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AMES v. CARTIER

March 29, 2002

IRENBO G. AMES, PLAINTIFF,
V.
CARTIER, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Constance Baker Motley, U.S. District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

On a motion for summary judgment, "the evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Reeves v. Johnson Controls World Servs., Inc., 140 F.3d 144, 149 (2d Cir. 1998) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986)). Therefore, unless otherwise indicated, the following recital of the facts represents plaintiffs version of events.

Plaintiff Ireneo Ames is a male of Filipino descent. Defendant Cartier, Inc. ("Cartier") is a purveyor of fine jewelry and other luxury items. In October 1998 Mr. Ames commenced employment with Cartier's Fifth Avenue store. He was hired as a temporary holiday sales associate and was assigned to the gift and stationery department. His immediate supervisor was Ms. Lorraine Littles. Ms. Littles reported to Cynthia Fiske. Ms. Fiske reported to Mary Grieve-Smith who was the manager of the Fifth Avenue store.

In February 1999 Mr. Ames became a regular full-time employee in the gift and stationery department. In May 1999 Mr. Ames had his ninety-day performance evaluation with Ms. Fiske. Cartier's performance evaluation form had several performance categories (attendance/punctuality, appearance, cooperation, dependability, initiative, production, potential stability, and overall) with check-boxes corresponding to a ratings scale (outstanding, good, satisfactory, marginal, and unsatisfactory). Mr. Ames received "satisfactory" or higher performance ratings for attendance, appearance, cooperation, initiative, production, stability, and overall. For attitude and dependability, Mr. Ames received "satisfactory/marginal" or "marginal" ratings (it is unclear from the form which box was checked). He received no "unsatisfactory" ratings. At the bottom of the evaluation, it indicated that he had successfully completed his introductory period. In the "additional comments" section, Ms. Fiske wrote, "Rene has made an attempt to adapt to his environment despite interpersonal difficulties that existed in the department. The main area of improvement is security compliance regarding locking of merchandise. Rene left earrings in a desk drawer which is a security violation."

In May 1999 Cartier announced that it would be opening a new Madison Avenue boutique in July 1999. Mr. Ames informed Ms. Grieve-Smith that he wished to transfer to the new boutique. Hamida Belkadi, a Cartier employee since 1987, was selected to be the new boutique's manager. As the new manager, Ms. Belkadi had to hire four sales associates and one bookkeeper. In June 1999 Ms. Belkadi hired Karen Adams, Cassandra Gut, and — with Ms. Grieve-Smith's authorization — Mr. Ames as sales associates at the new boutique. She also hired Celia Patubo, a Filipina-American, as bookkeeper. Ms. Adams had eight years of jewelry sales experience when hired. Mr. Ames's salary was increased to that of Ms. Gut's effective with his transfer to the new boutique. On July 2, 1999, Mr. Ames started at the boutique as a sales associate. Sometime in July Ms. Belkadi also hired Ms. Lee Caissie as a sales associate.

Shortly after the store opened. Mr. Ames asked for personal leave. Ms. Belkadi denied his request. Ms. Gut was permitted to take one personal day in July 1999; that day had been requested prior to her acceptance of her position at the new boutique. Mr. Ames had asked for one personal day to be taken during August. Ms. Belkadi initially denied his request, stating that as a transferee, he was not eligible to take vacation time — contradicting what the human resources department had told Mr. Ames prior to his transfer. Eventually, however, Ms. Belkadi granted Mr. Ames's request. Although Ms. Belkadi approved the request for leave, Mr. Ames's employment was terminated prior to the scheduled date.

At the new Madison Avenue boutique, Cartier displays high value items in the display windows. Ms. Belkadi preferred that the employees not handle the display window jewelry so as to avoid misplacement of the items. Ms. Belkadi assumed responsibility for arranging items in the display windows. She claims that when an employee demonstrates his or her ability to display the merchandise properly, only then does she issue the employee a set of keys to the window display. Eventually Ms. Gut, Ms. Adams, and Ms. Caissie were all given keys to the window display, while Mr. Ames never was. As for keys to the display cabinets, Ms. Belkadi did distribute a set to all of the sales associates.

The Madison Avenue boutique maintains a single marble restroom which is used by employees and customers alike. Since customers use the restroom, Ms. Belkadi requested that it be kept in a neat and presentable condition. Ms. Beilcadi claims that she told the whole staff, without reference to any particular employee, to wipe up any excess water around the sink and to always put the toilet seat down. Mr. Ames contends that Ms. Belkadi specifically singled him out — blaming, humiliating, and publically admonishing him for the unclean state of the bathroom in front of the entire sales staff

In July 1999 a "Russian couple" entered the boutique, and Mr. Ames approached them, offering his assistance. Although the party had not yet made a decision as to what, if anything, they were going to purchase, they requested to see an item in the display window. Mr. Ames excused himself and went to the back of the store to retrieve Ms. Belkadi's display window keys. During Mr. Ames's absence. Ms. Caissie showed the party additional items. Upon his return to the sales floor, Mr. Ames saw Ms. Caissie assisting the party and became upset.

Mr. Ames approached Ms. Belkadi and informed her that Ms. Caissie had improperly assumed his sale. In response, Ms. Belkadi told Mr. Ames not to interfere with the sale. She told him, "Oh, he's Russian and Russian men like to flirt with pretty blonds [sic]." At a staff meeting shortly thereafter, Mr. Ames brought up the incident. Ms. Belkadi stated that "from [her] long selling experience [she feels] that some people [can] sell more effectively than others because [they] share . . . certain elements of their lives with [the customer]." In addition, when Ms. Caissie stated that "most people would relate to people who look like themselves and have some things in common," Ms. Belkadi concurred. The Russian couple did not buy anything. Two days after the encounter, Ms. Belkadi told Mr. Ames that he would have received a commission if a sale had occurred.

Shortly thereafter, a rotation system was implemented wherein each sales associate would take a turn waiting on customers. Ms. Belkadi claims that she implemented the system because of Mr. Ames's overly aggressive sales tactics — he was allegedly trying to steal all the customers from his co-workers. In response, Mr. Ames says that the system was implemented by the associates themselves. Ms. Gut testified in her deposition that Mr. Ames was a team player and fair when it came to helping clients.

On August 7, 1999, Ms. Beilcadi terminated Mr. Ames, approximately five weeks after he had started at the boutique. Ms. Belkadi filled out a performance evaluation form for Mr. Ames on August 6, 1999. The form itself was identical to the type completed by Ms. Fiske in May 1999. In stark contrast to the May evaluation, however, Mr. Ames now had earned unsatisfactory" ratings in attitude, cooperation, dependability, initiative, production, potential, and overall. In the "additional comments" section, the evaluation lists five specific reasons for Mr. Ames's termination: (1) his "poor penmanship"; (2) his "constant challenge of [Ms. Belkadi's] directions, citing [the Fifth Avenue store's practices] as the criteria for [his] actions"; (3) his "inability to display a showcase case properly and within a reasonable time"; (4) his mistakenly selling a ring for far less than its actual retail price"; and (5) his contacting the Fifth Avenue store for a discount authorization when Ms. Beilcadi was out of town. Cartier continues to rely on these reasons as justifications for Mr. Ames's termination.

Mr. Ames responds that these purported reasons are merely pretext for discrimination. As for the poor handwriting, Mr. Ames points out that no manager at the Fifth Avenue store had a problem with his handwriting, nor did Ms. Adams, the assistant manager at the Madison Avenue boutique. As for challenging Ms. Belkadi's directions, Mr. Ames claims that Ms. Belkadi invited suggestions from the staff and that he merely responded to her invitations by volunteering his experiences at the Fifth Avenue store. As for the inability to arrange a display case in a reasonable period of time, Mr. Ames concedes that it took him up to thirty minutes to arrange the case, rather than the ten minutes demanded by Ms. Belkadi. However, Mr. Ames states that he took longer because he was merely following the instructions given in his on-the-job training and in the written materials he received; the other employees did not follow those directions and therefore could complete the job faster. As for selling the ring at the wrong price, Mr. Ames states that someone else ...


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