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Maturine v. American International Group

November 6, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: George B. Daniels, District Judge


Plaintiff, an African-American, commenced this employment discrimination action against his employers, defendants American International Group, Inc. and American International Group Technical Services, Inc. (collectively "AIG"), and against an AIG employee, defendant Thomas Michaels, in both his individual capacity and in his official capacity as an agent of AIG. AIG moved, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56, for summary judgment.*fn1 Defendant Thomas Michaels also moved for summary judgment dismissing the claims asserted against him.*fn2 The motions are granted. The Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Michaels' state law counterclaims. Accordingly, the complaint and defendant Michaels' counterclaims are dismissed.

AIG terminated plaintiff's employment after he was involved in a physical altercation with Michaels, who at the time plaintiff did not know was an AIG employee. The incident occurred not at the workplace itself, but on the street while the two men were walking to work in the morning. For several months preceding the altercation, Michaels, who is Caucasian, allegedly verbally harassed plaintiff with racial slurs and threats during his commute to and from the workplace. After interviewing both plaintiff and Michaels about the physical altercation, AIG determined that plaintiff's actions warranted his termination. Plaintiff maintains that his employer did not afford him an opportunity to explain the circumstances surrounding the altercation and failed to take steps to investigate and cure plaintiff's claims of prior harassment. Plaintiff contends that AIG simply credited Michaels' version of the encounter, instead of plaintiff's.

The fight occurred on April 21, 2004, after plaintiff allegedly had been subjected to several months of verbal harassment by Michaels while the two commuted to their respective workplaces. Although plaintiff did not begin his employment with AIG until March 29, 2004, plaintiff claims that, beginning in October of 2003, Michaels began to harass him. Plaintiff maintains that after he started his employment with AIG, Michaels' harassment increased in that, during their commutes, Michaels would make racial slurs to plaintiff approximately every other day. None of the alleged objectionable acts took place on AIG premises or during work-related events, nor did they occur during business hours.

Plaintiff acknowledged that, throughout his employment with AIG, he never experienced any racial harassment at work. He knew that AIG had an established policy forbidding discriminatory harassment. Prior to their physical altercation, plaintiff never reported Michaels' alleged harassment to AIG because he knew Michaels only as a fellow commuter. Plaintiff was employed by defendant American International Group Technical Services, Inc., and he was unaware that defendant Michaels worked for a separate AIG subsidiary. The two men did not work in the same office building, nor did they ever work on the same project. Michaels had no supervisory role over plaintiff. Plaintiff only became aware that Michaels was an AIG employee following the physical altercation. As plaintiff explained, "I didn't even know who the man was, where he lived, who he worked for. All I knew is that he harassed me." (Pl.'s Dep. at 22).

The altercation occurred while plaintiff was walking to work from the ferry. Plaintiff contends that Michaels ran toward him and yelled a racial slur at him. When Michaels allegedly brushed up against plaintiff's arm, Plaintiff claims he used an open hand against Michaels' face to push him away, causing Michaels to fall to the ground. Plaintiff maintains that his actions were motivated by a need to protect himself.*fn3 Plaintiff indicated that he reacted to Michaels' alleged harassment in this public setting differently than had it occurred at the workplace. Plaintiff testified:

First of all, if there is a close proximity of a co-worker in a work environment that is harassing me, I would not let it get to [the] point [of physically pushing him.] I would immediately . . . handle matters through the appropriate corporate channels; but . . . [Michaels' harassment] was not anything remotely related to AIG's involvement at the time that this happened. (Id. at 123).

After the altercation, plaintiff proceeded to work. A passerby called 9-1-1, and the police and paramedics arrived at the scene of the altercation. Michaels advised the police that he wished to press charges. Michaels accompanied the police officers inside the building where plaintiff worked, and identified plaintiff as the person who struck him. Both Michaels and plaintiff were escorted by the police downstairs to separate AIG security rooms. While in the room, Michaels explained to AIG security officers what transpired.

Plaintiff explained to an AIG security officer that Michaels had been harassing him for "over a nine-month period," and that he had acted in self-defense during the morning scuffle. (Id. at 130-32). Plaintiff told the security officer that Michaels had attempted to harm him and "struck" him, thereby forcing plaintiff to defend himself. (Id. at 131-32). Plaintiff testified that the security officer was not paying attention to what he was telling him or giving any credence to his account of the events. Plaintiff was arrested by the police and handcuffed at the workplace. He was charged with felony assault, but subsequently pled guilty to disorderly conduct. Plaintiff does not contend that AIG urged the police to arrest plaintiff, or that the arrest itself was discriminatorily motivated.

Michaels was subsequently treated for his injuries at AIG's medical facility. An AIG human resources employee saw Michaels at the facility, and was present during his interview with AIG security. She sent an e-mail to the AIG Vice President for Human Resources indicating that "[i]t looks like [Michaels] got whacked pretty good." (AIG's Mem. Ex. 17).

The decision, by the Human Resources Vice President, to fire plaintiff was based on a number of factors. One was Michaels' physical condition after the altercation. The Vice President was told that Michaels was bloody, his eyeglasses were broken, and his pants were ripped. Another consideration was AIG's workplace violence policy that deals with threats in the workplace. Although the physical altercation did not occur on AIG premises, the Vice President nevertheless believed that plaintiff's conduct posed a threat to AIG employees. The final consideration was the investigation into the incident by AIG security which included affording both plaintiff and Michaels an opportunity to speak with an AIG security officer. The Vice President was advised that, during this interview, plaintiff did not "seem" to provide "any acceptable explanation for why [the altercation occurred]." (Ross Dep. at 43). The Vice President testified that she "was comfortable that [plaintiff] was really the one who assaulted Mr. Michaels." (Id. at 58). The Vice President did not know that plaintiff was African-American prior to making her decision to discharge plaintiff. She has supervised AIG's Human Resources Department for over twelve years, and is unaware of any other African-American employee who was discharged for either engaging in or threatening violence.*fn4

On June 22nd, the day following the physical altercation, AIG's Chief Security Officer spoke with plaintiff on the telephone. Plaintiff told the officer that he did not know that Michaels was an AIG employee, and that Michaels had been harassing him and attempting to intimidate him for a long period of time. In response, the security officer informed plaintiff that "we have looked at . . . both sides" of the incident. (AIG's Mem. Ex. 7 at 4). He informed plaintiff that after having a number of discussions with AIG Human Resources and employee relations personnel, AIG was terminating plaintiff's employment effective as of the close of business yesterday. The security officer did not give plaintiff a specific reason for his termination, but rather indicated that "it was based upon what had happened the day before . . ." (Mahaffey Dep. at 40). The officer "presumed" plaintiff knew he "was calling about the assault incident," as plaintiff did not "ask for clarification." (Id. at 127).

Following the termination of his employment, plaintiff came to believe that his discharge was discriminatorily motivated. His belief is premised on the manner in which AIG handled the matter. Specifically, plaintiff focuses on the fact that he "was fired without a reason involving a situation that occurred on the street, brought on the premises of the company by a white employee, who [plaintiff] later found out was an employee, and his word was taken over [plaintiff's]." (Pl.'s Dep. at 39).

Plaintiff also alleges that AIG retaliated against him, after his discharge, for reporting Michaels' harassment to AIG and for filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Plaintiff believes that AIG reported his arrest to the Consumer Services Bureau of the New York Department of Insurance in an effort to have plaintiff's license revoked and to prevent him from obtaining future employment. Plaintiff acknowledged that he has no evidence that any of the defendants did indeed make such a report. Plaintiff nevertheless believes it is logical to assume that AIG made the report because AIG was his employer, was a party to his arrest and termination, and was the only party, other than Michaels, who had knowledge of the incident. Plaintiff, however, is unaware of any prospective ...

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