The opinion of the court was delivered by: Buchwald, District Judge.
In this employment discrimination action, plaintiffs Lydia
Griffin, Shirretta Griffin, and Linda Trent ("Trent")
(collectively, "plaintiffs") allege that they were subjected to a
racially hostile work environment and racial and retaliatory
dismissal from their jobs at the Aveda West Broadway Salon ("the
Salon") in violation of the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of
1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq.; the New York State Human
("NYSHRL"), N.Y. Exec. Law § 296 et seq.; and the New York City
Human Rights Law, N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-101 et seq. Plaintiffs
have brought these claims against the corporate parents and
affiliates of the Salon: Ambika Corporation ("Ambika"), Aveda
Corporation ("Aveda"), Estée Lauder, and Aramis, Inc. ("Aramis")
(collectively "defendants"). In addition, plaintiffs allege that
defendants' actions violated their rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1981.
Finally, Lydia Griffin also alleges that she was dismissed from a
subsequent position at Origins Spa ("Origins"), another corporate
affiliate of the defendants, in further retaliation for her
complaints of the above-described discrimination. The parties
have completed discovery and now pending is defendants' motion,
pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56, for summary judgment. For the
reasons set forth below, defendants' motion is granted.
Except as noted, the following pertinent facts are either
undisputed or construed most favorably to the plaintiff. The
Salon is a privately-owned business that provides haircuts,
massages, and beauty services in Manhattan. According to the
defendants, the Salon is a subsidiary of Aramis, which operates
salons in the New York area under the brand name "Aveda" and the
Aveda Corporation is a separate corporate entity. Declaration of
Lynn Oderwald, dated Dec. 15, 1999 ("Oderwald Dec.") ¶ 1;
Plaintiffs' Counter 56.1 Statement ("Pl.56.1") ¶ 1. Both Aramis
and Aveda are members of the "Estée Lauder Companies." Pl. 56.1
Ex. J.*fn1 Ambika was the previous owner of the Salon, but sold
its interest in the "Aveda" brand name in December of 1997 and is
not related to the Estée Lauder Companies. Oderwald Dec. ¶ 24.
Plaintiff Lydia Griffin "began her employment" at the Salon "on
or about April 28, 1997, as a client coordinator." Comp. ¶ 12.
Linda Trent was also hired as a client coordinator in June of
1997. Id. ¶ 14. Finally, Shirretta Griffin, who is Lydia
Griffin's sister, was hired in the same capacity in September of
1997.*fn2 As client coordinators, plaintiffs "were responsible
for booking services appointments for customers and for
`provid[ing] the utmost in customer service and proper
scheduling' for external clients (i.e., customers) and internal
clients (i.e., hairstylists and other employees who performed
client services)". Def. 56.1 ¶ 2 (quoting Oderwald Dec. Ex. A);
Pl. 56.1 ¶ 2. Among other requirements, the Salon's client
coordinator job description lists the following "Basic Duties":
"[p]ositive, interactive attitude with customers;" "[g]reet all
clients in a professional manner;" and "[r]esolve client
challenges if possible, if not, inform team leader." Oderwald
Dec. Ex. A.
Up until September of 1997, there was no on-site supervisor for
the client coordinators at the Salon. Oderwald Dec. ¶ 2. However,
this changed when Nancy McKay ("McKay") was transferred to the
Salon on or about September 11, 1997 to serve in the capacity of
"Retail Manager." Comp. ¶ 15; Declaration of Nancy McKay, dated
De. 15, 1999 ("McKay Dec.") ¶ 1. In October of 1997, "Team
Manager" Katherine Zolcinski ("Zolcinski") became plaintiffs'
immediate supervisor. Comp. ¶ 16; Declaration of Katherine
Zolcinski, dated Dec. 15, 1999 ("Zolcinski Dec.") ¶ 2.*fn3
Plaintiffs maintain that McKay and Zolcinski were responsible
for the alleged discrimination against them. Comp. ¶ 16;
Deposition of Lydia Griffin, dated July 14, 1999 ("L. Griffin
Dep.") p. 49; Deposition of Shirretta Griffin, dated July 15,
1999 ("S. Griffin Dep.") p. 82-83; Deposition of Linda Trent,
dated July 22, 1999 ("Trent Dep.") p. 36-37. According to
plaintiffs, this bias was initially revealed in October of 1997,
when McKay referred to Lydia Griffin as a "street girl" or a
"street person." L. Griffin Dep. p. 69; Trent Dep. p. 38. The
exact circumstances of the incident, however, are unclear. L.
Griffin Dep. p. 73. Similarly, plaintiffs accuse both McKay and
Zolcinski of referring to them by using the phrase "you people."
L. Griffin Dep. p. 99-101; S. Griffin Dep. p. 80-82. Again,
plaintiffs' recounting of the circumstances under which McKay and
Zolcinski used the phrase is unclear. Id. In one instance, an
unnamed security guard allegedly quoted McKay to Shiretta Griffin
as using the phrase "you people, in terms of me [Shiretta
Griffin], my sister [Lydia Griffin] and Linda Trent." S. Griffin
Dep. p. 80. In addition, Linda Trent alleges that Zolcinski once
accused plaintiffs and another black employee of intimidating
customers and referred to them as a "gang." Trent Dep. at 41-42.
In October of 1997, an incident occurred between Lydia Griffin
and another African-American employee of the Salon, Charlene Shaw
("Shaw"), who served in the capacity of assistant Team Manager.
Declaration of Charlene Shaw, dated Dec. 14, 1999 ("Shaw Dec."),
¶ 3.*fn4 Although the exact details of the incident are in
dispute, Pl. 56.1 ¶ 4, plaintiffs do not contest the fact that
Shaw reported it to Lynn Oderwald ("Oderwald"), the Salon's Human
Resources Representative, or that Shaw resigned shortly
thereafter and gave as her reason the fact that "she could no
longer tolerate the negative and uncomfortable environment
created by Lydia Griffin and, to some degree, by her sister
Shirretta." Def. 56.1 ¶ 4 (citing Shaw Dec. ¶¶ 3-4, Ex. A); Pl.
56.1 ¶ 4.
In November of 1997, another client coordinator at the Salon,
Kris Scott ("Scott"), also resigned her position, reporting to
Oderwald that Lydia and Shirretta Griffin were the reason for her
resignation. Def. 56.1 ¶ 5; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 5.*fn5 Again, although
the facts of Scott's interactions with plaintiffs are in dispute,
plaintiffs do not contest that Scott reported that "she felt too
intimidated by Lydia and Shirretta
Griffin to continue to work with them." Id.
Defendants also provide evidence of a series of complaints by
four customers against Shirretta Griffin and Linda Trent between
November of 1997 and February of 1998. Oderwald Dec. Ex. B.*fn6
In brief, defendants' documents accuse the plaintiffs of treating
the customers rudely and cursing publicly. Plaintiffs admit only
that a fifth customer, Tammy Devereaux, has ever complained about
either Trent or Shirretta Griffin. Pl. 56.1 ¶ 6. However, they
deny the substance of Ms. Devereaux's complaint. Id.; Affidavit
of Linda Trent, dated Jan. 24, 2000 ("Trent Aff."), ¶¶ 2-4.
February 11, 1998, McKay prepared two "awareness letters" for
Lydia Griffin. Oderwald Dec. Ex. D. To quote defendants'
undisputed description of the letters, they "reported that Ms.
Griffin, on two occasions, had used inappropriate language in
front of customers." Def. 56.1 ¶ 7; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 7. McKay further
memorialized the incidents in an e-mail sent the same night to
Oderwald and other employees of defendants. Oderwald Dec. Ex. E.
"When Ms. Griffin's supervisor and Ms. Oderwald met with Ms.
Griffin to discuss the incidents and prepare her with the
`awareness letters,' Ms. Griffin denied the conduct and refused
to sign the letters." Def. 56.1 ¶ 7; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 7.
Throughout late February and early March, another series of
employees lodged complaints against the plaintiffs. Def. 56.1 ¶¶
9-14, 17-18.*fn7 Again, plaintiffs summarily deny the substance
of the complaints but do not dispute that the complaints were
made. Pl. 56.1 ¶¶ 9-14, 17-18. One of the employees, hairstylist
Richard Ruiz also expressed his desire to resign his position,
giving as his reason the business he had lost "resulting from
unprofessional client handling" by the plaintiffs. Oderwald Dec.
Ex. H. Ruiz provided specific information about three of his best
clients who had refused to return to the Salon because of
behavior by the plaintiffs. Id. Among the incidents described
by Ruiz was the complaint lodged by customer Tammy Devereaux, a
complaint which plaintiffs admit Devereaux made. Id. Mr. Ruiz's
account of events was memorialized in a contemporaneous e-mail.
The most serious charges against the plaintiffs were those by a
new client coordinator, Azita Sabahi ("Sabahi"). On March 6,
Sabahi reported to Oderwald that she felt she was being subjected
to a hostile work environment created by the plaintiffs. Def.
56.1 ¶ 14. Specifically, Sabahi alleged that plaintiffs had made
disparaging and discriminatory remarks about her because of her
Iranian national origin.*fn9 Id. Oderwald documented the
conversation in a March 6 e-mail which she sent to Thomas
Pflepsen ("Pflepsen"), a senior human resources manager with
Aramis. Oderwald Dec. ¶ 10, Ex. I. Sabahi then created a written
record of her allegations against the plaintiffs, which she
signed on March 17. Sabahi Dec. Ex. A. Although plaintiffs again
summarily deny the substance of Sabahi's accusations, they
acknowledge that she did make them and that she produced her own
written document. Pl. 56.1 ¶¶ 14-15; S. Griffin Dep. p. 93.
Shortly after Pflepsen received Oderwald's report of Sabahi's
complaints, he made a determination that there "was a
sufficiently corroborated record on which to initiate action."
Def. 56.1 ¶ 16; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 16. Pflepsen, Oderwald and Aramis
general manager Stefany Reed ("Reed") "agreed that it was
critical that they proceed with any final investigation and
appropriate disciplinary action as soon as Ms. Sabahi submitted
her written account." Id. Plaintiffs claim that they were
completely unaware of any of these complaints and that, to the
contrary, while visiting the Salon, general manager Reed had
praised Lydia Griffin and Linda Trent as "great employees," on
March 3, 1998. Pl. 56.1 second set of numbered paragraphs ("2d
At the same time, plaintiffs claim that McKay's and Zolcinski's
discriminatory attitudes are proven by a series of false
accusations that the supervisors allegedly made against the
plaintiffs. Specifically, Shirretta Griffin alleges that McKay
falsely accused her of making an expensive telephone call on the
Salon's phone at some unspecified time. S. Griffin Dep. p. 82.
Similarly, Trent alleges that, at other unspecified times, McKay
had implied that one of the plaintiffs had been responsible for a
shortfall in a cash register, and that one of them had placed an
unauthorized photograph of Al Sharpton on the bulletin board that
the Salon uses to inform customers of the company's sales and
services. Trent Dep. at 40-41. Finally, Trent alleges that McKay
implicitly accused her of stealing one of her co-worker's tips
when McKay told the co-worker that she had a right to feel upset
about the missing tip. Id. at 43-44. Plaintiffs have also
provided supporting affidavits by two other African-American
former employees of the salon, who accuse McKay of using a
"negative tone of voice" with black employees, Affidavit of
Anthony Williams, dated Oct. 29, 1999, ¶ 4, and of creating false
charges against them to get them discharged. Id. ¶ 5; Affidavit
Byrd, dated Oct. 27, 1999, ¶¶ 3-4.*fn11
Although the exact timing is unclear, plaintiffs allege that
they first complained about this discrimination to both Zolcinski
and Oderwald. However, on March 10, 1998, Lydia Griffin filed a
formal complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights
("NYSDHR"), alleging that she and other black employees of the
Salon had been subjected to race and color discrimination. Def.
56.1 2d ¶ 2; Oderwald Dec. Ex. P. In it, Griffin recited that she
"and my black counterparts [had] got[ten] along well with Ms.
Zolcinski,"*fn12 but that once "McKay came to the department,
Ms. McKay and Ms. Zolcinski began treating Black employees in a
discriminatory manner." Oderwald Dec. Ex. P. Griffin also listed
her allegations that McKay had called her a "street person," used
the phrase, "you people" and made false accusations against black
employees "while failing to make the same accusations against
similarly situated Caucasian employees." Id. Defendants
received notice of the complaint on March 17, 1998, when a copy
of it was delivered to the Salon by mail. Def. 56.1 ¶ 27; Pl.
56.1 ¶ 27, 2d ¶ 3.*fn13
On March 19, 1998, Oderwald and Reed met with all three
plaintiffs to inform them that they would be placed on a paid
break. Pl. 56.1 2d ¶ 4; Oderwald Dec. ¶ 13. See also Oderwald
Dec. Ex. K (a March 19, 1998 e-mail memorializing the meetings
with plaintiffs). During the following week, Oderwald, Reed, and
Pflepsen conducted five more employee interviews to investigate
the complaints about the plaintiffs. Oderwald Dec. ¶ 14. See
also id., Ex. L. (a March 23, 1998 e-mail listing the questions
asked in the interviews). Reed and Oderwald again met with each
of the plaintiffs individually on March 25, 1998, but none of the
three provided evidence to refute the charges against them.
Oderwald Dec. ¶ 15, Ex. N; Pl. 56.1 ¶¶ 21, 22.
On March 26, Oderwald sent individual letters to each of the
plaintiffs informing them that their employment had been
terminated. Pl. 56.1 2d ¶ 5; Oderwald Dec. Ex. O. The letters
confirmed for the plaintiffs the Salon's position that it had
received complaints from a number of their co-workers and
customers concerning their "unprofessional behavior" and
"business conduct" and stated that the company had "no
alternative" but to fire the plaintiffs "due to the needs of our
business." Oderwald Dec. Ex. O. The Salon enclosed checks for
each of the plaintiffs for the days they had been placed on paid
leave and for unused vacation time. Id. In total, Lydia Griffin
was employed at the Salon for eleven months, Trent for nine
months, and Shirretta Griffin for seven months. Def. 56.1 ¶ 3;
Pl. 56.1 ¶ 3.
On May 5, 1998, Lydia Griffin applied for the position of Front
Desk Manager at Origins, another salon located at Chelsea Piers
in Manhattan. Def. 56.1 ¶ 25; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 25; L. Griffin Dep. at
178-182. In connection with that application, Griffin filled out
and signed a form in which Griffin listed, among other things,
her employment history. Declaration of Patrick Bruner, dated Dec.
14, 1999 ("Bruner Dec.") Ex. A. Above the signature, the form
clearly indicates, "[m]isrepresentation or omission of
information listed in this application is cause for dismissal."
Yet, under her employment history, Griffin reported that she had
been employed at the Salon from April 1997 to April 1998, and
that her "reason for leaving" was "the company's communication
[sic] for growth was unable to be met and I needed more
responsibiliti [sic] to help achieve the goals of the
[indecipherable]." Griffin contends that this was not a lie,
Affidavit of Lydia Griffin, dated Jan. 25, 2000 ("L. Griffin
Aff.") ¶ 6, and that, at her interview, she "discussed the
incident that happened with myself and Nancy McKay and the
results of that" with Origins manager Patrick Bruner ("Bruner"),
including the circumstances of her termination. L. Griffin Dep.
at 182-85. See also L. Griffin Aff. ¶ 6.*fn14
Griffin was offered a position at Origins and began working
shortly thereafter. Def. 56.1 ¶ 26; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 26. However, she
was terminated from her employment May 21, 1998, by "Judy Stewart
from [Origins'] Human Resources [department], who had no part in
my hiring." L. Griffin Dep. ¶ 7. According to Bruner, Griffin was
fired because managers at Origins had subsequently learned of the
serious nature of the charges against her by the Salon, and
because of the misrepresentation and/or omission in her
employment application. Bruner Dec. ¶ 5. In response, Griffin
alleges that because Origins is affiliated with Estée Lauder,
and because Bruner would not corroborate her version of events,
that she "believe[s]" that Origins "found out that [she] filed a
discrimination complaint" and fired her. L. Griffin Aff. ¶ 8.
Plaintiffs filed this action December 12, 1998. After extensive
discovery, defendants filed the instant ...