit Supervisors reported to these three Managers. The three of them no longer reported directly to the Vice President of the Department (now Hayes), but instead were required to report to the Directors; were no longer invited to the periodic (usually monthly) department management meetings; no longer issued their own audit reports, but instead were required to have them reviewed by a Director before issuance; were provided job descriptions specifying that their authority, duties, and responsibilities were identical to those of Audit Supervisors, whereas in the past his job description was identical to that of Directors; no longer had authority to delegate assignments to Department staff and resolve delegation issues; and were listed on the Department Directory with the Audit Supervisors rather than, as had been the practice in the past, with the Directors. In addition, their rights to be granted stock options were removed.

At the time of the reorganization, Hayes also promoted the only white male Manager, Richard Stein ("Stein"), to a Director. Stein had been with TWI less than a year. Both Stein and Robinson were Certified Public Accountants, but Robinson had an MBA in Management while Stein had only an undergraduate degree.

Robinson had also helped train Stein. Hayes also reduced the authority, responsibilities, and duties of Jane Campbell, who was the only other Manager and the only female member of the management team, in the same manner as with Robinson and Harris.

At the time that Stein was promoted, TWI had a written affirmative action policy that required that minority candidates be given preference in hiring and promotion over other candidates with similar qualifications. The stated purpose of this policy was to accelerate minority hiring and promotion. Every employee was given a copy of the policy each year and all members of management were informed at least annually that they were required to comply with it. Hayes has denied awareness of TWI's affirmative action policy.

As a result of the reorganization, only white males (Duncan Campbell, Robert Burkert, and Richard Stein), reported directly to Hayes. After the November 1995 reorganization, Hayes added five more Managers, either by way of new hire or promotion, all of whom were required to report to a Director.

Robinson and Harris again complained to Watson that they believed that their race (and Campbell's sex) was a motivating factor in the changes in the Department's organization.

On January 11, 1996, Hayes gave Robinson his 1995 oral performance review, during which Hayes criticized Robinson's performance and placed him on a "watch list". Hayes gave Robinson a salary increase of 1.5%, which was the lowest Robinson had ever received. He also gave Robinson a bonus of $2,000, whereas the prior year LaBarca had given Robinson a bonus of $13,500. One month later, Hayes decided that Robinson, Harris, and Campbell would not receive stock options for 1996, although in the past Managers were eligible for these options.

In March 1996, Hayes hired Curtis Strohl ("Strohl"), a white male, under the newly-created title of Senior Manager. Despite his title, Strohl was at the same salary grade as Robinson, Harris, and Campbell. However, he reported directly to Hayes with respect to the more significant aspects of his work. Strohl was also awarded stock options, which meant that all white males at salary grade 15 or above received stock options.

A second Senior Manager, Norlin Evans ("Evans"), an African-American male, was subsequently added to the Department as a result of TWI's merger with Turner Broadcasting. Evans was given a direct reporting line to a Director, Stein, rather than to Hayes, although Evans had been an Acting Director at Turner Broadcasting. Hayes also hired a new Director in 1996, Robert Perkins ("Perkins"), who is African-American.

Robinson met with Watson on April 29, 1996, as well as with Watson's supervisor, Priscilla Bijur, on the following day, at which meetings he stated his belief that he continued to be the victim of race discrimination.

Two weeks after Robinson's internal complaint, on May 11, 1996, one of the Department Directors, Burkert, instructed Robinson to provide him with a detailed accounting of Robinson's whereabouts and assignments on a daily basis between October 1, 1995 and March 31, 1996.

TWI retained an attorney, Lawrence Levien, Esq., to investigate Robinson's complaint of racial discrimination. Three months after the completion of Levien's investigation, on December 10, 1996, Robinson was placed on oral warning. Soon thereafter, on January 7, 1997, Hayes prepared a memo which indicated that Richard Bressler ("Bressler"), to whom Hayes reported, considered Robinson to be a "C — " performer. Bressler, however, denied rating Robinson as such. On February 28, 1997, Burkert and Perkins gave Robinson a written performance warning advising him that he would be fired if he did not improve in four generally subjective areas by April 30, 1997.

Hayes did not send Robinson for outside management coaching to improve his performance, although Hayes had done so for Burkert, a white male.

On March 17, 1997, TWI's corporate doctor hospitalized Robinson after administering and reviewing the results of several EKGs. Ultimately, it was determined that Robinson had a heart spasm. After approximately four weeks, Robinson's doctor was satisfied that Robinson could return to work in terms of his physical health, but that Robinson should be kept out pending a psychological evaluation. Robinson was diagnosed as suffering from major depression and stress-related disorders, and his treating therapist continued him on disability leave.

In 1996, E & Y had recommended that it replace the Department in performing the internal audit function. The TWI Board of Directors approved this proposal in July 1997. In mid-July, while out on disability leave, Robinson received a memo from Hayes announcing that, effective September 15, 1997, the internal audit function at TWI would be eliminated and outsourced to a newly-created business unit at E & Y. The new unit at E & Y was to ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.