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Cramer v. Pyzowski

May 25, 2007

JOHN CRAMER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
PAUL PYZOWSKI, ASSISTANT DEPUTY CHIEF CLERK AND SUPERVISOR OF COURT OFFICERS OF THE FAMILY COURT, STATE OF NEW YORK, KINGS COUNTY, AND ROBERT RATANSKI, CHIEF CLERK OF THE FAMILY COURT OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK, KINGS COUNTY; AND JOHN DOES 1 THROUGH 10, THE INDIVIDUAL DEFENDANTS BEING SUED IN THEIR RESPECTIVE INDIVIDUAL AND OFFICIAL CAPACITIES, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Townes, United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM and ORDER

Plaintiff John Cramer ("Plaintiff" or "Cramer") brings this action against Paul Pyzowski ("Pyzowski"), Assistant Deputy Chief Clerk of the New York State Family Court, Kings County, and Robert Ratanski ("Ratanski"), Deputy Chief Clerk of New York State Family Court, Kings County, (collectively "Defendants"), alleging discrimination and retaliation based on ethnicity and national origin, pursuant to § 1983, and related state law claims.*fn1 Defendants now move for summary judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion is granted.

BACKGROUND

John Cramer has been employed in the New York State Court System for over 18 years. (John Cramer Affidavit ("Cramer Aff.") at ¶¶ 3, 4.) In 2002, after 15 years as a court officer in Family Court, Cramer passed a qualifying examination for the position of senior court clerk. (Id. at ¶ 5.) On December 5, 2002, he received a promotional transfer, on a probationary basis, to the position of senior court clerk in Kings County Family Court, under the supervision of Paul Pyzowski. (Id. at ¶ 6.) Cramer was not assigned to a permanent division or "Part" of the Court system, but was rotated into the various Parts based on staffing needs and to familiarize him with the variety of work performed in Family Court. (Paul Pyzowski Affidavit ("Pyzowski Aff.") at ¶ 22.)

According to Defendants, ample training opportunities were provided to Cramer after he began his position as a senior court clerk. (Pyzowski Aff. at ¶¶ 4-9; Robert Ratanski Affidavit ("Ratanski Aff.") at ¶ 27.) On December 12 and 13, 2002, Cramer attended a training seminar in Manhattan, for all new senior court clerks in the Family Courts city wide. (Pyzowski Aff. at ¶ 4.) He also received eleven days of on-the-job training with other senior clerks from December through March 2003. (Id.) In mid-April 2003, Pyzowski arranged for Cramer to receive training in certain Parts of the system handling foster care approval and review matters and abuse and neglect matters. (Id. at ¶ 6.) Training with experienced clerks in those Parts occurred on April 15, 16, 17, and 21, 2003. (Id.) During April, May and June, Plaintiff had eighteen training sessions with senior clerks in the Permanency Planning Parts and in the Juvenile Delinquency Parts. (Id. at ¶ 7.) In addition, beginning in March and continuing through June, all clerks, including Cramer, received instruction and training on the new computer system that was to be installed in the Family Court in Kings County in early June 2003. (Id. at ¶ 9.)

Despite the training opportunities, Pyzowski received numerous reports that Cramer's work was inadequate. In April 2003, Judge Gary, who sat in the Custody and Visitation Part, requested someone other than Plaintiff be put in his Part while his regular clerk was on vacation because Plaintiff's performance was unsatisfactory during a prior assignment to Judge Gary's Part in March 2003. (Id. at ¶ 5.) In July and August, Pyzowski received reports from supervisors Stephen Byrnes and Elizabeth Horowitz that Cramer's work was not meeting expectations. (Id. at ¶ 10.) In response, Pyzowski assigned Cramer to seven more days of training during this period. (Id.)

On August 20, 2003, Pyzowski met with Cramer and issued an interim evaluation, indicating that Cramer's performance needed improvement if Cramer was to successfully pass his probation. (Id. at ¶ 11.) During this evaluation, Pyzowski reviewed the areas where Cramer was deficient and indicated what was expected of him regarding his performance. (Id.; see also Pyzowski Aff., Exh. A.) On September 16, 2003, Pyzowski met with Cramer again to discuss his performance because Pyzowski's review of Cramer's files several days earlier had revealed numerous errors in his work. (Pyzowski Aff. at ¶ 12.) In addition, a memorandum from Ms. Horowitz dated September 15, 2003, indicated that Cramer's work was incomplete and incorrect work, and that he inappropriately stored active case files in his locker. (Id.; see also Pyzowski Aff., Exh. B.) As a result of these continued problems, Pyzowski scheduled additional training for Cramer with more senior clerks and gave him some afternoons free to catch up on his work and make the needed corrections to the files. (Pyzowski Aff. at ¶ 12.) However, in a follow-up meeting on September 24, 2003, Pyzowski discovered that Cramer had failed to make the required corrections. (Id. at ¶ 13.)

Although Plaintiff was given additional training opportunities, he continued to have problems. For example, Cramer's failure to accurately transfer the information contained on judges' endorsement sheets led to orders that were frequently inaccurate and incomplete. (Id. at ¶ 17.) In one instance, Cramer drafted an order directing that a father be kept away from his children, when the judge's notations indicated that the father could take the children out of state for visitations. (Id.) In addition, he consistently failed to enter the complete information about cases into the computer tracking system, often leaving incomplete entries. (Id.) According to Pyzowski, "the number of mistakes made by Mr. Cramer and the nature of those mistakes indicated to me that Cramer lacked a basic understanding of the work of the Family Court." (Id.) On October 23, 2003, as a result of Cramer's continued poor work performance, Pyzowski issued a final evaluation of Mr. Cramer's work and recommended that his probationary employment with Kings County Family Court be terminated and that Cramer be returned to his prior position. (Id. at ¶ 18; see also Pyzowski Aff., Exh. E.) On November 19, 2003, 16 days prior to the completion of his one year probationary period, Cramer was terminated from his position as a senior court clerk and returned to his prior position. (Cramer Aff. at ¶ 23.) The other probationary clerks that came to Kings County Family Court in 2003 exhibited satisfactory work performance and passed their probationary terms. (Paul Pyzowski Supplemental Affidavit ("Pyzowski 2d Aff.") at ¶ 11.) Cramer was the only probationary clerk whose work record was so poor that he did not pass his probation. (Id.)

Cramer disputes Defendants' claim that he was provided with ample training opportunities, and states that he repeatedly expressed concerns to Pyzowski about what he perceived as inadequate training. (Cramer Aff. at ¶ 7.) Cramer claims that the training seminar in Manhattan on December 12-13 was not a training seminar at all, but a two day orientation that simply provided an overview of the Court System with no training in the duties of a clerk. (Id. at ¶ 8.) He also claims that the eleven days of "on the job training" from December to March 2003 was of little use because all he did was watch other clerks do their jobs, but he states there was no explanation for what was being done. (Id.) He also characterizes his eighteen training sessions in the Permanency Planning and Juvenile Delinquency Parts as "not training sessions at all, but simply watching clerks do work, for brief periods of time, without explanation." (Id.)

According to Cramer, Pyzowski assigned him to the most undesirable Parts of the system with the heaviest caseloads and most demanding requirements. (Id. at ¶ 10.) He states that other similarly situated clerks, including Tony Palermo and Obed Bergis, were given better assignments and permanent posts, and other breaks and privileges that Cramer did not receive. (Id.) He also claims that Pyzowski spoke to him in a demeaning manner and occasionally yelled or cursed at him. (Id.)

In March of 2003, Plaintiff began complaining to his Union about these concerns. (Id. at ¶ 11.) On April 15, 2003, he requested a transfer to another court, but states the Defendants incorrectly advised him that, according to the Rules of the Chief Judge, Cramer could not request a transfer to another position until he had been on the job for one year. (Id. at ¶ 12.) Cramer claims that the harassment continued and worsened after his complaints to the union and his request for a transfer. (Id. at ¶ 13.) On July 8, 2003, Plaintiff filed a written complaint with Chief Judge Judith Kaye outlining the harassment by Pyzowski and his perceived lack of proper training. (Id. at ¶ 14; see also Defendants' Supplementary Affirmation ("Supp. Aff."), Exh. C.) Cramer asked Judge Kaye for a transfer because he said the stressful working conditions were causing him to suffer from high blood pressure and heart problems. (See Supp. Aff, Exh. C.) On August 25, 2003, five days after he received the negative interim evaluation from Pyzowski, Cramer wrote another letter to Judge Kaye, again asking for a transfer. (Id.) None of Cramer's letters stated that Cramer thought Pyzowksi's mistreatment of him was due to discriminatory animus based on Cramer's Irish ethnicity. (Id.) Cramer claims that the harassment continued to worsen after he made these complaints. (Cramer Aff. at ¶ 16.) Pyzowski states that he was not aware of any letters that Cramer sent to Judge Kaye until after Cramer's termination. (Pyzowski 2d. Aff. at ¶ 7.)

Cramer does not present any evidence of comments or actions taken by Pyzowski or Ratanski that reference his Irish ethnicity. He points to no statements or actions on the part of either defendant that indicate an anti-Irish bias, or suggest a discriminatory attitude towards Irish people. While Cramer admits that, at first, it was "clear that Pyzowski just didn't like me," he says that "[f]inally, it became apparent that my Irish ethnicity had a motivating and substantial role in the adverse employment actions taken by the [D]efendants." (Id. at ¶ 24.) Cramer states that he thinks Pyzowski's actions were motived, at least in part, by ethnic discrimination because the only two clerks Cramer thought were mistreated were himself and another Irish clerk, Eugene Brady. (Id. at ¶ 26.) Cramer alleges that he and Eugene Brady were the only two clerks who Pyzowski required to wait in his office for assignments every day, while similarly situated clerks were allowed to take coffee breaks during that time. (Id.) Cramer also points out that they were the only two clerks not given permanent posts. He states that he and Brady were treated in a different, hostile, and demeaning fashion by Pyzowski, and other similarly situated clerks did not experience this hostile treatment. (Id.)

Defendants note that, during the time period at issue, Mr. Brady, who was a senior court clerk of several years standing, did not have a permanent assignment because he was ill and frequently absent from work. (Pyzowski Aff. at ¶ 22.) In addition, Pyzowski states that he never knew Cramer's ethnic background during his probationary period and only learned of it after Plaintiff's termination. (Id. at ¶ 19.) Cramer counters that Pyzowski knew about Cramer's Irish heritage because they had discussed it many times. (Cramer Aff. at ¶ 25.) Specifically, according to Cramer, they discussed the possibility of Cramer taking time off to participate in the St. Patrick's Day Parade and Pyzowski had also commented on Cramer's clover tie clip on more than one occasion. (Id.)

Ratanski also claims he did not know Cramer's ethnic background during the time that Cramer was a probationary employee in Kings County Family Court. (Deposition of Robert Ratanski ("Ratanski Dep.") at 35:2-12.) As Deputy Chief Clerk of the Family Court of Kings County, Ratanski had supervisory responsibility over all of the non-judicial employees in Kings Family Court, including senior court clerks and probationary clerks. (Ratanski Aff. at ¶ 2.) On November 10, 2003, upon receiving Pyzowksi's final evaluation that contained a recommendation to terminate Plaintiff's probationary employment, Ratanski served Cramer with the notice of termination letter from Deputy Chief Administrative Judge Joan B. Carey. (Ratanski Aff. at ¶¶ 24-26.) Plaintiff was terminated on November 19, 2003.

DISCUSSION

A. Standard for Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is generally appropriate where 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." Viola v. Philips Med. Sys. of N. Am., 42 F.3d 712, 716 (2d Cir. 1994) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)). The relevant governing law in each case determines which facts are material; "[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, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed. 2d 202 (1986). No genuinely triable factual issue exists when the moving party demonstrates, on the basis of the pleadings and submitted evidence, and after drawing all inferences and resolving all ambiguities in favor of the non-movant, that no rational jury could find in the non-movant's favor. See Chertkova v. Conn. Gen. Life Ins. Co., 92 F.3d 81, 86 (2d Cir. 1996).

To defeat a summary judgment motion properly supported by affidavits, depositions, or other documentation, the non-movant must offer similar materials setting forth specific facts that show that there is a genuine issue of material fact to be tried. Rule v. Brine, Inc., 85 F.3d 1002, 1011 (2d Cir. 1996). The non-movant must present more than a "scintilla of evidence," Del. & Hudson Ry. Co. v. Consol. Rail Corp., 902 F.2d 174, 178 (2d Cir. 1990) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252), or "some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts," Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed. 2d 538 (1986), and cannot rely on the allegations in his or her pleadings, conclusory statements, or on mere assertions that affidavits supporting the motion are not credible. See Gottlieb v. County of Orange, 84 F.3d 511, 518 (2d Cir. 1996).

Summary judgment is appropriate in discrimination cases. See Weinstock v. Columbia Univ., 224 F.3d 33, 41 (2d Cir. 2000); Meiri v. Dacon, 759 F.2d 989, 998 (2d Cir. 1985). The Supreme Court has reiterated that trial courts "should not 'treat discrimination differently from other ultimate questions of fact.'" Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 148, 120 S.Ct. 2097, 147 L.Ed. 2d 105 ...


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