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Osborne v. Literacy Partners

August 9, 2007

AVRIL OSBORNE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
LITERACY PARTNERS, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Deborah A. Batts, United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

Plaintiff Avril Osborne ("Plaintiff") has brought this suit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e, et seq. ("Title VII"), claiming that she was terminated from her job at Defendant Literacy Partners, Inc. ("Defendant" or "LPI") because of her race and color. Now before this Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. For the reasons contained herein, Defendant's Motion is GRANTED.

I. BACKGROUND

At the outset, the Court notes the dearth of evidence that has been submitted. Defendant submitted only a copy of Plaintiff Avril Osborne's deposition transcript to supplement its Rule 56.1 Statement and its Memorandum of Law in Support of its Motion for Summary Judgment. In response, Plaintiff filed a two-page Affirmation in Opposition of Motion which disputes four facts from Defendant's Memorandum.*fn1

No other documents or records have been submitted to the Court on this Motion.

Defendant LPI is a non-profit organization that provides literacy and other educational services to adults. (Def.'s Memo. of Law at 3.) Plaintiff, who identifies her race as "Mulatto/Black" and her color as "light brown" (See Compl. ¶ 7; see also 39:21 - 40:20) began her employment at LPI in August of 1998 as a full-time Coordinator. (Id. 35:13-24.) In January of 2001, she was promoted to Supervisor. (Id. 36:4-10.) LPI promoted her again in July of 2002 to Manager of Family Literacy, and gave her a $2,000 raise. (Id. 36:18 - 37:5.) Though the latter promotion had been scheduled by then-CEO Jon Deveaux, (id. 81:8-11), Debra Lynne ("Lynne"), who replaced Deveaux, was the person who actually effectuated the promotion (id. 38:17 -39:14).

Over the course of her term at LPI, Plaintiff witnessed conduct by other employees which she considered racially offensive. For example, she described as "exploitative" the decision to showcase only LPI's students of color at fundraisers.

(Id. 43:11 - 45:18.) She also found offensive employees who referred to LPI's students as "those people" (id. 73:17-24), and who commented that "our tutors have to be kept safe and protected, because we don't know, you know, who our students are" (id. 48:19-25). In Plaintiff's words, these comments were offensive because "when most of the students are of color and most of the tutors are white, it's kind of an understanding -- the picture that you get is of, you know, we have to protect the whites from the blacks." (Id. 49:1-7.) Despite Plaintiff's assertion that most of the tutors were white, she was unable to cite any particular policy permitting only white people to volunteer for LPI.*fn2 (Id. 53:9-16.) She did, however, argue at her deposition that LPI should have taken steps to recruit a more diverse pool of tutors. (Id.)

Plaintiff also recalled at her deposition a time when LPI did not ask for her help with organizing a fundraiser. (Id. 68:13-24.) Instead, Plaintiff was asked only to remove a loud child from the premises. (Id. 68:25 - 69:25.) She stated that this request was made of her in a "condescending" manner. (Id.) Despite feeling under-involved at this fundraiser, Plaintiff also has asserted that she was overworked during her tenure at LPI. (Id. 245:4-16.) She noted, however, that LPI employees of all races and colors were overworked. (Id.) She also noted that other employees, including white employees, were terminated when she worked there. (Id. 137:3 - 138:22.) Despite each of Plaintiff's concerns about her employer's allegedly discriminatory conduct, she testified that she never filed a complaint pursuant to her employer's complaint procedure even though she had received a handbook which explained how to file internal complaints about discrimination. (Id. 236:19 - 237:14.)

Plaintiff's relationship with Debra Lynne, her supervisor, was sometimes hostile. Plaintiff recalled at her deposition an incident when Lynne was moving a table and accidentally hit Plaintiff with it. Lynne did not apologize to Plaintiff, but instead yelled at her, and told her that she should not have been standing where she was. (Id. 77:1-9.) Plaintiff opined at her deposition on the reason for Lynne's alleged hostility toward her, suggesting that it may have been "based on race". (Id. 79:2-5.) Plaintiff also suggested that Lynne's hostility may have stemmed from her feeling threatened by Plaintiff's excellent job performance.*fn3 (Id. 78:4-7.)

When pressed at her deposition, however, Plaintiff stated that no specific comment or comments created a racially hostile environment, but that there was an overall air of racism: "Well, I think the context is not necessarily can be separated out as comments [sic], but the environment in entirety . . . ." (Id. 52:7-9.)

On November 15, 2002, Plaintiff was terminated.*fn4 (Id. 141:13-15.) Her termination was effectuated by Lynne (id. 145:4-8), and was enforced the same day that she was notified of it (id. 26:17-24). The reasons cited for the termination were financial and structural. According to Plaintiff:

I think the exact words were that the staffing in the family literacy program is not working and we're changing it. And I was also told at that time that, for the record, it would say that the reason for my termination was organizational restructuring and financial constraints of the organization. (Id. 129:11-19.) Indeed, LPI suffered in 2002 a twenty-five percent budget cut, resulting in fewer office supplies and a decrease in support staff. (Id. 33:22 - 34:16, 203:18 - 205:4.)

Plaintiff's belief that LPI's reasons were pretextual stemmed from an announcement allegedly made at a staff meeting that LPI needed a "more professional" staff. (Id. 134:25 -135:22.) Though Plaintiff was not present at that meeting, she asserted that this statement was "significant":

I can think that as far as this claim of racial discrimination, when you've just fired someone who is claiming racial discrimination and then you're hiring someone else for the position who is of a different race, that -- what I'm saying is she hired a white woman and to say I'm hiring a more professional staff, I thought that was significant. (Id. 135:14-22.)

Plaintiff stated that a white woman was hired to replace her, but she did not know who she was, nor did she know the terms of her replacement's employment or even whether that person's classification as a "replacement" was appropriate in the first instance. (Id. 132:2-22.) Defendant counters that Plaintiff was not replaced per se, but that the Associate Director of Education position was upgraded for the new hiree while Plaintiff's Manager of Family Literacy position was eliminated. (Def.'s Mem. of Law at 3.) Defendant, however, does not cite to any document to corroborate its contention.

By the end of November 2002, Plaintiff was hired as a temporary employee by the Brooklyn Bureau of Community Services, where she earned a higher salary than she had at LPI. (Osborne Dep. 222:19 - 223:3; 255:10 - 257:3.) By January 2003, she was working full-time. (Osborne Dep. 215:23 - 216:3.)

Plaintiff filed a claim with the EEOC, and then received a Notice of Right to Sue on July 9, 2004. On August 17, 2004 -- within the requisite time ...


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