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Clanton v. Schlegel Systems

April 17, 2007

CYNTHIA CLANTON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
SCHLEGEL SYSTEMS, INC., SCOTT PAGE, BERNIE BAUER, KEN PITTS, ROSS SHERWOOD, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN THEIR OFFICIAL CAPACITIES, AND UNION OF NEEDLETRADES INDUSTRIAL AND TEXTILE EMPLOYEES (UNITE), DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael A. Telesca United States District Judge

DECISION and ORDER

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Cynthia Clanton, ("Clanton"), brings this action pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), (codified at 42 U.S.C. § 2000(e), et seq.); the Americans with Disabilities Act,(codified at 29 U.S.C. § 12112 et. seq.); New York State Human Rights Law, 42 U.S.C. § 1981, the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, and New York State Labor Law against her former employer, Schlegel Systems, Inc., ("Schlegel") several individual defendants, and the Union of Needletrades Industrial and Textile Employees claiming that she was discriminated against on the basis of her race, gender, and disability, and that she was retaliated against for complaining of discrimination. Defendants Schlegel, Scott Page ("Page"), Bernie Bauer ("Bauer"), Ken Pitts ("Pitts"), and Ross Sherwood ("Sherwood") move for summary judgment dismissing plaintiff's claims on grounds that plaintiff has failed to state a prima facie case of discrimination or retaliation, and that even if plaintiff has stated a prima facie case, she has failed to rebut the defendants' legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for terminating her employment. For the reasons set forth below, I grant in-part and deny in-part defendants' motion for summary judgment.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Cynthia Clanton was hired by defendant Schlegel Systems, Inc., on September 8, 1999 as a material handler. Schlegel is a manufacturer of several products used in building and automotive industries, including weather stripping products. As a material handler, Clanton assisted machine operators by providing the operators with raw materials and removing finished products from the operators' areas.

Throughout her employment at Schlegel, plaintiff was promoted to the positions of assembler, machine operator technician, and machine operator. As a machine operator, plaintiff was responsible for operating the industrial machines which produced finished products. Typically, the machines were run by a single operator, and each operator in plaintiff's department, the Urethane Department, rotated between different machines and product lines. According to the plaintiff and several employees or former employees at Schlegel, some machines and lines required more effort to run than other lines. During her employment at Schlegel, plaintiff reported to Bernie Bauer, her supervisor. Plaintiff, who is an African-American female, contends that Bauer discriminated against her in a number of ways including scrutinizing her more closely than non-black employees; subjecting her to discipline for infractions while allowing white employees to engage in those infractions; failing to follow established disciplinary procedures; harassing her while she was working by paging her soon after her shift began; assigning her and other black employees to more difficult machines and lines; failing to accommodate her temporary work restrictions while accommodating work restrictions for white employees, and paging her while she was on a bathroom break. She claims that Bauer did not subject white employees to any negative or harassing behavior.

Although plaintiff complained to her Union of discriminatory treatment towards her by Bauer, the Union, after conducting its own investigation, decided not to file a grievance on her behalf. In May and September, 2003, plaintiff filed discrimination complaints against Schlegel with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and on October 8, 2003, plaintiff filed a Federal Complaint alleging discrimination with this Court.*fn1 According to the plaintiff, she was retaliated against for filing her discrimination complaints.

In April of 2003, plaintiff took disability leave from Schlegel as a result of a foot injury which occurred at work in July, 2002. Upon her return to work on August 11, 2003, plaintiff contends that the defendants did not honor the work restrictions imposed on her by her doctor, and as a result, she reaggravated her injury, and was forced to take another week of disability leave. Plaintiff contends that defendants continued to ignore her work restrictions, but that work restrictions imposed on white employees were honored.

Following her return to work in late August, 2003, Clanton experienced several alleged performance related problems with her machines. According to the plaintiff, the problems were not the result of her performance, but instead were routine problems. Defendants contend that the problems plaintiff experienced were the result of plaintiff's poor work performance. Clanton was also accused of shutting down her lines early, leaving her post without permission, and insubordination. On September 5, 2003, Clanton was suspended indefinitely pending an investigation into her alleged poor performance and insubordination. On October 6, plaintiff was reinstated and placed on final warning. Thereafter, on January 21, 2004, plaintiff allegedly experienced several line failures, and failed to comply with a direct order to clean up scrap near her worksite. As a result of her performance deficiencies and insubordination, plaintiff's employment was terminated.

DISCUSSION

I. Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment

Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that summary judgment "shall be rendered forthwith if 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 judgment as a matter of law." When considering whether a genuine issue of fact exists for purposes of a motion for summary judgment, all inferences and ambiguities must be resolved in favor of the party against whom summary judgment is sought. See R.B. Ventures, Ltd. v. Shane, 112 F.3d 54 (2d Cir. 1997). It is only if after considering the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, the court finds that no rational jury could find in favor of that party, a grant of summary judgment is appropriate. See Annis v. County of Westchester, 136 F.3d 239 (2d Cir. 1998).*fn2

II. Plaintiff's Title VII Claims

Plaintiff alleges in her Complaint that she was discriminated against on the basis of her race and gender in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits an employer from "hir[ing] or . . . discharg[ing] any individual, or otherwise . . . discriminat[ing] against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin . . ." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2.

Claims of employment discrimination are analyzed under the well-recognized burden shifting framework set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973) and later refined in Texas Dep't of Community Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248 (1981) and St. Mary's Honor Center v. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502 (1993). Under the McDonnell Douglas test, the plaintiff bears the burden proving a prima facie case of discrimination. If the plaintiff succeeds in stating a prima facie case, the burden of production shifts to the defendant to state a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for taking the employment action at issue. Should the employer meet that burden, the burden of production then shifts back to the plaintiff to show that the reasons proffered by the employer were not the true reasons for the adverse employment action, but instead ...


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