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LANGE v. TOWN OF MONROE

August 2, 2002

LINDA LANGE, PLAINTIFF,
V.
TOWN OF MONROE, ROY MONTANYE, HIGHWAY SUPERINTENDENT, DONALD WEEKS, MEMBER, TOWN OF MONROE TOWN BOARD, SANDY LEONARD, MEMBER, TOWN OF MONROE TOWN BOARD, DEFENDANTS.



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

    OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Linda Lange, a female employee of the Town of Monroe (the "Town"), brings the instant action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 28 U.S.C. § 1367 against the Town and Town Board Members Donald Weeks and Sandy Leonard (collectively the "Town defendants") and Highway Department Superintendent Roy Montanye,*fn1 alleging, inter alia, that defendants violated her rights guaranteed under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and N.Y. EXEC. L. § 296. Defendants*fn2 now move for summary judgment pursuant to FED. R. Civ. P. 56. For the reasons that follow, defendants' motion is granted.

BACKGROUND

The Town, a municipality organized under the laws of the State of New York, is governed by a five-member Town Board (the "Board") on which Weeks has served since 1979 and Leonard since 1992. (Montanye Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 1-3.) During the time period relevant to this lawsuit, the remaining members of the Board were Town Supervisor Michael Frerichs, James Rogers and Peter Martin.*fn3 (Id. 4.) According to plaintiff, the Board is controlled by the Republican majority with Weeks, the chair of the Town Republican Committee, exerting significant political influence. (Lange Aff. ¶ 7.) Montanye has been Highway Department Superintendent for approximately fifteen years. (Montanye Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 6.) Montanye is not a member of the Board and does not have the authority to vote on issues relating to the Town. (Id. ¶ 8.) According to plaintiff, however, Montanye is closely aligned politically and personally with Weeks. (Lange Aff. ¶ 7.) Plaintiff has been continuously employed by the Town, under the authority of the Board, from 1988 to the present, during which time she has managed the Town's Dial-A-Bus program ("DAB"). (Id. ¶ 9.) DAB is a government subsidized transportation program providing to Town residents for a nominal fee rides to various points in the Town. (Id. ¶ 11.) The DAB offices were located at the Highway Department until September 2001. (Id. ¶ 13; Lange Aff. ¶ 1.) In the former DAB offices, Montanye had to walk through plaintiff's office to access his own office. (Lange Aff. ¶ 4.) According to plaintiff, Montanye told the builder to design the offices that way so that Montanye and plaintiff could have "privacy." (Id.)

Plaintiff and Montanye enjoyed a close personal relationship from 1988 until at least 1995, and they and their respective families interacted socially on a number of occasions. (Montanye Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 27-38.) Plaintiff alleges that beginning in 1994, Montanye made it clear that he sought to initiate a sexual relationship with her. (Lange Aff. ¶ 6.) Plaintiff recounts a number of alleged incidents that indicated Montanye's desire to commence this type of relationship. For example, Montanye would leave numerous personal gifts and cards for Lange, calling her his "special lady" and "sweet pea." (Id., Ex. 1.) In at least one card, he wrote that he would "always love" her.*fn4 (Id.) Plaintiff discusses two incidents in which Montanye attempted to kiss her. (Id. ¶ 6.) At a dance in November 1994, Montanye kissed plaintiff while they were dancing together. (Pl. Counter Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 13.) Plaintiff responded by asking him if he was "crazy." (Id.) The next day, plaintiff explained to Montanye that his advances were unwelcome and that they were nothing more than "really good friends." (Id. ¶ 14.) In late 1995, in their shared office, Montanye again tried to kiss plaintiff while she was looking for papers in a filing cabinet. (Id. ¶ 15.) Plaintiff claims that she pushed him away several times and asked him to "leave [her] alone."*fn5 (Id.) Plaintiff states that after Montanye attempted to kiss her this second time, she would never stay at the office alone when he was there. (Id. ¶ 20.) Plaintiff alleges that after she rebuffed his advances, Montanye told her that he was "going to get even" with her, that he was "used to having his way" and that he would "turn the Town Board against [her]." (Id.) Montanye first made this alleged threat in 1996 and repeated it frequently through early 2000. (Lange Aff. ¶ 7.) Plaintiff did not tell anyone about Montanye's attempts to kiss her for three years. (Pl. Counter Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 21; Lange Dep. at 272.) According to plaintiff, she believed that if Montanye just left her alone, everything would be fine. (Lange Dep. at 272.)

In late 1997, prompted by increasing concern over Montanye's threats of reprisal, and a training session on sexual harassment, plaintiff approached Weeks to discuss her concerns. (Lange Aff. ¶ 9.) At that time, Weeks served as the liaison between DAB and the Board. (Id. ¶ 8.) According to plaintiff, Weeks told her that he didn't want to discuss the matter, and that she should try to work things out with Montanye. (Id. ¶ 9.) Plaintiff also alleges that he told her at that time that she should "remember it is [Montanye's] highway garage you are working out of."*fn6 (Id.) Plaintiff also claims to have spoken to Rogers in late 1997 concerning her problems with Montanye. (Id. ¶ 11.) Rogers allegedly told her that because Montanye was an independent elected official he could do what he wanted, and suggested that she speak to Weeks who "controlled the Town Board." (Id.; Lange Dep. at 192.) When plaintiff informed Rogers that she had already spoken to Weeks, Rogers offered no alternative. (Lange Aff. ¶ 11.) In November 1998, at the suggestion of another Board member, Peter Martin, plaintiff had lunch with Leonard, a female Board member. (Pl. Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 35, 38.) Plaintiff showed Leonard notes and gifts that Montanye had given her, and informed Leonard that Montanye had forced himself on her in 1995. (Id. ¶ 38.) Plaintiff told Leonard that she wanted the Board to move her office. (Id.) According to plaintiff, Leonard told her she would bring the matter to the Board and help extricate plaintiff from the situation. (Id. ¶ 39.) However, Leonard admittedly took no action to follow up on plaintiff's complaint and did not inform any of the Board members. (Id. ¶ 44.) According to Leonard, because of prior conduct that she had witnessed, she did not believe plaintiff was being truthful in her allegations concerning Montanye. (Leonard Dep. at 16.) For example, Leonard states that on one occasion, she saw plaintiff drape herself across Montanye and run her hand down his arm. (Id.) Plaintiff denies that this ever occurred. (Pl. Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 45.) After this meeting, plaintiff called Leonard numerous times but never got a response. (Id. ¶ 46.) When Martin later asked Leonard what she thought about the "DAB situation," she replied "don't go there." (Martin Dep. at 44.)

Plaintiff claims that after she spoke to Weeks in late 1997, Montanye made it clear through his actions that he intended to retaliate against her. For example, she alleges that he manipulated his workers so that they would refuse to assist DAB with needed repairs. (Lange Aff. ¶¶ 13, 15, 22.) Plaintiff claims that this impeded her ability to serve the public. (Id. ¶ 22.) Plaintiff also explains that from the start of her employment, she had relied on Montanye to keep her informed on concerns and issues before the Board. (Id. ¶ 10.) After she spoke to Weeks, however, communications from Montanye stopped. (Id. ¶ 10.) On January 21, 1998, plaintiff claims that Montanye asked her how she felt about not getting any information about what was going on in the Town. When she replied that she didn't like being kept in the dark, he replied "you know why it's like this now." (Id.) He also prevented her from borrowing one of the Highway Department's pick-up trucks. (Id. ¶ 17.) Montanye allegedly told plaintiff: "Until you change, this is how things will be." (Id. ¶ 18.) In addition, although she and Montanye had historically hired secretaries jointly, Montanye began hiring secretaries without her input in 1998. (Id. ¶ 21.) Plaintiff claims that these secretaries worked exclusively with Montanye and did not assist her with DAB work, depriving her of needed assistance and causing her to work longer hours.*fn7 (Id. ¶¶ 21, 23.)

Beginning in 1997, two years after she had rebuffed Montanye's advances, plaintiff maintains that she felt the Board gradually turn against her.*fn8 (Lange Dep. at 273.) Among other things, plaintiff alleges that Board members would not respond to her calls or memos, embarrassed her at meetings and interrupted her when she was speaking. (Id. at 145.) On one occasion, for example, Weeks was observed becoming "very loud and very vocal" publically about apparent problems with DAB. (Pl. Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 64.) According to Frerichs, this was the first time in eight years that he saw Weeks express anger towards plaintiff. (Frerichs Dep. at 16.) On another occasion, plaintiff claims that Weeks embarrassed her in front of the Board by asking her questions that she wasn't prepared to answer. (Lange Dep. at 195.) Plaintiff also discusses a situation in which Weeks asked her to attend a DAB meeting at a senior center. (Lange Aff. ¶ 12.) At the meeting, one senior citizen called her a liar while Weeks stood by silently. (Id.)

Plaintiff alleges that after she complained about Montanye, the DAB department stopped getting notice of Town events, causing her to miss Town meetings and parties. (Lange Aff. ¶ 28.) For example, plaintiff claims that in December 1998, the DAB department did not receive word of a Christmas party to which Town employees were invited. (Lange. Dep. at 234.) The invitation was posted on a bulletin board in the Highway Department lunchroom which was not frequented by DAB employees. (Id. at 236.) In addition, plaintiff claims that she wasn't allowed to apply unused sick days from previous years although some other employees were permitted to do so.*fn9 (Id. at 154-80.) She also claims that the Board failed to raise DAB drivers' salaries to the going rate, making it difficult for her to operate her department. (Id. at 152-53.)

On June 7, 2000, plaintiff's attorney, Michael Sussman, wrote to Frerichs expressing his concern with plaintiff's difficulties at work "due to her refusal to become sexually involved with another Town employee." (Id., Ex. 2.) A meeting was held on June 23, 2000 with plaintiff, Sussman, Frerichs and Town Attorney Kevin Dowd. Sussman explained the unwelcome gifts and cards that plaintiff had received from Montanye, as well as his threats to sever her relationship with the Board. Plaintiff pointed out instances of hostile behavior by the Board and asked to be physically separated from Montanye. (Id. 42.) Frerichs responded that he felt the matter was serious and would look into it. (Id.) On July 19, 2000, Dowd wrote a letter to Sussman in which he stated that, following the June 23 meeting, the Board held a special session followed by a conversation with Montanye and an additional executive session. (Id., Ex. 4.) Dowd explained that the Board wished to dispel plaintiff's perception that the Board was against her, and invited her to participate in an executive session to discuss DAB matters. (Id.) Dowd also stated that the Board at times had been dissatisfied with operational problems of DAB and offered to provide plaintiff with extra training. (Id.) This suit followed.*fn10

DISCUSSION

I. Summary Judgment Standard

Under FED. R. CIV. P. 56, summary judgment may be granted where there are no genuine issues of material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See FED. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 247-50, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). The burden rests on the movant to demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). A genuine factual issue exists if there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmovant for a reasonable jury to return a verdict in his favor. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505. In deciding whether summary judgment is appropriate, the court resolves all ambiguities and draws all permissible factual inferences against the movant. See id. at 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505. To defeat summary judgment, the nonmovant must go beyond the pleadings and "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, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986). The court's role at this stage of the litigation is not to decide issues of material fact, but to discern whether any exist. See Gallo v. Prudential Residential Servs., L.P., 22 F.3d 1219, 1224 (2d Cir. 1994). Furthermore, in deciding a summary judgment motion in an action based on workplace discrimination, a district court "must proceed cautiously because . . . allegations usually require inquiry into the employer's true motivation for and subjective intent in making the ...


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