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Butts v. New York City Dep't of Housing Preservation and Development

January 29, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kenneth M. Karas, District Judge


Plaintiff Geneva Butts filed this action alleging discrimination by the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development. The Complaint alleges several causes of action, including: (1) retaliation against Plaintiff for filing discrimination claims, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 629 et seq.; (2) failure to promote, in violation of Title VII and the ADEA; and (3) constructive termination, in violation of Title VII and the ADEA.*fn1 In her First Amended Complaint, Plaintiff also alleged that Defendant's conduct violated other federal, state, and local anti-discrimination statutes, notably 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983, and 1985, the New York State Human Rights Law, and the New York City Human Rights Law. At the conclusion of discovery, Defendant moved for summary judgment on all counts. For the reasons stated in this Opinion, Defendant's motion for summary judgment is GRANTED.

I. Background A. The Parties

Plaintiff is an African-American female who was employed by Defendant, the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development ("HPD"),*fn2 from 1972 until she retired in December 2000, at the age of 62. (Def.'s Amended Local Civil Rule 56.1 Statement of Undisputed Facts ¶ 1 ("Def.'s Am. 56.1").) Initially, Plaintiff was hired as a Level 2 Computer Systems Manager ("CSM"). (Second Am. Compl. Ex. C at 1.*fn3 ) In 1981, Plaintiff was promoted to a Level 3 CSM.

B. Alleged Discriminatory Conduct

In March 1996, Plaintiff worked in the Information Systems Development ("ISD") division at HPD, where she was the Director of Technology and Application Development Services and responsible for oversight of the agency's mainframe computer, one of three computer systems at HPD. (Def.'s Am. 56.1 ¶¶ 2-3.) At that time, Plaintiff supervised over 40 people. (Id. ¶ 3.) By October 1996, Plaintiff's title had changed. She was made the Director of Mainframe Application Development Services ("MADS"), where she supervised nine other employees, including Paget Mack ("Mack"), a programmer who was later promoted to become her deputy. (Id. ¶¶ 5-6.)

In May 1998, the Chief Information Officer/Assistant Commissioner of ISD was terminated. (Id. ¶ 8.) In June 1998, Hector Batista, HPD's Chief of Staff and Deputy Commissioner, sent an email to Plaintiff and the other two director-level employees in ISD indicating that they would have to assume additional responsibilities until a replacement for the Chief Information Officer was found. He asked the three employees to review their vacation plans given the increased demands that would be placed on them (Id. ¶ 11), and stated that he would review and approve any vacation plans for that summer. (Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. S 01672 ("Def.'s Mot.").) Plaintiff submitted her upcoming vacation schedule, in which she stated that she intended to take thirty-one (31) vacation days between June and September 1998. Plaintiff subsequently took thirty-five (35) days of paid leave and nine (9) days of sick leave during that period, nearly triple that of the other two director-level employees. (Def.'s Am. 56.1 ¶¶ 13-15.)

Plaintiff expressed interest in the vacancy created by the departure of the Associate Commissioner in an email to Hector Batista dated June 3, 1998. It stated, "if you are going to post this vacancy I am very interested in applying for the position." (Pl.'s Schedule A Docs. Ex. 2.) Plaintiff alleges no notice of vacancy was posted for this position, in violation of the City of New York's rules on filling employment vacancies described in the City's Personnel Services Bulletin 200-9 ("PSB 200-9").*fn4 (Pl.'s Am. Aff. in Opp'n to Mot. to Dismiss 5 ("Pl.'s Opp'n Mem.").) In July 1998, Nissim Baruch ("Baruch"), a white male younger than Plaintiff, was "given responsibility" for mainframe applications (Second Am. Compl. Ex. B at 2), and received a pay increase (Pl.'s Bate [sic] Stamped Docs. at 01602). Plaintiff alleges that the failure to place her in this position was discriminatory. (Id.) In August 1998, Kamal Bherwani ("Bherwani"), an Asian male approximately 32 years of age, was hired to fill the Chief Information Officer/Associate Commissioner position. Bherwani had previously worked at HPD from 1989 to 1994 and had 11 years of experience in the relevant field. (Def.'s Am. 56.1 ¶ 16.)

One of the primary reasons Bherwani was hired was to prepare HPD for "Y2K," the name which came to describe the set of problems computer experts thought would occur when the internal clocks in older computer systems reached January 1, 2000. (Id. ¶¶ 17-18.) New York City had determined that HPD was behind other City agencies in Y2K preparation. (Id. ¶ 17.) As a result, Bherwani was given more direct access to senior leadership than his predecessor. For example, he reported directly to the Commissioner, as opposed to the Division of Administration, and, unlike his predecessor, he was invited to attend senior staff meetings. (Id. ¶ 20.) In one of Bherwani's first acts as Associate Commissioner, ISD was reorganized and renamed the "Division of Technology and Strategic Development" ("TSD"). (Id. ¶ 19.)

The reorganization of TSD in preparation for Y2K was significant. Mack, then Deputy Director of MADS under Plainitff's supervision, became the Deputy Director of Network and Systems Management, under the Director of that section, Nissim Baruch. (Id. ¶ 21.) Later, Mack's title was changed to Y2K Contingency Deputy Director under Baruch, where he supervised Y2K preparation. (Id. ¶ 23.) Plaintiff alleges that this reassignment was meant to undermine the effectiveness of her staff and discriminatorily reassign Y2K preparation duties to Barcuh. (Pl.'s Opp'n Mem. 5.) Many of Mack's duties as Y2K Contingency Deputy Director overlapped with duties formerly performed by Plaintiff's staff. (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 23.) Other staff was reorganized at this time as well. Darilynn Lewis ("Lewis"), another director, was given responsibility for Y2K-related procurement. (Def.'s Am. 56.1 ¶ 24.) Mainframe support employees, formerly under Plaintiff's supervision, were transferred to Baruch's division. (Def.'s Mot. Ex. L at 01575.) After the reorganization, Plaintiff supervised only two employees. (Def.'s Am. 56.1 ¶ 25.)

In October 1998, Plaintiff alleges that in a meeting with Bherwani, he mentioned that he had been informed that Plaintiff's prior discrimination suit had been resolved. (Second Am. Compl. Ex. C at 1.) She also alleges that he implied that if she had further management complaints she should leave her job rather than file additional discrimination complaints. (Id.)

In November 1998, Bherwani reorganized the division again. He created a new position within the Division, "Director of Legacy Systems." (Def.'s Am. 56.1 ¶ 28.) The position was posted (id. ¶ 29), and later filled by Michael Hirst ("Hirst"), a 42-year-old white male who had been working in TSD "on loan" from another city department under the direct supervision of Bherwani. (Id. ¶ 27-28.) The position required skills with the "Wang" system, which Hirst possessed. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that she was more qualified than Hirst but was not considered for the Director of Legacy Systems position. (Pl.'s Opp'n Mem. 6.) In addition to creating a new director position, Bherwani also decided to re-consolidate Mack's Y2K Contingency group with Plaintiff's Mainframe Applications group.

Bherwani stated in his declaration that the lack of coordination between Mack, as Deputy Director of Y2K Contingency Planning, and Plaintiff, as Director of Mainframe Applications, had caused both groups to miss deadlines. (Def.'s Am. 56.1 ¶ 32.) Bherwani gave the reconsolidated group a new title, "Y2K Mainframe Applications," and appointed Mack, a 53-year-old African-American male, as its director. (Id. ¶¶ 33-34.) He stated Mack was given this position based on "his proven leadership abilities, technical expertise, knowledge and experience as a programmer, historical knowledge and willingness to be a team player." (Decl. of Kamal Bherwani in Supp. of Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. ¶ 19 ("Bherwani Decl.").) Subsequently, Plaintiff was demoted from a director position to a deputy director position (Def.'s Am. 56.1. ¶¶ 36-37), and received a 20% pay cut. (Id. ¶ 36.) Bherwani stated that he chose to demote Plaintiff because there was no need for two directors to supervise the mainframe, as its importance to HPD was declining, and that her performance was not "deserving of a Director position." (Bherwani Decl. ¶ 20.) This was because she failed to attend scheduled meetings and did not adjust her personal schedule to meet critical needs of the agency. (Id.) This demotion was approved by the Office of the Mayor on November 12, 1998, and went into effect on November 16, 1998. (Pl.'s Bate [sic] Stamped Docs. at 1585; Pl.'s Am. Schedule A Docs. Ex. 36.)

In June 1999, a vacancy notice was posted for the position of Director of Client Server Application Development. (Pl.'s Opp'n Mem. 7.) Plaintiff expressed interest in the position to Lewis and Bherwani. (Id.) The position was filled by Daniel Moliterno, a white male approximately 50 years old. (Id.) At the time, Plaintiff had 38 years of experience, while Moliterno had 25 years of experience. (Id.)

In August 1999, Bherwani left HPD. (Def.'s Am. 56.1 ¶ 40.) The vacancy in the position of Chief Information Officer/Associate Commissioner was posted from September 13, 1999 to September 24, 1999. (Def.'s Mot. Ex. C.) HPD sought pre-approval to place Cary Peskin ("Peskin"), a white male, in the position on September 13, 1999. (Pl.'s Bate [sic] Stamped Docs. at 1598.) Plaintiff did not apply for the position. (Def.'s Am. 56.1 ¶ 42; Feb. 5, 2002 Deposition of Geneva Butts 133 ("Pl.'s Dep.").) Peskin was hired to fill the vacancy. (Def.'s Am. 56.1 ¶ 41.)

After the appointment of the new Associate Commissioner, Plaintiff claims she was subjected to mistreatment in the office. She claims she was excluded from management, that she was "harassed" about giving up her office to a new director after her demotion, that she was not allowed to work on a problem even though she knew the solution, and that she was denied a discretionary pay increase in late 1999. (Pl.'s Opp'n Mem. 9.)

In May 2000, the department was reorganized again. The Y2K Mainframe Applications section, directed by Mack with Plaintiff as deputy director, and the Planning/Client Support Services/Y2K Technical Procurement sections were combined. (Def.'s Mot. Ex. L 0000028, 0000031.) The new section was titled Mainframe/Planning/QA Support/Technical Procurement and was led by Lewis, as a Director. Plaintiff claims that this position was not posted, and that she was not allowed to apply for it. (Pl.'s Opp'n Mem. 9.) Both Mack and Plaintiff were no longer directors or deputy directors, and both worked under Carl Abraham, who supervised Mainframe Quality and Assurance in the new division. (Def.'s Mot. Ex. L at 0000031.)

In December 2000, Plaintiff took an early retirement incentive. (Def.'s Am. 56.1 ¶ 48.) Under the incentive, Plaintiff would receive a lump sum payout of her accrued leave. (Id. ¶ 68.) Plaintiff was informed at that time that her past leave would be subject to an audit. (Id.) HPD's initial calculations estimated that Plaintiff was owed $58,509.79. (Id. ¶ 69.) These calculations were reviewed by the Comptroller's office and adjusted. (Id. ¶ 71.) Based on the adjusted calculations of the Comptroller's office, Plaintiff was only owed $28,327.43, which was the sum approved for disbursement. (Id. ¶¶ 71-74, 77.) Plaintiff alleges that this adjustment was in retaliation for an Article 78 proceeding, an administrative claim under New York State law, that she brought against HPD in 1999.*fn5 (First Am. Compl. 1.)

Prior to her retirement, Plaintiff requested that some of the leave time she had charged to annual leave in 1998 be switched to compensatory time. (First Am. Compl. 3.) According to Defendant, such a request was unusual. (Def.'s Am. 56.1 ¶ 82.) Plaintiff's supervisor, Lewis, stated that Plaintiff was required to obtain the approval of Bernard Schwarz ("Schwarz"), the Assistant Commissioner for Human Resources. (First Am. Compl. 3.) The request was not approved. (Id.)

Plaintiff did not receive her lump payment for accrued leave time until July 2001, when the audit of her accrued leave was completed. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 77.) She alleges that she was supposed to receive the payment within two months of her retirement, in approximately January 2001. (First Am. Compl. 1.)*fn6

C. Procedural History

Plaintiff filed an administrative appeal of her demotion with HPD on December 30, 1998. (Def.'s Mot. Ex. P.) This appeal was denied, and Plaintiff continued to appeal her demotion to higher authorities. (Id.) Her final appeal was denied by William J. Diamond, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Citywide Administrative Services, on August 23, 1999.*fn7 On September 14, 1999, Plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC, alleging racial, gender, and age discrimination by HPD. The EEOC issued a right-to-sue letter on April 12, 2000. Plaintiff filed the Complaint in the instant action on August 23, 2000. Defendant answered on January 2, 2001. Plaintiff amended her Complaint on March 14, 2001, and again on November 15, 2002. On September 27, 2004, this case was reassigned to the undersigned.

II. Discussion

A. Standard of Review

Summary judgment may be granted when it is shown that there is "no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). The Court must view all evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and must draw all reasonable inferences in the non-movant's favor. See Tufariello v. Long Island R.R., 458 F.3d 80, 85 (2d Cir. 2006). A party seeking summary judgment bears the burden of establishing that no genuine issue of material fact exists. See Adickes v. S. H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970); Segal v. City of New York, 459 F.3d 207, 211 (2d Cir. 2006). "Once the moving party has made a properly supported showing sufficient to suggest the absence of any genuine issue as to a material fact, the nonmoving party, in order to defeat summary judgment, must come forward with evidence that would be sufficient to support a jury verdict in his favor." Goenaga v. March of Dimes Birth Defects Found., 51 F.3d 14, 18 (2d Cir. 1995). "The motion 'will not be defeated merely . . . on the basis of conjecture or surmise.'" Id. (quoting Bryant v. Maffucci, 923 F.2d 979, 982 (2d Cir. 1991)); see also McPherson v. N.Y. City Dep't of Educ., 457 F.3d 211, 215 n.4 (2d Cir. 2006) ("[S]peculation alone is insufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment."); Caldarola v. Calabrese, 298 F.3d 156, 160 (2d Cir. 2002) ("[The non-movant] must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." (internal quotations omitted)).

The materiality of the facts considered by the Court will be governed by substantive law. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). At summary judgment, the Court is not charged with weighing the evidence and determining its truth, but with determining whether there is a genuine issue for trial. See Castro v. Met. Transp. Auth., No. 04 Civ. 1445, 2006 WL 1418585, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. May 23, 2006); Westinghouse Elec. Corp. v. N.Y. City Transit Auth., 735 F. Supp. 1205, 1212 (S.D.N.Y. 1990). A court's goal should be to "isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323-24.

While courts are to be "particularly cautious" about granting summary judgment to employers in cases where the discriminatory intent of the employer is contested, Schwapp v. Town of Avon, 118 F.3d 106, 110 (2d Cir. 1997), "[i]t is now beyond cavil that summary judgment may be appropriate even in the fact-intensive context of discrimination cases," AbduBrisson v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., 239 F.3d 456, 466 (2d Cir. 2001). Though district courts must pay careful attention to affidavits and depositions which may reveal circumstantial proof of discrimination, see Gallo v. Prudential Residential Servs., Ltd., 22 F.3d 1219, 1224 (2d Cir. 1994), courts are not to "treat discrimination differently from other ultimate questions of fact." Abdu-Brisson, 239 F.3d at 466 (quoting Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 148 (2000)).

Pro se parties are entitled to "extra consideration" and "special latitude" on summary judgment motions. Salahuddin v. Coughlin, 999 F. Supp 526, 535 (S.D.N.Y. 1998). Therefore, this Court must read a pro se litigant's supporting papers liberally, interpreting them "to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest." Graham v. Henderson, 89 F.3d 75, 79 (2d Cir. 1996) (internal quotations and citations omitted); see also Burgos, 14 F.3d at 790. This does not, however, "relieve plaintiff of [her] duty to meet the requirements necessary to defeat a motion for summary judgment." Jorgensen v. Epic/Sony Records, 351 F.3d 46, 50 (2d Cir. 2003) (internal quotations and citations omitted). In particular, "a pro se party's bald assertion, completely unsupported by evidence, is not sufficient to overcome a motion for summary judgment." Lyerly v. Koenigsmann, No. 04 Civ. 3904, 2006 WL 1997709, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. July 17, 2006) (internal quotation marks omitted).

B. Procedural Requirements 1. Federal Claims

Both Title VII and the ADEA require that a plaintiff file a charge with the EEOC prior to filing a federal court action. See Legnani v. Alitalia Linee Aeree Italiane, S.P.A, 274 F.3d 683, 686 (2d Cir. 2001) (per curiam) ("Under both Title VII and the ADEA, a claimant may bring suit in federal court only if she has filed a timely complaint with the EEOC and obtained a right-to-sue letter."). In cases such as this one, where a plaintiff has initially instituted state or local proceedings challenging the allegedly discriminatory conduct, that charge must be filed no more than 300 days from the date of the alleged discriminatory conduct. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e)(1); 29 U.S.C. § 626(d); see also Hill v. Citibank Corp., 312 F. Supp. 2d 464, 472 (S.D.N.Y. 2004).*fn8 The filling deadlines for a charge of discrimination act as a "statute of limitations" and a failure to timely file a charge acts as a bar to a plaintiff's action. See Hill, 312 F. Supp. 2d at 472. This "statute of limitations" begins to run when each discrete discriminatory act occurs. See Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp. v. Morgan, 536 U.S. 101, 114 (2002); Hill, 312 F. Supp. 2d at 472.

Here, Plaintiff filed her charge of discrimination with the EEOC on September 14, 1999. As a result, the statute of limitations had already run on any discriminatory acts that occurred prior to November 18, 1998, 300 days prior to the filing of Plaintiff's charge of discrimination. Thus, the statute of limitation for federal Title VII and ADEA claims has run on three of Plaintiff's claims, namely those regarding her failure to be considered for the positions filled by Nissim Baruch in June 1998 and Kamal Bherwani in August 1998, ...

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