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Hudson v. Fischer

December 2, 2008

DARLENE HUDSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
BRIAN FISCHER IN HIS CAPACITY AS COMMISSIONER OF THE NEW YORK STATE DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONAL SERVICES, DEFENDANT.



THOMAS J. McAVOY, Senior United States District Judge

DECISION & ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff, an employee of the New York State Department of Correctional Services ("DOCS"), asserts claims of employment discrimination under Title VII, 42 U.S.C § 2000e, et seq. ("Title VII"), sounding in theories of hostile work environment and retaliation. Defendant moves pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56 for summary judgment dismissing Plaintiff's action in its entirety. Plaintiff has opposed the motion.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

The Court will apply the well-settled standard for deciding summary judgment motions in discrimination actions. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Weinstock v. Columbia Univ., 224 F.3d 33, 42 (2d Cir. 2000); Bracci v. N.Y.S. Dept. of Correctional Services, 2005 WL 2437029, at * 1 (N.D.N.Y. Sept. 30, 2005) (McAvoy, S.J.).

III. FACTS*fn1

Plaintiff is a Corrections Officer employed by the New York State Department of Correctional Services ( "DOCS" ). She has been employed by DOCS since October 1989 and is presently assigned to the Albion Correctional Facility.

From February 2005 to June 9, 2005, Plaintiff was assigned to the Shawangunk Correctional Facility. While at Shawangunk, Plaintiff worked as a resource officer on the 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. shift. A resource officer is assigned to a different post at the facility each day. On June 9, 2005, Plaintiff did not receive an assignment at the daily roll call. After dismissal she approached her supervisor and asked for an assignment. She was assigned to the maintenance area although she had never worked there before.

The maintenance area is a large room that contains a number of tables used by inmates and staff working in that area to meet and discuss their work assignments for the day. Civil employees who work in the maintenance area have cubicles located on the perimeter of the room. The officer in charge of the maintenance area, which was Plaintiff's assignment on June 9th, is stationed primarily at a desk that is situated so that the officer can monitor the inmates' movements in the area.

Once in the maintenance area, Plaintiff met the officer on duty from the prior shift who gave her the radio and keys and then left. An on-the-job officer trainee named Corey Russell was sent down to the area to observe and to be taught the post duties by Plaintiff. Plaintiff was the only female in the maintenance area that day.

At about 8:40 a.m., Plaintiff's attention was drawn to a table where four inmates were sitting and laughing at an item that a civilian employee, Plumber/Steam Fitter Adrian Brunson, was carrying to the table. As Brunson walked to the table carrying the object, he did not say anything to Plaintiff, but Plaintiff assumed that Brunson was aware of her presence in the maintenance area because "being a correction officer for 15 years, everyone knows when a female is in the area." Plf. Dep. pp. 35-36. Brunson placed the object on the table and members of the group then looked at Plaintiff and back to the table while continuing to laugh.

Plaintiff observed what appeared to be a fake penis moving up and down on the table. She walked to the table and saw that Brunson had a gag gift called a "Mr. Butt Face Pen Holder" on the table. The toy was a parody-type figurine of a male with a large nose and glasses laying on its stomach with its pants pulled down exposing a hole in the buttocks of the figurine. When a pen was inserted in the hole, the figurine's head lifted up and the figurine emitted noises sounding like moans and groans. Brunson was inserting a pen into the hole, causing the inmates to laugh. When Plaintiff ordered Brunson to put the toy away, he held it up to Plaintiff and laughed saying "But why? What's wrong?" Plaintiff ordered Brunson to put the toy away a second time and he complied, putting it away in his cubical.

Plaintiff and Brunson did not know each other before the day of the incident, and this was the first time they had encountered one another other than to pass in the common areas in the facility. Brunson attests that

[t]he purpose of showing [the pen holder] to the inmates on the day in question was merely to lighten the mood of the inmates working for me. It was my way of being funny. At the time I was showing the pen holder to the inmates I was not aware of Officer Hudson being in the area and was not aware that she would be working in the area that day. My bringing the pen holder to the table was in no way connected to or motivated by the presence of Officer Hudson. I was not aware of her presence in the maintenance area until after she approached the table.

Brunson Aff. ¶¶ 7-10.

The situation upset Plaintiff because she felt that her authority over the male inmates had been compromised. After returning to her desk, she called to a central area asking for the Area Supervisor and requesting to be relieved. An officer named Bennett answered the phone and responded to Plaintiff's request to be relieved by stating that she "needed to calm down" and that "Mr. Brunson was a nice guy." Plaintiff was relieved at 9:00 a.m.

Upon being relieved, Plaintiff met with Sergeant Myers, her immediate supervisor on that day, and Captain Connolly, the Captain on duty. Plaintiff was upset and crying about the incident. Buther-Jones Aff. ¶ 11. A female officer was sent in to talk to her and make her more comfortable. Id. The Captain explained that the toy had been brought into the facility a couple of weeks before the incident as a "gag gift" for a staff member who had been promoted. Id. ¶12. Plaintiff felt that the Captain was making excuses for Brunson but Plaintiff was instructed to sit in a ...


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