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LEE v. GLESSING

April 19, 2001

WILLIAM R. LEE, PLAINTIFF,
V.
CHARLES A. GLESSING AND PALANTINE NURSING HOME, DEFENDANTS.



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

INTRODUCTION

On June 4, 1999, plaintiff filed a complaint claiming gender and disability based discrimination. He claims to have been discharged by defendants because of his gender and a mental disability. Defendants deny these allegations and seek summary judgment alleging nondiscriminatory reasons for plaintiffs termination. Plaintiff opposes the motion. For the following reasons, the court denies defendants' motion for summary judgment.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, William Lee, brings this cause of action under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., the Americans With Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12117(a), the New York State Human Rights Law ("HRL") and New York Executive Law § §§ 296 et seq., claiming discrimination based upon his gender, a mental disability and retaliation. Specifically, plaintiff contends that: (1) defendants unlawfully terminated his employment because of his gender in violation of Title VII and the HRL; (2) retaliated against him after he complained about sexual harassment and sexual discrimination in violation of Title VII and the HRL; (3) unlawfully terminated him because of his mental handicap in violation of the ADA and the HRL; and (4) failed to provide a reasonable accommodation for his handicap in violation of the ADA and the HRL.

To allay these allegedly discriminatory actions, plaintiff seeks: (1) declaratory judgment stating that defendants' conduct violated his civil rights; (2); an award of back pay and other related monetary benefits; (3) an order of reinstatement with reasonable accommodations for his disability; (4) retroactive seniority, retirement and other benefits; (5) a $1,000,000.00 award in compensation for his pain, suffering and humiliation; (6) an award of $500,000.00 for punitive damages; and (7) costs and attorney's fees.

Defendants, Charles Glessing and the Palantine Nursing Home, seek summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. To support this motion, they allege: (1) legitimate nondiscriminatory reasons for plaintiffs termination; (2) that plaintiff was not an employee under Title VII and cannot maintain a discrimination suit; (3) the conduct alleged does not constitute sexual harassment; (4) the conduct was not frequent or severe enough to create a hostile work environment; and (5) that they lacked the requisite knowledge to be liable for plaintiffs harassment. The court will address these claims and defenses seriatim.

FACTS

Plaintiff is a physical therapist formerly employed by the Palantine Nursing Home. Plaintiff was continuously employed from May 17, 1995, to February 7, 1997, when he was terminated by Ms. Teresa Glessing, the facility's Acting Administrator, and Jo Ann Failing, Director of Nursing. Teresa Glessing and defendant Charles Glessing were plaintiffs direct supervisors.

After facing months of this abuse, plaintiff asked his co-workers to stop all sex-based conversation in his presence. He informed them that such comments made him uncomfortable as the only male present. Furthermore, plaintiff alleges that his supervisors were aware of this harassing conversation and his discomfort as it frequently occurred in their presence. He also contends that his termination was part and parcel to this pattern of sexual harassment.

According to plaintiff, defendants terminated him after he was accused of sexually harassing a female co-worker. Apparently, plaintiff asked a Ms. Battisti out to dinner on two occasions without success. After the second attempt, Ms. Battisti complained about plaintiffs amorous advances to Ms. Failing, who later spoke to him about his actions. Plaintiff claims to have been unaware that this meeting was a warning about sexual harassment. Roughly one month later, plaintiff was again told to leave Ms. Battisti alone. However, on February 6, 1997, he asked Ms. Battisti about her "night job." Ms. Battisti reported to Palantine that plaintiff had accused her of being a prostitute. The next day, Theresa Glessing and Joanne Failing presented three written sexual harassment warning notices to plaintiff and terminated his contract.

Finally, plaintiff questions the basis for his termination claiming that it occurred without notice and was contrary to Palantine's sexual harassment policy. He also alleges that he was treated differently from female employees as none have been terminated for their harassing behavior.

DISCUSSION

I. The Legal Standards: Summary Judgment

Summary judgment shall be granted "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits . . . 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." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). Moreover, Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure mandates the entry of summary judgment "against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Id. at 247, 106 S.Ct. at 2510. Any ambiguities and inferences drawn from the facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Thompson v. Gjivoje, 896 F.2d 716, 720 (2d Cir. 1990). However, an alleged or hypothetical factual dispute will not defeat a motion for summary judgment. See id. Instead, the non-moving party must demonstrate that there are genuine factual issues to be decided by the trier of fact. See id. (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324-25, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2553, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986)). An issue is considered "genuine . . . if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248, 106 S.Ct. at 2510.

Furthermore, a non-moving party may not rest upon mere conclusory allegations or denials, but must set forth "concrete particulars" showing the need for a trial. See Connell v. Consolidated Edison Co. of New York, 109 F. Supp.2d 202, 206 (S.D.N.Y. 2000). Therefore, a non-moving party may not "merely . . . assert a conclusion without supplying supporting arguments or facts." See id. (quoting Bell-South Telecommunications, Inc. v. W.R. Grace & Co., 77 F.3d 603, 615 (2d Cir. 1996)) (internal quotations omitted).

In the context of employment discrimination cases, summary judgment is "ordinarily inappropriate" because the allegations therein require exploration into an employer's motivation and intent for an employment decision. See Griffin v. Ambika Corp., 103 F. Supp.2d 297, 306 (S.D.N.Y. 2000) (citing Patrick v. LeFevre, 745 F.2d 153, 159 (2d Cir. 1984)); see also Gallo v. Prudential Residential Servs., 22 F.3d 1219, 1224 (2d Cir. 1994). The reason for such judicial caution is that, "[e]mployers are rarely so cooperative as to include a notation in the personnel file that the [adverse employment action] is for a reason expressly forbidden by law." Bickerstaff v. Vassar College, 196 F.3d 435, 448 (2d Cir. 1999). Yet, summary judgment can ...


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