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KNIGHT v. CITY OF NEW YORK

February 20, 2004.

RANDALL KNIGHT, Plaintiff, -against- CITY OF NEW YORK, NEW YORK CITY POLICE DEPARTMENT, CAPT. GLEN D'OTTAVIO (individually and in his official capacity), CAPT. CHARLES STRAVALLE (individually and in his official capacity), LT CHRISTOPHER DENNIS (individually and in his official capacity), LT THOMAS COMMINS (individually and in his official capacity), LT GREGORY MANGINI, (individually and in his official capacity), ROBERT OLDHAM (individually and in his official capacity), SGT. JAMES CAVUTO (individually and in his official capacity), SGT. WILLIAM ROSTKOWSKI (individually and in his official capacity), Defendants


The opinion of the court was delivered by: DENNY CHIN, District Judge

OPINION

In this civil rights case, plaintiff Randall Knight, a Police Officer in the New York City Police Department (the "NYPD"), alleges that his employer and supervisors unlawfully Page 2 retaliated against him for filing a sexual harassment complaint against a coworker with the NYPD's Office of Equal Employment Opportunity ("OEEO"). The alleged retaliation took the form of negative performance evaluations, unwarranted or excessive disciplinary action, and excessive monitoring during his scheduled tour of duty. Defendants, the City of New York, the NYPD, Captain Glen D'Ottavio, Captain Charles Stravalle, Lieutenant Christopher Dennis, Lieutenant Thomas Commins, Lieutenant Gregory Mangini, Lieutenant Robert Oldham, Sergeant James Cavuto, and Sergeant William Rostkowski, (collectively "defendants"), move for summary judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56.

  Defendants present substantial evidence that the disciplinary actions against Knight and the subpar performance evaluations he received in the years following his OEEO complaint were either too minor to support a retaliation claim, or for legitimate, non-retaliatory reasons. Knight has failed to respond with sufficient evidence to generate an issue of material fact for trial. Accordingly, and for the reasons set forth below, defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted and the complaint is dismissed. Page 3

  STATEMENT OF THE CASE

 I. The Facts

  The undisputed facts are as follows:
A. Plaintiff's Unit
  Knight has been a NYPD Police Officer since 1984. (Plt. Dep. at 11). In September 1997, Knight transferred to the NYPD's Applicant Processing Division ("APD"). (Id. at 12). APD interviews and conducts background checks on applicants for positions as police officers, school safety agents, traffic enforcement agents, and Department of Environmental Protection officers. (Id. at 72). Each APD investigator evaluates the candidates assigned to him or her and creates a case review sheet reflecting initial interviews and a background check of the candidate. (Id.). Investigators then submit their case review sheets to their supervisor for approval. (Dennis Dep. at 18).

  B. The Harassment Complaint

  In January 1999, Knight notified Sgt. John Costello that he was being sexually harassed by an APD civilian investigator, Brenda Idris. (Plt. Dep. at 496). Costello immediately referred Knight's complaint to the OEEO, but Knight subsequently elected to have APD investigate the complaint under OEEO oversight. (D'Ottavio Dep. at 17). In March 1999, while the outcome of the investigation was pending, APD transferred Idris to a different floor of the APD office after Knight complained that she continued to harass him. (Plt. Dep. at 493-94). Page 4 To avoid further interaction and conflict, neither Knight nor Idris was permitted on the floor where the other worked without permission and an escort. (Id. at 480, 479-80, 487; Rostkowski Dep. at 25). Knight was never denied permission to go to Idris's floor. (Plt. Dep. at 484-85).

  On September 17, 1999, the OEEO notified Knight by letter that his complaint against Idris was substantiated. (Id. at 491). Once the Police Commissioner's Office had approved discipline for Idris, she was transferred to the APD's Brooklyn office in December 1999. (Id. at 482; Friedman Decl. Exh. G). Knight was thereafter permitted to go to all floors of his building without permission or an escort. (Plt. Dep. at 482).

  C. Knight's Performance Evaluations Following the Harassment Complaint

  Because of several OEEO complaints and low productivity at the Brooklyn office, in March 1999 three supervisors from the Queens APD office were transferred to the APD's Brooklyn office, and three supervisors were transferred from Brooklyn to Queens. (Dennis Dep. at 13; Plt. Dep at 93, 508-09). Sgt. Mary Dumphrey became Knight's squad sergeant and immediate supervisor. (Rostkowski Dep. at 18). In July 1999 Rostkowski was transferred to the Queens office and replaced Dumphrey as Knight's supervisor. (Id. at 10).

  Problems between Knight and Rostkowski soon developed. According to Rostkowski, Knight ignored his instructions on completing certain tasks and disregarded deadlines. (Id. at 56-57). Page 5 Rostkowski also noticed that frequently Knight submitted case review sheets with missing information and that his work required corrections significantly more often than the other investigators Rostkowski supervised. (Id. at 21; Commins Dep. at 135, 138). For example, one of the first case review sheets Knight submitted to Rostkowski contained a major error that nearly resulted in the mistaken hiring of a candidate. (Rostkowski Dep. at 22).

  1. The 1999 Evaluation

  In or about March 2000, Rostkowski met with Knight to give him a formal performance evaluation for 1999. (Id. at 30, 57-8; Plt. Dep at 348-49). Rostkowski rated Knight "below competent." (Friedman Decl. Exh. J). The 1999 evaluation reflected Sgt. Rostkowski's belief that Knight had "the potential of being a competent investigator," but that Knight's casework was "never neatly prepared" and was "usually missing pertinent information." (Id.). The evaluation also reflected his intention to increase monitoring Knight for performance reasons. (Id.). Knight declined his option to appeal the 1999 evaluation. (Plt. Dep. at 358; Friedman Decl., Exh. J).

  2. The 2000 Evaluation

  In April 2001, Rostkowski met with Knight to discuss Knight's annual performance for 2000. (Plt. Dep. at 389-90; Friedman Decl. Exh. K(1)). Rostkowski showed Knight a draft review sheet that again rated Knight "below competent" for the year. The evaluation reflected Rostkowski's belief that Knight's Page 6 performance in investigating and completing his cases suffered due to Knight's failure to "put forth enough time or effort into his investigations." (Friedman Decl. Exh. K(1)). Although Knight's performance in 2000 had improved from the previous year, Knight's "work [was] not the caliber of a veteran investigator." (Id.). Knight refused to sign the evaluation because he disagreed with Rostkowski's use of definitive terms such as "always" and "never" when describing the negative aspects of his performance. (Plt. Dep. at 392).

  D. Knight Appeals the 2000 Evaluation and is Assigned a Different Supervisor

  Knight advised Rostkowski that he would appeal the evaluation and asked for a transfer from Rostkowski's squad. (Id. at 396-97, 401). Several days later, Knight submitted a memorandum stating the reasons for his appeal. The memorandum concluded with Knight's opinion that the negative emphasis in the evaluation indicates "that it is based on a personal and not a Supervisor/Employee level as required by guidelines." (Friedman Decl. Exh. Q(2)).

  After submitting the appeal memorandum, Knight met with Captain Stravalle and Lieutenant Commins about the evaluation. (Plt. Dep. at 441). Stravalle read to Knight from a list of incidents concerning Knight over the prior two years. (Id. at 406). The list's entries documented instances of Knight submitting case review sheets with numerous discrepancies and errors, Knight's name being entered on the minor violations log Page 7 for failing to wear a tie after being instructed twice, and numerous instances of Knight failing to sign in and out for duty properly. (Friedman Decl. Ex. P). After giving Knight a copy of the list, Stravalle advised him that he would be transferred out of Rostkowski's squad as he had requested, and that his new supervisor would evaluate him after a three-month interim period. (Plt. Dep. at 406).

  As a result of the appeal, Rostkowski revised the evaluation to reflect that Knight's work is "usually sloppily prepared" instead of "is always sloppily prepared." (Friedman Decl. Exh. K(2)).

  1. Knight's Job Performance Under the New Supervisor

  In May 2001, Sgt. Mary Elizabeth Tria assumed direct supervisory responsibility over Knight. (Tria Decl. ¶ 2). At Stravalle's request, Tria kept notes to document both positive and negative aspects of Knight's performance. (Id. ¶ 3). During the interim period, Tria documented 16 unsatisfactory performance incidents by Knight. (Id. ¶ 4).

  For example, on May 24, 2001, Knight submitted a case review sheet that was missing the candidate's employment verification. Knight had been instructed three times to correct the problem and lied to Rostkowski about the status of the case, saying that Tria had signed off on it when she had not. (Id. ¶ 5). On several occasions, Knight incorrectly calculated a candidate's age. (E.g., id. ¶ 6). On one occasion the miscalculation disqualified an otherwise eligible candidate. Page 8 (Id. ¶ 9). Tria also documented several instances in which Knight changed his own tour of duty without authorization, or simply showed up to work late. (Id. ¶ 10).

  The positive incidents Tria documented during the interim period concerned Knight cleaning an office refrigerator, his submission of a list of outstanding cases in a timely manner, and his occasional compliance with the requirement that he request tour changes in advance. (Id. ¶ 12).

  2. The Interim Evaluation

  In August 2001, Tria gave Knight an evaluation for the interim period rating him "below competent." (Friedman Decl., Exh. L(2)). On the evaluation, Tria wrote that Knight's work "usually needs correcting or clarifying," and that Knight was "somewhat lax in performing the duties, tasks and functions of an experienced investigator." (Id.; Plt. Dep. at 455).

  Prior to preparing the evaluation, Tria was told by Commins that if she did not give Knight a negative evaluation, "it would make [Rostkowski] look foolish." (Tria Dep. at 54). Commins also told her, "it is your evaluation . . . you do what you want." (Id.).

  3. Knight's Evaluations Improve

  In January 2002, Tria evaluated Knight's performance for 2001 and gave him a rating of "above competent." The evaluation reflected Tria's belief that Knight's case management skills had improved and that he had "developed a more positive Page 9 attitude towards his work, peers and supervisors." (Friedman Decl. Exh. M).

  In January 2003, Tria evaluated Knight's performance for 2002 and rated him as ...


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