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Ramsey v. City of New York

March 10, 2009

RAMON S. RAMSEY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE CITY OF NEW YORK; CITY HEALTH & HOSPITAL CORPORATION; AND COLER GOLDWATER SPECIALTY HOSPITAL AND NURSING FACILITY, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wood, U.S.D.J.

OPINION AND ORDER

Ramon S. Ramsey ("Plaintiff") brings this action against the City of New York, City Health & Hospital Corporation, and Coler-Goldwater Specialty Hospital and Nursing Facility (collectively "Defendants"). Plaintiff alleges that Defendants, in violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e, et seq. ("Title VII"), (1) discriminated against him on account of his race (Count I); (2) created a hostile work environment (Count II); and (3) retaliated against him for filing complaints alleging discrimination (Count III). Plaintiff also alleges that Defendants violated 42 U.S.C. § 1981(Count V) and New York State Human Rights Law, Executive Law § 291(Count VI). Invoking New York State Civil Practice Laws and Rules Article 78, Plaintiff seeks an order and judgment adjudging and declaring that he has been unlawfully removed from his job (Count VII).

Defendants move for summary judgment on all counts. For the reasons stated below, Defendants' motion is GRANTED in its entirety.

I. Background

A. Facts

Unless otherwise noted, the following facts are undisputed and are derived from the parties' Local Civil Rule 56.1 statements, affidavits, and submissions.*fn1 To the extent that the facts are contested, all inferences are drawn in favor of the Plaintiff.

1. Plaintiff's Employment and Job Tasks

Plaintiff, who is African-American, worked as a mechanic and maintenance worker for Defendant New York Health and Hospital Corporation ("HHC") for almost eighteen years, from February 1988 until his termination on December 9, 2005. (Defendants' Rule 56.1 Statement in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment [hereinafter "Defs.' 56.1 Stmt."] ¶ 1, 2, 59.) From September 1997 until his termination, Plaintiff was stationed at the Coler-Goldwater Specialty Hospital and Nursing Facility ("Coler-Goldwater"), one of several HHC facilities. (Defs.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 2, 59.) The Coler-Goldwater facility is comprised of two campuses, the Coler campus and the Goldwater campus. Plaintiff worked at the Coler campus from 1997 to 2004 and then at the Goldwater campus from 2004 until he was terminated in December 2005. (Defs.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 5, 35.)

At Coler-Goldwater, Plaintiff was expected to perform a range of tasks.*fn2 (Defs.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 3.) Plaintiff effectively completed many of the assigned tasks. From 1998 to 2003, Plaintiff received annual evaluations rating his performance in undertaking these assigned tasks. (Defs. Ex. D and E; Pl. Ex. 3.) The rating in these evaluations ranged from "unsatisfactory" to "satisfactory plus," with the vast majority of the ratings listed as "satisfactory."*fn3 (Pl. Ex. 3.) Harry Dockweiler, one of Plaintiff's senior supervisors, characterized Plaintiff as an "all right" mechanic and maintenance person who was efficient at completing his work. (Pl. Ex. 1, at 5.)

2. Disciplinary Actions Taken Against Plaintiff while at the Coler Campus

Plaintiff's supervisors, including Dockweiler, expressed concerns about Plaintiff's job performance. In August 2000 and February 2002, supervisors counseled Plaintiff that his excessive lateness and absenteeism were problematic. (Defs.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 9; Pl.'s Ex. 3.) Defendant does not contest that he had these attendance and lateness problems; rather, he states that these problems were a result of difficulties with his car, and that his supervisors were aware at the time that he was trying to obtain a more reliable vehicle. (Plaintiff's Response to 56.1 Stmt. ("Pl.'s 56.1 Stmt.") ¶ 9).

In March 2003, Joseph Cardali, a white man, became Plaintiff's supervisor.*fn4 (Pl.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 11.) Around this time, the number of requests for disciplinary action to be taken against Plaintiff increased considerably.

On July 10, 2003, James Florez, one of the supervisors in the Engineering Department's Maintenance Division at the Coler campus, witnessed Plaintiff playing pool during work hours. (Defs.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 17.) Florez filed a request for disciplinary action against Plaintiff, alleging that Plaintiff had been warned twice not to play pool during his scheduled shift and nonetheless violated this rule on July 10, 2003. (Defs.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 17.) On September 30, 2003, an informal conference was held regarding Florez's disciplinary request. (Defs.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 19.) Plaintiff, Florez, Plaintiff's union representative, and Brian Ellis, the Assistant Director of Labor Relations, attended the conference. (Defs.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 19.) Plaintiff had the opportunity to testify; he admitted that he was playing pool during his shift, albeit briefly, and that he had been told on prior occasions that he was not permitted to do so. (Defs.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 19; Def. Ex. M.) Ellis, who was acting as the hearing officer, recommended a three-day suspension.

In 2003, Cardali filed several requests for disciplinary action against Plaintiff. (Defs.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 18; Def. Ex. M.) Cardali alleged that on September 4, 2003, Plaintiff refused to accept his assignment and said "I don't want to hear it unless you're dying" and "I don't care what you fucking have to say." (Defs.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 18; Def. Ex. L.) On September 25, 2003, Cardali filed another request for a disciplinary action stating that Plaintiff walked out of the room while being told his work assignment for the day, refused to respond to his pager and hung up the phone when he learned that Cardali was on the line. (Defs.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 21; Def. Ex. O.) Plaintiff denies that he made the comments or engaged in the conduct alleged by Cardali. (Pl.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 20-21). After receiving these requests for disciplinary action from Cardali and Dockweiler, Defendants suspended Plaintiff from his job from September 25, 2003 to October 15, 2003. (Defs.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 22; Defs. Ex. Q.)

Plaintiff returned to work on October 15, 2003, and in the ensuing months, Plaintiff's supervisors filed additional requests for disciplinary action against Plaintiff. (Defs.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 23, 24; Defs. Ex. R, S.) The most significant of these requests stemmed from Plaintiff's conduct on December 1, 2003. (Defs.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 25-26.)

On December 1, 2003, Cardali informed Plaintiff that he was going to be observed for the day, and Cardali then commenced the observation.*fn5 (Defs.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 25-26; Defs. Ex. F, at 5.) While Cardali was observing Plaintiff, Cardali entered what Plaintiff characterized as his work area. (Defs. Ex. F, at 5.) When Plaintiff told Cardali that Cardali was in Plaintiff's work area, Cardali responded, "I can stand anywhere I want to." (Defs. Ex. F, at 5.) Later, Plaintiff described Cardali as a "jackass" to a patient while Cardali was outside of the patient's room. (Defs.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 25; Pl. Ex. 12, at 5.) While en route to complain to Dockweiler about Cardali's behavior, Plaintiff and Cardali started to argue about a vacuum cleaner that Plaintiff was about to put away. (Pl. Ex. 12, at 9-11.) As a result, Plaintiff left a disassembled vacuum cleaner unattended in the hallway. (Defs.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 25; Pl. Ex. 12, at 10-11.) On December 3, 2003, Ellis suspended Plaintiff for a month without pay, citing Plaintiff's conduct earlier in the week. (Defs.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 27; Defs. Ex. U.)

3. Transfer to the Goldwater Campus

On January 29, 2004, an informal conference was held to address the charges brought against Plaintiff from November though January. (Defs.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 31; Defs. Ex. Y.) Ellis recommended terminating Plaintiff, and rejected Plaintiff's request to be transferred to a different campus. (Defs.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 31.)

On February 23, 2004, the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (OATH) conducted a disciplinary hearing to address these disciplinary charges. (Defs.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 33; Defs. Ex. AA.) At the hearing, Plaintiff had the assistance of counsel, testified on his own behalf, and presented evidence. (Defs.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 33; Defs. Ex. AA.)

On April 4, 2004, Administrative Law Judge Kara J. Miller issued a decision that focused on the disciplinary complaints lodged against Plaintiff, especially those relating to Plaintiff's refusal to communicate with his supervisors (most notably Cardali) and the challenges that his behavior created in the hospital work environment. (Defs.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 34; Defs. Ex. AA.) Finding many of these complaints meritorious, Administrative Law Judge Miller recommended suspending Plaintiff for twenty-one days and transferring him from the Coler campus to the Goldwater campus. (Defs.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 34; Defs. Ex. AA.) Consistent with the OATH recommendation, Plaintiff was suspended for twenty-one days and then transferred to the Goldwater campus. (Defs.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 35.)

4. Plaintiff's Complaints and Disciplinary Actions against Plaintiff at the Goldwater Campus

Plaintiff started working at the Goldwater campus on May 19, 2004, under the direct supervision of Dennis Galanakis. (Defs.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 35.) Plaintiff characterized Galanakis as nasty to everyone, but even nastier to him. (Defs. Ex. 17, at 9.) According to Plaintiff, Galanakis' nasty, provocative behavior toward Plaintiff manifested itself on Plaintiff's first day at the Goldwater campus, when Galanakis questioned Plaintiff about why he was sitting in the maintenance office.*fn6 Plaintiff also alleges that Galanakis unreasonably tried to prevent Plaintiff him from using his personal tools on the job. Plaintiff's senior supervisors had given him permission to use a tool truck that he had brought over from the Coler campus. (Pl. Ex. 16, at 5.)

Plaintiff said that his personal tools in the tool truck were adequate for the new position. Plaintiff did not want Galanakis to do an inventory of his tools or to require Plaintiff to use the Defendants' tools. (Pl. Ex. 16, at 6-8.) Galanakis was insistent that he needed to inventory the tools and filed a request for disciplinary action because Plaintiff refused to let him do so. (Pl. Ex. 16, at 6-8; Defs.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 36). Over the next few months, Galanakis and Plaintiff had several more disputes, many of which resulted in Plaintiff being suspended. (Defs.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 37-51; Pl.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 37-51.)

On December 9, 2004, three days after Plaintiff had returned from his most recent suspension, Vivian Kormana filed a written complaint alleging that Plaintiff had disrupted a teleconference held in Goldwater Auditorium that day. (Defs.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 52.) According to Kormana, Plaintiff was making loud noises and playing the radio in the auditorium while she was on a teleconference and refused to either leave the auditorium or stop the noises. (Defs.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 52.) Kormana's letter ...


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