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Almonord v. Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center

August 10, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Garaufis, District Judge.


Plaintiff Anne-Marie Almonord ("Plaintiff") alleges that Defendants Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center ("Kingsbrook"), William Morse ("Morse"), who is sued in his individual capacity and in his official capacity as a human resources representative for Kingsbrook, and Dawn Passero ("Passero"), who is sued in her individual capacity and in her official capacity as a manager for Kingsbrook, discriminated and retaliated against Plaintiff in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e, et seq. ("Title VII"); New York State's Human Rights Law, N.Y. Exec. Law §§ 290, et seq. ("NYSHRL"); and New York City's Human Rights Law, N.Y.C. Admin. Code §§ 8-101, et seq. ("NYCHRL").

Kingsbrook and Passero have moved for summary judgment. Morse has moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and, in the alternative, for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the motions for summary judgment are GRANTED with respect to discrimination and GRANTED in part and DENIED in part with respect to retaliation. Morse's motion to dismiss is DENIED.

I. Background

Because Defendants move for summary judgment, this court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to Plaintiff and must draw all permissible inferences from the submitted affidavits, exhibits, interrogatory answers, and depositions in favor of Plaintiff. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986); Vann v. City of New York, 72 F.3d 1040, 1048-49 (2d Cir. 1995). Even in a fact-intensive employment discrimination case, however, the court will not accept as fact mere allegations lacking evidentiary support. Abdu-Brisson v. Delta Air Lines, 239 F.3d 456, 466 (2d Cir. 2001).*fn1

A. Plaintiff's Employment History

Plaintiff, who identifies herself as Black and of Haitian national origin, was first employed by Kingsbrook in 1989 as a part-time receptionist and clerk typist. (Defs. 56.1 St. ¶ 2; Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 2.) Between 1995 and December 18, 2000, Plaintiff worked as a Patient Accounts Clerk in Kingsbrook's Business Office. (Defs. 56.1 St. ¶ 4; Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 4.) Her responsibilities included medical billing and collections work for the Inpatient Billing Department. (Defs. 56.1 St. ¶ 4; Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 4.) On December 18, 2000, Plaintiff was promoted to Supervisor of Outpatient Billing; she remained in that position until her termination in 2002. (Defs. 56.1 St. ¶ 5; Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 5.) While working in that position, she reported to Passero, Kingsbrook's Manager of Outpatient Billing, who is Caucasian and was born in the United States. (Defs. 56.1 St. ¶¶ 7, 9; Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶¶ 7, 9.)

B. Plaintiff's and Passero's Relationship

1. 1995 to October 2000

Plaintiff and Passero first met in 1995 while working under different supervisors in Kingsbrook's Business Office. (Defs. 56.1 St. ¶ 19; Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 19.) Plaintiff does not allege that Passero discriminated against her while they were co-workers. (Defs. 56.1 St. ¶¶ 25-26; Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶¶ 25-26.)

Plaintiff and Passero offer different accounts of their relationship. Passero, who describes Plaintiff as a personal friend, testified that the two of them would often discuss personal matters and eat lunch together and that she often drove Plaintiff to the bus stop on her way home from work. (Defs. 56.1 St. ¶¶ 20-23.) Passero further testified that she was one of the only Kingsbrook employees to attend Plaintiff's mother's wake in 1997. (Id. ¶ 24.) Plaintiff objects to Passero's characterization of the two of them as personal friends. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶¶ 20, 22, 23, 25, 36; Pl. Dep. Tr. at 61-68.) Plaintiff claims that she considered Passero not a "friend," but rather a co-worker toward whom she was "friendly," just as she was friendly toward other co-workers. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶¶ 20, 22, 23, 25, 36; Pl. Dep. Tr. at 61-68.) Plaintiff testified that Passero drove her halfway home only a "few times," that they had lunch together only when with a larger group of co-workers, and that she and Passero discussed personal issues only "on occasion." (Pl. Dep. Tr. at 62-63.) Plaintiff does not specifically recall Passero attending her mother's wake but does not deny that Passero was there. (Id.)

2. October 2000 to April 2002

In October 2000, after Irving Peters, who was Black, retired, Passero was promoted to Manager of Outpatient Billing. (Defs. 56.1 St. ¶¶ 33-34; Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶¶ 33-34.) Shortly after her promotion, Passero began looking for a person to fill her previous position, Supervisor of Outpatient Billing. (Defs. 56.1 St. ¶ 35; Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 35.) Passero claims she encouraged Plaintiff to apply for the position based on both their friendly relationship and Plaintiff's qualifications. (Passero Dep. Tr. at 58-59, 64; Pl. Dep. Tr. at 287.) Passero interviewed Plaintiff and Denise Alward, another Black employee of Kingsbrook, for the position. (Passero Aff. ¶ 14.) Passero testified that she did not think it was necessary to interview external candidates, because she and Plaintiff "could work well together," were "very friendly," and had a "nice relationship." (Id.)

On December 18, 2000, Passero promoted Plaintiff to Supervisor of Outpatient Billing. (Defs. 56.1 St. ¶ 41; Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 41.) In this position, Plaintiff supervised fifteen employees. (Pl. Dep. Tr. at 69-73.) Her responsibilities included (1) implementing, explaining, and enforcing the hospital's employment policies, (2) organizing various billing and collection processes, and (3) preparing billing reports. (Defs. 56.1 St. ¶¶ 49-51; Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶¶ 49-51.) From the time of Plaintiff's promotion until early 2002, Kingsbrook employed seventeen people in the Outpatient Billing Department. (Defs. 56.1 St. ¶¶ 46-47; Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶¶ 46-47.) With the exception of Passero and one clerk, the remaining fifteen employees were Black, including one employee who was of Haitian descent. (Defs. 56.1 St. ¶¶ 47-48; Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶¶ 47-48.)

Passero testified that Plaintiff had difficulty in her new position. (Defs. 56.1 St. ¶ 52.) Passero provides numerous examples of specific instances in which Plaintiff failed to perform her responsibilities and supervise her subordinates properly.*fn2 (Defs. 56.1 St. ¶¶ 54-56, 58, 61, 66, 88-89, 90-95.) Plaintiff, however, repeatedly and strenuously denies that she had any problems performing her new duties. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶¶ 52-54, 58, 61, 68, 70, 109, 111, 120-24).

In January 2001, Plaintiff and Sylvia Taylor, a clerk whom Plaintiff supervised, had an argument. (Defs. 56.1 St. ¶ 55.) Kingsbrook claims that when Taylor refused to follow an instruction given by Plaintiff, Plaintiff screamed at Taylor. (Id.) Plaintiff, however, denies Kingsbrook's allegation that she screamed at Taylor, and claims that Taylor became hostile toward her without provocation. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 55.) Kingsbrook alleges that Plaintiff did not effectively control attendance problems occurring within the department. (Defs. 56.1 St. ¶ 56.) Plaintiff denies this. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 56.)

Kingsbrook alleges that Passero often counseled Plaintiff regarding how to meet the requirements of Plaintiff's new position. (Defs. 56.1 St. ¶ 57.) Plaintiff denies this. (Pl. Dep. Tr. at 158-60.) Kingsbrook also alleges that Plaintiff did not regularly submit various billing reports. (Defs. 56.1 St. ¶¶ 58-61.) Plaintiff denies this as well. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶¶ 58-61.)

On August 15, 2001, Passero sent Plaintiff an email that outlined Plaintiff's ongoing responsibilities. (Defs. 56.1 St. ¶ 63.) Passero claims that this email was written in order to inform Plaintiff that she was not performing her required duties. (Id.) Plaintiff claims that this was instead a "normal work-related . . . email." (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶¶ 63-65.) Passero testified that Plaintiff continued to neglect her responsibilities despite continually being reminded what was expected of her. (Defs. 56.1 St. ¶ 66; Passero Dep. Tr. at 105-06.)

Plaintiff testified that in September or October 2001, Passero mocked her accent, specifically her pronunciation of the word "roof." (Pl. Dep. Tr. at 138, 158.) Plaintiff also testified that Passero yelled at her and "became hostile." (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 71.) Plaintiff testified that she told Passero she was returning to graduate school and that Passero responded, "You and that education, it must be a Haitian thing." (Pl. Dep. Tr. at 136.) Plaintiff also asserted that Passero made other references to her Haitian decent, although she could not identify any other such references. (Id. at 292-93.)

In September or October 2001, Plaintiff spoke with Mohamed Hebela, Chief Financial Officer of Kingsbrook, regarding her difficulties with Passero. (Pl. Dep. Tr. at 192.) She complained that Passero yelled at her and mimicked her accent. (Id.) Plaintiff concedes that she did not inform Hebela that she thought Passero was discriminating against her based on her race or national origin. (Id.)

On December 11, 2001, at Kingsbrook's holiday party, Plaintiff and Passero had a disagreement the details of which are disputed. Passero claims that she had asked Plaintiff to attend the party from 3:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. and to then return to the office so Passero could attend the second half of the party. (Defs. 56.1 St. ¶¶ 73-74.) Passero claims that Plaintiff did not return until nearly 5:00 p.m. (Defs. 56.1 St. ¶ 76.) When Passero asked Plaintiff why she returned so late, Plaintiff responded, "You told me you don't like to party." (Id.) Passero told Plaintiff that she was disappointed in her. (Defs. 56.1 St. ¶¶ 76-78.) Passero testified that Plaintiff then began to scream at her. (Id.) Plaintiff, however, contends that she and Passero attended the party together and that shortly after they arrived, Passero left because she did not like to socialize with the "staff." (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 73.) Plaintiff testified that she remained at the party and socialized with her co-workers, that Passero then started to scream at her for socializing with the other employees, and that Plaintiff was so upset by this altercation that she called in sick the next day. (Id. ¶ 79.)

On December 13, 2001, Plaintiff met with John Schmitt, Kingsbrook's Comptroller. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 81.) In her Rule 56.1 Statement, Plaintiff claims, but cites no evidence showing, that she complained to Schmitt about Passero's discriminatory conduct, including mimicking her accent and consistently referring to her Haitian national origin, although Plaintiff admits she did not use the word "discrimination."*fn3 (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶¶ 80-82.) At his deposition, Schmitt testified that he did not recall Plaintiff complaining about discriminatory conduct by Passero. (Schmitt Dep. Tr. at 13, 22-23.) He recalled only that she complained about an incident at the holiday party. (Id.) Passero testified that a few days after this incident, she and Plaintiff exchanged Christmas gifts and cards with personal messages and decided to put the incident behind them. (Defs. 56.1 St. ¶ 84; Passero Dep. Tr. at 149.) Plaintiff denies that this reconciliation occurred, but again fails to cite any supporting evidence. (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 84.)

On March 26, 2002, Plaintiff attended a meeting in place of Passero, who was out sick. (Defs. 56.1 St. ¶ 90; Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 90.) At this meeting, Plaintiff stated that some of the figures in a billing report prepared by the Outpatient Billing department were inaccurate. (Defs. 56.1 St. ¶ 95; Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 95.) After Hebela asked Passero about the accuracy of the report, Passero asked Plaintiff for the basis for her belief that the figures were inaccurate. (Defs. 56.1 St. ¶¶ 98-100.) Passero claims that Plaintiff could not fully explain her reasoning and had actually relied on information provided to her by the Supervisor of Medical Records. (Defs. 56.1 St. ¶¶ 100-01.) Plaintiff denies this and claims that Passero did not understand the billing reports.*fn4 (Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 100.) Plaintiff also claims that after Passero was questioned by Hebela, Passero told Plaintiff to "keep her mouth shut." (Id.)

In March 2002, Passero began the process of completing Plaintiff's 2001 performance evaluation. (Passero Dep. Tr. at 77-78.) For the purposes of that evaluation, a rating of "2" means "exceeds standards," a "1" means "meets standards," and a "0" means "does not meet standards." (Id. at 176-79.) Passero testified that she was "extremely conflicted" while completing Plaintiff's performance report. (Id. at 77-78.) She testified that although she felt Plaintiff deserved a rating of all "0's," in a draft evaluation, which she never signed or submitted, she rated Plaintiff all "1's" due to their friendship. (Defs. 56.1 St. ΒΆΒΆ 108-10; ...

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