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CHAMBERLIN v. PRINCIPI

August 16, 2005.

WILLIAM C. CHAMBERLIN, Plaintiff
v.
ANTHONY J. PRINCIPI, Secretary, U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: NAOMI BUCHWALD, District Judge

MEMORANDUM and ORDER

William Chamberlin brings this action pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., as amended by 42 U.S.C. § 1981 ("Title VII"), for alleged gender discrimination and unlawful retaliation in his workplace. The parties having completed discovery, defendant now moves for summary judgment against all of plaintiff's claims. For the reasons set forth herein, defendant's motion is granted.

BACKGROUND

  The parties agree generally on the following facts for purposes of this motion. To the extent there are factual disputes, they will be noted below.

  I. Plaintiff's Employment at the VA Hudson Valley Healthcare System

  Plaintiff received his doctorate in education in the field of psychological counseling from Columbia University in 1993. In late 1992, while he was pursuing that degree, plaintiff was selected for a one-year internship in the psychology service of the VA Hudson Valley Healthcare System (the "VA Hospital"). In March 1994, after he received his degree, plaintiff was selected for the permanent position of Admissions and Aftercare Coordinator ("AAC") for the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder ("PTSD") Unit of the hospital. The Chief and Assistant Chief of the psychology service at the time were Dr. Andrew Eichmann and Dr. Leslie Green, respectively. As Chief of the psychology service, Dr. Eichmann approved plaintiff's hiring.

  A. Plaintiff's Elevation to and Tenure as Director of the PTSD Unit

  In August 1995, Dr. Jay Buckiewicz announced that he would resign from his position as Director of the PTSD Unit. At a meeting shortly thereafter, the unit's Treatment Coordinators recommended that plaintiff be promoted to succeed Dr. Buckiewicz. Drs. Eichmann and Green approved that recommendation, and, in December 1995, plaintiff was promoted. Subsequent to his promotion, plaintiff continued to fulfill duties on the unit as an AAC and as a Treatment Coordinator, practicing individual and group therapy.

  Also in the fall of 1995, Helaine Shimel, a clinical nurse specialist on the PTSD Unit, was promoted to the position of Clinical Coordinator. Shimel had been employed as a Treatment Coordinator on the PTSD Unit since 1985, when the unit was first created. As a result of Shimel's long tenure and experience on the unit, she was often referred to as an Assistant Director, and she frequently assumed program responsibility for the unit when other Directors were not present.*fn1

  B. The Deterioration of Plaintiff's and Shimel's Relationship

  Plaintiff alleges that, notwithstanding her promotion to Clinical Coordinator, Shimel often ignored or otherwise violated basic hospital rules, which threatened the PTSD Unit's orderly and effective operation. For example, plaintiff alleges that Shimel frequently reported to work between 30 and 45 minutes late, failed to file treatment plans and assign Treatment Coordinators in a timely manner and failed timely to log progress notes into patient charts. As the unit's Director, plaintiff attempted to correct these problems by talking to Shimel. When the problems persisted, plaintiff attempted to address them with Drs. Eichmann and Green, even going so far as to suggest that Shimel be "counseled" by the hospital's nursing supervisor. Plaintiff alleges that Drs. Eichmann and Green not only refused to take his complaints seriously, but also directed him not to speak to the nursing supervisor about Shimel.

  According to plaintiff, beginning in early April 1996, Shimel began acting "very hostile[ly]" toward him. Among other things, plaintiff alleges that Shimel refused to speak to him about unit business, refused to make eye contact with him, criticized his performance as Director during unit staff meetings, repeatedly told PTSD employees that he should be replaced as the unit's Director, yelled and screamed at him, failed to provide him with important work and patient related information and refused to follow his directives. Plaintiff contends that he complained frequently to Drs. Eichmann and Green about this behavior but that they never took any action to correct it.

  On May 6, 1996, Drs. Eichmann and Green provided plaintiff with a yearly written evaluation that denoted an ultimate performance rating of "Fully Successful." That rating was lower than the "Highly Successful" rating plaintiff had received the previous year.

  On May 16, 1996, in a private meeting with Shimel, plaintiff advised Shimel that if she did not correct her tardy submission of various forms he would recommend her removal from the PTSD Unit. Plaintiff contends that, during a subsequent meeting with Dr. Eichmann on May 22, 1996, Dr. Eichmann "berat[ed him] for `threatening' Shimel" with removal from the unit. Plaintiff responded to Dr. Eichmann by stating his impression that Dr. Eichmann was treating him and Shimel differently as a result of gender discrimination.

  In the weeks that followed, plaintiff's and Shimel's relationship deteriorated even further. According to plaintiff, Shimel continued to refuse to comply with plaintiff's work related directives, and plaintiff continued to complain about this conduct to Dr. Eichmann, but to no avail. During meetings on May 31, 1996 and June 21, 1996 among plaintiff, Shimel and Drs. Eichmann and Green, Shimel voiced her dissatisfaction with plaintiff's handling of unit business. After one of those meetings, as Shimel and plaintiff returned to the PTSD Unit, Shimel allegedly screamed at plaintiff, "Get out of my way."

  C. Shimel's Replacement of Plaintiff as Director of the PTSD Unit

  On July 10, 1996, Drs. Eichmann and Green notified plaintiff that he would be replaced as Director of the PTSD Unit by Shimel. During that meeting, Dr. Green allegedly told plaintiff that plaintiff "deserved what [he] was getting" and that "now the shoe was on the other foot." Plaintiff contends that he then requested that Drs. Eichmann and Green take measures to protect him from "retaliation" by Shimel but that they ignored that request.

  On July 18, 1996, Shimel took over the job of Director and plaintiff returned to performing his previous duties as a Treatment Coordinator and the PTSD Unit's AAC, the position he had held prior to being promoted to Director.

  D. Plaintiff's Administrative Complaints and the Alleged Retaliation

  1. The First EEO Complaint

  On August 23, 1996, plaintiff contacted an Equal Employment Opportunity ("EEO") counselor at the VA Hospital and submitted a complaint alleging gender discrimination (the "EEO complaint"). In the complaint, plaintiff detailed many of the facts outlined above, arguing that: (i) the conduct directed toward him in the period from December 1995 through July 1996 constituted a hostile work environment; and (ii) both his "downgraded" evaluation of "Fully Successful" in May 1996 and his ultimate demotion from the Director position in July 1996 were the result of unlawful gender discrimination.

  According to plaintiff, Shimel and Drs. Eichmann and Green began to retaliate against him shortly after he submitted his EEO complaint. In the fall of 1996, for example, plaintiff repeatedly attempted to convince Shimel and Dr. Eichmann to allow him to lead an Anger Management Group, but Shimel refused and Dr. Eichmann ignored his requests. Beginning in September 1996, plaintiff repeated his complaints to Dr. Eichmann that Shimel and other female employees on the unit were reporting to work late, but Dr. Eichmann ignored these complaints. During a September 27, 1996 meeting, Shimel proposed that plaintiff be replaced as leader of an Awareness Group.*fn2 During morning staff meetings, when plaintiff repeatedly volunteered to serve as a replacement group leader or a focus group leader, Shimel ignored him and either gave the assignments to others or combined groups so that replacement leaders would not be necessary. Similarly, Shimel denied plaintiff's requests to lead Community Meetings, at which staff and patients discussed issues important to the PTSD Unit. Plaintiff alleges that, throughout this time, Shimel kept from him important ...


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