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Simpson v. Metro-North Commuter Railroad

July 20, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Paul A. Crotty, United States District Judge


Plaintiff Darryll Simpson, an African-American male, sues his former employer Metro North Commuter Railroad and three of its employees, alleging that Defendants discriminated against him because of his race and then retaliated against him when he complained of race discrimination, in violation of Title VII and 28 U.S.C. § 1983.*fn1 Specifically, Simpson alleges disparate treatment with regards to pay, hostile work environment, and retaliation in violation of Title VII, and denial of equal protection in violation of § 1983.

Defendants now move for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure on two grounds: (1) Simpson fails to make out the prima facie case of disparate treatment with regard to pay, hostile work environment, and retaliation and therefore all of Simpson's discrimination claims must be dismissed as a matter of law; and (2) Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity on Simpson's § 1983 claims. For the reasons discussed below, the Court grants Defendants' motion for summary judgment on the first ground, and does not rule on Defendants' claim of qualified immunity.


Plaintiff Darryll Simpson ("Simpson"), an African-American male, began working for Defendant Metro North Railroad ("Metro North") in March 1988 as an Assistant Conductor. (Compl. ¶ 12; Dep. of Pl. Darryll Simpson, Mar. 8, 2005 ("Simpson Dep.") 10:18-20.) He was promoted to the position of Conductor in March 1989 and Special Duty Trainmaster sometime in the late 1990s. (Simpson Dep. 22:6-24.) In August 1999, Simpson was promoted to the management position of Trainmaster at Grand Central Terminal ("Grand Central"). (Compl. ¶ 15; Simpson Dep. 23:3-9, 25:2-3.)


Disparate Pay Claim

Simpson's salary as a Trainmaster was approximately $71,000 or $72,000 per year (Simpson Dep. 55:10-13.), but less than that of other Trainmasters, who started at around $83,000.*fn2 (Id. 57:8-19.) Simpson complained to David Schanoes, his supervisor, and to Sherry Herrington, Metro North's Chief of Operations services, about this disparity in salary and requested a raise to bring his salary "up to par" with the salary of other Trainmasters. (Id. 53:4-7, 57:20-24, 62:10-17) Despite these complaints, Simpson did not get the salary increase he wanted.*fn3 (Id.)

Metro North's restructured its job titles in 2000,*fn4 and Simpson's title changed from Trainmaster to Operations Manager/Capital Projects. (Simpson Dep. 70:13-24; Herrington Aff. ¶ 7; Herrington Dep. 76:20-23.) In this capacity, Simpson coordinated capital projects in and around Metro North, which included up to 17 different capital projects at any given time. (Simpson Aff. ¶ 5; Simpson Dep. 86:18-19; Herrington Dep. 17:2-8.) While Simpson thought the new title included an increase in salary, it did not. (Simpson Dep. 5-11.) First, Simpson claims that all of the individuals who performed the Capital Projects job before him were Lead Trainmasters,*fn5 and therefore received a higher salary for performing comparable work. (Simpson Dep. 72:14-73:19.) Second, Simpson claims that Paul Hirsh and Bill Schilling, the two employees who assumed the Capital Projects positions at Harmon and New Haven (Metro North's other major terminals), received higher salaries.*fn6 (Simpson Dep. 74:24-75:5.)

Simpson complained to his supervisors, Moe Kiniry and Shelly Herrington, about his failure to receive a salary increase, but to no avail. Kiniry approved a salary increase, and convinced his boss, George Walker, to approve the increase, but someone else in the chain of command vetoed the request. (Kiniry Dep. 22:4-23:24.) Simpson also complained to Gregory Bradley, Metro North's Director of Workplace Diversity, about this unequal pay. Bradley never investigated or filed a complaint on Simpson's behalf.

Other Allegations of Discrimination

Simpson alleges other instances of discrimination during his employment with Metro North.*fn7 Particularly, Simpson alleges that in the early 1990s Metro North denied his request for tuition reimbursement to attend courses in transportation management, even though around the same time a white employee was granted tuition reimbursement for much less relevant course work.

(Simpson Dep. 31:20-48:23.) Simpson does not provide any concrete evidence documenting his request for tuition reimbursement or Metro North's denial, however; and none of the Defendants had any knowledge of this. Simpson also claims that he was denied lateral promotions to the training department on two separate occasions, and both times less qualified white applicants were hired for the job. (Id.) Again, Simpson does not provide any concrete evidence to support this claim. Simpson complained to Stephen Mitchell, who appears to have been an EEOC employee and to Bradley, in his capacity as Director of Workplace Diversity, about these incidents, but neither Mitchell nor Bradley ever investigated or filed a complaint on Simpson's behalf. (Id.)

Simpson's Problems with Supervisors (Hostile Work Environment)

Simpson had a history of strained relations with senior supervisors. First, while working as a Conductor, Simpson had problems with Dave Schanoes ("Schanoes"), his direct supervisor. Their disagreements appear to have been about train operations. (Simpson Dep. 25:13-15, 26:21-24.) Simpson's relationship with Schanoes got so bad that the two men got into an argument in front of other employees on the Grand Central platform. (Id. 14:4-25-18:23.) Simpson criticized Schanoes to Defendant Moe Kiniry on multiple occasions. (Kiniry Dep. 34:7-22.) Kiniry admits, however, that Simpson was not the only employee that had troubles with Schanoes. (Kiniry Dep. 34:15-18.) Many employees complained about Schanoes's people skills, to the point that Schanoes was eventually removed from his supervisory position due to his inability to work with others. (Kiniry Dep. 34:23-35:3.)

Notwithstanding the dispute, Simpson was promoted to Operations Manager/Capital Projects in 2000. Thereafter, Simpson had problems with two different supervisors. Shortly after he assumed the position, Simpson complained that Fred Sterman gave him so much operations work that he could not adequately perform his duties for capital projects.*fn8 (Simpson Dep. 88:16-93:2.) Simpson complained to Sherry Herrington about it, and she went to speak with Sterman. (Id.) Simpson admits that his complaints about Fred Sterman did not involve race discrimination.

In April 2002, Gus Meyers transferred into Grand Central and became Simpson's direct supervisor. (Meyers Dep. 5-6.) Simpson and Meyers clashed from the start. According to Simpson, Meyers micromanaged his work, spoke to him in a demeaning tone, and yelled at him over insignificant things like answering the telephone during a conversation. (Simpson Dep. 123:15-126:13, 128:4-25, 134:15-20.)

Again, Simpson complained to Kiniry. (Simpson Dep. 19-23.) As Meyers was the third supervisor that Simpson griped about to Kiniry, Kiniry began to get annoyed. (Kiniry Dep. 33:11-34:6, 40:5-10, 41:11-23.) Kiniry explained:

At first I took [Simpson's complaints] as off the record friendly, but then [Meyers] was kind of like strike three, in my mind. Why is it . . . this is the third person [Simpson's] working for that he finds or feels compelled to bring some issue, what he feels may be shortcomings to my attention. . . . I would call it complaining. (Kiniry Dep. 41:11-23.) "I questioned in my mind at that point whether the real issue was that Darryll had a problem with authority." (Kiniry Dep. 40:8-10.) Simpson's complaints to Kiniry focused on Meyers's behavior; Simpson never complained that Meyers used racial epithets or raised concerns that Meyers's treatment of Simpson was racially motivated. (Kiniry Dep. 46:16-47:6.)

Simpson also asked Herrington to intervene. As with Fred Sterman, Simpson believed that Meyers was unfairly demanding that he handle Field Operations tasks, even though his primary obligation was capital projects, and therefore Simpson thought that Herrington could speak to Meyers, as she had done previously with Fred Sterman. (Simpson Dep. 132:9-23.) This time Herrington refused to get involved and told Simpson that he should do whatever Meyers told him to do. (Id.) Herrington explains:

At no time did Simpson ever tell me that he believed that Meyers or any of his other supervisors harrassed him or discriminated against him due to his race . . . . Thus, as far as I was concerned, the trouble between Simpson and Meyers was a basic conflict over the scope of Simpson's responsibilities and his willingness to follow Meyers' directives. (Herrington Aff. ¶ 12.)

Upset at Herrington's response, Simpson went to Gregory Bradley. Accordingly to Simpson, Bradley did not take his complaint seriously, nor did he ask Simpson to write it up. (Simpson Dep. 142: 18-20, 146:7-9.) Instead, Bradley told Simpson that he was being "cantankerous" and told Simpson that he would speak with Herrington and sort it out. (Simpson 142:22-23, 146:7-16.) Again, Simpson's complaints never referred to race, but instead focused on the unfairness of both Meyers's and Herrington's actions. (Bradley Dep. 32:10-23, 34:4-25.)

Simpson's Transfer to Harmon and Resulting Retaliation Claim

Sometime in July 2002, not long after Simpson's conversation with Bradley, Sherry Herrington told Simpson that she was reassigning him to the position of Operations Manager/Field Operations at Harmon station. (Herrington Dep. 103:18-105:25; Simpson Dep. 141:16-142:3.)

While Simpson refers to this lateral transfer as a "demotion," there was no reduction in pay, benefits, or seniority.*fn9 (Simpson Dep. 169:6-10, 175:18-22.)

When Simpson inquired about why he was being transferred, Herrington explained that Simpson needed to work on his team-building skills and thought that the position at Harmon was more team-oriented. (Simpson Dep. 142:2-10; 144:2-6.) Herrington also told Simpson that he needed to learn not "to talk to Greg Bradley all the time."*fn10 (Simpson Dep. 142:8-10.) Herrington explained during her deposition:

I felt that [Simpson] had problems with his communication and team building skills and I felt putting him in a less autonomous position, where he would have to work with other team members and communicate effectively with them, to be successful in his position would help improve his skills in that area. (Herrington Dep. 105:12-21.) Herrington viewed the transfer as a lateral shift, not a demotion.

Simpson's transfer was not out of the ordinary. As part of the Metro North reorganization started in 2000, Herrington and Kiniry made many reassignments in the Operations Services Department. Herrington explained:

[A]fter the reorganization there was constant movement of positions where I was trying to put teams together that could work effectively together in terms of ...

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