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Wynn v. State

September 4, 2007

JAMES I. WYNN, JR., PLAINTIFF,
v.
STATE OF NEW YORK, OFFICE OF CHILDREN AND FAMILY SERVICES, OATKA RESIDENTIAL CENTER, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: David G. Larimer United States District Judge

DECISION AND ORDER

Plaintiff James I. Wynn, Jr. ("Wynn") brings this action alleging discrimination in employment on the basis of race against his former employer, the New York State Office of Children and Family Services ("OCFS"), pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. OCFS now moves for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, OCFS's motion is granted and the complaint is dismissed.

Wynn has been employed by OCFS since 1989, assigned to the Oatka Residential Center, a treatment facility for troubled youths. It is undisputed that from 1989 to 1998, Wynn received satisfactory annual performance evaluations. In 1999, Wynn received an unfavorable evaluation from his supervisor, George Patterson. Wynn alleges that at the time he received the 1999 evaluation, Patterson indicated that facility director Gary Almond, who was required to approve all performance evaluations, had instructed him to evaluate Wynn poorly. Patterson stated that he believed Almond had "problems" with African-American employees, and guessed that maybe Almond disliked plaintiff because he resembled someone with whom Almond's wife had allegedly had an affair. At his deposition, Patterson testified that Almond's attitude toward Wynn had been negative from the beginning, and that Almond didn't treat anyone else the way he treated Wynn.

Following the negative 1999 evaluation, Wynn was suspended from his employment for one year. The New York State Disciplinary Panel Administration reviewed the matter, and determined that Wynn had engaged in a number of serious violations and derelictions of duty which justified the one-year suspension from his employment, but fell just short of constituting sufficient grounds for termination. The Panel noted its hope that the imposed sanction determination would: provide Mr. Wynn with a final opportunity to return to the level of care and performance that characterized his first six years of State service. If this last chance does not bring about positive improvements in his care for the residents and dealings with co-workers, he can expect that his continued employment with the State will be short-lived.

Dkt. #44, Exh. C.

Wynn returned from the suspension in early 2001, and remarked to Almond that he felt he shouldn't have been suspended at all. Almond allegedly replied that he was disappointed that Wynn had not "learned a lesson" from the suspension, and indicated that he would be scrutinizing Wynn's performance in the future with the goal of having him terminated.

Evette Buntley, an OCFS employee, testified in an affidavit that in October of 2001, Almond had approached her and suggested that she would be considered for a promotion if she would agree to falsely state that she saw Wynn sleeping and watching television while on duty. Buntley refused.

At the end of 2001, Wynn received a second unsatisfactory annual evaluation from his new supervisor, Arthur Brown. As a result, Wynn was suspended again on January 9, 2002. This evaluation and suspension were subsequently rescinded by order of the OCFS Agency Level Appeal Board. In early 2002, plaintiff was served with disciplinary charges of misconduct against a co-worker, and was suspended again for approximately six months.

Subsequent to 2002, plaintiff's annual performance has been assessed as satisfactory. Wynn remains employed by OCFS.

Wynn filed a charge of race-based discrimination with the EEOC on May 1, 2002, citing his negative performance evaluations, suspensions and the disciplinary charges.

DISCUSSION

I. Summary Judgment in Discrimination Cases

Summary judgment will be granted if the record demonstrates that "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986). Although courts should be cautious about granting summary judgment in cases where motive, intent or state of mind are at issue, a common component of discrimination actions, see Dister v. Cont'l Group, Inc., 859 F.2d 1108, 1114 (2d Cir.1988); Montana v. First Federal Savings and Loan Ass'n of Rochester, 869 F.2d 100, 103 (2d Cir.1989), "the salutary purposes of summary judgment -- avoiding protracted, expensive and harassing trials -- apply no less to discrimination cases than to... other areas of litigation." Meiri v. Dacon, 759 F.2d 989, 998 (2d Cir.1985)(summary judgment rule would be rendered sterile if mere incantation of intent or state of mind would act as a talisman to defeat an otherwise valid motion). See also Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 148 (2000), quoting St. Mary's Honor Ctr. v. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502, 524 (1993) (trial courts should not "treat discrimination differently from other ultimate questions of fact").

Moreover, although courts must construe plaintiff's pro se pleadings liberally and interpret them as raising the strongest arguments that they suggest, see Burgos v. Hopkins, 14 F.3d 787, 790 (2d Cir.1994), "proceeding pro se does not otherwise relieve [a plaintiff] from the usual requirements of summary judgment." Fitzpatrick v. New York Cornell Hosp., 2002 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 25166 at *16 (S.D.N.Y. 2003) (citing cases); Lee v. Coughlin, 902 F.Supp. 424, 429 (S.D.N.Y.1995) (a "pro se party's 'bald assertion,' completely ...


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