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Ortiz-Moss v. New York City Dep't of Transportation

April 7, 2008

SYLVIA ORTIZ-MOSS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
NEW YORK CITY DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, VICTOR ROSEN, AND VINCENT SUSI, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Theodore H. Katz, United States Magistrate Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Sylvia Ortiz-Moss brings this action against the New York City Department of Transportation ("DOT"), and her former supervisors, Victor Rosen and Vincent Susi, alleging gender discrimination and unlawful retaliation, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq., 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the New York State Human Rights Law, and the New York City Human Rights Law. The parties have completed pretrial discovery and have consented to trial before this Court, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). Presently before the Court is Defendants' motion for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, the motion is granted.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Except where otherwise noted, the following facts, derived from the parties' Statements pursuant Local Civil Rule 56.1, are undisputed.

The Bureau of Parking, a division of DOT, contains various units, including the Parking Control Unit ("PCU"), which is responsible for writing parking tickets. There are approximately 75-80 employees in the PCU, primarily in two civil service titles: Parking Control Specialist ("PCS") and Associate Parking Control Specialist, Levels I and II ("Associate PCS"). Individuals holding the PCS title are known primarily by the "in-house" title of "officers." Those holding the Associate PCS civil service title serve in the "in- house" titles of Captain, Associate Chief, Deputy Chief, and Chief. In-house titles have no civil service meaning and are merely given to positions for organizational purposes. In the PCU there are 2-3 Chiefs and Assistant Chiefs, 15-20 Captains, and the remaining employees are officers and clerical staff.

Defendant Rosen is the Assistant Commissioner of the Bureau of Parking, and he has six directors serving directly under him, one of whom is Defendant Susi. Of the other five directors, three are female and two are male. Rosen promoted all of the directors to their title.

Plaintiff was employed in the DOT PCU from 1992 until 2006, when the PCU was transferred from DOT to the New York City Police Department ("NYPD"). Plaintiff commenced employment with the PCU as a principal administrative assistant, where she performed administrative services. In that same year she received a provisional appointment to the civil service title of Staff Analyst. In 1995, she became Deputy Chief for Administration in the PCU, but her civil service title remained Staff Analyst. In 1997, Plaintiff became Deputy Chief of Operations in the PCU, and her civil service title remained unchanged.

In 1998, Plaintiff came under the direct supervision of Defendant Rosen. In April of 1998, Rosen assigned Plaintiff to the position of Chief, PCU, but her civil service title remained Staff Analyst, and her salary remained the same.*fn1 From 1998-2000, while under Rosen's direct supervision, Rosen believed that Plaintiff performed her administrative duties well, but that she performed her operational duties only satisfactorily. (See Deposition of Victor Rosen, dated Dec. 12, 2006 ("Rosen Dep."), at 11.) Rosen rated Plaintiff either "above average" or "outstanding." (See id.) Local 237 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters ("L. 237") represents, in collective bargaining, employees in the titles of PCS and Associate PCS, the officers and their supervisors in the PCU. In November, 2001, L. 237 wrote a letter to Rosen complaining that Plaintiff filed an excessive number of disciplinary charges targeting particular employees, and was routinely rude and displayed disrespect for staff members. (See Exhibit ("Ex.") F to Declaration of Alan M. Schlesinger, dated Sept. 28, 2007 ("Schlesinger Decl.").)

Nevertheless, in January, 2002, after Plaintiff took the required civil service test, Rosen promoted Plaintiff from the civil service title of Staff Analyst to the title of Associate Staff Analyst. (See Pl.'s Dep. at 46-47.)

In March, 2002, Defendant Susi, one of the six directors under Rosen, assumed oversight of the PCU. On March 14, 2002, Plaintiff transmitted to Rosen complaints received from supervisors in the PCU claiming that L. 237, which represented supervisors as well as officers, was not adequately protecting their interests due to an alleged conflict of interest. Rosen thought the complaints were very serious and he advised Plaintiff that he forwarded the complaints to DOT's human resources and labor relations officers.

On April 1, 2002, Susi reorganized the PCU, eliminating the Chief, PCU position. Plaintiff was reassigned from the in-house Chief, PCU to the in-house title of Chief of Administration, PCU. Plaintiff's civil service title remained Associate Staff Analyst, and her salary was unchanged. The in-house title of Chief of Operations was filled by David Griffith. The Chief of Administration and Chief of Operations were co-equals. Nevertheless, Plaintiff contends that she was demoted in title and rank.*fn2 Nobody served as Chief, PCU until October, 2002.

Plaintiff claims that the reorganization and her reassignment resulted from the complaints about the union's conflict of interest that she received from staff and forwarded to Rosen in March, 2002. According to Susi, when he assumed supervision of the PCU, he observed problems, including low morale and diminished productivity. He met with officers and captains, as well as union representatives, and found the employees to be "very disgruntled." (Susi Dep. at 18.) They were dissatisfied with the manner in which Plaintiff treated them, felt that they were over-disciplined, and, in their view, Plaintiff spoke to them in a derogatory fashion. (See id.) Susi decided to separate the administrative and operations functions, and appointed Plaintiff Chief of Administration because he felt that was where Plaintiff's analytical and report-writing strengths would be best utilized. According to Susi, morale and performance in the PCU improved after the April, 2002 reorganization.*fn3

Plaintiff contends that, as a result of her reassignment, she lost the opportunity to put in as much overtime as she had in her prior position, thus reducing her overall compensation. According to Defendants, Plaintiff was not denied overtime opportunities; instead, her new job had less demanding duties and did not require overtime. Plaintiff was also relocated to an office, in the training room, which she contends was rat and bug infested and which served as a storage area. When pressed, Plaintiff acknowledged that while she was in the office, she saw insects two or three times. Shortly after complaining about the office, within two or three weeks, Plaintiff was moved to another office.

In October, 2002, Domingo Bones ("Bones") became the Chief, PCU. In the Fall of 2002, Plaintiff became Chief of Training for PCU, a position she held until September, 2006, when the PCU was functionally transferred to the NYPD. She reported to Bones, who, in turn, reported to Susi, and Susi reported to Rosen. As the Chief of Training, Plaintiff's civil service title, salary, and benefits remained the same. Plaintiff contends, however, that she was demoted in favor of a less qualified male - Bones - who became her supervisor.

As Chief of Training, Plaintiff was responsible for training new employees in the PCU. Trainees completed training feedback forms which rated Plaintiff negatively, complained that the training was disorganized, and that Plaintiff talked down and was rude to new employees.

In October 2003, Plaintiff found a pornographic picture on a computer printer which Plaintiff shared with other staff members. As Plaintiff was viewing the picture, Captain Robert Humes, who sent the picture to the printer, took it out of Plaintiff's hands. (See Pl.'s Dep., at 106-07, 113.) The printer was in the office shared by Assistant Chief Hortense Mangaroo and some captains.

Plaintiff told Bones that she wanted her own printer because she refused to share a printer to which pornographic material was being sent. She also complained to all of the chiefs, assistant chiefs, and a few captains, about the picture, (see id. at 107-08), but she did not report the picture to DOT's Office of Equal Employment Opportunity ("OEEO"). This is the only pornographic picture Plaintiff saw in DOT's offices.*fn4

The picture was reported anonymously to OEEO and a two-month investigation was undertaken. The investigation resulted Bones's removal from the position of Chief, PCU. He was demoted in civil service title for one year, resulting in a diminution of his salary, and was placed on disciplinary probation. He was not permitted to return to the PCU, and was transferred to another part of the Bureau of Parking. Eleven other staff members were also disciplined and a reorganization of the PCU followed.

In late January, 2004, Plaintiff requested that Captain Michael Nurse and Assistant Chief Vasquez assist her in the training functions. Her request was approved. At the same time, Plaintiff expressed the view that, while she did not disagree with the reorganization of the department, she felt that she had been unjustifiedly removed from the position of Chief, PCU and that for her own sake and that of the unit she thought she should be reinstated as Chief. Plaintiff contends that the failure to reinstate her to the position was the result of her complaints about the sexually inappropriate material she found at her printer.

Plaintiff's interest in the Chief's position became known to other staff members. By letter, dated February 4, 2004, L. 237 set forth its opposition to the idea of reappointing Plaintiff Chief, PCU, and enclosed a petition signed by many of the staff employed in the PCU. (See Schlesinger Decl., Ex. F.) The staff requested no further contact between Plaintiff and the officers, providing the following reasons: (1) "The dogmatic harassment upon office[r]s; (2) "The brutal manner in which members were addressed"; (3) "The tyrannical [sic] method of improper and personal attacks by way of discipline"; (4) "The targeted method of divisiveness which was prejudicial to good order"; (5) "Misuse of titles to frighten the members as it relates to their job status".

In the Summer of 2004, Plaintiff, as Chief of Training, with the assistance of two captains under her authority, administered training to new officers assigned to the PCU. In their training evaluation forms, more than a majority of the trainees complained that the instructors needed more training, gave inconsistent instructions, were unstructured, confrontational, and rude. (See Schlesinger Decl., Ex. G.) In communicating these criticisms to Assistant Commissioner Rosen, Director Susi noted that Plaintiff had verbally attacked Director Watson for issuing the evaluation forms, yelling that he had no right to evaluate her class. Susi proposed turning over staff training to the DOT Learning Center. (See id.)

In 2005, Carlos Torres was assigned as Deputy Director, supervising, among other things, the PCU. He performed all of the functions of Chief, PCU, in addition to other functions. In September, 2006, the PCU was functionally transferred from DOT to the NYPD. Plaintiff contends that she wanted to remain at DOT, and that there was a "good list" of employees who were permitted to do so, and a "bad list" of employees who were not. Plaintiff concedes, however, that she never saw such a list and that she merely heard a rumor about the list.

Plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC on August 29, 2004, (see Schlesinger Decl., Ex. I), and the instant action was filed on April 27, 2005.

DISCUSSION

Plaintiff contends that she was (1) removed from, and subsequently denied, the position of Chief, PCU, (2) denied further promotions, (3) given unfavorable performance evaluations, and (4) subjected to a hostile work environment, because of her gender and in retaliation for complaints she lodged about the pornographic picture she found. Defendants now move for summary judgment arguing that (1) many of Plaintiff's claims are time-barred, (2) Plaintiff has not demonstrated a prima facie case of discrimination or retaliation, (3) DOT had legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for removing Plaintiff from the position of Chief, PCU, and for the other actions Plaintiff claims were discriminatory, and (4) Plaintiff has failed to come forward with adequate evidence to allow a reasonable fact-finder to conclude that Plaintiff worked in an environment that was hostile to women.

I. Summary Judgment Standards

Under Rule 56(c)of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a motion for summary judgment may not be granted unless the Court determines that there is no genuine issue of material fact to be tried, and that the facts as to which there is no such issue warrant judgment for the moving party as a matter of law. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2552-53 (1986); Shannon v. N.Y. City Transit Auth., 332 F.3d 95, 98 (2d Cir. 2003). The burden of demonstrating the absence of any genuine dispute as to material facts rests upon the party seeking summary judgment. See Weinstock v. Columbia Univ., 224 F.3d 33, 41 (2d Cir. 2000). Once a properly supported motion for summary judgment has been submitted, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to make a sufficient showing to establish the essential elements of the claims on which it bears the burden of proof at trial. See Hayut v. State Univ. of N.Y., 352 F.3d 733, 743 (2d Cir. 2003); Peck v. Pub. Serv. Mut. Ins. Co., 326 F.3d 330, 337 (2d Cir. 2003) (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323, 106 S.Ct. at 2553). The nonmoving party must put forth "specific facts showing there is a genuine issue for trial." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)(2). A summary judgment "opponent must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 1356 (1986). The non-moving party may not rest on its pleadings and rely on mere allegations, denials, conclusory statements, or conjecture to create a genuine issue for trial. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256-57, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2514 (1986); Guilbert v. Gardner, 480 F.3d 140, 145 (2d Cir. 2007). Moreover, "[a] party opposing a motion for summary judgment simply cannot make a secret of his evidence until the trial for in doing so he risks the possibility that there will be no trial." Meiri v. Dacon, 759 F.2d 989, 998 (2d Cir. 1985) (quoting Donnelly v. Guion, 467 F.2d 290, 293 (2d Cir. 1972)).

In assessing the record to determine whether there is a genuine issue to be tried as to any material fact, the Court is required to resolve all ambiguities and draw all permissible factual inferences in favor of the party against whom summary judgment is sought. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255, 106 S.Ct. at 2513; McClellan v. Smith, 439 F.3d 137, 144 (2d Cir. 2006); Patterson v. County of Oneida, 375 F.3d 206, 219 (2d Cir. 2004).

When a case is fact-intensive and turns on the intent of one party, as employment discrimination cases often do, "trial courts must be especially chary in handing out summary judgment." Chertkova v. Conn. Gen. Life Ins. Co., 92 F.3d 81, 87 (2d Cir. 1996); accord Feingold v. New York, 366 F.3d 138, 149 (2d Cir. 2004); Carlton v. Mystic Transp., Inc., 202 F.3d 129, 134 (2d Cir. 2000), cert. denied, 530 U.S. 1261, 120 S.Ct. 2718 (2000); Goldman v. Admin. for Children's Servs., No. 04 Civ. 7890 (GEL), 2007 WL 1552397, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. May 29, 2007). The trial court is under a duty in such cases to carefully scrutinize the record for circumstantial evidence that could support an inference of discrimination. See Gallo v. Prudential Residential Servs., 22 F.3d 1219, 1224 (2d Cir. 1994). Nevertheless, even in discrimination cases, "[c]onclusory allegations, conjecture, and speculation . . . are insufficient to create a genuine issue of fact." Shannon, 332 F.3d at 99 (quoting Kerzer v. Kingly Mfg., 156 F.3d 396, 400 (2d Cir. 1998)); see also Cameron v. Cmty. Aid for Retarded Children, Inc., 335 F.3d 60, 63 (2d Cir. 2003) (quoting Meiri, 759 F.2d at 998). The "salutary purposes of summary judgment - avoiding protracted, expensive and harassing trials - apply no less to discrimination cases" than to other types of cases. Meiri, 759 F.2d at 998; see also Abdu-Brisson v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., 239 F.3d 456, 466 (2d Cir. 2001) ("It is now beyond cavil that summary judgment may be appropriate even in the fact-intensive context of discrimination cases.").

At summary judgment in an employment discrimination case, a court should examine the record as a whole, just as a jury would, to determine whether a jury could reasonably find an invidious discriminatory purpose on the part of an employer. A court is to examine the entire record to determine whether the plaintiff could satisfy his ultimate burden of persuading the trier of fact that the defendant intentionally discriminated against the plaintiff. A motion for summary judgment may be defeated where a plaintiff's prima facie case, combined with sufficient evidence to find that the employer's asserted justification is false, may permit the trier of fact to ...


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