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RICKS v. CONDE NAST PUBLICATIONS

April 25, 2000

AMINAH RICKS, PLAINTIFF,
V.
CONDE NAST PUBLICATIONS, INC., ALEXANDRA GOLINKIN, JULIE KRUMHOLZ, AND WENDY COHEN, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robert W. Sweet, U.S.D.J.

  OPINION

Defendants Conde Nast Publications Inc. ("Conde Nast"), Alexandra Golinkin ("Golinkin"), Julie Krumholz ("Krumholz"), and Wendy Cohen ("Cohen") have moved pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for summary judgment to dismiss the complaint of plaintiff Aminah Ricks ("Ricks") alleging racial discrimination, hostile work environment, and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. ("Title VII") and 42 U.S.C. § 1981 ("Section 1981"). For the reasons set forth below, the motion is granted.

The Parties

Ricks, an African-American, was employed by Conde Nast as an Account Manager for Allure Magazine from July 14, 1997 until October 14, 1997.

Conde Nast is a corporation that maintains offices in New York City and is engaged in the business of publishing magazines, including Allure Magazine.

Golinkin was the publisher of Allure Magazine from May 1993 through October 1998.

Krumholz was employed by Allure Magazine from on or about March 1997 through April 1998, during which period she was responsible for the advertising positioning and layout of the magazine.

Cohen was the national sales director for Conde Nast in the New York office and was responsible for managing account managers in the five regional sales offices from April through October 1997.

Prior Proceedings

Ricks commenced this action asserting claims for race discrimination, hostile work environment and retaliation under Title VII and Section 1981 on October 22, 1998, having previously filed a charge of discrimination by the defendants with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") on September 26, 1997.

Ricks' complaint alleges that her termination was motivated by race discrimination; that she was subjected to racial harassment that created a hostile work environment; and that she was terminated as retaliation for protesting her employer's discriminatory practices. All of these claims are brought pursuant to both Title VII and Section 1981.

The parties engaged in comprehensive discovery, exchanged hundreds of pages of documents and deposed six witnesses. The instant motion was heard and marked fully submitted on January 19, 2000.

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 Ricks' favor.

In 1996, Ricks submitted an application to the Conde Nast Human Resources Department for an account manager position. In May 1997, Sandra Stock ("Stock"), Human Resources Manager for Conde Nast, contacted Ricks concerning a vacant account manager position at Allure Magazine. At the time Stock contacted her, Ricks was working as an account manager at Heart & Soul Magazine, published by Rodale Press.

Account managers are responsible for selling advertising pages in the magazine to advertisers or advertising agencies. Among other duties, account managers must articulate the editorial mission of the magazine to clients and potential clients and persuade them to place advertising in the magazine through letters, promotional materials, phone calls, and meetings.

Prior to working for Allure, Ricks had about one year's experience in advertising. Stock told Ricks that Conde Nast did not generally interview candidates with less than three years' experience, but nonetheless set up a meeting with Krumholz.

Following Ricks' interview with Krumholz, the Allure advertising director at that time, Nada Stirrat ("Stirrat"), called Ricks for a meeting and requested that she prepare a mock sales presentation. Following her interview with Stirrat, Ricks interviewed with Golinkin in or about June 1997. Ricks was subsequently offered the position of account manager, which she accepted.

Ricks' compensation package did not include a commission. According to Stock, Ricks was not entitled to a commission because she had been hired in the second half of the year. Eric Wirth ("Wirth"), a white male, was hired under the title of Beauty Advertising Director on July 22, 1997, and was given certain "guaranteed [] supplementary" compensation which some documents refer to as a commission.

During the period of Ricks employment at Allure, she was the only African-American account manager.

Ricks began work as an Allure Magazine account manager on July 14, 1997. She reported to Stirrat, as well as Krumholz and Golinkin. Stirrat left Allure in or about late July 1997. Ricks then began reporting to Cohen, who had recently joined the New York office, as well as to Krumholz and Golinkin.

Ricks was told she would receive training for her position. Ricks was provided with a calendar of sales calls so that she could accompany other account managers to observe how they carried out their work. She went on approximately three calls. Ricks was also provided with sample letters and presentations. Ricks was not given a job description.

When Ricks began her employment she was given a binder of account information that had been compiled by her predecessor. Ricks began to work on updating the information on the accounts. She had not completed this task when she was terminated.

In or about August 1997, Ricks made a sales call, accompanied by Krumholz, to the Advil advertising agency, to try to convince them to use print advertising even though Advil had abandoned print advertising several years earlier. Krumholz disagreed with this strategy. Allure developed a plan to generate additional advertising sales for its October issue by offering potential advertisers a merchandising premium incentive. Ricks prepared a letter offering multiple premiums to a single account, although the letter was not sent.

On or about July 28, 1997, Krumholz called Ricks a "bug" that was going to get "squashed," and further told her that she was "wearing out the carpet" in Golinkin's office.

Ricks met on a weekly basis with Krumholz and Cohen regarding her accounts. In August 1997, Krumholz and Cohen asked Ricks to prepare specific reports and summaries regarding her accounts. Cohen told her that she should expect to make some mistakes and that it would take about six months to become really seasoned. In August 1997, Krumholz told Ricks that Golinkin was going to "rip [Ricks] a new a — hole".

On or about August 26, 1997, Cohen and Krumholz met with Ricks and told her that her performance was unsatisfactory, including her ability to articulate the magazine to clients or potential clients, her failure to keep accurate information in her account book, and her arranging of unproductive meetings. They directed her to prepare a "working agreement" outlining what she planned to accomplish within six weeks, and told her that if she failed to accomplish the plan outlined in the working agreement that she would be terminated within six weeks. The "working agreement" was a concept that had ...


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