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GONZALEZ v. PARISH OF TRINITY CHURCH

May 24, 2004.

MARTHA GONZALEZ, Plaintiff, — against — PARISH OF TRINITY CHURCH, Defendant


The opinion of the court was delivered by: RICHARD CASEY, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Martha Gonzalez ("Plaintiff") brings this suit against defendant Parish of Trinity Church ("Trinity"), alleging that she was terminated from her employment in violation of Title YE of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000-e et seq. (Title VII). Discovery is complete, and Defendant now brings this motion for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is GRANTED.

I. BACKGROUND

  Martha Gonzalez, a woman of Puerto Rican descent, was employed by Trinity from February 11, 1985 through January 4, 2000, the date on which she was terminated. At the time of her termination, Plaintiff was employed as a receptionist/secretary in the church's Finance Division, in which capacity she was responsible for the preparation and transmittal of data to Trinity's outside payroll service, Automatic Data Processing, Inc. ("ADP"), as well as other responsibilities, such as the deposit of donations into church bank accounts.

  In October 1999, Trinity observed that its actual payroll expense exceeded its budget, and the General Ledger Department performed an analysis to determine the source of the variance. (Knoll Aff. at ¶ 3.) Through this analysis, Trinity determined that on June 23, 1999, Gonzalez received seventy hours of advance vacation pay, totaling $1,217.92, in addition to the regular paycheck that she received on that date. (Knoll Aff. at ¶ 3; La Vacca Aff. at ¶ 3.) This advance vacation pay was not deducted in any subsequent period, resulting in an overpayment to Gonzalez. (Knoll Aff. at ¶ 3; La Vacca Aff. at ¶ 3.).

  In order to receive advance vacation pay, Trinity's procedures require an employee to submit a written request, signed by her supervisor, to the Human Resources Department for approval at least three weeks in advance of the first scheduled vacation day. (La Vacca Aff. at ¶ 4.) This procedure ensures that the advance is properly recorded and that the employee is not overpaid. Id.

  Gonzalez did not notify the Human Resources Department of her advance vacation pay request; nor did she obtain the consent of her supervisor. Rather, Gonzalez arranged for the payment directly through ADP, even though advance vacation pay is supposed to be handled by the Human Resources Department, not Gonzalez. (Knoll Aff. at ¶ 4; La Vacca Aff. at ¶ 5).

  Gonzalez did nothing to rectify the overpayment until confronted by the General Ledger Department more than four months later. (Knoll Aff. at ¶ 4.) In November 1999, Kevin Kapadia of the General Ledger Department approached Gonzalez about the overpayment. (Knoll Aff. at ¶ 4; La Vacca Aff. at ¶ 6.) Gonzalez did not deny the overpayment, and arrangements were made for it to be deducted from subsequent paychecks. (Knoll Aff. at ¶ 4; La Vacca Aff. at ¶ 6.)

  Trinity subsequently undertook a detailed analysis of (1) Gonzalez' timesheets on which she recorded her hours of work; (2) the church's payroll transmittals, which were prepared by Gonzalez; and (3) Gonzalez' earnings statements for the years 1998 and 1999. This investigation revealed more than four separate instances in which Gonzalez arranged to receive unauthorized overtime pay. (See La Vacca Aff. at ¶ 6-12.) Because all discrepancies were in Gonzalez' favor, Trinity determined that Gonzalez had misappropriated church funds. (Knoll Aff. at ¶ 6-7.)

  On January 4, 2000, Constance Gerard, Director of Human Resources; Margaret Nodine, Gonzalez' direct supervisor; and Joseph La Vacca, Assistant Controller, met with Gonzalez. During this meeting, Gonzalez was informed of the investigation and that she was being terminated.

  II. DISCUSSION

  In order to prevail on a motion for summary judgment, the moving party must establish that there are no genuine issues of material fact and that judgment is warranted as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby. Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986). Facts, and all inferences therefrom, must be viewed in a light most favorable to the non-moving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd, v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986); American Gas. Co. v. Nordic Leasing, Inc., 42 F.3d 725, 728 (2d Cir. 1994). If the moving party meets its burden, then the non-movant must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250.

  In discrimination cases, a trial court must be particularly cautious about granting summary judgment where the employer's intent is at issue, because direct proof is often lacking. Gallo v. Prudential Residential Servs., 22 F.3d 1219, 1224 (2d Cir. 1994). The court, therefore, must look to circumstantial evidence, which, if believed, would show discrimination. Id. Summary judgement may be appropriate, however, where no evidence exists or where only conclusory allegations have been offered to suggest that an employer's motives are improper. Minott v. Port Auth of New York, 116 F. Supp.2d 513, 518 (S.D.N.Y. 2000).

  A plaintiff alleging that she was discharged in violation of Title VII carries the initial burden of establishing a prima facie case of discrimination by showing that (1) she belongs to a member of a protected minority; (2) she was qualified for the position; (3) she suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) the adverse employment action occurred in circumstances ...


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