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Ghent v. Moore

October 23, 2007

JAMES A. GHENT, JR., PLAINTIFF,
v.
JOSEPH B. MOORE, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

DECISION AND ORDER

Plaintiff, James A. Ghent, Jr., an African-American male, commenced this action against his employer, the State University of New York ("SUNY") and four individual defendants, alleging that he has been discriminated against on account of his race. Plaintiff asserts causes of action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983, and under the New York State Human Rights Law ("HRL"), Exec. L. § 296. Defendants have moved for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, defendants' motion is granted.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff has been a part-time employee at SUNY's Empire State College ("Empire") since 1990. Until the Fall 2003 semester, plaintiff was employed as a mentor in the FORUM West program, which is a degree program offered by Empire that is designed for working business professionals in Western New York. FORUM West operates out of Empire's Niagara Frontier Center in Buffalo.

Throughout the relevant period, plaintiff was also employed as a mentor at the Genesee Valley Center ("GVC"), which is an Empire campus located in Rochester. Plaintiff held the FORUM West and GVC positions pursuant to separate employment contracts, each of which was renewable annually. See Dkt. #25-2 at 2.

In August 2003, defendant Robert W. Gerulat, the FORUM West program director and plaintiff's immediate supervisor at FORUM West, offered plaintiff a marketing position within FORUM West. That new position, which, if plaintiff accepted, would have taken the place of plaintiff's mentor position at FORUM West, would have involved marketing FORUM West to minorities in the Rochester and Buffalo areas. Gerulat Depo. Tr. (Dkt. #20 Ex. C) at 213. Plaintiff declined Gerulat's offer, however.

Plaintiff's contract with FORUM West was not renewed upon its expiration on August 31, 2003, for reasons which will be discussed below. Plaintiff has not worked at FORUM West since then, although he continues to be employed as a mentor at GVC.

Plaintiff filed the complaint in this action in April 2005. In addition to SUNY and Gerulat, he has sued Joseph B. Moore, the President of Empire; Joyce B. Elliott, the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs of Empire; and Robert P. Milton, the Dean and Center Director of GVC.*fn1

The complaint alleges that throughout his employment by SUNY, plaintiff has been subjected to a "pattern and practice" of race discrimination in a number of ways. Now that discovery is complete, however, it is clear from the record before me that the real basis of plaintiff's claim is not that defendants have engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination, but that plaintiff has been subjected to disparate treatment based on his race. Specifically, plaintiff alleges that the decision not to renew his FORUM West contract was motivated by racial animus.*fn2 Based on that allegation, plaintiff alleges that defendants have unlawfully discriminated against him on the basis of race, with respect to the benefits, privileges, terms and conditions of plaintiff's contractual relationship with SUNY, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981. He also asserts a claim under § 1983, alleging that defendants have denied him equal protection of the law in violation of his rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Plaintiff's third cause of action alleges that defendants have discriminated against him on account of his race, in violation of the HRL. Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief "ordering and enjoining defendants to employ plaintiff on such terms and conditions as are comparable to similarly situated majority faculty members," Complaint at 8, compensatory and punitive damages, and costs and attorney's fees.*fn3

DISCUSSION

I. Summary Judgment: General Principles

A motion for summary judgment must be granted "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the evidence submitted must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). Summary judgment should be granted "against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Even if parties dispute material facts, summary judgment must be granted "unless there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party." Golden Pacific Bancorp. v. F.D.I.C, 375 F.3d 196, 200 (2d Cir. 2004) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). In addition, once the moving party has made a sufficient showing, "[t]he non-moving party may not rely on mere conclusory allegations nor speculation, but instead must offer some hard evidence showing that its version of the events is not wholly fanciful." Id. (quoting D'Amico v. City of New York, 132 F.3d 145, 149 (2d Cir. 1998)).

The Second Circuit has stated that district courts should be "particularly cautious about granting summary judgment to an employer in a discrimination case when the employer's intent is in question. Because direct evidence of an employer's discriminatory intent will rarely be found, 'affidavits and depositions must be carefully scrutinized for circumstantial proof which, if believed, would show discrimination.'" Schwapp v. Town of Avon, 118 F.3d 106, 110 (2d Cir. 1997) (quoting Gallo v. Prudential Residential Services, 22 F.3d 1219, 1224 (2d Cir. 1994)). However, summary judgment in an employment discrimination case may still be appropriate if the plaintiff relies "on conclusory allegations of discrimination and the employer provides a legitimate rationale for its conduct." Figueroa v. New York Health and Hospitals Corp., 500 F.Supp.2d 224, 228 (S.D.N.Y. 2007) (internal quotation marks omitted). As the Second Circuit has stated, "[t]he summary judgment rule would be rendered sterile ... if the mere incantation of intent or state of mind would operate as a talisman to defeat an otherwise valid motion. Indeed, the salutary purposes of summary judgment--avoiding protracted, expensive and harassing trials--apply no less to discrimination ...


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