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Hubbard v. Port Authority of New York

February 19, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Paul A. Crotty, United States District Judge


Vivian Hubbard, an African-American female, and Pamela Ruiz-Mok, an African-American/Caribbean/Puerto Rican female, (collectively "Plaintiffs") allege that their employer, The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey ("Port Authority"), and five of its employees (the "Individual Defendants") (collectively the "Defendants"), created a hostile work environment and discriminated against them in their employment on the basis of race in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981.*fn1 Defendants move for summary judgment on all claims and also as to the Individual Defendants. For the reasons that follow, the motion is DENIED with respect to the claim of hostile work environment, though claims against certain Individual Defendants are dismissed, and GRANTED with respect to the claim of discrimination.


I. The Parties

Hubbard and Ruiz-Mok were general maintainers assigned to the mechanical shop at the New Jersey Marine Terminals ("NJMT") at Port Newark, a facility managed and operated by the Port Authority. (Defendants' Rule 56.1 Statement ("DSOF") ¶ 10, 11). The Port Authority is a government agency, formed by an interstate compact entered into by New York and New Jersey in 1921, whose mission is the development of public transportation, terminal, and other facilities of commerce within the statutorily defined Port Authority district.*fn2 (Compl. ¶ 5.) The Individual Defendants are: Andrew Saporito, the manager of NJMT (Compl. ¶ 8); Barry Kravitz, the chief maintenance supervisor of Port Newark (Compl. ¶ 9); John Ten Berge, the general maintenance supervisor at Port Newark (Compl. ¶ 10); Fred Lesto, the supervisor of the mechanical shop at Port Newark (Compl. ¶ 11); and Stephanie Desire-Lewis, the manager of the office of equal opportunity at the Port Authority (Compl. ¶ 12).

II. The General Maintainer Position

A. The Job Description

The General Maintainer position involves hard, dirty, and unpleasant tasks. Port Authority Specification No. 2002 describes the general maintainer position as follows:

[T]his class performs a variety of manual and semi-skilled work in accordance with established practices, work orders, or instructions. Work generally requires the use of general maintenance skills and knowledge of a variety of trade fields such as carpentry, landscaping, painting, roofing, structural, and mechanical maintenance, including a working knowledge of the use of materials, tools, and equipment of these trades. This class operates a variety of automotive equipment including standard heavy-duty, special purpose, and auxiliary equipment. . . .

3. Physical and Mental Demands-Frequently required to stand for prolonged periods of time. Frequently performs heavy lifting (up to a maximum of 90 lbs.). Frequently carries objects (usually no more than 20 ft.). Frequently has to bend, kneel, stretch, squat and crawl. Occasionally required to work at heights (up to a maximum of 40 ft. above ground). . . .

4. Working Conditions-Frequent exposure to dirt, dust, fumes, extreme heat or cold, confined or dark areas. Work outdoors in various types of weather.

Occasionally works from fixed scaffolds, roofs, ladders, tower and bucket trucks, boats, etc. (Affidavit of John Ten Berge ("Ten Berge Aff."), Ex. A, p. 1, 3.) The job specification provides that general maintainers "[m]ay work alone or as part of a crew." (Ten Berge Aff., Ex. A, p. 1.)

B. The Mechanical Shop at NJMT

The mechanical shop at NJMT performs plumbing functions and employs approximately six mechanics from the skilled trades, such as plumbers or steam and sprinkler fitters, and four general maintainers. (DSOF ¶ 12.) As general maintainers in the mechanical shop, Plaintiffs' duties included: blowing down the low points (draining pipes in warehouse sprinkler systems to prevent freezing and cracking); servicing water carts (meters that regulate flow from Port Authority water pits to berthed ships); maintaining the water pits; snow removal; inventory; painting; and cleaning. (DSOF ¶¶ 13-15; Plaintiffs' Rule 56.1 Statement ("PSOF") ¶ 15.) General maintainers may work individually or with a supervising mechanic, depending on the assignment. (DSOF ¶ 15.)

C. Union Contract

Port Authority general maintainers and mechanics are members of the International Union of Operating Engineers ("IUOE") AFL-CIO Local 15, Local 30 and Local 68 (formerly the Building and Trades Union), and their employment rights are governed by the IUOE's written contract with the Port Authority. (DSOF ¶ 9; Ten Berge Aff., Ex. D.) Provision XXII of the IUOE contract preserves past employment practices. (DSOF ¶ 18; Ten Berge Aff., Ex. D, p. 14.)

III. Plaintiffs' Employment

A. Plaintiffs Become General Maintainers

Plaintiffs initially worked for Port Authority as toll collectors. (DSOF ¶¶ 1, 2.) At her deposition, Hubbard testified that she became aware of an opportunity to apply for a position as a general maintainer from a sign posted inside the tollhouse. (Hubbard Dep. 17-18.*fn3 ) That notification (see Ten Berge Aff., Ex. B) incorporated by reference the job description quoted in Part A.2.a. Hubbard testified that she understood the duties of a general maintainer at the time she applied for the position. (Hubbard Dep. 18.) In 2001, Hubbard and Ruiz-Mok enrolled in a training course that provided instruction on general maintainer job duties. (DSOF ¶ 4.) Hubbard began her employment as a general maintainer at the Holland Tunnel on April 1, 2002, transferred voluntarily to the track and paving shop at NJMT on January 19, 2003, and moved to the mechanical shop on May 12, 2003. (DSOF ¶ 11.) Ruiz-Mok was hired on March 31, 2002 as a general maintainer at the Newark Airport housekeeping shop, voluntarily transferred to the track and paving shop at NJMT, and switched to the mechanical shop on April 23, 2003. (DSOF ¶ 14.)

B. Other General Maintainers

When Plaintiffs first arrived in the mechanical shop, the other two general maintainers were Gail Scala, a white female, and Michael McVey, a white male. (PSOF ¶¶ 17, 18.) Scala was replaced by Barbara Smith, a white female, on September 28, 2004. (DSOF ¶ 16.) Smith was also a shop steward, which, under the union contract, entitled her to "first choice on vacations and work schedules or tours as vacancies occur." (PSOF ¶ 20; see Ten Berge Aff., Ex. D, p. 7.)

IV. Alleged Discriminatory Conduct

In their Complaint, Plaintiffs allege two broad forms of discrimination: (1) that which related to their work assignments, responsibilities, and employment privileges as general maintainers, as evidenced by the disparity in treatment they received relative to their peers (the discrimination claim); and (2) that which speaks more generally to the conditions of their employment at Port Newark and, more specifically, in the mechanical shop (the hostile work environment claim). Plaintiffs also allege that, when they filed complaints about discrimination, their supervisors failed to take sufficient steps to prevent additional incidents, exposing Plaintiffs to retaliation.

A. Discrimination Specifically Related to the General Maintainer Position

Plaintiffs claim that their supervisors in the mechanical shop, principally Fred Lesto, passed them over for assignments with shop mechanics (Affidavit of Vivian Hubbard ("Hubbard Aff.")*fn4 ¶ 77, 78, 91), but "always assigned" McVey and Smith for such jobs (Compl. ¶¶ 21, 29). Plaintiffs allege this disadvantaged them, because "general maintainers can get to learn more and advance on the job when they are assigned to work with the mechanics."*fn5 (Compl. ¶ 18.) Plaintiffs had to perform onerous and/or unwanted tasks, such as cleaning the shop (Hubbard Aff. ¶ 49), taking inventory (Affidavit of Pamela Ruiz-Mok ("Ruiz-Mok Aff.")*fn6 ¶ 21), and unclogging toilets. (RuizMok Aff. ¶ 33.)

Plaintiffs also allege that they were made to perform tasks for which they were inadequately trained (Hubbard Aff. ¶ 10; Ruiz-Mok ¶ 16), short-staffed (Hubbard Aff. ¶ 8), or under-equipped (Hubbard Aff. ¶¶ 8, 9). Plaintiffs claim they were repeatedly rebuffed when they asked to work with each other or with another employee, even when they explained that they felt uncomfortable working alone in isolated warehouses (Hubbard Aff. ¶¶ 23, 47, 48; Ruiz-Mok ¶¶ 23, 27, 65), or admitted that they could not perform the tasks assigned (Ruiz-Mok Aff. ¶¶ 29-32, 48).*fn7 When they were assigned together, Plaintiffs were separated without justification. (Ruiz-Mok Aff. ¶ 55.)

Plaintiffs also assert that they were subject to a double standard in the mechanical shop that touched all aspects of their employment. For instance, Plaintiffs allege that they were not permitted to take overtime in the same manner as the other general maintainers. (Hubbard Aff. ¶ 40, 44, 87.) They contend that they were only offered overtime on weekends and usually without the opportunity to work with a mechanic, even though other general maintainers were given overtime during the week. (See PSOF ¶ 25; Hubbard Aff. ¶ 74; Ruiz-Mok Aff. ¶ 71.) Plaintiffs contend that, unlike McVey and Smith, they were not permitted to work through lunch and most requests to depart for the day early at 2:45 p.m. rather than the customary 3:30 p.m. were refused. (See PSOF ¶ 23; Hubbard Aff. ¶¶ 7, 20, 41, 45, 46, 61, 64, 72, 75, 79, 82; Ruiz-Mok Aff. ¶¶ 20, 22, 25, 40, 50, 52.) Lesto also allegedly told Plaintiffs that they could not eat breakfast after 7:15 a.m., although their white co-workers were given additional time. (Hubbard Aff. ¶¶ 21, 41, 42; Ruiz-Mok Aff. ¶ 19, 49, 57-59.) Specifically, Hubbard contends that in December 2003 Lesto assigned her difficult work "while other employees were permitted to come back to the building early to have a Christmas luncheon." (Hubbard Aff. ¶ 12.)

Plaintiffs also complain that Lesto would give out work assignments to all of the general maintainers in the shop but that only Plaintiffs were forced to actually perform the work. (Hubbard Aff. ¶ 34, 76; Ruiz-Mok Aff. ¶ 34, 69.) For instance, Plaintiffs allege that while McVey was assigned to service low points on paper, he did not actually do this work. (PSOF ¶ 21.) Instead, McVey was spotted talking on his cell phone (Ruiz-Mok Aff. ¶ 69) or working out at the small gym above the mechanical shop (Hubbard Aff. ¶ 7; Ruiz-Mok Aff. ¶ 17), at times when he should have been working.

Lesto documented Plaintiffs' performance problems from 2003 to 2005, when he ceased to be their immediate supervisor (DSOF ¶¶ 26-27), but did not share these reviews with Plaintiffs nor comment negatively about their work performance (PSOF ¶¶ 26-27). Plaintiffs complain that Lesto unreasonably accused them of not wanting to work when, in fact, they were attempting to perform tasks but could not for some reason. (See Hubbard Aff. ¶ 9, 16.) Hubbard also contends that Lesto followed Plaintiffs while they worked and became hostile when, for legitimate reasons, they did not perform to his standards. (Hubbard Aff. ¶ 17.) Ruiz-Mok claims that she was forced to use a rescue saw to cut a length of pipe under pressure from her superiors, who stood staring at her, waiting for her to make a mistake. (Ruiz-Mok ¶ 70.)

Ultimately, Plaintiffs were told that they were not part of the shop but rather just "tagged to the shop," though Plaintiffs do not explain the status distinction. (Hubbard Aff. ΒΆΒΆ 93-95.) According to Hubbard, in August 2005, they were put under the supervision of a mechanic, Jerry Tobias, and were the only general maintainers being supervised by someone other than the formal ...

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