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Payne v. Brinks

October 17, 2007

CLAUDETTE PAYNE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
BRINKS, INC., MICHAEL POLIDORI, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN THEIR OFFICIAL CAPACITIES, GEOFFREY LATTA, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN THEIR OFFICIAL CAPACITIES, DEFENDANTS.



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

DECISION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Claudette Payne ("Payne") brings this action alleging discrimination in employment on the basis of race and gender against her former employer, Brink's, Inc. ("Brink's), pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. Brink's now moves for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, that motion is granted and the complaint is dismissed.*fn1

Brink's is engaged in the business of transporting, protecting and storing valuables. Plaintiff was hired by Brink's Rochester Branch on November 8, 1999 as a cashier, and remained in that position throughout her employment. The work area in the Rochester Branch is divided into two main locations: the "Currency Room" and the "Vault." Cashiers work primarily in the Vault and are responsible for ensuring that its balances are correct, and that all shipments of coin or currency are properly checked in and out of the Vault during the day. Although cashiers are required by Brink's policy to obtain a license to carry a firearm and undergo related training by Brink's, plaintiff was told that it was not necessary for her to do so.

In April of 2002, Rochester Branch Manager Michael Polidori ("Polidori") was terminated by Brink's for failing to appropriately address a harassment claim by a Hispanic male employee, failure to address "licensing issues," and failure to reduce internal operating costs at the Branch. Polidori was replaced as Branch Manager by Geoffrey Latta ("Latta").

During her employment, plaintiff received a Handbook, regularly distributed by Brink's, containing a written anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policy. Brink's also publicizes and provides employees with complaint forms for its "Direct Access" procedure, a means by which employees may file complaints of any nature directly with Brink's Senior Vice President of Human Resources, for investigation. Brink's hosts periodic "Speak-Out Sessions" at each branch, at which employees may present questions, comments or problems directly to Branch management.

Throughout her employment, plaintiff made periodic verbal complaints to Polidori and then to Latta, as well as to Human Resources officer Michael Sica ("Sica") and Regional Manager Tim Mesmer ("Mesmer") about difficulties with her co-workers, primarily involving their use of offensive language. Following Payne's complaints, Branch management met with the employees on at least two occasions to discuss and reaffirm Brink's anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies. On May 8, 2003, Sica met with plaintiff to follow up on complaints she had made to him in early 2003 concerning profanity and sexual remarks Sica testified that plaintiff indicated that she was satisfied that her concerns had been addressed and resolved. Plaintiff disputes this, and alleges that she told Sica that things had improved for a time, but that her co-workers had eventually returned to using profanity with one another, within earshot of plaintiff.

In 2004, one of the cashiers retired, leaving three cashiers, including plaintiff, at the Branch. Because the Branch was seeking to cut costs, Latta made no effort to replace the cashier who had departed. Latta also reduced the hours of each of the remaining cashiers by one hour per day. Overtime was still required on occasion; however, plaintiff contends that overtime opportunities were seldom offered to her. Brink's alleges that this was because the additional time usually included opening or closing duties requiring the carrying of a firearm, which plaintiff was unable to do until at least May of 2005, when she obtained the requisite license.

To further reduce costs at the Branch, Sica consulted with Latta, and requested data on the qualifications and job duties of each of the remaining cashiers at the Rochester Branch, including plaintiff, with the goal of eliminating one additional position. In listing and comparing the duties of plaintiff and the other two cashiers (both of whom were white males and had been hired 14 and 19 months subsequent to plaintiff, to replace cashiers who had left), Latta and Sica determined that plaintiff was the only employee whose job functions could be entirely absorbed and performed by each of the others, without any additional training. Accordingly, plaintiff's employment with Brink's was terminated on May 23, 2003. Plaintiff's duties were reassigned to the remaining cashiers, and no additional cashiers were hired thereafter.

On October 27, 2003, plaintiff filed a discrimination complaint with the EEOC and NYSDHR, alleging discrimination and retaliation on the basis of gender. Upon receipt of a probable cause letter, plaintiff filed the instant action on May 6, 2005, alleging discrimination (hostile work environment) and retaliation on the basis of gender, and also adding discrimination and retaliation claims based on her race.

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").

Payne's claims of employment discrimination pursuant to Title VII are subject to the burden-shifting analysis articulated in McDonnell-Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). First, plaintiff must establish a prima facie case of discrimination by demonstrating: (1) membership in a protected class; (2) satisfactory job performance; and (3) an adverse employment action, occurring under (4) circumstances giving rise to an inference of discrimination. See Collins v. New York City Transit Authority, 305 F.3d 113, 118 (2d Cir. 2002). Once plaintiff has established a prima facie case, the burden shifts to defendant to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse employment action. See James v. New York Racing Ass'n, 233 F.3d 149, 154 (2d Cir. 2000).

The burden then returns to plaintiff, to supply evidence that the legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason offered by the defendant is a pretext. See St. Mary's Honor ...


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