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August 29, 2003


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Laura Taylor Swain, District Judge [ Page 2]


Defendants in this employment discrimination case move for an order pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for summary judgment dismissing Plaintiff's claims and for an order awarding Defendants their costs and attorneys' fees. Plaintiff asserts that Defendants violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964, as amended ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C.A. sections 2000e-2 and 2000e-3 (West 1994), the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, as amended (the "ADA"), 42 U.S.C.A. section 12112 (West 1995), 42 U.S.C. § 1981 ("section 1981"), and Section 296 of the New York Executive Law in connection with denials of promotions and the terms and conditions of her employment. Plaintiff has also asserted claims of breach of contract, promissory estoppel, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Plaintiff cross-moves for summary judgment on her contract and estoppel claims. The Court has subject matter jurisdiction of Plaintiff's Title VII, ADA, and section 1981 claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and of the state law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

The Court has considered thoroughly all submissions in connection with the instant motions. For the following reasons, Plaintiff's motion is denied, and Defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part.


The following facts are undisputed unless characterized otherwise. Plaintiff Deborah Williams-Velasquez ("Plaintiff" or "Williams"), a black woman born in Grenada, West Indies, began her employment with defendant The Guardian Life Insurance Co. ("Guardian") in 1981 as a Group Issue Reviewer in the Group Issue Department at "Grade 3" level. (Pl.'s Aff. ¶ 3; Defs.' Local Rule 56.1 Statement ("DR56.1") ¶ 10.) Guardian is a mutual insurance company that provides various financial services to individual and institutional clients. (DR56.1 ¶ 4.) In May [ Page 3]

1987, Plaintiff joined Guardian's Group Contracts Department as a Junior Contract Consultant at a "Grade 7" level. (Pl.'s Aff. ¶ 4.) Plaintiff's responsibilities involved reviewing insurance policies for compliance with relevant state law, drafting proposed contract language for submission to state insurance departments, and developing computer language for approved insurance forms. (Pl.'s Local Rule 56.1 Statement ("PR56.1") at 10-11.)

1991 Promotion

Plaintiff began working with Defendant Steven Toby ("Toby") when she joined Group Contracts in 1987. In 1990, Toby became the supervisor of Group Contracts, making him Williams' supervisor as well. (PR56.1 at 5 and evidence cited therein.) Toby became manager of Group Contracts in 1991. Id. In 1991, Linda Ilkowitz, a white woman, was the Assistant Vice President in Charge of Group Contracts and Jack David was the departing manager. (DR56.1 ¶ 17.) When Toby was promoted to Manager, Sharon Wayne, a white woman, was promoted to the Group Contracts supervisor position. Id. ¶¶ 17-18.

At the time of Wayne's promotion to supervisor, she had been working in Group Contracts for one year. Id. ¶ 19. Williams had been working in Group Contracts for four years. Familiarity with Guardian products was a factor in evaluating employees for promotions. (PR56.1 at 33-34 and evidence cited therein.) Prior to being employed at Guardian, Wayne had supervisory and training experience. (Id. and evidence cited therein.)

Defendants assert that Ilkowitz and David made the decision to promote Wayne to supervisor. (DR56.1 ¶ 18.) Plaintiff contends that Toby made the decision, and that in doing so Toby failed to "do a direct comparison of how each person lined up with each person." (PR56.1 at 33-34 and evidence cited therein, quoting Toby Dep., Ex. E to Cerasia Aff., at 42.) [ Page 4]

Williams received a 6.2% pay increase in 1991, and pay increases in 1992, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, and 1998. (DR56.1 ¶ 11.) In 1993, Williams was promoted to Senior Contract Analyst Grade 13, and in 1994 she was promoted to Advanced Contract Analyst Grade 14. Id. Williams had requested both promotions. (Williams Dep., Ex. A to Cerasia Aff., at 46.) Grade 14 was the highest grade level available for an Advanced Contract Analyst. (DR56.1 ¶ 11.) Williams consistently received positive performance reviews during her time at Guardian. (Id. ¶ 12.)

1995 Promotion

In July 1995, Ilkowitz left Group Contracts to join Guardian's legal department. (DR56.1 ¶ 22.) In October 1995, Defendant Timothy English ("English") replaced Linda Ilkowitz as Assistant Vice President for Group Contracts. (Id. ¶ 5.) Prior to 1995, English did not have any managerial relationship to Williams. Id. Before Ilkowitz left Group Contracts, she recommended that Toby be promoted from Manager to Director of Group Contracts, an officer-level position that did not involve any changes in his job duties. (Id. ¶¶ 22-23.) On July 1, 1995, Toby became Director of Group Contracts. (Id. ¶ 6.)

At all times relevant to this case, Defendant Sandy Herman ("Herman") was the Vice President of Group Pricing and Standards for Guardian; Group Contracts was one of the departments that reported to Herman. (Id. ¶ 7.) Williams had an "excellent working relationship" with Toby, a good working relationship with English, and there was no animosity between Williams and Herman. (Williams Dep. at 77, 102).

Concurrently with Toby's promotion to Director, Terry Fedenczak-Bober ("Fedenczak-Bober"), a white female, was promoted from Manager to Director of the Document Automation Department, another department that reported to English and Herman. (DR56.1 ¶ 24.) [ Page 5]

Before leaving her Vice President position, Ilkowitz recommended that Wayne and Anton Tibbe ("Tibbe") be promoted to the Manager positions vacated by Toby and Fedenczak-Bober. Id. After Toby and Fedenczak-Bober were promoted to Director, their Manager positions were eliminated by Guardian's Product Improvement Department ("PIP"). (Id. ¶ 26.) PIP, a department separate from Human Resources, monitored, maintained, and recommended appropriate organizational structure and staffing levels within Guardian. Id. Eliminating the Manager positions was a condition of the promotion of Toby and Fedenczak-Bober to Director, in order to avoid having a single supervisor who reported to a single manager who in turn reported to a single director, a structure Guardian refers to as a "single line reporting system." (Herman Dep., Ex. F to Cerasia Aff., at 46-48; DR56.1 ¶ 30 and evidence cited therein.)

In 1995 when Toby first learned that he was to be promoted to Director, he believed that Wayne would be promoted to Manager, opening the Supervisor of Group Contracts position for Williams. (Toby Dep. at 58-60.) Plaintiff asserts that in April or May 1995, after informing her of his and Wayne's upcoming promotions, Toby said to Williams, "I would like to offer you the position of supervisor in the department." (Williams Dep. at 70.) Defendants claim that Toby merely told Williams that he would recommend her for the Supervisor position. (DR56.1 ¶ 35 and evidence cited therein.) Toby believed that Williams was the best candidate for Supervisor. (Id. ¶ 36.) Williams testified at her deposition that, from time to time in 1995, Toby would update her on the progress of her promotion paperwork by telling her "[the papers] were on Sandy's desk," or "[the papers] were on Jack Palotta's desk." (Williams Dep. at 75.) Williams believed that her promotion papers were being processed and that it was just a question of "when [the papers] would be signed off." Id. [ Page 6]

Toward the end of 1995, Wayne took maternity leave, and Toby asked Williams to assume some of Wayne's duties, including supervising the work of other employees. (Toby Dep. at 76-78.) Williams testified at deposition that, when Toby approached her about handling Wayne's duties, he told her: "If you do this for me and if by the time your promotion is due — if by the time your review is due, your promotion has not yet gone through, I will take care of you." (Williams Dep. at 76.)

In the fall of 1995, Jack Palotta, then Senior Vice President of Group Insurance and Herman's superior, asked English for his input on the proposed promotions of Wayne and Tibbe from Supervisor to Manager in their respective departments. (DR56.1 ¶ 27.) English agreed with Ilkowitz's recommendations regarding Wayne and Tibbe, but in order to complete their promotions, the eliminated Manager positions had to be reestablished. (Id. ¶¶ 30.) Wayne and Tibbe's promotions received final approval in April 1996. A condition of their promotion, and of the reinstatement of the Manager positions, was the elimination of the Supervisor positions they had occupied. (DR56.1 ¶ 30.) Supervisor positions were eliminated in Group Contracts, Document Automation, and Group Pricing and Standards, and those positions have never been reinstated. (Id. ¶¶ 31, 34.)

After Wayne's promotion was announced in the spring of 1996, Williams grew concerned about her own promotion and asked Toby about it. Toby told her not to worry about it, "Tim is working on it. Now that Sharon's promotion has gone through, Tim is working on getting yours through." (PR56.1 at 58 and evidence cited therein.)

In 1995, Guardian began to review staffing and promotions within a smaller budget. (DR56.1 ¶ 40.) In 1996, Guardian engaged in the Process and Cost Transformation initiative, [ Page 7]

known as "PACT," which included a revamping of Guardian's Group division and a re-evaluation of all positions in Group Contracts. (Id.) Defendants submit that PACT had no direct impact on the elimination of the Supervisor position, but that department heads maintained a hiring freeze and were focused on reducing expenses during 1995-1996. (Id.) Plaintiff maintains that the hiring freeze only halted the hiring of employees from outside the company, and that the phase of PACT that was to affect Group Contracts was never implemented. (PR56.1 at 59 and evidence cited therein.)

The July 1996 Mortgage Letter

In July 1996, Williams asked Toby on two separate occasions to write a letter to her mortgage company to help Plaintiff and her husband get a mortgage. (DR56.1 ¶ 41 and evidence cited therein.) Defendants contend that Williams specifically requested a letter mentioning that she was to be promoted to supervisor within one month, and that the promotion would involve a pay increase. Id. Plaintiff asserts that she asked Toby to put in writing the promises he had been making to her. (PR56.1 at 62.) After the first request, Toby informed Williams that he would have to speak with English before writing the letter. (Id.) On or about July 12, 1996, Toby wrote a letter on Guardian stationery to National Standard Mortgage, stating in part that "Ms. Williams has been a valued employee in my Department for many years. She is due an annual raise of $2182.80, which will take effect on August 1, 1996. An additional promotional increase of $2112.00 will take effect on September 1, 1996." (Ex. A to Compl.)

Defendants assert that Toby did not inform English about the letter, and that none of Toby's supervisors reviewed the letter. (DR56.1 ¶ 46.) Defendants further assert that Toby's only purpose in writing the July 12, 1996, letter was to assist Williams in obtaining a mortgage, although [ Page 8]

they concede that, when Toby wrote the letter, he was unaware that the Supervisor job had been eliminated, and he still expected Williams to be promoted to Supervisor. (Id. ¶¶ 43, 47.) Toby did not learn that the Supervisor position had been eliminated until the Summer of 1998. (Id. ¶ 49.)

Throughout the duration of her employment with Guardian, Plaintiff did not apply for any positions outside the company, and she applied for only one other position within the company, a "Product Supervisor" position, in 1997. (Id. ¶ 48; PR56.1 at 67-68.)

1997 Product Supervisor Position

In July 1997, Mickey Schreiber ("Schreiber"), a Grade 16 analyst in the Group Pensions Department, was transferred on the recommendation of Herman to Group Contracts as a Grade 16 Product Supervisor. (DR56.1 ¶ 51.) Defendants contend that Guardian's hiring freeze did not apply to intra-company transfers, and characterize the transfer as a "lateral move." (Id.)

Plaintiff asserts that Schreiber's transfer to the Product Supervisor position violated Guardian personnel policy. (PR56.1 at 70-71.) Specifically, Plaintiff contends that the position was never posted, and that English did not ...

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