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March 24, 2004.

PAULA N. HILL, Plaintiff; -against- CITIBANK CORP. and ADVANTAGE STAFFING, INC., Defendants

The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOHN KOELTL, District Judge


This is an employment discrimination action brought by the plaintiff, Paula N. Hill, against two defendants: Citibank, N.A. ("Citibank") d/b/a Citigroup Asset Management and named in this action as Citibank Corp.; and Advantage Staffing, Inc. ("Advantage"), now known as Advantage Human Resourcing. The plaintiff was employed by Advantage, a staffing agency, and was assigned to work as a temporary employee at Citibank from around December 1997 to April 1999. The plaintiff alleges that she was subjected to a hostile work environment by a supervisor based on her race and that her assignment at Citibank was terminated in retaliation for her complaining about the alleged harassment to Citibank's Human Resources Department.

The plaintiff brought claims for a hostile work environment based on racial harassment and for retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., as Page 2 well as under the New York State Human Rights Law ("NYSHRL"), N.Y. Exec. Law § 296, and the New York City Human Rights Law PNYCHRL"), N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-107. The defendants moved for summary judgment pursuant Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c) dismissing the plaintiff's claims on the grounds that they are time barred and that they should be dismissed on the merits. While the motions were pending, the claims against Advantage were settled and dismissed with prejudice. This Opinion and Order, therefore, addresses only the motion by Citibank for summary judgment dismissing the claims against it.


  The following facts are undisputed unless otherwise noted.*fn1 The plaintiff was an employee of Advantage, which furnishes temporary staffing services; in or around spring of 1998, the plaintiff was placed as a temporary clerical employee with Citibank's Asset Management Operations Group (the "Operations Group" or the "Group"). (See Compl. Count One ¶ 1; Citibank's Statement of Material Facts Pursuant to Local Rule 56.1 ("Def.'s Page 3 Rule 56.1 Strut.") ¶ 1; Pl.'s Statement of Material Facts Pursuant to Local Rule 56.1 ("Pl.'s Rule 56.1 Stmt.") ¶ 1.) The Group's primary function was to provide logistical support in connection with office and employee relocations. (Def.'s Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 2.) At the time, the Operations Group was headed by Jack Carter, who was a Citibank vice president. (See id. ¶¶ 3-4.)

  The plaintiff was brought into the Group specifically to provide administrative assistance to other Vice Presidents, including Katie O'Connell, McDonald Harewood, Donald Dromm, and John Remmert. (Id. ¶ 8.) At the time that the plaintiff worked in the Group, it was in the process of relocating offices from New York City to. Stamford, Connecticut. (Id. ¶ 9.) In or around June 1998, the plaintiff's duties shifted and she began providing support primarily, although not exclusively, for Ms. O'Connell, who was responsible for a project involving Y2K (the "Y2K Project"). (Id. ¶ 10.) The plaintiff was initially paid twenty dollars per hour (id. ¶ 5), but upon being reassigned to that project, her pay was increased to thirty dollars per hour, making her the highest compensated temporary clerical employee in the Group (id. ¶ 12).

  In July 1998, a new vice president, Holly Miller, was assigned to the operations Group, having recently transferred from Citibank's London office. (Id. ¶ 13.) The plaintiff does Page 4 not claim to have experienced any harassment through June 1998, but from Ms. Miller's first day at the New York office, the work environment allegedly began to change. That first day, the plaintiff claims, Ms. Miller told a story about former, college classmates who were African American and would put Vaseline in their hair to straighten it. (See id. ¶ 15.) The plaintiff alleges that from July 1998 through at least February 18, 1999, Ms. Miller subjected her to hostile treatment that allegedly involved Ms. Miller being loud, rude, and vicious toward the plaintiff (see id. ¶ 18-19), and also involved Ms. Miller making inappropriate comments directed at the appearance, language, or customs of African Americans. (See Compl. Count One ¶ 2.)

  Specifically, the plaintiff claims that Ms. Miller on various occasions: stated that the plaintiff had a smooth complexion and complimented her hair style in front of another African American employee; related stories from her youth about feeling sorry for the "black kids" who were left around the public pool all day until their hair turned orange; expressed resentment for being called during dinner by campaigners for Rev. Al Sharpton; and made fun of the speech patterns of Jesse Jackson and blacks in general. (See Def.'s Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 20; Pl.'s Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 11.) There was also an incident, variously described by the parties, where Ms. Miller asked the plaintiff something to the effect of, "What do black people eat Page 5 on Martin Luther King's birthday?" The plaintiff, who claims to have been embarrassed and taken aback by the question, replied, "White people." (See Def.'s Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 20; Pl.'s Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 11; Tr. of Dep. of Paula N. Hill ("Pl. Dep."), dated Dec. 5, 2002, at 249-50.) The plaintiff also notes that a two — line excerpt regarding "The Life of a Slave" was sent to the communal printer used by her and another black employee, among other people. (See Def.'s Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 20, 22; Pl.'s Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 11; Decl. of Ira G. Rosenstein ("Rosenstein Decl.")' Ex. 1.)

  On or about February 13, 1999, the plaintiff complained about Ms. Miller's behavior to Ms. O'Connell, who suggested that the plaintiff contact Vanessa Henley, a Human Resources representative at Citibank. (See Def.'s Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 25-26.) On February 18, 1999, Ms. Henley, who is also African American, approached the plaintiff to discuss what the plaintiff believed to be a pattern of disrespectful and racially offensive behavior by Ms. Miller. (Id. ¶¶ 27-28.) Ms. Henley conducted an investigation, which included meeting with Ms. Miller and other Citibank vice presidents, including Mr. Harewood and Mr. Dromm. (See id. ¶ 34.) Ms. Henley concluded that Ms. Miller did not intend to hurt the plaintiff's feelings but that her behavior was unprofessional because it demonstrated poor Page 6 judgment and did not relate to Citibank business in any way. (See Decl. of Vanessa Henley ("Henley Decl.") ¶¶ 4-5.)

  On February 25, 1999, Citibank issued a "Final Warning" memorandum, drafted by the Human Resources Department and signed by Mr. Carter as director of the Group, informing Ms. Miller that her conduct had "compromised Citibank's policy on diversity and [its] commitment to maintaining a work environment that is free of harassing, hostile, and intimidating or offensive behaviors." (Rosenstein Decl. Ex. 2 (Mem. from Jack Carter to Holly Miller, dated Mar. 23, 1999 ("Warning Memo"); see Def.'s Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 43-45.) In addition to being warned that further inappropriate behavior would lead to corrective action up to and including termination, Ms. Miller was required to participate in a program on workplace diversity issues. (See Warning Memo; Def.'s Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 44.) The warning was to remain in effect for six months. (See Warning Memo.) Ms. Miller protested her receipt of the warning letter; on March 5, 1999, Ms. Miller announced that she was resigning from Citibank, and her last day was April 1, 1999. (Def.'s Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 46-47.)

  The plaintiff acknowledges that after meeting with Ms. Henley "[t]hings had calmed down" at the office, and she was generally no longer feeling hostility in the workplace. (Id. ¶ 41; Pl. Dep. at 206.) The plaintiff, however, has raised two Page 7 other incidents allegedly occurring a few weeks after her February 1999 meeting with Ms. Henley — although the plaintiff is unsure of exactly when either occurred. One alleged incident involved another vice president, Mr. Dromm. In response to the plaintiff telling a story about rude treatment by a token booth operator, Mr. Dromm allegedly called the plaintiff "a mean/nasty person" and asked her whether she pulled her switchblade out on the booth operator. (See Def.'s Rule 56.1 St. ¶¶ 23-24; Pl. Dep. at 170-72.) The plaintiff feels the remark insinuated that "blacks carry switchblades." (Pl. Dep. at 171.) In addition, the plaintiff claims that she discovered the print — out regarding "The Life of a Slave" sometime after she spoke with Ms. Henley, although she has not stated more specifically when the excerpt was discovered. (See Hill Decl. ¶ 8.)

  Also in March 1999, at the same time as Ms. Miller was leaving Citibank, a transition was occurring where Mr. Garter — the Director of the Group-was preparing to retire and Richard Galligan was preparing to take over. (See Decl. of Jack Carter ("Carter Decl.") ¶ 2; Decl. of Richard Galligan ("Galligan Decl.") ¶ 2; see generally Tr. of Dep. of Jack Carter ("Carter Dep."), dated May 12, 2003, at 23-25, 30-41.) Mr. Carter's last day was March 31, 1999, and Mr. Galligan assumed his full responsibilities in April 1999. (See Carter Decl. ¶ 2; Galligan Decl. ¶ 2.). Page 8

  Mr. Galligan has stated that upon assuming his position, he was issued a mandate to reduce expenses, and in response he reviewed several cost — cutting measures, including the reduction of temporary employee costs. (Galligan Decl. ¶ 5.) Mr. Galligan declared that in or around April 1999 he made the determination to discontinue the plaintiff's services without consulting anyone else. (Id. ¶¶ 5-8.) He decided to end the plaintiff's assignment because she was more highly compensated than any other temporary clerical employee in the Group, because* the Group was being relocated to Connecticut, and because he felt the plaintiff's services were no longer necessary. (Id. ¶ 7.) He stated that at that time he was unaware of any complaints raised by the plaintiff or any action taken against Ms. Miller. (Id. ¶¶ 9-10.)

  Pursuant to the normal business practice, Citibank informed Advantage of its decision, and on April 20, 1999, Advantage notified the plaintiff that her assignment with Citibank was being terminated. (See Def.'s Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 52.) April 19, 1999 was actually the plaintiff's final day at Citibank because she had taken personal leave starting that day. (See id. ¶ 53.)

  The plaintiff disputes the circumstances surrounding her termination from Citibank and Advantage. She contends that Mr. Carter was involved in the decision to terminate her, and that he ordered the termination because he disagreed with the actions Page 9 taken against Ms. Miller and because he allegedly resented the plaintiff for Ms. Miller's subsequent resignation. (See Pl.'s Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 28, 39-51. But see Def.'s Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 51.) The plaintiff contends that the decision to terminate her was actually made on or around March 11, 1999 and that this decision was memorialized in an email from Ms. O'Connell to Mr. Galligan that was also sent to Mr. Carter, along with other vice presidents. (See Kraft Decl. Ex. 3.) The plaintiff further contends that she was replaced by another administrative assistant, although Citibank disputes this point. (Compare Pl.'s Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 32, with Def.'s Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 57.)

  The plaintiff filed charges of discrimination with the EEOC, and the EEOC issued a Notice of Charge of Discrimination to Citibank on July 12, 2000.*fn2 (See Rosenstein Decl. Ex. 6.) The plaintiff was issued a right to sue letter by the EEOC on December 13, 2001 and filed suit against Citibank and Advantage on March 8, 2002. (See Compl.; Def.'s Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 62.)*fn3 Page 10


  The standard for granting summary judgment is well established. Summary judgment may not be granted unless "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986); Gallo v. Prudential Residential Servs. Ltd. P'ship, 22 F.3d 1219, 1223 (2d Cir. 1994). "The trial court's task at the summary judgment motion stage of the litigation is carefully limited to discerning whether there are genuine issues of material fact to be tried, not to deciding them. Its duty, in short, is confined at this point to issue — finding; it does not extend to issue — resolution." Gallo, 22 F.3d at 1224. The moving party bears the initial burden of "informing the district court of the basis for its motion" and identifying the matter that "it believes demonstrate[s] the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. The substantive law governing the case will identify those facts which are material and "only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Page 11

  In determining whether summary judgment is appropriate, a court must resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences against the moving party. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (citing United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962)); see also Gallo, 22 F.3d at 1223. Summary judgment is improper if there is any evidence in the record from any source from which a reasonable inference could be drawn in favor of the nonmoving party. See Chambers v. TRM Copy Ctrs. Corp., 43 F.3d 29, 37 (2d Cir. 1994). If the moving party meets its burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to come forward with "specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). The nonmoving party must produce evidence in the record and "may not rely simply on conclusory ...

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