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Vinson v. City of New York

March 30, 2007

LENORA VINSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE CITY OF NEW YORK AND THE NEW YORK CITY HUMAN RESOURCES ADMINISTRATION, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John G. Koeltl, District Judge

OPINION AND ORDER

The pro se plaintiff Lenora Vinson brings this employment discrimination action against her former employer, the New York City Human Resources Administration ("HRA"), and the City of New York (collectively, "the City"). The plaintiff alleges that the City discriminated against her on the basis of her national origin as an African American in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., as well as 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983, and 1985(3). Construed liberally, the plaintiff's complaint also asserts a claim for discrimination based on a hostile work environment. The defendants move for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. For the reasons that follow, the defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted.

I.

The standard for granting summary judgment is well established. Summary judgment may not be granted unless "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986); Gallo v. Prudential Residential Servs. Ltd. P'ship, 22 F.3d 1219, 1223 (2d Cir. 1994). "[T]he trial court's task at the summary judgment motion stage of the litigation is carefully limited to discerning whether there are genuine issues of material fact to be tried, not to deciding them. Its duty, in short, is confined at this point to issue-finding; it does not extend to issue-resolution." Gallo, 22 F.3d at 1224. The moving party bears the initial burden of "informing the district court of the basis for its motion" and identifying the matter that "it believes demonstrate[s] the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. The substantive law governing the case will identify those facts which are material and "[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

In determining whether summary judgment is appropriate, a court must resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences against the moving party. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (citing United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962)); see also Gallo, 22 F.3d at 1223. Summary judgment is improper if there is any evidence in the record from any source from which a reasonable inference could be drawn in favor of the nonmoving party. See Chambers v. TRM Copy Ctrs. Corp., 43 F.3d 29, 37 (2d Cir. 1994). If the moving party meets its burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to come forward with "specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e). The nonmoving party must produce evidence in the record and "may not rely simply on conclusory statements or on contentions that the affidavits supporting the motion are not credible." Ying Jing Gan v. City of New York, 996 F.2d 522, 532 (2d Cir. 1993); see also Scotto v. Almenas, 143 F.3d 105, 114--15 (2d Cir. 1998) (collecting cases).

Where, as here, a pro se litigant is involved, although the same standards for dismissal apply, a court should give the pro se litigant special latitude in responding to a summary judgment motion. See McPherson v. Coombe, 174 F.3d 276, 280 (2d Cir. 1999) (courts "read the pleadings of a pro se plaintiff liberally and interpret them 'to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest'" (quoting Burgos v. Hopkins, 14 F.3d 787, 790 (2d Cir. 1994))). In particular, the pro se party must be given express notice of the consequences of failing to respond appropriately to a motion for summary judgment. Local Civil Rule 56.2; see McPherson, 174 F.3d at 281; Vital v. Interfaith Med. Ctr., 168 F.3d 615, 620--21 (2d Cir. 1999).

In this case, by Notice to Pro Se Litigant Opposing Motion for Summary Judgment dated July 28, 2006, the plaintiff was advised of the procedures for responding to a motion for summary judgment, including the requirement that the plaintiff submit a response to the defendants' statement pursuant to this District's Local Rule 56.1 and to submit counter-evidence. The plaintiff was also provided with a copy of Rule 56.

The plaintiff's submissions are nonetheless deficient. Any allegedly undisputed fact not "specifically controverted" by the opposing party's Rule 56.1 statement "will be deemed to be admitted." Local Rule 56.1(c); see also Dunkin' Donuts Inc. v. Barr Donut, LLC, 242 F. Supp. 2d 296, 298--99 (S.D.N.Y. 2003). Even undisputed facts, however, must be supported by the evidence presented. See Vermont Teddy Bear Co., Inc. v. 1-800 Beargram Co., 373 F.3d 241, 244 (2d Cir. 2004).

In response to the Defendants' Local Rule 56.1 Statement of Undisputed Facts ("Defs.' 56.1 Stmt."), the plaintiff merely submitted an "Answer," see Answer Opposing Motion to Defendants [sic] for Summary Judgment ("Pl.'s Stmt."), that "ignores a number of defendants' record-based factual assertions and contains conclusory factual allegations with no citations to the record." Sterbenz v. Attina, 205 F. Supp. 2d 65, 68 (E.D.N.Y. 2002). "Where plaintiff has not responded to defendants' factual assertions-all of which are established by documentary evidence and/or the deposition testimony of plaintiff and her counsel-this Court has deemed those facts uncontroverted." Id.

Therefore, for the purposes of this motion, the defendants' allegedly undisputed facts that are supported by the record and which the plaintiff has not specifically controverted with admissible evidence in accordance with Rule 56 and Local Rule 56.1 will be deemed admitted.

II.

Given the discussion above, the following facts are undisputed. The plaintiff was hired by the HRA in July 2003 as a Fraud Investigator. (Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 7, 11 and Ex. F.) To qualify for the position of Fraud Investigator, an individual must possess a baccalaureate degree from an accredited college, a high school diploma and three years of specific investigative experience, or an associate degree or 60 semester credits from an accredited college including or supplemented by 12 semester credits in a criminal justice major and one year of specific investigative experience. (Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 5 and Ex. G.) The plaintiff obtained the position based in part on her representation on her pre-employment application that she expected to receive a Bachelor of Arts degree from Medgar Evers College in 2003. (Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 6--7 and Ex. D.) Without a degree, the plaintiff was otherwise ineligible for the position because she did not have any relevant prior investigative experience. (Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 9 and Ex. D.)

Within two months the plaintiff came into conflict with her co-workers, including her supervisor Desreen Burnett, who was born in Jamaica, but who self-identifies as an African American, and her co-worker Deann Rashford who was also born in Jamaica. (See Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 13--15 and Ex. H, J, Y.) On September 10, 2003, Rashford informed Burnett that the plaintiff physically threatened her, exclaiming that she would "take [them] all down" and that "we can take this outside and handle this business." (Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 16--17 and Ex. H, J, K.) As a result of this incident, on September 30, 2003, the plaintiff and Rashford were sent separate memoranda that stated that their behavior was inappropriate and unacceptable under the Code of Conduct, cited in the memoranda, which according to the memoranda states that "[e]mployees shall be courteous and considerate in their contact with fellow employees at all times." (Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 17 and Ex. J, K.)

The plaintiff received another warning, on September 30, 2003, after she left her work post without permission. (Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 19 and Ex. L.) Burnett warned the plaintiff that her behavior was unacceptable under the Code of Conduct, cited in the warning, which as quoted in the warning provides that "[e]mployees shall not be absent from or leave assigned work location without appropriate authorization." (Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 20--21 and Ex. L.)

Around this time the plaintiff sent a letter to Burnett informing her that she felt harassed by her co-workers. (Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 22 and Ex. M.) In the letter, the plaintiff did not contend that the alleged harassment was related to her national origin, but instead urged that the alleged harassment was a result of a personal vendetta. (Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 23 and Ex. M.)

On October 22, 2003, the plaintiff received a performance evaluation marked "unratable" because of her short tenure; she refused to sign the evaluation and consequently received a memorandum documenting the conduct that Burnett viewed as insubordinate. (Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 24--27 and Ex. N, P, R.) Also in October, the plaintiff requested and was granted a transfer, although the person responsible for handling the request had no knowledge that the plaintiff was making the request because of harassment based on national origin. (Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 33 and Ex. C.) During this time, Jose Velez, a Fraud Investigator and former mediator, was assigned to mediate the conflict between the plaintiff and her supervisor. (Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 34 and Ex. B.) Mr. Velez testified that the plaintiff complained that co-workers were "picking on her," but he did not testify that this was attributed to discrimination based on national origin. (Id.) In ...


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