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McQueen-Starling v. Unitedhealth Group

March 20, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: John G. Koeltl, District Judge


The petitioner, Lisa McQueen-Starling ("McQueen"), filed this petition to vacate an arbitration award entered in favor of the respondents, UnitedHealth Group, Inc. and Oxford Health Plans ("UHG" and "Oxford," respectively; the "Groups," collectively) on her employment discrimination claim.*fn1 The petitioner originally filed her petition in New York State Supreme Court, New York County, pursuant to Rule 7511 of the New York Civil Procedure Law and Rules (the "CPLR"), but the respondents removed the case to this Court. The petitioner alleges race discrimination in employment in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981, the New York Executive Law § 290 et seq. (the "Human Rights Law"), and the Administrative Code of the City of New York § 8-101 et seq. (the "City Law"); and seX discrimination in employment in violation of the Human Rights Law and the City Law.



The following facts are undisputed and taken from the Opinion and Award of the Arbitrator dated January 28, 2008 unless otherwise indicated.*fn2

The petitioner, who is an African-American female, was first hired by respondent Oxford on June 19, 2000 as a Human Resources Manager. In that position, she was responsible for providing human resources support for Oxford's New York Sales office, which included a Sales department, an Account Management department, a Small Business department, and a Broker Business unit. These departments and units were all under the supervision of William Golden. Mr. Golden participated in the decision to hire the petitioner. (Arbitrator's Opinion and Award ("Op.") at 1.)

In early 2001, Mr. Golden hired the petitioner a second time, for the position of Manager of the Account Management department. The Account Management department provided education and customer service to clients with existing health insurance accounts at Oxford. The department also supported executives and managers in the Sales department in certain circumstances, and developed relationships with existing group health insurance customers to maintain, renew, and grow accounts. At the time she accepted her new position, the petitioner had no prior experience in insurance, sales, or account management. Although the position had originally been advertised at the Director level, the petitioner was hired at the Manager level, which was lower than the Director level. She received a $10,000 raise in base salary from her previous position as a Human Resources Manager. In her capacity as Manager of the Account Management department, the petitioner managed three Team Leaders, who in turn managed the activities of 20 to 25 Account Managers in the New York City office. In November 2001, the petitioner was assigned to supervise additional support staff. (Op. at 1-2.) On the whole, the petitioner was an effective manager who improved performance in her department. (Op. at 5.)

Mr. Golden supervised the petitioner. Among the other employees supervised by Mr. Golden were two Sales Managers: Paul Marden and Sean Tahany. In or around July 2002, Mr. Marden complained to Human Resources about the petitioner's working style. A Human Resources employee met with Mr. Marden and the petitioner, and the meeting was a success, with no corrective action being taken for either employee. (Op. at 2.)

In March 2003, Mr. Golden promoted Mr. Marden and Mr. Tahany to Director, although without a merit or promotional increase in compensation. The petitioner expressed concern to Mr. Golden that she had not been promoted as well. At the time of the promotions, the heads of the Account Management departments at Oxford's other offices in New Jersey, Connecticut, and Long Island held the title of "Manager." (Op. at 2.)

On March 14, 2003, the petitioner was awarded additional compensation in the form of stock options. She received this and all other additional compensation during her tenure at the recommendation of Mr. Golden. (Op. at 2.)

In April 2003, employees in the petitioner's department complained to Mr. Golden about the petitioner's management style. Mr. Golden held a meeting that included all Account Managers and Human Resources Manager Audrey Julien. Mr. Golden instructed the petitioner that she had to treat the Account Managers with respect and improve the tone of the office. No other corrective action was taken against the petitioner. Following the meeting, members of the petitioner's department seemed to be satisfied with her ongoing management. In 2004, and again in 2005, the petitioner received a raise in her compensation. (Op. at 3.)

In July 2004, Oxford merged with UHG. Because of the merger, Oxford offered retention bonuses to select individuals. The petitioner was one of three employees under Mr. Golden's supervision whom he recommended for a retention bonus, and she received a $20,000 bonus. (Op. at 3.)

After the merger, Mr. Marden and Mr. Tahany had their titles changed from Director to Vice President of New York Sales. The title "Vice President of Sales" was used in the UHG employment structure at the level for which Oxford used the term "Director." The petitioner's base salary was situated in between Mr. Marden's and Mr. Tahany's. (Op. at 3.)

In April 2005, the petitioner assumed responsibility for the Account Management department in the Long Island office, and began working in that office two days a week. In Long Island, the petitioner managed the activities of one additional Team Leader and 11-13 Account Managers. Shortly thereafter, Oxford converted to the UHG system of dividing existing accounts into "Key Accounts" and "Small Business Accounts." At the end of November 2005, Mr. Golden placed the petitioner in charge of the Key Accounts, and Kimberly Santillo was promoted from the position of Team Leader to Manager of Small Business Accounts. On December 1, 2005, Mr. Golden emailed the petitioner and represented to her that he was speaking with Human Resources about promoting her to Director. (Op. at 3.)

In late January 2006, Mr. Golden was directed to eliminate duplicative positions in order to reduce unnecessary layers of management. He identified the petitioner's position as duplicative with that of Jean McGann, a UHG employee of over 20 years holding the position of Regional Director of Major Accounts for New Jersey and New York at the time of the merger. Ms. McGann's title had been changed to Vice-President after the merger. The petitioner's job was the only one identified as duplicative by Mr. Golden. (Op. at 3, 4.)

On March 29, 2006, Mr. Golden and a Human Resources representative informed the petitioner that her job was being eliminated and that she was being laid off. Upon receiving the news, the petitioner asked whether she was being laid off because she was black. Mr. Golden exited the room in response to this question. (Op. at 4.)

In addition to the foregoing undisputed facts found by the Arbitrator, the petitioner alleges a number of disputed facts, many of which she herself testified to at the Arbitration hearing, that form a significant part of the basis for her discrimination claims. Specifically, the petitioner testified to, or elicited testimony about, a number of race- and sex-based comments allegedly made or condoned by her supervisor, Mr. Golden. Mr. Golden denies making the bulk of the comments, and denies that any comments that he did make reflected a discriminatory intent. The alleged comments attributed to Mr. Golden by the petitioner include: remarking to the petitioner that "with looks like that you cannot be 100 percent black" (Tr. at 166); suggesting to the petitioner that her dating standards were too high and asking whether she dated outside her race (Tr. at 147); asking her "yes or no" at an office party (Tr. at 143-44, 420-21); asking whether he would be the only white person at her wedding (Tr. at 149); advising her to hire a female candidate for the Account Manager position because she was "beautiful" (Tr. at 125); commenting that "black men don't do well in sales" (Tr. at 127-28); and complaining that another female employee looked "like a boy" (Tr. at 275).*fn3 The petitioner also alleges, among other things, that Mr. Golden did nothing to stop jokes among male brokers about female colleagues engaging in sexual relations with them (Tr. at 120-21, 526-28), and, in a separate incident, jokes about a "catfight" between the petitioner and Ms. McGann following a PowerPoint presentation making the same joke (Tr. at 546-49).


On April 13, 2006, the petitioner filed a Demand for Arbitration, pursuant to UHG's Employment Arbitration Policy whereby respondents and their employees agreed to resolve employment disputes through internal dispute review ("IDR") and failing that, through arbitration administered by the American Arbitration Association ("AAA"). (Raskin Aff. Ex. 3.) In her Amended Statement of Claim, dated June 7, 2006, the petitioner alleged race discrimination in employment in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981, the Human Rights Law, and the City Law; and sex discrimination in employment in violation of the Human Rights Law and the City Law. Pursuant to the Human Rights Law and the City Law, the petitioner also alleged retaliation for her opposition to discriminatory employment practices. (Raskin Aff. Ex. 18.)

The petitioner based these causes of action on alleged events and remarks occurring during her employment with the respondents through her termination. (Raskin Aff. Ex. 18.) The essence of the petitioner's claims was that the respondents discriminated against her by failing to promote her and firing her on the basis of her race and sex, and also in retaliation for her opposition to discriminatory practices. The petitioner's Amended Statement of Claim relied exclusively upon events and remarks occurring during her employment with the respondents and through the termination of that employment.

There were six days of arbitration hearings on the petitioner's claims, beginning on April 24, 2007 and concluding on July 17, 2007. At the hearing and in the post-hearing briefings that followed, in addition to the claims made in her Amended Statement of Claim, the petitioner also claimed that Mr. Golden retaliated against her by refusing to recommend her for another position with UHG ...

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