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Springle v. Metropolitan Transportation Authority

February 1, 2008

KEVIN SPRINGLE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
METROPOLITAN TRANSPORTATION AUTHORITY AND NEW YORK CITY TRANSIT, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gerard E. Lynch, District Judge

OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Kevin Springle brings this employment discrimination action alleging that defendants Metropolitan Transportation Authority ("MTA") and New York City Transit Authority ("NYCTA")*fn1 subjected him to a racially hostile work environment and demoted him for retaliatory and discriminatory reasons in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981, the New York State Human Rights Law, N.Y. Exec. Law §§ 296 et seq., and the New York City Human Rights Law, N.Y.C. Admin. Code §§ 8-107 et seq.*fn2 Defendants now move for summary judgment on all claims. The motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Kevin Springle, an African-American man,*fn3 has been employed by defendant NYCTA since December 1985. (D. Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 2.) Over the years, Springle has received several promotions, the last of which was in September 2002, when he was promoted to Superintendent, Rail Transit Investigations Unit ("Unit"),*fn4 in the Office of System Safety ("OSS"). (Id. ¶ 4.) At the time of Springle's promotion, the Unit employed five superintendents - three white and two black men - all of whom reported to Joe Leader, the Manager of the Unit. (Id. ¶¶ 24-25.) In September 2003, Patrick Lavin, a white man, replaced Leader as Manager. (Id. ¶¶ 27-28.) Lavin reported to William Walter, the Director of Investigations, who reported to Cheryl Kennedy, Vice President for System Safety. (Id. ¶ 29.) As described below, Springle's allegations of discrimination and retaliation stem largely from incidents involving Lavin, Walter, Kennedy, and other OSS personnel during the period from September 2003 to September 2005.

I. Springle's 2003 Managerial Performance Report

As Manager of the Unit, Lavin was responsible for drafting a Managerial Performance Report ("MPR") for each of the superintendents under his supervision. (Id. ¶ 63.) The MPR functioned as an annual report card which evaluated work performance in eleven different categories including, inter alia, "customer service skills," "diversity management," and "team and interpersonal skills." (Id. ¶ 44.) On December 29, 2003, Lavin signed an MPR for Springle that gave him "excellent" or "good" ratings in all relevant categories except for a "marginal" rating in "team and interpersonal skills." (Id. ¶ 46.) Despite receiving an overall MPR rating of "good," Springle was upset about the "marginal" rating, particularly since Lavin had worked with him for only three months prior to the MPR. (See Springle Dep. 113:10-21.) Although Lavin drafted Springle's 2003 MPR, both Vice President Kennedy and Leader, Lavin's predecessor, reviewed and signed the report. (D. Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 59.)

II. Core Managerial Training Referral

As part of the MPR process, Lavin was charged with developing a performance improvement plan for each employee under his supervision. (Id. ¶ 72.) In Springle's 2003 MPR, Lavin directed that he attend "Core Managerial Training to improve his team and interpersonal skills." (Id. ¶ 71.) In March 2004, Springle attended a two week core management training course. (Id. ¶ 75.) Although Springle acknowledged that the course was "good," he testified that no one else was scheduled to attend the course at the time, and that it was only after he "started questioning" why he was "the only one scheduled" that other superintendents started attending the course. (Springle Dep. 130:25, 132:24-133:3.) Springle admitted, however, that he knew that Lavin himself had previously attended the course. (Id. at 132:17-18.) According to Lavin, all of the other superintendents eventually attended the course. (Lavin Dep. 72:23-73:2.)

III. Morning Staff Meetings

Lavin held monthly staff meetings with the superintendents in the Unit to discuss current investigations. (D. Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 80, 82.) These meetings were generally held in the morning and lasted ten to twenty minutes. (Id. ¶ 81.) On a weekly rotating basis, one of the superintendents in the Unit was assigned to work evenings on the "p.m." shift, which precluded that superintendent from attending the morning staff meeting. (Id. ¶¶ 84-86.) At some unspecified point, Springle requested that Lavin change the time of the staff meeting from the morning to the afternoon to permit the superintendent working the "p.m." shift to attend the meeting. (Id. ¶ 88.) Lavin declined to change the meeting time because, in his view, various crises often arose throughout the day that made it difficult to meet later in the day. (Id. ¶ 89.) From September 2003 through October 2004, Springle attended eight out of thirteen staff meetings, while his colleagues attended between nine and twelve meetings during the same time period. (Id. ¶¶ 93-94.)

IV. October 15 Staffing Memo

On October 15, 2004, Lavin arrived at his office to find that none of the superintendents scheduled for work that day had reported for duty. As a result, Lavin issued a staffing memo to all superintendents in the Unit requiring, inter alia, that all emergency requests for time off include supporting documentation and that all sick notifications be made a minimum of two hours prior to a tour of duty. (Id. ¶¶ 112-13.) On two previous occasions that year, Lavin had issued email notices to his staff expressing concerns about inadequate coverage when numerous superintendents failed to show up for work the preceding day. (Id. ¶ 110.) Upon receiving the October 15 memo, Springle complained to Walter, Lavin's supervisor, that the two-hour sick notice requirement was contrary to NYCTA's internal rules, which require only one-hour notice. (Id. ¶ 118.) A revised memo was subsequently issued changing the two-hour notice for sick leave to one hour. (Id. ¶ 120.)

On October 27, Springle met with Lavin to discuss the October 15 staffing memo. With regard to the memo's requirement that requests for time off include supporting documentation, Springle told Lavin, "I live in a house [where] the sewer backs up a lot and if you want proof would you want me to bring a bag of that in for you[?]" (Springle Dep. 119:6-8.) Lavin replied that if Springle brought him anything other than a plumbing receipt, Springle's MPR would be negatively affected. (D. Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 125.)

V. Meeting With OSS Management

On October 28, 2004, Springle met with Walter and for the first time, raised concerns that Lavin was subjecting him to racial discrimination. (Id. ¶ 138.) OSS management subsequently held a meeting the next day at which Springle presented his grievances to Vice President Kennedy and several OSS directors. Specifically, Springle cited six allegedly discriminatory actions taken by Lavin: (1) the "marginal" rating in one category in Springle's December 2003 MPR; (2) the MPR's directive that Springle attend core managerial training; (3) the decision to hold staff meetings in the morning at a time that excluded Springle when he worked the "p.m." shift; (4) the October 15 memo implementing new procedures for time off and sick leave; (5) Lavin's habit of interrupting Springle by using hand gestures and the phrase "time out"; and (6) Lavin's alleged carrying of Springle's reports to the bathroom on several occasions, which Springle viewed as treating his reports "like shit." (Id. ¶¶ 8, 141, 143.)

Prior to the October 29 meeting, Walter had informed Kennedy that Springle was actively looking to transfer out of OSS. (Kennedy Dep. 59:11-13.) As a result, Kennedy told Springle at the end of the meeting that she "did not object to him looking" elsewhere and that she "would have no problem helping him." (Id. at 59:16-18.) Sometime thereafter, Kennedy and Springle again discussed the possibility of transferring out of OSS into a new position with another department. Springle alleges that Kennedy "raised her voice" during this discussion and asked him "to choose a department" to work in. (Springle Dep. 30:24-25, 32:17-19.) Springle also claims that Kennedy advised him "that he had to go because the department was not big enough to absorb him in a different capacity." (P. Mem. 20.) According to Kennedy, however, she had previously identified a job in another department that would have been a promotion for Springle and merely asked him whether he was interested. (Kennedy Dep. 60:8-16.) When Springle declined, Kennedy stopped trying to help him find another position. (Id. at 62:2-8.)

Although Springle objected to Lavin's presence at the October 29 meeting, Lavin was permitted to attend and listen to Springle's grievances. (D Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 142, 144.) At one point near the end of the meeting, Springle allegedly became agitated, rose from his chair, and told Lavin that he was not "going to kiss his ass." (Id. ¶¶ 40; 145.) As a result of this outburst, Walter issued a performance advisory to Springle on November 2. (Id. ¶ 151.) Springle filed a written statement responding to the performance advisory in which he denied using loud and abusive language at the October 29 meeting and claimed that he merely told Lavin that he was "not going to kiss his aft." (Id. ¶ 154.)

VI. Equal Employment Office Investigation

On the same day that he received the performance advisory from Walter, Springle filed a written complaint of racial discrimination with the MTA's Equal Employment Office ("EEO"). (Id. ¶ 153.) Springle's EEO complaint repeated the six allegations of racial discrimination that he had raised at the October 29 meeting with OSS management. (Id. ¶ 175.)

Approximately one month after Springle filed his EEO complaint, Lavin learned from one of the superintendents, John Szurlej, that in October 2004, Springle had told a colleague, Ramon Paez, that he was going to "screw Pat Lavin by playing the race card." (Id. ¶¶ 190-92.) As a result, Lavin filed his own complaint with EEO alleging that Springle had subjected him to racial harassment and created a hostile work environment. (Id. ¶ 183.) Patrick Damas, an African-American male, was assigned by EEO to investigate both the Springle and Lavin complaints. (Id. ¶¶ 176, 184; D. Mem. 27.)

During the course of his investigation, Damas interviewed both complainants as well as numerous other OSS employees. (D. Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 179-80.) In his interview with Szurlej, Szurlej confirmed to Damas that he had heard from Paez that Springle was "going to screw Pat Lavin by playing the race card." (Id. ¶ 193.) Damas also interviewed Paez himself, who testified at his deposition:

I do recall telling Mr. Damas that Kevin [Springle] had told me that he was going to use the racial card to file a complaint against Mr. Lavin. As [Springle] told me that, he gestured with his hand on his skin (indicating). Mr. Springle is African-American, so he would gesture like this (indicating), as he had said he was going to use the racial card.

And I do recall another specific thing that I told Mr. Damas, was [that] Kevin told me that he was going to screw Pat Lavin, gesturing with his ...


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