The opinion of the court was delivered by: William C. Conner, Senior District Judge.
Plaintiff Maria O. Ramos, brings the instant action against
defendant Marriott International, Inc. ("Marriott") pursuant to
Title VII of the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964,
42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. ("Title VII") and New York State Human Rights
Law, New York Exec. Law § 290 et seq. ("NYHRL"). Plaintiff
alleges that because of her gender, and in retaliation for her
complaints made to her supervisors and defendant's Human
Resources Department, she was terminated. She further alleges
that she was subjected to a hostile work environment by her
supervisor and coworkers during her tenure of employment.
Defendant now moves for summary judgment pursuant to FED. R. CIV.
P. 56(b). For the reasons stated hereinafter, defendant's motion
is granted in part and denied in part.
In June 1998, plaintiff was hired by defendant as its first
female Banquet Room Sous Chef at its Renaissance Westchester
Hotel (the "Hotel") located in White Plains, N.Y.*fn1 (Lyness
Aff. ¶ 4; Pl. Stmt. Undisp. Mat. Facts ¶ 10, Exs. A, B.) As the
Banquet Room Sous Chef, she was the lead cook in the Banquet Room
of the Hotel. The Banquet Room services all scheduled events for
the Hotel. (Lyness Aff. ¶ 74.) Plaintiff's responsibilities
included, inter alia, ordering and preparing the food for the
scheduled events as well as managing and scheduling a staff of
approximately seven kitchen workers. (Id. ¶¶ 0, 74-75; Lanchais
Dep. at 8-20.)
Although plaintiff's cooking skills were never the subject of
criticism by her supervisors or the guests of the Hotel, she
began having problems with her staff within weeks of her
employment. (Pl. Dep. at 283-84.) The staff refused to take any
sort of instruction from plaintiff (id.) and both plaintiff and
her staff were offended by each others' comments and "attitudes."
(Lyness Aff. ¶ 25, Ex. O.)
The "final straw" that ultimately led to plaintiff's
termination occurred on June 7, 1999. (Lyness Aff. ¶ 76.)
Plaintiff interrupted a meeting of her supervisor, Jean Claude
Lanchais, Executive Chef, three times over a period of twenty
minutes and proceeded to wait outside of Lanchais' door to
inquire as to whether he was meeting with several members of her
staff. (Id. ¶¶ 26, 76, Ex. P.) When Lanchais explained that
they were not in his office, plaintiff stated that "that was not
true" because she had seen two kitchen workers, Livingston Allen
and Herbert Gudiel, leave his office. (Id. ¶ 26, Ex. P.)
This incident led to plaintiff's second written reprimand on
June 10, 1999, for acting "in an insubordinate manner, willful
disregard and disrespect toward the executive chef."*fn2 (Id.
¶ 27, Ex. Q.) She was warned that any future infraction would
lead to either suspension or termination. (Id.) That same day,
Allen also lodged a complaint against plaintiff. He claimed that
she called him into her office the night of June 7th to ask him
why he and another kitchen worker were complaining about her to
Lanchais. (Id. ¶ 28, Ex. R.) He claimed that he was scared of
being alone with her in the kitchen because she would become
"hysterical," and begin "screaming and crying" because everyone
was "out to get her." He subsequently called Lanchais to resign.
(Id. ¶ 29, Ex. S; Allen Aff. ¶¶ 6-7.)
Lanchais then told plaintiff that her continued employment at
the Hotel was no longer a viable option and subsequently gave her
the choice either to resign or be fired. (Def. Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶
7; Lyness Aff. ¶¶ 4, 64; Ehler Dep. at 124.) On June 16, 1999,
plaintiff chose to resign. Defendant argues that it had to fire
plaintiff because of her inability to get along with her
coworkers. (Lyness Aff., Ex. A.) Plaintiff claims that she was
terminated as a result of her gender and the fifteen to twenty
complaints (Pl. Dep. at 391) she made to Lanchais and Karen
Ehler, Director of the Human Resources Department, about her
abusive work environment. (Lyness Aff., Ex. A.)
Defendant placed an advertisement in its database to fill the
position. (Lyness Aff. ¶ 66; Ehler Dep. at 138-39.) All
individuals that applied for the position were men (Lyness Aff. ¶
66; Ehler Dep. at 208), thus plaintiff was replaced by a male,
Einar Gudmundsson (Lyness Aff. ¶ 66; Ehler Dep. at 111), who
transferred from defendant's hotel in Atlanta. (Lyness Aff. ¶ 66;
Ehler Dep. at 138.)
I. Plaintiff's Claims of Harassment and Gender Discrimination
In 1998, John Goodwin, Banquet Room Chef de Partie, also
allegedly told plaintiff "never send a woman to do a man's job."
When plaintiff expressed her shock as to what had been said,
Goodwin responded "it is true." (Pl. Stmt. Undisp. Mat. Facts ¶
81; Pl. Dep. at 438-39.)
Plaintiff also alleges that she was treated differently from
her male counterparts, namely Al Lanza, Woodlands Restaurant lead
cook, and Robert Colletti, Woodlands Restaurant Assistant Sous
Chef.*fn4 First, plaintiff claims that she was denied a
promotion on the pretext that subordinates had complained about
her, whereas Lanza and Colletti were promoted after they had each
been accused of racial discrimination by a subordinate.
(Pl.Stmt.Undisp.Mat.Facts. ¶¶ 50-51.) Lanza, hired two months
prior to plaintiff, was promoted from Woodlands Restaurant Sous
Chef to Woodlands Restaurant Chef. (Id. ¶¶ 43-49, 51; Iaia Aff.
¶¶ 14-15, Exs. M, N) prior to December 1998. On February 6, 1999,
Colletti was promoted to Woodlands Restaurant Sous Chef. (Pl.
Stmt. Undisp. Mat. Facts ¶ 51; Iaia Aff. ¶ 17, Ex. P.)
Second, plaintiff claims that she was forced to decrease both
food procurement and labor costs in the Banquet Room, whereas
Lanza was not required to do the same in the Woodlands
Restaurant. (Pl. Dep. at 539-45.) She claims that she was forced
to do so even though the Banquet Room was busier than the
Woodlands Restaurant and had a smaller staff. When plaintiff
pointed this out to Lanchais, she was told to "make it happen for
Al." (Lyness Aff., Ex. A.)
Third, plaintiff alleges that Lanchais refused to allow her and
Allen, the Banquet Room Assistant Sous Chef, to attend a culinary
class in Boston, Massachusetts before Lanza and Colletti
participated. (Pl. Dep. at 520-21.) As a result, plaintiff
alleges that she was denied the opportunity to accumulate credits
for membership in the Culinary Institute of America ("CIA").
(Id. at 513-14; Lyness Aff., Ex. A.) The parties dispute
whether the class was connected with the CIA or the American
Federation and whether plaintiff could have in fact acquired
credits for either society. (Lanchais Aff. ¶ 9; Pl. Dep. 513-14.)
Plaintiff also claims that in 1999, Lanchais, Lanza and Colletti
attended an annual food show in New York City without asking her
if she wanted to accompany them. (Lyness Aff., Ex. A.) However,
she does not dispute the allegation that the food show was not
affiliated with the Hotel.
Fourth, every year defendant conducts a confidential survey,
the Associate Opinion Survey ("AOS"), in which the staff rates
the management as well as other aspects of the Hotel's
operations. (Lanchais Dep. at 148). In 1998, Lanchais and Tim
Cooper, former Food and Beverage Director, blamed plaintiff for
the low rating given by the AOS and were prepared to circulate it
to plaintiff's staff in the Banquet Room. (Lyness Aff., Ex. A.)
The parties dispute whether the results for the Banquet Room and
Woodlands Restaurant were combined, thereby preventing their
determination of the source of the problem. (Id.; Ehler Dep. at
57-58.) In any event, this was the first time that the AOS would
have been redistributed to the staff of any manager in the Hotel.
(Pl. Stmt. Undisp. Mat. Facts ¶ 85; Lanchais Dep. at 153.) Both
parties concede that the AOS was never given to plaintiff's staff
because plaintiff was terminated before it was to have been done.
(Pl. Stmt. Undisp. Mat. Facts ¶ 84; Lanchais Dep. at 152.)
Finally, plaintiff claims that she complained to Lanchais and
Ehler approximately fifteen to twenty times concerning her work
environment. The only documented complaint concerns an incident
when one of plaintiff's kitchen workers, Kittikorn Marbumrung,
hit her on the shoulder as she was entering the walk-in
refrigerator. (Lyness Aff. ¶ 21, Ex. K). At the time, Marbumrung
alleged that he was only joking with plaintiff. (Id.) The basic
allegation remains undisputed.
I. Summary Judgment Standard
Summary judgment is appropriate 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." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(d). A genuine
issue for trial exists if, based on the record as a whole, a
reasonable jury could find in favor of the non-moving party.
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct.
2505, 2510, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). On a motion for summary
judgment, all evidence must be viewed and all inferences must be
drawn in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. City
of Yonkers v. Otis Elevator Co., 844 F.2d 42, 45 (2d Cir. 1988).
The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of
"informing the district court of the basis for its motion" and
identifying the matter "it believes demonstrate[s] the absence of
a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett,
477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2553, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986).
Upon the movant's satisfying that burden, the onus then shifts to
the non-moving party to "set forth specific facts showing that
there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250,
106 S.Ct. at 2510. At this stage, the non-moving party "must do
more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to
the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio
Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 1355-56, 89 L.Ed.2d
538 (1986). Bald assertions or conjecture unsupported by evidence
are insufficient to overcome a motion for summary judgment. See
v. Crescenzi, 923 F.2d 18, 21 (2d Cir. 1991); Western World
Ins. Co. v. Stack Oil, Inc., 922 F.2d 118, 121 (2d Cir. 1990).
However, summary judgment should be employed sparingly in
employment discrimination cases where the employer's intent,
motivation, or state of mind is at issue. See Gallo v.
Prudential Residential Servs., 22 F.3d 1219, 1224 (2d Cir.
1994); Dister v. Continental Group, Inc., 859 F.2d 1108, 1114
(2d Cir. 1988) (citing Meiri v. Dacon, 759 F.2d 989, 998 (2d
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provides that it is
unlawful for "an employer to . . . discharge any individual, or
otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to
[her] compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of
employment, because of such individual's sex. . . ."
42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). Section 296(1)(a) of the NYHRL provides the same
protection to an employee. New York courts require the same
standard of proof for claims brought under the NYHRL as those
brought under Title VII. Therefore, the claims will be analyzed
in tandem and our holding with respect to plaintiff's Title VII
claims apply with equal force to her NYHRL claims. See Cruz v.
Coach Stores, Inc., 202 F.3d 560, 565 n. 1 (2d Cir. 2000);
Leopold v. Baccarat, Inc., 174 F.3d 261, 264 n. 1 (2d Cir.
1999); Tomka v. Seiler Corp., 66 F.3d 1295, 1304 n. 4 (2d Cir.
Disparate treatment claims pursuant to Title VII are subject to
the three-step burden-shifting analysis set forth in McDonnell
Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d
668 (1973). Under this scheme, the plaintiff bears the initial
burden to establish, by a preponderance of the evidence, a prima
facie case of employment discrimination. If the plaintiff
satisfies her burden, a presumption arises that "the employer
unlawfully discriminated against the employee." St. Mary's Honor
Ctr. v. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502, 506, 113 S.Ct. 2742, 2747, 125
L.Ed.2d 407 (1993) (quoting Texas Dep't of Cmty. Affairs v.
Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 254, 101 S.Ct. 1089, 1094, 67 L.Ed.2d 207
(1981)). The burden of production then shifts to the defendant to
articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the alleged
unlawful employment action. See St. Mary's, 509 U.S. at 507,
113 S.Ct. at 2747. The defendant's burden is also minimal. "Any
legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason will rebut the presumption
triggered by the prima facie case." Fisher v. Vassar College,
114 F.3d 1332, 1335-36 (2d Cir. 1997). "The employer need not
persuade the court that it was motivated by the reason that it
provides; rather, it must simply articulate an explanation that,
if true, would connote lawful behavior." Greenway v. Buffalo
Hilton Hotel, 143 F.3d 47, 52 (2d Cir. 1998) (emphasis in
If the defendant satisfies its burden of production, then the
presumption of discrimination "simply drops out of the picture."
St. Mary's, 509 U.S. at 510, 113 S.Ct. at 2749. At this point,
a plaintiff may prevail only if she shows by a preponderance of
the evidence that the employer's proffered reason is a pretext
for discrimination and that it is more likely than not that
discrimination was the real reason for the adverse employment
action. See id. at 515, 113 S.Ct. at 2752. "[T]he ultimate
burden of persuading the trier of fact that the defendant
intentionally discriminated against the plaintiff remains at all
times with the plaintiff." Id. at 507, 113 S.Ct. at 2747
(quoting Burdine, 450 U.S. at 253, 101 S.Ct. at 1093);
Fisher, 114 F.3d at 1335.
1. Plaintiff's Prima Facie Case
A prima facie case of disparate treatment is established by
showing that: (1) the plaintiff is a member of a protected class;
(2) the plaintiff was otherwise qualified for the position; (3)
an adverse employment action was taken; and (4) the adverse
employment action occurred under circumstances giving rise to an
inference of discrimination on the basis of her membership in
that class. See Burdine, 450 U.S. at 252-53, 101 S.Ct. at
1093-94. The burden of establishing a prima facie case "is not
onerous." Id. at 253, 101 S.Ct. at 1094; Fisher, 114 F.3d at
1335. The burden is so minimal that some courts simply assume the
existence of a prima facie case. See, e.g., Lacoparra v.
Pergament Home Ctrs., Inc., 982 F. Supp. 213, 223 (S.D.N.Y. 1997)
Plaintiff has satisfied the first and third prongs of her prima
facie case. As a woman, she is a member of a protected class and
termination is an adverse employment action. Defendant argues
that she has not satisfied the second and fourth prongs of her
prima facie case. In light of ...