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Garrett v. Garden City Hotel

April 19, 2007

STELLA GARRETT, PLAINTIFF,
v.
GARDEN CITY HOTEL, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joseph F. Bianco, District Judge

Memorandum and Order

Plaintiff Stella Garrett ("Garrett") brings this action alleging employment discrimination on the basis of her race and age, and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e ("Title VII"); the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, 29 U.S.C. § 621 ("ADEA"); the Civil Rights Act of 1866, 42 U.S.C. § 1981; the New York State Human Rights laws, Executive law § 296 ("NYHRL"); and the New York City Human Rights Law ("CHRL"); against defendant Garden City Hotel, Inc. ("GCH" or "the Hotel"). Plaintiff asserts that she was passed over for promotion and was terminated as a result of her race and age, was subjected to a hostile work environment and was retaliated against for raising complaints of race and age discrimination. Defendant moves for summary judgment as to all of plaintiff's claims. The central issues in this case are whether certain claims are time-barred and whether Garrett has presented sufficient evidence in support of her claims so as to survive defendant's motion for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, defendant's motion is granted in its entirety.

I. BACKGROUND

A. The Facts

1. The Parties

Garrett is an African-American woman over sixty years of age. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 1.)*fn1 GHC maintains and operates a luxury hotel in Garden City, New York. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 9.)

2. The Failure to Promote Garrett

In 1983, Garrett began working at GHC as a Room Attendant. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 3.) When she was hired by GHC, Garrett had no prior experience working in a hotel and, for the previous ten years, had cleaned private homes. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 4.) Subsequently, Garrett was promoted through the ranks of the GHC's Housekeeping division until, in 1998, she obtained the position of Assistant Executive Housekeeper. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 6, 12.)

As Assistant Executive Housekeeper, Garrett's duties included supervising 50-60 employees in the Rooms Division, inspecting the performance of Floor Supervisors, performing administrative tasks related to her job, such as preparing a daily summary of work done by those under her supervision, and, in general, monitoring and maintaining cleanliness in her assigned areas. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 14-21.) Moreover, Garrett was responsible for training employees in the Rooms Division. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 14.) Garrett was also required to participate in a "Train the Trainer" program, which aimed to train managers and supervisors on how to properly train their own staff. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 17.)

Garrett was promoted to the Assistant Executive Housekeeper position by the Executive Housekeeper at the time, Ms. Loretta ("Loretta"), who is Caucasian. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 6; Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 6.) Garrett replaced a Hispanic female who had previously held the position for one year. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 13.) Garrett's promotion was approved by Cathy Miro ("Miro"), the Director of the Rooms Division, who is Caucasian. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 11-12.)

Soon thereafter, Loretta was replaced as the Executive Housekeeper by Creola Mills ("Mills"), an African-American woman hired from outside the Hotel's staff. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 7-8.) According to Garrett, Mills was terminated by GCH in April 1999 (Compl. ¶ 20.) Defendant asserts that Mills "retired" at that time. (Samman Aff. ¶ 8.)

Following Mills' departure from GCH, the Hotel hired two Executive Housekeepers from outside the Hotel's staff. According to defendant, at that time, GCH was looking to hire an Executive Housekeeper with prior experience working in luxury hotels. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 121; Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 121.)

In July 1999, GCH hired Tomasz Marcinow ("Marcinow") as Executive Housekeeper. (Samman Aff. ¶ 13.) Marcinow had previously worked at luxury hotels in Manhattan, including the Roger Williams Hotel, the Hotel Inter-Continental, Essex House, Morgan's Hotel and the Plaza Hotel. (Id.) Marcinow voluntarily resigned from GCH in September 1999. (Id. ¶ 15.)

On October 20, 1999, GCH hired George Burroughs ("Burroughs") as Executive Housekeeper. (Samman Aff. ¶ 15.) Burroughs had formerly served as the Director of Housekeeping at the W Hotel and the Millenium Hilton in Manhattan. In those positions, Burroughs acquired experience in managing employees, performing administrative functions such as preparing payroll reports, and procuring shipments and supplies from vendors. (Id. ¶¶ 16-17; Def.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 114-116.) When Burroughs was hired by GCH, he asked a GCH supervisor why Garrett had not been promoted to fill the Executive Housekeeper position. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 126.) He was told that GCH did not see Garrett as ready for promotion. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 126.)

Garrett never submitted a written application for the Executive Housekeeper position. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 111.) She did not prepare or submit a resume or a letter to GCH management stating why she believed she was qualified for the position. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 111.) Nevertheless, Garrett asserts that, at some point, she "went to Human Resources to apply for the position" of Executive Housekeeper. (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 205.)

Garrett alleges that GCH decided to obtain Executive Housekeepers from outside the Hotel in order to "avoid promoting [Garrett] to the Executive Housekeeper" position; according to Garrett, GCH's decision was made on the basis of Garrett's race and her age. (Compl. ¶ 22.)

However, defendant asserts that Garrett was not considered for the Executive Housekeeper position because she lacked certain skills necessary for the position, including computer literacy, customer service training, and the ability to prepare annual budget and expense reports. (Samman Aff. ¶ 9.) Moreover, defendant asserts that Garrett lacked the communication and interpersonal skills necessary for the position, and that other staff considered her to be rude and abrasive. (Samman Aff. ¶ 11.) Garrett concedes that at the time Burroughs was hired as Executive Housekeeper, she was "very limited" in the duties she could perform due to her lack of knowledge. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 127.)

3. Plaintiff's Proffered Evidence of Discrimination

In support of her discrimination claims, Garrett alleges that in 1999, prior to Marcinow leaving GCH, Marcinow told Garrett that GCH's General Manager, Nasser Samman ("Samman"), had instructed Marcinow to "fire that black bitch," allegedly referring to Garrett. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 109.)

Garrett also alleges that GCH discriminated against her because she did not have the "right look." (Compl. ¶¶ 34, 58; Garrett Tr. at 168.) Garrett alleges that, in May 2000, she learned from Burroughs about a so-called "look test" used by GCH. (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 99; Def.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 93-94.) According to Garrett, Burroughs relayed to her a conversation between Burroughs and Laura Brown ("Brown"), GCH's Assistant Director of Human Resources. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 93.) Burroughs allegedly told Garrett that GCH had turned down an African-American job applicant and that Brown had said the reason for the African-American applicant's rejection was that she did not "have the look." (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 92-93.) In turn, according to Garrett, Burroughs said that he believed that requiring employees to have "the look" meant that employees must be Caucasian or "lightskinned Latino" in order to "work the lobby, deal with the guests or be in the public eye."*fn2 (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 93; Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 98; Garrett Tr. at 168.)

Defendant disputes that it made any hiring decision based on a "look test" or that the job applicant at issue was rejected due to such a test. First, defendant notes that Burroughs denies knowing the reason for the rejection of the job applicant and being told by anyone in GCH management that African-American applicants did not have "the look." (Def.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 95-99; Pl.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 95-99; Burroughs Tr. at 232-33.) Second, defendant points out that it is undisputed that Garrett cannot identify the rejected job applicant and has no first-hand knowledge of the job applicant's qualifications. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 92, 94.)

Garrett also alleges that GCH did not promote her and denied her training opportunities because of her age. (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 105.) In support, Garrett points out that both Marcinow and Burroughs were younger than Garrett, and that Mills, a woman formerly employed by GCH as Executive Housekeeper, also did not receive training during her time at GCH because of her age. (Id.)

4. Complaints to GCH Employees

Garrett asserts that she complained to several supervisors at GCH about racial discrimination. First, Garrett asserts that she complained of racial discrimination to Peggy O'Boyle ("O'Boyle"), in 1999. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 134; Garrett Dep. at 189-90.) O'Boyle left GCH in August 1999. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 134.)

Second, Garrett alleges that she complained of racial discrimination to Samman and another GCH employee, Cathy Nelkin, respectively, but she cannot recall when she complained to them or the specific substance of her complaints. (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 138; Garrett Tr. at 188-89.)

Finally, Garrett alleges that she complained to Burroughs in January 2002 regarding GCH's treatment of her, the lack of training she had received, "the homogeneity of management," and of racial discrimination. (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 140.)

Garrett never complained to Muro about alleged racial or age discrimination or alleged discriminatory remarks made by other GCH employees. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 135.) Moreover, Brown, the GCH employee who fired Garrett, was not aware that Garrett had complained of discrimination based upon her race or age. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 142; Brown Aff. ¶ 12.)

5. Garrett's Job Performance

a. Performance Evaluations

In early November 1999, Muro conducted a performance evaluation of Garrett. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 27.) Muro told Garrett that she needed to improve her "employee relationships." In a written evaluation, Muro also relayed that Garrett needed to improve in the areas of Staff Development and Promotion, Task Management, Team Development and Leadership. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 28-29; Pl.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 28-29.) Following the performance evaluation, Garrett signed an acknowledgment, indicating that she had read, discussed and understood the performance evaluation, and understood that she could attach additional comments to the form containing the evaluation if she wished to do so; Garrett did not attach any such comments. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 30.) In February 2000, Burroughs told Garrett that one of Garrett's subordinates had complained about her demeanor towards the staff; Burroughs warned Garrett that further complaints might result in her termination. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 32.) Later, in a performance evaluation in August 2000, Garrett was again informed that she needed to improve her performance in the area of Staff Development and Promotion. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 34.)

In another evaluation of Garrett's performance, conducted by Burroughs on February 27, 2001, Garrett was informed that she needed to improve in the areas of Preferred Standards Compliance, Staff Development and Promotion, Team Development, and Business Values and Leadership. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 50.) At that time, Garrett received an overall performance rating of Meets Expectations/Improvement Needed. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 50.) Garrett's mid-year review in 2001 indicated that she needed to improve her performance in the area of Staff Development and Promotion, and that she needed to continue to train her staff to meet GCH standards. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 52.)

Garrett's 2002 performance review noted her need to improve in the areas of Employee Relations, Staff Development and Promotion, Team Development and Leadership. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 53.) The 2002 review also indicated that Garrett's "obligation [is] to cease any activity which could be construed as negative or contributing to unrest with the dept . . . [She] needs to work on her communication skills and treatment of fellow employees." (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 53.) Moreover, the 2002 review indicated that Garrett needed "to be consistent in" training her staff. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 53.) On April 10, 2002, Burroughs reminded Garrett of her responsibility to conduct weekly training of her staff. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 76.) Garrett has acknowledged that there were weeks when she did not hold the required training classes for employees under her supervision. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 49; Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 49.)

b. The November 1999 Failure to Report Lost Property

In November 1999, Garrett was aware that GCH's procedures required employees to immediately report to Hotel security any valuable property found in unoccupied rooms. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 23.) Nevertheless, on November 20, 1999, Garrett failed to report to security a laptop computer found in an unoccupied room. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 24.) Consequently, Garrett was issued a written warning regarding her failure to follow procedure and was orally reprimanded by Burroughs, her supervisor at the time. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 24.)

c. The December 2000 Party

In December 2000, GCH hosted one of its largest and most important corporate affairs, the Canon Christmas Party. According to Garrett, she was not informed by GCH that she was required to be on hand for the party and, as a result, was not at GCH during the event. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 36-37; Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 37.) Garrett was disciplined by Muro for her absence. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 37.)

d. Room Inspections

On December 14, 2000, Garrett told her supervisors that a room under her supervision had been inspected and was ready for new occupants. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 38.) Later, the Director of Operations, Nasser Samman ("Samman"), found the room littered with debris and discovered hair on the towels. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 39.) According to Garrett, Burroughs believed that Samman had placed the debris in the room himself. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 38; Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 39.) Nevertheless, it is undisputed that, following the incident, Burroughs issued a memorandum to Garrett stating that Garrett's level of ...


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