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CRAWFORD-MULLEY v. CORNING INCORPORATED

March 29, 2002

ROMAINE CRAWFORD-MULLEY, PLAINTIFF,
V.
CORNING INCORPORATED, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: David G. Larimer, Chief United States District Court Judge

  DECISION AND ORDER

Procedural Background

In this action, plaintiff Romaine Crawford-Mulley ("Crawford-Mulley"), alleges that her former employer, defendant Corning Incorporated ("Corning"), discriminated against her on the basis of her race in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 ("§ 1981") and the New York State Human Rights Law ("HRL"), N.Y. Exec. Law § 296.*fn1 Currently before the Court, is Corning's motion for summary judgment (Dkt. #21), pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 56. For the reasons that follow, Corning's motion is granted.

Factual Background

Plaintiff's Employment History

Plaintiff was hired by the Corning Glass Center in March 1990. Her starting salary at that time was $68,000. In her last position at Corning, plaintiff's annual salary had risen to $100,338. Her position at that time was director of the Corning Museum of Glass.

Expansion of the Corning Glass Center and the Selection of its President

In the 1990's, Corning embarked on a plan to renovate and expand Corning Glass Center. The plan included merging the Corning Glass Center and the Corning Museum of Glass into a single new entity known as the Corning Museum of Glass ("the Museum"). Corning's chief financial officer and vice chairman of finance and administration, Van C. Campbell ("Campbell"), was charged with the responsibility of identifying someone to take the position of president for the new Museum. Campbell decided that the position should be filled by someone with corporate officer-level experience, and specifically, a senior executive who had a long history with Corning and who understood the unique roles of the Corning Glass Center and the Corning Museum of Glass. Campbell's choice for this appointment was E. Marie McKee ("McKee"), who had previously been senior vice president of human resources at Corning.

McKee's Interactions with Plaintiff

McKee assumed her new position as president of the Museum in late 1997. Within months thereafter, McKee changed plaintiff's reporting relationship so that plaintiff reported directly to McKee, rather than to someone beneath McKee. McKee also appointed plaintiff to the Museum's Board of Trustees. In this capacity, plaintiff served with a select group of top Corning executives and community leaders.

The parties agree that it was plaintiff's responsibility in her position as director to develop a plan that covered the areas of the advertising, marketing, and public relations for the Museum. For McKee, this particular responsibility was the centerpiece of plaintiff's new role in the Museum. McKee instructed plaintiff to lead the development of the marketing plan with collaboration from the Museum senior management team.

In May 1998, plaintiff provided McKee with a portion of her draft marketing plan for review. McKee was disappointed with plaintiff's effort and had specific concerns with the content of the document and the lack of coordination with other key individuals in preparing it. Corning further maintains that McKee shared her concerns with Kenneth Jobe, the project leader for the Glass Center expansion project. Jobe conveyed his concerns about plaintiff's work to plaintiff as well.

McKee's concerns about plaintiff's performance can be grouped to into four broad categories. First, McKee believed that plaintiff lacked strategic skills necessary for the role of director. Second, McKee was concerned that plaintiff demonstrated poor alliance skills. Third, McKee observed that plaintiff possessed weak planning skills and was unable to satisfactorily follow through on significant projects. Fourth, McKee thought that plaintiff made serious miscalculations in the marketing plan in terms of projecting business and financial results for the merged entity.

Based upon those concerns, McKee informed plaintiff on September 14, 1998 that she had decided to remove plaintiff from her position as director. Rather than terminate plaintiff, McKee provided plaintiff with an array of options including (1) taking on a small project role that would allow plaintiff time to determine her next full-time career move; (2) going to "in-placement" services for two or three months with the goal of "spending all of you [sic] time trying to see if we can find another job in Corning Inc."; (3) outplacement and severance; and (4) some combination of the above. Although McKee did not give plaintiff the option of continuing in her role is director, she did offer Crawford-Mulley the possibility of moving laterally within the Museum or Corning.

Rather than select one of the options offered her at the September 14, 1998 meeting, Crawford-Mulley left work and went out on medical leave. Plaintiff's medical note is decidedly vague, and her only explanation is that she suffered an "anxiety attack." Subsequently, Crawford-Mulley wrote McKee expressing her desire to handle small projects and to spend 50 percent of her time searching for suitable, comparable employment at Corning or elsewhere. Corning notes that after plaintiff retained an attorney, however, she instead stated that she wanted to resign. As part her offer to resign, Crawford-Mulley requested her full salary for six months with a promise that she would devote 50 percent of her time to seeking employment elsewhere. The Museum thereupon agreed to this proposal, and, in what Corning calls a good faith gesture, allowed plaintiff to devote all of her time toward seeking employment elsewhere while she continued to receive her full salary and benefits for six months. In addition, the Museum offered plaintiff access to Career Development Services, a nationwide career counseling firm, at the Museum's expense.

Corning charges that, in the ensuing six months, plaintiff made no attempt to secure another position at the Museum or at Corning, did not utilize the counseling of Career Development Services, and left her employment at the Museum with no job in hand. Plaintiff commenced this action on July 27, 1999.

DISCUSSION

Defendant now moves, under FED. R. CIV. P. 56, for summary judgment, asserting that plaintiff's complaint should be dismissed in its entirety because Corning had legitimate nondiscriminatory reasons for ...


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