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Paddock v. SUNY Brockport

March 7, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: David G. Larimer United States District Judge



Plaintiff, Carrie Paddock ("Paddock" or "plaintiff"), commenced this action, pro se, against her former employer, the State University at New York College at Brockport ("SUNY") based on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. Plaintiff, who is white, claims that she was subjected to a race-based hostile work environment, and then terminated from SUNY because of her race. Plaintiff seeks equitable and monetary relief from SUNY for the alleged discrimination, including reinstatement of her job, health and dental benefits for life, free tuition, books and parking at all SUNY schools for life, and $25 million in compensatory damages.

Both plaintiff and defendant have moved for summary judgment pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 56. For the reasons discussed below, plaintiff's motion (Dkt. #77) is denied, SUNY's cross-motion (Dkt. #90) is granted, and plaintiff's complaint is dismissed.


In April of 2000, plaintiff began working as a Keyboard Specialist in the Outreach Career Placement office ("Outreach office") of the Rochester Educational Opportunity Center ("REOC") at SUNY. Her immediate supervisor was Sheryl Gonzalez. Almost immediately after plaintiff began working for Gonzalez, there developed some tension between them. Plaintiff alleges that Gonzalez, a Latino, created a hostile work environment for plaintiff by making a few comments that she believed were statements reflecting an animus toward whites. Plaintiff also claims that Gonzalez treated her rudely and unprofessionally.

Gonzalez, on the other hand, denies that she held any discriminatory animus against plaintiff on account of her race. Instead, Gonzalez maintains that, shortly after plaintiff began working for her, she found plaintiff to be "an unusual person" who could not work independently or efficiently and did not respond well to constructive criticism.

On May 12, 2000, Gonzalez gave plaintiff a written review that was critical of her performance. Plaintiff believed the criticism to be unfair and wrote a response to the review defending her conduct, which she gave to Gonzalez and the human resources office. Shortly thereafter, plaintiff complained to human resources about the allegedly race-related comments that

Gonzalez made. Plaintiff began taking steps to obtain a new position at SUNY at a different location on campus that would be away from Gonzalez.

In June 2000, Robert Smith, who is African-American, began working at SUNY as the Associate Dean of Enrollment Management and Student Life at REOC. Smith was responsible for overseeing, among other things, the Outreach office. Shortly after taking the helm, Smith learned that Gonzalez was not satisfied with plaintiff's performance. Then, in the beginning of July, plaintiff complained to Smith that Gonzalez had made what plaintiff perceived to be racist statements. Smith circulated a memorandum to the department reiterating SUNY's non-discrimination and harassment policy, attached a copy of that policy, and directed all staff to read and comply with it. He also spoke with Gonzalez about the incidents with plaintiff and counseled her about being sensitive to use of certain language in the office. In addition, within three weeks of receiving plaintiff's complaint, Smith offered plaintiff a new position in the Welcome Center of REOC where she no longer would report directly to Gonzalez. Plaintiff took this position, despite its physical proximity to Gonzalez, and stopped her search for a new job on a different part of campus away from Gonzalez.

In August of 2000, plaintiff began working in the Welcome Center under a new supervisor, Lisa Gerst, who is African-American. Plaintiff claims that Gerst started ignoring her as well after Gerst and Gonzalez "became close." Plaintiff also maintains that Gonzalez, with whom she still came into contact in the new position, continued to be hostile toward her. According to plaintiff, Gonzalez continued to speak to her in a threatening or confrontational tone, and attempted to start arguments with her. Other times, Gonzalez ignored her completely.

SUNY maintains that plaintiff's performance continued to be problematic while working in the Welcome Center. Smith claims that he received complaints from students or prospective students who visited the Welcome Center that plaintiff had been rude to them or spoke to them inappropriately. Smith alleges that he spoke with plaintiff no less than six times about those complaints, and that plaintiff became defensive or blamed the students for being rude in the first instance. According to Smith, plaintiff "just didn't seem to get it." Smith did not have confidence that plaintiff was learning from these discussions or would modify her behavior. On October 26, 2000, Smith terminated plaintiff, who was at the end of her six-month probationary term, because her performance "did not suggest a high enough probability of future success working in the Welcome Center."

Plaintiff denies that any such complaints were made or that Smith ever spoke with her about her communication with students. Plaintiff maintains instead that Smith must have been motivated by her race because she believed that she was performing her job well.


I. Summary Judgment in ...

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