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Correa v. Mana Products

March 17, 2008

EVELYN CORREA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MANA PRODUCTS, INC., NIKOS MOUYARIS, IN HIS CAPACITY AS PRINCIPAL, OWNER, AND/OR SHAREHOLDER OF DEFENDANT MANA, AND IN HIS INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY AS AN AIDER AND ABETTOR, PETER MOUYARIS, IN HIS CAPACITY AS PRINCIPAL, OWNER, AND/OR SHAREHOLDER OF DEFENDANTS, AND IN HIS INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY AS AN AIDER AND ABETTOR, AND BARBARA NOVICK, IN HER CAPACITY AS PRINCIPAL, OWNER, AND EXECUTIVE VP OF DEFENDANT MANA, AND IN HER INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY AS AN AIDER AND ABETTOR, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Trager, J

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiff Evelyn Correa ("plaintiff") brings this action against defendant Mana Products, Inc. ("Mana") and its management (collectively, "defendants") for alleged retaliatory discharge in violation of Title VII and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Plaintiff claims that her dismissal was in retaliation for complaining of unlawful discriminatory practices at Mana and/or for participating in internal company investigations concerning charges of unlawful discrimination. Defendants have filed a motion for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the motion for summary judgment is granted.*fn1

Background

The facts set forth below are undisputed, unless otherwise noted. Mana was founded in 1975 and is engaged in the business of manufacturing and selling cosmetic products. Mana's operations are primarily based in two facilities in Long Island City, New York. Plaintiff was hired by Mana in May 2003 in the position of Human Resources/Payroll Administrator ("HR Manager"). As HR Manager, plaintiff's duties included overseeing payroll as well as traditional human resource functions including: recruiting, hiring and terminating employees; employee benefits; employee orientation; updating the employee handbook; and ensuring that employees complied with Mana policies and procedures. Aff. of Ambrose Wotorson in Supp. of Pl.'s Opp. to Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. ("Wotorson Aff."), Ex. 14 (Dep. of Evelyn Correa ("Correa Dep.")) at 12-13. Plaintiff was terminated from her employment with Mana on October 8, 2003. Id. at 13.

During her employment, plaintiff reported directly to Barbara Novick ("Novick"), Mana's Executive Vice President. Correa Dep. at 13. Mana's workforce of over 500 employees, supervisory staff and owners consist of individuals from relatively diverse ethnic backgrounds. Id. at 13-14. As HR Manager, plaintiff would occasionally have employees come to her with complaints and grievances they had against Mana, and it was her responsibility to try to resolve these issues when possible. Id. at 32-33.

During plaintiff's five-month tenure with Mana, two employees filed complaints against the company with the New York Human Rights Division. According to plaintiff, Novick told her that Mana had never before been the subject of such a complaint.*fn2

Correa Dep. at 139-40. Nikos Mouyaris ("Mouyaris"), one of Mana's owners, claimed that he lost confidence in plaintiff's judgment after he asked plaintiff about her investigation of the incident leading to one of those complaints and found that she had taken statements from only some of the witnesses, but that she had neglected to take a statement from the manager who was involved. Wotorson Aff., Ex. 16 (Dep. of Nikos Mouyaris ("Mouyaris Dep.")) at 7-20. Plaintiff vigorously disputes that she failed to take a statement from the manager. In any event, deciding that he could no longer trust plaintiff, Mouyaris fired her. Id.

(1). Lipstick Department Meetings

During plaintiff's tenure at Mana there was tension between employees of different national origins in the lipstick manufacturing department. Correa Dep. at 84. For example, disputes arose between Guyanese and Dominican employees. Id. Plaintiff investigated these issues along with managers Peter Mouyaris and Jean Bazile ("Bazile"). Id. at 85-86. The investigation took the form of "venting sessions" in the cafeteria where plaintiff met with several groups to discuss issues that were arising. Id.

The complaints involved discrimination, general work environment problems such as lack of toilet paper, hand soap and adequate protection of employee clothes from chemicals. Correa Dep. at 87. There were also complaints that were related to the conduct of managers Sonny Vengersammy ("Vengersammy"), Bazile and Elta Semexant ("Semexant"). Id. at 86-87, 89. Employees claimed that they were insulted and mistreated by their managers, specifically by Vengersammy and Bazile, because the employees were Hispanic and did not understand English. Id. at 89. Plaintiff brought these complaints to the attention of Nikos Mouyaris. Id. at 87-88. Plaintiff, along with Nikos and Peter Mouyaris, decided that the best way to handle the situation was to place Semexant, who understood Spanish, as an intermediary between the predominantly Hispanic lipstick department workers and manager Vengersammy, who was not Hispanic. Id. at 90. This did not resolve the problems, and Peter and plaintiff continued to meet every two weeks to discuss these issues with the employees. Id. at 91.

During plaintiff's tenure at Mana, the company received specific complaints of discrimination from employees Yoni Sanchez ("Sanchez") and Rafael Fernandez ("Fernandez"). Correa Dep. at 33, 73. Both Sanchez and Fernandez eventually went on to file discrimination complaints against Mana with the New York State Division of Human Rights ("Human Rights Division"). Both Human Rights Division complaints involved incidents that plaintiff investigated and documented. Id. at 129-134.

(2). Yoni Sanchez's Human Rights Complaint

Vengersammy told plaintiff that one of his subordinates, Yoni Sanchez, was uncooperative and insubordinate. Correa Dep. at 59. On June 17, 2003, on the recommendation of manager Vengersammy, plaintiff gave Sanchez a final written warning that he was insufficiently productive. Correa Dep. at 53, 58.

Plaintiff alleges that prior to drafting Sanchez's final warning she sat in on a conversation between Novick and Mana labor counsel Stanley Schair ("Schair"). Correa Dep. at 57-60. Plaintiff alleges that during that conversation Schair and Novick discussed how to "get rid" of Sanchez. Id. at 60. Although Sanchez had some previous incidents in his employment file, there was nothing related to his performance or productivity. Id. Accordingly, Schair advised plaintiff to "set [Sanchez] up for failure" by setting a productivity requirement for him that he could not meet. Id. This plan apparently failed because Sanchez was able to meet the heightened requirements. Id. at 61. Nowhere does plaintiff allege that she attempted to stop the "setting up" of Sanchez. Id. at 61-69.

Shortly thereafter, Sanchez complained that an employee hired after him was making more money. Id. at 43. Sanchez, who is Dominican, believed that this was a result of discrimination based on his national origin, as the other employee was Puerto Rican. Id. at 50-51. Plaintiff spoke with Peter after receiving this complaint, and Peter showed plaintiff a chart that was used to determine employees' pay rates based upon their performance history and attendance. Id. at 35.

Peter also asked plaintiff to arrange a meeting in which plaintiff and Peter would discuss the pay rate issue with Sanchez. Correa Dep. at 35-37. Plaintiff, Peter and Sanchez then had a meeting in which Peter explained to Sanchez the Mana payment policy which weighs factors such as performance and attendance in addition to years of service. Id. at 39. Sanchez disagreed that he had any performance issues which would warrant a pay disparity. Id. Peter then told Sanchez he could take his complaint to the Human Rights Division or the Department of Labor. Id. at 40. Peter offered to give Sanchez the phone number for the Human Rights Department but also told Sanchez that, in his opinion, Mana had done nothing wrong. Id. at 39. Sanchez declined to take the Human Rights number from Peter. Correa Dep. at 47.

On September 8, 2003, Sanchez filed a complaint with the Human Rights Division in which he alleged that his supervisor -- Vengersammy -- yelled at him on a daily basis and insulted his intelligence by calling him "stupid" and "donkey." Id. at 125. Plaintiff did not recall ever hearing any complaints from Sanchez regarding these issues. Id. Sanchez's Human Rights Division complaint also mentioned his disagreement with plaintiff's June 17, 2003 final warning. Id. Sanchez alleged that Mana was trying to force him to quit because he was from the Dominican Republic. Id. at 126. Plaintiff alleges that she was removed from the Sanchez investigation once Mana was made aware that he had filed a Human Rights Division complaint. Id. at 150.

Plaintiff did not assist or encourage Sanchez in filing the charge of discrimination against Mana, id. at 124, nor did she believe that Sanchez had been discriminated against based upon his national origin, id. at 138. The Human Rights Division made a determination that there ...


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