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COOK v. HATCH ASSOCIATES

August 3, 2005.

NANCY COOK, Plaintiff,
v.
HATCH ASSOCIATES, Defendant.



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

DECISION AND ORDER

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff alleges that the defendant, her former employer Hatch Associates*fn1 ("Hatch" or "defendant"), discriminated against her in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq., the Equal Pay Act, 29 U.S.C. § 206 et seq., and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., by denying her work assignments, training, mentoring, promotion opportunities, and ultimately by terminating her employment because of her gender and age. Pending is defendant's motion for summary judgment on all of plaintiff's claims.

  BACKGROUND

  Plaintiff worked in Hatch's Buffalo office as a designer in the mechanical department from 1992 to 2001. Plaintiff was the only female employee within the designer classification for the mechanical department.*fn2 The remainder of the designers in the mechanical department were male. It is undisputed that the duties of a designer included both drafting and design work. Plaintiff is particularly adept at a type of computer assisted drafting called 3D (three-dimensional) Modeling, and performed most of the 3D Modeling in Hatch's Buffalo office. According to plaintiff, the male designers in the mechanical department performed the more desirable design work and were routinely provided more design opportunities than plaintiff, who was routinely assigned the 3D Modeling work despite her requests for design work.*fn3 Plaintiff alleges that the male designers were also provided with training for design work and with mentors who assisted them in developing their design skills, and that she was not provided with training or a mentor. Plaintiff contends that when the Buffalo office suffered a decrease in work in 2001, the male designers retained their employment while she was terminated.

  On May 22, 2003, defendant filed a motion for summary judgment on all of plaintiff's claims. On March 19, 2004, Magistrate Judge Hugh B. Scott issued a Report and Recommendation in which he concluded that defendant's motion for summary judgment should be granted in part and denied in part. He recommended that plaintiff's equal pay and age discrimination claims should be dismissed because plaintiff failed to show a prima facie case of discrimination. The Magistrate Judge reached the same conclusion with respect to plaintiff's claim for gender discrimination based on the failure to promote. Plaintiff does not object to these recommendations and they are adopted.

  The Magistrate Judge further recommended that defendant's motion for summary judgment should be denied with respect to plaintiff's gender discrimination claims alleging failure to train and mentor, failure to provide work opportunities and termination on the basis of gender. The Magistrate Judge concluded that plaintiff had demonstrated a prima facie case of gender discrimination and that defendant failed to articulate a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for its actions. Defendants object to these conclusions. The Court heard oral argument on the objections on August 4, 2004 and March 10, 2005. DISCUSSION

  The district court reviews de novo the portions of a Report and Recommendation to which objections have been filed. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A). If a party fails to object to a portion of a Report and Recommendation, further review is generally precluded. See Mario v. P&C Food Markets, Inc., 313 F.3d 758, 766 (2d Cir. 2002) (citing Small v. Sec'y of Health and Human Servs., 892 F.2d 15, 16 (2d Cir. 1989)). Upon de novo review of the Report and Recommendation, and after reviewing the submissions and hearing argument from the parties, the Court adopts in part and rejects in part the conclusions of the Report and Recommendation.

  The sufficiency of plaintiff's claims is analyzed using the three step burden shifting framework set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973) and its progeny. First, plaintiff must demonstrate a prima facie case of employment discrimination. This is generally satisfied by a showing that (1) plaintiff is a member of a protected class; (2) plaintiff was qualified for the position; (3) she suffered some adverse employment action; (4) under circumstances giving rise to an inference of unlawful discrimination. If she does so, the burden then shifts to the defendant to articulate a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for its actions. See Texas Dep't of Community Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 254 (1981). If the defendant articulates such a reason, the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to show, or at this stage raise an issue of fact, that the defendant's proffered reason is not the true reason for its actions and is merely a pretext for discrimination. Id. at 253. On a motion for summary judgment, a plaintiff need only provide "sufficient admissible evidence from which a rational finder of fact could infer that more likely than not she was the victim of intentional discrimination." Bickerstaff v. Vassar College, 196 F.3d 435, 447 (2d Cir. 1999).

  A. Failure to Assign Design Work

  Hatch concedes, for purposes of this motion, that plaintiff can establish a prima facie case of discriminatory work assignments. However, Hatch objects to the Magistrate Judge's conclusion that it failed to proffer a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for its failure to assign design work to plaintiff. The Magistrate Judge concluded that defendant failed to articulate a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for not assigning design work to plaintiff because "the fact that a female employee may perform a specific task in an exceptional manner does not warrant restricting that female employee to a limited role which affords less job security and negatively impacts promotional opportunities. . . ." See Report and Recommendation at 12.

  Hatch maintains that plaintiff's supervisor, Chris Zagotsis, who was the lead mechanical engineer, did not assign design work to plaintiff because he determined that her design skills were "average to below average," while her 3D Modeling skills were superior. Hatch contends that Zagotsis' failure to assign design work to plaintiff because of her inferior skill is a legitimate exercise of business judgment, and thus is a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for its actions. Hatch also argues that, as plaintiff has submitted no evidence that this reason is a pretext for discrimination, its motion for summary judgment should be granted.

  In order to meet its burden on a motion for summary judgment, a defendant "need only produce admissible evidence which would allow the trier of fact rationally to conclude that the employment decision had not been motivated by discriminatory animus." Burdine, 450 U.S. at 257. The defendant's burden is one of production, not persuasion, and therefore it "can involve no credibility assessment." See Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Products, 530 U.S. 133, 142 (2001) (internal citation omitted). A defendant's exercise of business judgment is commonly accepted as a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for taking an employment action. See Montana v. First Fed. Savings & Loan Assoc., 869 F.2d 100 (2d Cir. 1989). Defendant has satisfied its burden of articulating a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for its actions.

  The Court also concludes that plaintiff has raised genuine issues of material fact as to whether Hatch's articulated reason is a pretext for gender discrimination. In his declaration in support of Hatch's motion for summary judgment, Zagotsis stated that his responsibility was to assign employees to projects based on the needs of the project and the skills of available employees. See Zagotsis Declaration at ¶ 23. The specific work assignments were made by the individual project manager. Id. Zagotsis further stated that it was the employee's responsibility to request certain work from the project manager. Id. Yet, he admitted that when acting as a project manager himself, he assigned work based on availability and skills and did not consider employee preference. Id. at ¶ 25. Finally, Zagotsis ...


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