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Gray v. Lutheran Social Services of Metropolitan New York

July 13, 2006

WILLIE GRAY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
LUTHERAN SOCIAL SERVICES OF METROPOLITAN NEW YORK, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joseph F. Bianco, District Judge

Memorandum and Order

Plaintiff Willie Gray brings this action alleging employment discrimination on the basis of his race, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., ("Title VII"), Civil Rights Act of 1866, 42 U.S.C. § 1981, the New York State Human Rights Law, Executive Law § 269 et seq., and the New York City Civil Rights Law, against defendant Lutheran Social Services of Metropolitan New York, Inc.*fn1 Plaintiff asserts that he was terminated as a result of his race in favor of a Hispanic employee. Defendant now moves for summary judgment on all claims. For the foregoing reasons, defendant's motion for summary judgment is granted.

I. BACKGROUND

A. FACTS

Defendant Lutheran Social Services of Metropolitan New York, Inc. ("Lutheran") is a not-for-profit social services agency. (Def's. Rule 56.1 Statement ("Def.'s 56.1") ¶ 1.)*fn2 Lutheran operates the Muhlenberg Residence, a supportive housing program in Brooklyn, New York. (Id. ¶ 2.) A percentage of the tenants come from shelters and a percentage are disabled. (Gonzalez Dep. at 7.) The housing at the residence is considered permanent, and the program offers a support mechanism to tenants to help find jobs. (Id. at 7-8.) Plaintiff Willie Gray, an African-American male born in Brooklyn, New York, is a former at-will employee of Lutheran, where he was employed as a cook at the Muhlenberg Residence. (Id. ¶ 4; Pl. Aff. ¶ 4.) Plaintiff was hired at Lutheran in November 2000 by Ray Gonzalez. (Gray Aff. ¶ 5; Gonzalez Dep. at 21.) Gonzalez, who is Puerto Rican, became his immediate supervisor when he first started working at Muhlenberg Residence. (Pl. Dep. at 17.) Plaintiff had several other supervisors during his employment including Rebecca Johnson, Joanna Ruiz, Jose Munez, and Wanda who, according to plaintiff, were all Hispanic. (Pl. Dep. at 18-19.)

Certain Lutheran employees' positions were funded through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development ("HUD" or "the HUD grant"). (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 6.) The Muhlenberg Residence is the only Lutheran program that is funded by HUD. (Crumb Dep. at 10.) Muhlenberg also receives funds from the New York City Department of Mental Health, the New York City Department of Homeless Services, and the New York State Office of Temporary Disability and Assistance. (Id. at 9-11.) Under the terms of the HUD grant, the grant began on April 23, 1999 and ran for three years. (Id. at 16.) The Chief Financial Officer testified that the HUD grant was extended to January 2004. (Id.) Toward the end of 2002, the HUD grant was reduced by 50% from $1.2 million to $600,000 because HUD can only support homeless individuals who are disabled, and only 100 of the 201 residents at the Muhlenberg Residence qualified for the HUD grant. (Crumb Dep. at 27, 39-40, Ex. 4.) Lutheran attempted, unsuccessfully, to obtain substitute funding. (Id. at 46.)

Lutheran employees whose positions were funded exclusively through the HUD grant were laid off in 2003. (Gonzalez Dep. at 52; Crumb Dep. at 47.) On or around July 31, 2003, Lutheran's Program Director at Muhlenberg Residence, Joanne Ruiz, informed plaintiff by memo that: Due to program budget constraints the Muhlenberg Residence will have to undergo several layoffs. Regretfully, the position of cook will have to be cut as of August 14, 2003. I would like to thank you for you [sic] hard work and dedication to the Muhlenberg residents.

(Pl's Dep. at 26, Ex. 1.) When plaintiff learned that his position would be cut, he decided to utilize his remaining paid sick days. (Pl. Aff. ¶ 14.) Thus, plaintiff's last day of work at Muhlenberg was July 31, 2003, but he received payment for his accumulated sick days into August.

Lutheran asserts that plaintiff's position was funded exclusively by the HUD grant and that it had already allocated all of its HUD grant funds, requiring the termination of certain employees as a result of the loss of funds, including plaintiff. (Crumb Dep. at 46; Gonzalez Dep. at 32, 53.) Plaintiff, however, argues that the HUD Grant only funded Case Management positions and Employment Assistance relative thereto. (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 5; Crumb Dep. Ex. 1 at 0236.) HUD did not itemize which positions were to be cut when it slashed the funding. (Gonzalez Dep. at 32.) Plaintiff also asserts that there was funding for the cook position from a different source. (Pl's Opp. to Def.'s Mot. at 13.)

Three other individuals were laid off at the time plaintiff was terminated in August 2003. (Gonzalez Dep. at 24.) One was a case manager, the second was a vocational coordinator, and the third employee was a rental agent. (Id. at 25-27.) Two of the other three terminated employees were African American and the third was Caucasian. (Id. at 26-27.) According to defendant, all four employees who were laid off in August 2003 had salaries that were funded exclusively through the HUD grant and they were the only employees who were paid for by HUD. (Id. at 52; Crumb Dep. at 46.) At the time plaintiff was laid off, Lutheran had used its HUD funding for that year and, as a result of the cut, was not receiving any additional funding from HUD because the HUD grant expired months before plaintiff was laid off.*fn3 (Crumb Dep. at 44.)

With respect to the other three terminated employees, Ruiz testified that the reason that particular case manager was laid off, as opposed to one of the other six case managers, was because her particular position was funded by HUD, whereas the other case manager/case worker positions were under different grants. (Ruiz Dep. at 21.) At the time of the layoffs in August 2003, there were no Hispanic case managers/case workers. (Gonzalez Dep. at 28.) Subsequent to the layoffs, a new case manager, who is African American, was hired in approximately May 2005. (Ruiz Dep. at 28-29.) Her position is not funded by HUD. (Ruiz Dep. at 28.) The vocational coordinator who was laid off was the only vocational coordinator. (Gonzalez Dep. at 28.) The position of vocational coordinator was eventually re-filled in January 2005, by an African American. (Ruiz Dep. at 28-29; Gonzalez Dep. at 29.) In addition, the rental agent who was laid off was the only rental agent at Muhlenberg Residence, and the position was never refilled. (Gonzalez Dep. at 29.) None of the employees who were laid off were re-called for positions. (Id.)

After defendant eliminated the cook position, the duties were performed by a volunteer, Valez. (Gonzalez Dep. at 42-43; Ruiz Dep. at 25-26.) Gonzalez played no role in the hiring of Valez as a volunteer or later as a paid cook. (Gonzalez Dep. at 43-44.) Mr. Valez is of Hispanic descent. (Ruiz Dep. at 25.) Valez worked as a volunteer cook, receiving no salary until Lutheran received renewed HUD funding. (Gonzalez Dep. at 40-43.) On March 1, 2004, when the renewed HUD funding came in, Valez was hired into the paid cook position. (Gonzalez Dep. at 40-42, Ex. 3; Crumb Dep. at 43-44.) When Valez resigned in December 2004, the kitchen closed temporarily while résumés were sought. (Ruiz Dep. at 30.) A new cook was subsequently hired who is African American. (Gonzalez Dep. at 55.) Gray was not offered, nor did he re-apply, for the position. (Gonzalez Dep. at 55.) In addition to the newest cook, new case manager, and new vocational manager, who are all African American employees, Muhlenberg Residence subsequently hired a superintendent who is African American and another new case manager who is African American. (Ruiz Dep. at 58-59.)

II. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

The standards for summary judgment are well settled. Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c), a court may not grant a motion for summary judgment unless "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c); Globecon Group, LLC v. Hartford Fire Ins. Co., 434 F.3d 165, 170 (2d Cir. 2006). The moving party bears the burden of showing that he or she is entitled to summary judgment. See Huminski v. Corsones, 396 F.3d 53, 69 (2d Cir. 2005). The court "is not to weigh the evidence but is instead required to view the evidence in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment, to draw all reasonable inferences in favor of that party, and to eschew credibility assessments." Amnesty Am. v. Town of ...


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