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GRAZIANO v. NEW YORK STATE POLICE

April 26, 2002

JOHN R. GRAZIANO, PLAINTIFF,
V.
NEW YORK STATE POLICE, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: William C. Conner, Sr. U.S. District Judge.

OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff John R. Graziano, a Caucasian male, brings the instant action against the New York State Police ("NYSP") pursuant to Title VII of the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. ("Title VII"). Plaintiff claims that he suffered discrimination and harassment on account of his gender which created a hostile work environment and culminated in his constructive discharge. Defendant now moves for summary judgment pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 56. For the reasons that follow, defendant's motion is granted.

BACKGROUND*fn1

Plaintiff worked for the NYSP as a forensic scientist at the Stewart Airport Crime Lab in Orange County (the "Lab") from August 23, 1984 until January 13, 2000. (Complt. ¶¶ 5-6.) The duties of his employment included screening evidence submitted by law enforcement agencies for the presence and absence of controlled substances, presenting his findings before grand juries and at trials and maintaining the instruments at the Lab. (Id. ¶¶ 7, 10(b)). In October 1992, a female co-worker, Patricia Kantha, filed a sexual harassment complaint (the "Kantha complaint") against plaintiff. After an investigation, the NYSP issued a letter to plaintiff on July 22, 1993 stating that Kantha's allegations could not be substantiated and that no further action would be taken. (Graziano Aff. ¶ 4; Pl. Ex. 17.) Kantha also pursued her sexual harassment claim with the New York State Division of Human Rights ("NYSDHR"). Although NYSDHR found probable cause that plaintiff had committed sexual harassment against Kantha, the matter never proceeded to trial. (Id. ¶ 5.)

Plaintiff alleges that his female co-workers subjected him to ongoing harassment and discrimination following the Kantha complaint. (Id. ¶ 6.) In particular, plaintiff claims that Kantha, in concert with Gail Tissot, and later Tissot, Joanne Bierschenk and Debbie Beach, directed continuous hostility towards plaintiff that was not addressed by the NYSP. (Pl. Mem. Opp. Summ. J. at 10.) The specific incidents of alleged harassment are set forth below.

In 1992, the NYSP instituted a peer review process in the Lab whereby employees would review and sign off on each other's cases. Plaintiff claims that Tissot, Bierschenk and Beach used the peer review process to hold up his work — accusing him of failing to do sufficient tests although his work complied with NYSP protocol. (Id. at 11.) When Beach, a less experienced forensic scientist, was assigned to review plaintiffs cases in 1999, plaintiff complained to Lab Director Richard P. Nuzzo that Beach was frustrating his efforts to complete his work. Nuzzo allegedly told plaintiff to "like it or go find another job." (Graziano Aff. ¶ 7 (mm).) Around the same time, plaintiff also complained to Nuzzo that his female co-workers refused to provide him with their cases for review and that he felt excluded from the review process.*fn2 (Pl. Mem. Opp. Summ. J. at 12.) Although Nuzzo sent plaintiff a memorandum on August 10, 1999 stating that he had been assured that cases would be more evenly distributed in the future, plaintiff maintains that the practice of exclusion continued. (Graziano Aff. ¶ 7 (pp), Ex. 46.)*fn3

At a drug section meeting held in Albany in July 1999, NYSP official Keith Coonrod, assigned a mass spectrometry task to Ann Marie John, a junior female employee, although plaintiff was in charge of gas chromatography/mass spectrometry at the Lab. Plaintiff was also excluded from other special assignments at this meeting. (Pl. Mem. Opp. Summ. J. at 3.) Plaintiff claims that being passed over at the meeting caused him further humiliation and "emboldened the women who had been isolating and scorning me." (Graziano Aff. ¶ 7 (jj).)

For many years, plaintiff had been in charge of maintaining the Lab's instruments. (Pl. Mem. Opp. Summ J. at 4.) On Friday September 15, 1999, at Nuzzo's request, plaintiff relocated an old gas chromatography unit in order to accommodate new equipment. (Id. at 13.) The following Monday, Tissot and Beach allegedly began to berate plaintiff, claiming that he had wrongfully moved the machine. (Id. at 4; Graziano Aff. ¶ 7 (yy).)

On September 28, 1999, Beach and Charlie Pompa approached plaintiff at his desk concerning his responsibility to repair a mass spectrometer that had been damaged in a severe storm. (Graziano Aff. ¶ 7 (aaa).) According to plaintiff, Beach was upset that the machine was not yet repaired and pressured plaintiff to get it repaired immediately. (Id.) When plaintiff requested that he be given a few minutes to get settled, Pompa and Beach continued to press him. (Id.) Beach made a comment suggesting that the machine would have been repaired had plaintiff not taken a "four-hour lunch." (Id.) Bierschenk joined Beach in berating plaintiff, who responded that they could maintain the machines themselves if they didn't like the way he was doing it. (Id.) Plaintiff then left the Lab to use the men's room at the adjoining NYSP barracks. As he walked back from the barracks, he heard Beach's husband yell after him that he had "no balls." (Id.) Following this incident, plaintiff spoke to Nuzzo and asked him to take some action against the three women who had been harassing him. Nuzzo suggested that plaintiff "put a slip in" and leave for the day. (Id.) Plaintiff perceived Nuzzo's reaction as an indication that he was siding with Beach and believed that plaintiff was the cause of the problems.*fn4 (Id.) A few days after this incident, Captain Hughes was assigned by Staff Inspector Gregory Sittler to investigate plaintiff (Id. ¶ 7 (fff).) Hughes issued a report on plaintiff to Deputy Superintendent Kenneth Cook on October 7, 1999. This report concluded that "a long standing problem exists involving Graziano and his work relationships with other employees. This condition has caused a disruption in the lab operations and has exacerbated the existing problems with a shortage of staff and a backlog of evidence analysis." The report also stated that plaintiff had been described by his co-workers as "`paranoid,' `emotionally unstable'." and charged him with directing his tirades at women who were smaller in stature. According to the report, co-workers expressed their fear that plaintiff would cause them physical harm. (Graziano Aff., Ex. 56.) From the information he had obtained from his investigation, Hughes concluded that "there is sufficient probable cause to believe that [plaintiffs] continued presence at work job (sic) represents a potential danger to persons or property and that it would severely interfere with operations at the lab." (Id.) On the same day Hughes issued his report, plaintiff was placed on involuntary leave for the purpose of obtaining psychiatric evaluation. (Pl. Mem. Opp. Summ. J. at 5.)

Although plaintiff was cleared by an evaluating psychiatrist as mentally capable of returning to work in late October 1999 (Def. Reply Mem. Supp. Summ. J., Ex. A), he remained on involuntary leave and was sent to a second psychiatrist for evaluation on December 28, 1999. (Id., Ex. B.) After the second psychiatrist concluded that his return to work was appropriate, and Employee Heath Services cleared his return, plaintiff was directed to report back to work on January 13, 2000. (Pl. Mem. Opp. Summ. J. at 6.) Two days before plaintiffs scheduled return, Nuzzo forwarded a memorandum written by Beach, Tissot, Bierschenk and John to human resources administrators, formally protesting plaintiffs reinstatement. In the memo, these women expressed their fear that plaintiff would continue his pattern of harassment and intimidation and perhaps become physically violent. They implored the administration to take measures to protect them from plaintiffs behavior. The memo also noted that there had been no incidents of personnel conflicts during the three months of plaintiffs absence. (Graziano Aff., Ex. 82.)

Plaintiff returned to work as scheduled on January 13, 2000, and was directed to his desk by Nuzzo. He noticed that his female co-workers were not present, and alleges that he later learned that they had boycotted work and informed supervisory staff that they would not return to work if plaintiff was reinstated.*fn5 (Pl. Mem. Opp. Summ. J. at 6.) After less than an hour had passed, Nuzzo sat plaintiff in a room with Hector Jimenez from Human Resources and a new deputy who began work that day. (Id.) Nuzzo handed plaintiff a reprimand concerning the events of September 28, 1999 and began to read the charges out loud.*fn6 Plaintiff allegedly asked for an attorney and union representation, but Nuzzo yelled back that he needed neither. (Id. at 7.) After Nuzzo finished reading the reprimand, he informed plaintiff that he had received an unsatisfactory job performance evaluation. (Id.) At that, plaintiff announced that he had enough, and walked out of the meeting. When he returned to his desk, plaintiff informed Jimenez that he planned to retire because he did not believe that anything was going to be fixed at the Lab. (Graziano Dep. at 98.) He then typed out a two-line letter of resignation. (Graziano Aff., Ex. 84.)

Plaintiff claims that the foregoing actions taken against him by his female co-workers were done on account of his gender and created a hostile work environment leading to his constructive discharge in violation of Title VII. Defendant responds that summary judgment in this matter is appropriate because: 1) plaintiff cannot demonstrate that he was constructively discharged; 2) plaintiff cannot demonstrate that reactions of female co-workers to his conduct were motivated by animus toward plaintiffs gender rather than plaintiffs personality; and 3) the actions of female co-workers cannot be imputed to defendant. (Def. Mem. Supp. Summ. J. at 3.)

DISCUSSION

I. Summary Judgment ...


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