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Niland v. Buffalo Laborers Welfare Fund

October 17, 2007

MARY NILAND, PLAINTIFF,
v.
BUFFALO LABORERS WELFARE FUND, BUFFALO LABORERS LOCAL 210, AND (CONSENT) THOMAS L. PANEK, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Leslie G. Foschio United States Magistrate Judge

DECISION and ORDER

JURISDICTION

On July 19, 2004, the parties to this action consented pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) to proceed before the undersigned. The matter is presently before the court on motions for summary judgment filed on March 14, 2005, by Defendants Buffalo Laborers Welfare Fund and Thomas L. Panek (Doc. No. 15), and Buffalo Laborers Local 210 (Doc. No. 16).

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Mary Niland ("Plaintiff" or "Niland") commenced this action on March 22, 2004, alleging employment discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. ("Title VII"), and the New York State Human Rights Law, New York Executive Law Art. 15, § 290 et seq. ("NYHRL"). In particular, Plaintiff maintains that while employed by Defendants Buffalo Laborers Welfare Fund ("the Fund") and Buffalo Laborers Local 210 ("the Local"), she was sexually harassed by her supervisor Defendant Thomas L. Panek ("Panek"), and that upon complaining about the harassment, Defendants retaliated against Plaintiff by denying her overtime work opportunities and other employment benefits, reducing regular work responsibilities, and eventually constructively discharging Plaintiff from her employment. Answers to the Complaint were filed on June 10, 2004 by Defendant Local (Doc. No. 8), and by Defendants Fund and Panek ("the Fund Defendants") (Doc. No. 9).

Since this action was commenced, Defendants have consistently maintained that they do not qualify as "employers" under Title VII which applies only to employers with at least 15 employees. According to Defendants, Plaintiff was employed only by the Fund which does not have 15 employees, Plaintiff was never employed by the Local but, rather, performed some services for the Local as a contract employee, and Plaintiff cannot aggregate employees from the Fund, the Local and the related, non-party, Training Fund to satisfy Title VII's 15-employee threshold.*fn1 Niland does not deny that the Fund, by itself, fails to meet Title VII's 15-employee threshold, but maintains that the Local, the Fund and the Training Fund are so interrelated as to constitute a single employer or, alternatively, that Niland was jointly employed by all three entities. Because a determination on this issue in Defendants' favor would result in the dismissal of all the Title VII claims, the parties to this action sought bifurcation permitting discovery and dispositive motions regarding whether Defendants are employers under Title VII. Accordingly, the October 6, 2004 Scheduling Order (Doc. No. 13) set deadlines for fact discovery and dispositive motions only as to Plaintiff's status as an employee.

Following such discovery, motions for summary judgment were filed on March 14, 2005 by the Local (Doc. No. 15) ("Local's Motion"), and the Fund Defendants (Doc. No. 16) ("Fund Defendants' Motion"). The Local's Motion is supported by the attached Memorandum of Law in Support of Defendant Local 210's Motion for Summary Judgment (Local's Memorandum"), Statement of Material Facts ("Local's Facts Statement"), and Exhibits 1 through 12 ("Local's Exh(s). __"). The Fund Defendants' Motion is supported by the attached Declaration of Lloyd B. Chinn, Esq. ("Chinn Declaration") with attached exhibits 1 through 3 ("Chinn's Exh(s). __"), the Affidavit of Daniel Hurley ("Hurley Affidavit"), and the Affidavit of Thomas L. Panek ("Panek Affidavit"), with attached exhibits A through E ("Panek's Exh(s). __"), the separately filed Statement of Material Facts (Doc. No. 16) ("Fund Defendants' Facts Statements"), and a Memorandum of Law in Support of the Buffalo Laborers Welfare Fund and Thomas L. Panek's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 17) ("Fund Defendants' Memorandum").

In opposition to summary judgment, Plaintiff filed on July 5, 2005, a Memorandum of Law in Opposition to Defendants' Motions for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 27) ("Plaintiff's Memorandum"), Plaintiff's Local rule 56.1 Statement of Disputed Material Facts in Opposition to the Motions for Summary Judgment of Defendants Buffalo Laborers Welfare Fund and Thomas Panek (Doc. No. 28) ("Plaintiff's Dispute as to Fund Defendants' Facts Statement"), and Defendant Buffalo Laborers Local 210's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 29) ("Plaintiff's Dispute as to the Local's Facts Statement"), the Affidavit of Mary Niland (Doc. No. 30) ("Plaintiff's Affidavit"), the Affidavit of Ann Oliver (Doc. No. 31) ("Oliver Affidavit"), and six volumes of exhibits containing Plaintiff's exhibits ("Plaintiff's Exh(s). __") 1 through 29 (Doc. No. 32 (Plaintiff's Exhs. 1 - 5)), (Doc. No. 33 (Plaintiff's Exhs. 6 - 10)), (Doc. No. 34 (Plaintiff's Exhs. 11 - 15)), (Doc. No. 35 (Plaintiff's Exhs. 16 - 20)), (Doc. No. 36 (Plaintiff's Exhs. 21 - 25)), and (Doc. No. 37 (Plaintiff's Exhs. 26 - 29)).

In further support of summary judgment, the Local filed on July 25, 2005, Defendant Local 210's Memorandum of Law in Reply to Plaintiff's Memorandum of Law in Opposition to Defendants' Motions for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 40) ("Local's Reply"), the Affidavit of William A. Hoffman (Doc. No. 41) ("Hoffman Affidavit"), with attached Local's Exhs. 13 and 14, the Affidavits of John McDonnell (Doc. No. 42) ("McDonnell Affidavit"), and the Reply Affidavit of Harlan T. Locking (Doc. No. 43) ("Locking Reply Affidavit"). Also filed on July 25, 2005, in further support of the Fund Defendants' Motion were the Reply Declaration of Thomas L. Panek (Doc. No. 45) ("Panek Reply Declaration"), the Reply Declaration of Daniel Hurley (Doc. No. 46) ("Hurley Reply Declaration"), the Affidavit of James Logan (Doc. No. 47) ("Logan Affidavit"), and the Memorandum of Law in Reply to Plaintiff's Opposition and in Further Support of the Buffalo Laborers Welfare Fund and Thomas L. Panek's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 48) ("Fund Defendant's Reply").*fn2 Oral argument was deemed unnecessary.

Based on the following, the Local's Motion is DENIED; the Fund Defendants' Motion is DENIED.

FACTS*fn3

In November 2000, Plaintiff Mary Niland ("Niland") commenced employment as a computer analyst at the Defendant Buffalo Laborers Welfare Fund ("the Fund"). As stated above, Niland does not dispute that each of the three related entities has fewer than Title VII's 15-employee threshold such that Defendants cannot be held liable under Title VII unless Niland first establishes either that the Local, the Fund and the Training Fund were so interrelated as to constitute a single employer, or that Niland was jointly employed by all three entities.

The Fund is a multiemployer employee welfare benefit plan providing health and related benefits to employees covered under collective bargaining agreements ("CBAs"), between the Local and various employers. The Fund is structured as a trust and is governed by a Board of Trustees consisting of eight individuals, four of whom are designated by the Local, and the Fund's organizational structure and guidelines for operations are established by the Declaration of Trust. The Fund is thus a "trust fund" as used in the Labor Management and Relations Act of 1947 ("LMRA"), 29 U.S.C. § 186(c)(5), and the Fund thus has no actual owners; rather management acts that would typically be undertaken by an owner are performed by the Fund's Board of Trustees, which has delegated the day-to-day administrative duties of the Fund, including management operations of the Fund's office, to Defendant Thomas L. Panek ("Panek"). While employed by the Fund, Niland reported to both Panek and Fund Office Manager Tracy Baugher ("Baugher"), who is not a party to this action. At all times relevant to this action, the Fund had six or seven employees, including Niland, on its payroll.

Defendant Buffalo Laborers Local 210 ("the Local"), is a labor organization as defined in § 2(5) of the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 ("NLRA"), 29 U.S.C. § 152(5), and is affiliated with the Laborers' International Union of North America, AFLCIO ("LIUNA"). LIUNA's governing management structure, powers and officers is provided by LIUNA's own constitution. The Local's business operations are subject to a Consent Decree issued by Honorable Richard J. Arcara, dated January 24, 2000, which provides for a court-appointed Liaison Officer, John McDonnell ("McDonnell") to have review and oversight authority as to all significant operations and functions of the Local. At all times relevant to this action, the Local had no more than seven employees on its payroll, including, inter alia, Business Manager William Hoffman ("Hoffman") and Business Agent/Dispatcher Harlan Locking ("Locking"). Both Hoffman and Locking were, at all times relevant to this action, two of the four Fund's trustees designated by the Local.

While employed by the Fund, Niland also performed computer analyst work for the Local as well as the Buffalo Laborers' Training Fund ("the Training Fund"), which is not a party to this action, a multiemployer employee welfare benefit plan providing apprenticeship, vocational and prevocational training and related benefits to employees covered under various collective bargaining agreements ("CBAs"). During the period relevant to this action, the Training Fund had either two or three employees on its payroll. The Buffalo Laborers' Pension Fund ("the Pension Fund"), and the ...


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