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CAMERON v. CHURCH

March 21, 2003

TERENCE R. CAMERON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MARVIN V. CHURCH, HENRY J. STANTON, JAY HASHMALL, RICHARD MANLEY, PAULA REDD ZEMAN, AND THE COUNTY OF WESTCHESTER, DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Laura Taylor Swain, District Judge.

OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Terence R. Cameron ("Plaintiff" or "Cameron") brings this action against Marvin V. Church, Plaintiff's former supervisor at the Westchester County Department of Transportation ("Church" and "DOT", respectively), Henry J. Stanton, the Deputy Commissioner of the DOT ("Stanton"), Jay Hashmall, the Deputy County Executive for the County of Westchester ("Hashmall"), Richard Manley, the Director of the Westchester County Office of the Disabled ("Manley"), Paula Redd Zeman, the Commissioner of Human Resources for the County of Westchester ("Zeman"), and the County of Westchester, New York ("Westchester County" or "County") (collectively, "Defendants"). Plaintiff asserts causes of action: pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983"), for violation of his rights to free speech, freedom of association, and the right to petition the government for redress under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution; pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1981, as amended, and Section 1983, for race discrimination, retaliation, and constructive discharge; pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3), for conspiracy to discriminate and to retaliate; and, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1986, for knowledge of the conspiracy and failure to prevent it in connection with the alleged racial discrimination and retaliation. Plaintiff also seeks damages pursuant to the anti-discrimination provisions of New York Executive Law Section 296.

The Court has jurisdiction of the federal claims asserted in this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and 1343. Plaintiff does not specify a jurisdictional basis for his claims under the New York Executive Law; he presumably intends to invoke the Court's supplemental jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. secction 1367 as to those claims, and the Court finds that it has jurisdiction of the claims under that statutory provision.

Before the Court are a motion by Church for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 and a motion by the remaining Defendants to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Both motions are premised principally on arguments that the instant action is precluded in whole or in part by the dismissal of an earlier action, Cameron v. Church, Stanton, and the County of Westchester, No. 01 Civ. 443 (BDP) (S.D.N.Y., filed January 19, 2001) (hereinafter referred to as "Cameron I"), arising from Cameron's employment with DOT, his efforts to change jobs within DOT and the eventual termination of his DOT employment.

The Court has considered thoroughly all of the submissions related to these motions. For the reasons set forth below, the Complaint will be dismissed in its entirety for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Accordingly, the Court need not, and does not, address Defendant Church's motion for summary judgment.

BACKGROUND

Factual Allegations

The Complaint alleges the following pertinent facts. In 1988, Plaintiff, a white male, was employed at the DOT. In or about September 14, 1998, he responded to a job posting for a "Program Specialist," a "Grade 10" provisional position in the DOT with an annual salary approximately $10,000 higher than the one Plaintiff was receiving at the time. Compl. ¶¶ 3, 21. Plaintiff was well qualified for the program specialist position. Id. ¶¶ 10, 22. On or about October 13, 1998, Plaintiff was interviewed for the position and was advised by the interview committee that he had impressed them and done "very well" on the interview. Id. ¶ 23. The committee then recommended to Church, a black male, and Stanton, a white male, the appointment of the applicants in order of qualifications, determining that Plaintiff was the second most qualified candidate for promotion. Id.; see also id. at ¶¶ 4, 6. When the first ranked candidate declined the position Church, with Stanton's knowledge and concurrence, refused to appoint Plaintiff out of personal animosity for Plaintiff's cousin, Michael Finnegan ("Finnegan"), who had been Church's political opponent in Peekskill city politics some years back, and in furtherance of Church's racist policy to literally make appointments to subordinate positions of people who "look like [Church]" or who were politically connected to the Democratic Party. Id. ¶¶ 18, 24. Church, by various actions as Commissioner, showed his racist bent by his appointment and general management of the DOT. Id. ¶ 19.

On or about December 28, 1998, defendants Stanton, Church, Hashmall and Zeman agreed to skip Cameron for promotion and instead appoint one Florence Petronio ("Petronio") to the Program Specialist position by reason of Cameron's familial relationship to Finnegan and due to the political affiliation and connections of Petronio. Id. ¶ 26, 27. Plaintiff, thereafter, exercised his free speech rights by voicing his opinion about Petronio's total incompetence as Program Specialist, and Church's mismanagement of the DOT, and the effect these had on the morale and the general operation of the DOT. Id. ¶ 29.

Plaintiff successfully challenged his denial of the promotion to Program Specialist and the appointment of Petronio to the Program Specialist position in an Article 78 proceeding filed in the Westchester County Supreme Court, in which the Court found the Petronio appointment to have been arbitrary and capricious. Id. ¶ 30. Following Plaintiff's commencement of the Article 78 proceeding, Defendants took retaliatory action against him, including abolishing the Program Specialist position while it was still under legal challenge. Id. ¶ 31.

The judgment in the Article 78 proceeding was appealed to the Appellate Division, Second Department. In or about November 2000, prior to the Second Department's decision on the appeal and during the Westchester County budgeting process, Defendants met, decided to, and did submit a proposed budget for the DOT which, if adopted by Westchester's Board of Legislators, would result in the abolition of the Program Specialist position. Id. ¶ 35. Plaintiff notified members of Westchester's Board of Legislators of Defendants' retaliatory plan as it pertained to him and other Westchester employees. Id. ¶ 36. Plaintiff further notified members of Westchester's Board of Legislators that the Program Specialist position was under legal challenge, and that the proposed elimination of the position from the 2001 budget was in retaliation for his filing of a lawsuit against Westchester County. Id. ¶ 37. The proposed budget eliminating the Program Specialist position was adopted by Westchester's Board of Legislators and, on or about December 11, 2000, the position was abolished. Id. ¶ 39. According to Plaintiff, the Program Specialist position was eliminated "despite the fact that Westchester's Board of Legislators knew or should have known that a similar budget proposal submitted by the defendants for the year 2000 turned out to be a First Amendment retaliatory plan resulting in the illegal termination of two other [DOT] employees and the unlawful `creation' of a new position in a different department for Petronio." Id. ¶ 40. Plaintiff alleges that the Program Specialist position was eliminated in retaliation for Plaintiff's exercise of his First Amendment free speech rights and participation in protected activity, including the commencement of the Article 78 proceeding. Id. ¶ 42. As a result of continuing retaliation and a pervasive hostile work environment created for Plaintiff, Plaintiff was forced to resign from his County employment on February 14, 2001. Id. ¶ 45.

Plaintiff further alleges, generally and upon information and belief, that Westchester County, "through its Department of Transportation under Church," maintained a policy and practice of "denying their white employees equal employment opportunities" and of "discriminating against persons by reason of color or race and retaliating against such persons for voicing their objection to such discrimination or engaging in protected activity." Id. ¶¶ 43, 44. Plaintiff asserts that, as a result of the conduct described in the complaint, he was

unlawfully denied career advancement in the Department by reason of his familial relationship with Michael Finnegan; deprived of his job position; punished for expressions of concerns regarding matters of public interest within the Department; unlawfully caused to suffer adverse employment action intended to punish him for his exercise of First Amendment protected associational and speech rights with respect to Church; impaired [sic] Cameron's right to associate with Michael Finnegan without fear of retribution or punishment; unlawfully denied career advancement in the Department of Transportation by reason of the appointment of Petronio on the basis of her political affiliation and political activities; [and] retaliated against for the exercise of his First Amendment protected right to petition the government for redress of grievances. . . .
Id. ¶ 45.

Plaintiff's First Cause of Action, asserted pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, asserts violation of his First Amendment rights. Id. ¶ 47. In a Second Cause of Action, asserted pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and 1983, Plaintiff alleges that in the course of his employment with Westchester County, he was subjected to differential terms and conditions of employment, including harassment, denial of tuition reimbursement and denial of promotion, "because he is a white male." Id. ¶¶ 49-52. A Third Cause of Action asserts that "[a]ll the various actions taken by the defendants against Cameron subsequent to April 14, 1999, when he filed the Article 78 proceeding, constitute unlawful retaliation in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and 42 U.S.C. § 1983." Id. ¶ 55. A Fourth Cause of Action asserts that, "[b]y forcing Cameron to prematurely resign his appointment with Westchester County, the individual defendants wrongfully interfered with Cameron's employment and the County constructively discharged him, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and 42 U.S.C. § 1983." Id. ¶ 58. In his Fifth Cause of Action, Plaintiff alleges that the forced resignation constituted wrongful interference with his employment and constructive discharge in violation of section 296 of the New York State Executive Law. Id. ¶ 61. A Sixth Cause of Action, also premised on section 296 of the New York State Executive Law, asserts that "[t]he timing and surrounding circumstances of the elimination of the Program Specialist position by the County while appointment thereto was under legal challenge . . . evinced a clear intent on the part of defendants . . . and, as such was a violation of plaintiff's rights." Id. ¶ 64. In a Seventh Cause of Action, asserted pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3), Plaintiff alleges that Defendants conspired, with discriminatory intent, to deprive Cameron of rights that "were not denied to blacks similarly situated or politically connected employees of the County," in retaliation for Plaintiff's exercise of his free speech and association rights and to inhibit the exercise of such rights by Plaintiff "and similarly situated employees." Id. ¶¶ 67-69. Plaintiff's Eighth Cause of Action, seeking recovery under 42 U.S.C. § 1986, asserts that Defendants knew of the alleged conspiracy but failed to prevent it although they had the power to do so.

Procedural Background

On January 19, 2001, Plaintiff initiated the Cameron I lawsuit in this Court. Defendants Westchester County and Stanton served a motion to dismiss the Cameron I complaint for failure to state a cause of action on March 19, 2001. On that same day, defendant Church served a motion to dismiss or for summary ...


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