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Artope v. Center For Animal Care and Control

March 27, 2009


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


Plaintiff Wesley Artope ("Plaintiff") brings this employment discrimination and state tort law action against his former employer, Animal Care & Control of New York City, Inc. ("ACC"),*fn1 and his former supervisor, Ed Boks ("Boks") (collectively "Defendants"). Plaintiff alleges that Boks, with the consent and approval of ACC, terminated Plaintiff's employment in January 2004 because of Plaintiff's race, in violation of federal, state, and city employment discrimination laws, and intentionally caused Plaintiff extreme emotional distress, in violation of state tort law.

Defendants move for summary judgment on all of Plaintiff's claims. For the reasons stated below, the Court finds that Defendants have not shown the absence of a genuine issue of material fact as to Plaintiff's employment discrimination claims, but have shown the absence of a genuine issue of material fact as to Plaintiff's intentional infliction of emotional distress claim. Accordingly, the Court DENIES in part and GRANTS in part Defendants' motion for summary judgment.

I. Background

A. Facts

Unless otherwise noted, the following facts are undisputed and are derived from the parties' Local Rule 56.1 statements, affidavits, and other submissions.*fn2 The Court construes all evidence in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff and draws all reasonable inferences in the Plaintiff's favor.

1. The Parties

a. ACC

ACC is a not-for-profit corporation that provides animal care and control services in New York City under a contract with the New York City Department of Health. (Defs.' 56.1 Stat. ¶¶ 1-2.) ACC seizes, rescues, and accepts stray, lost, homeless, unwanted, and abandoned animals. (Defs.' 56.1 Stat. ¶ 3.) ACC provides these animals with medical treatment and shelter, and attempts to find placements for the animals through adoptions. When necessary, ACC euthanizes the animals. (Defs.' 56.1 Stat. ¶ 4.)

ACC maintains three full service shelters, two receiving centers, and one administrative office in New York City. (Defs.' 56.1 Stat. ¶ 5.) ACC's executive management team works at ACC's administrative office. (Defs.' 56.1 Stat. ¶ 8.)

b. Ed Boks

Boks served as the Executive Director of ACC from July 2003 to January 2006. (Defs.' 56.1 Stat. ¶ 9.)

Boks replaced Marilyn Blohm ("Blohm"), who had been ACC's Executive Director from 1997 to 2002. (Defs.' 56.1 Stat. ¶ 12.)

c. Plaintiff

Plaintiff is an African-American male. (Defs.' 56.1 Stat. ¶ 13.)

Blohm hired Plaintiff to work at ACC in 1997. (Defs.' 56.1 Stat. ¶ 14.) Between 1997 and 2002, Blohm promoted Plaintiff numerous times, and ultimately promoted Plaintiff to ACC's executive management team. (Defs.' 56.1 Stat. ¶¶ 20, 26-52.)

Boks terminated Plaintiff's employment with ACC on January 15, 2004. (Defs.' 56.1 Stat. ¶¶ 15, 17.)

2. Plaintiff's Training and Work Experience Plaintiff has an Associates Degree in Veterinary Technology and a Bachelors Degree in Psychology. Plaintiff also has licenses and certifications as a veterinary technician, animal handler, and animal rehabilitator, and work experience in animal training, handling, and treatment. (Defs.' 56.1 Stat. ¶ 23.)

3. Plaintiff's Employment at ACC During Blohm's Tenure as Executive Director

In 1997, Blohm hired Plaintiff as a Senior Animal Care Specialist in the Medical Department of ACC's Manhattan shelter. (Defs.' 56.1 Stat. ¶ 22.) In this position, Plaintiff was responsible for providing medical treatment and administering euthanasia to Manhattan shelter animals. (Defs.' 56.1 Stat. ¶ 23.) Plaintiff also trained other veterinary technicians to perform these tasks and supervised their performance. (Defs.' 56.1 Stat. ¶ 24.)

In 1998, Blohm promoted Plaintiff to Assistant Director of the Manhattan shelter. (Defs.' 56.1 Stat. ¶ 26.) In this position, Plaintiff supervised multiple departments at the Manhattan shelter and assumed greater responsibility over animal care, animal adoptions, training and management of employees, and quality control. (Defs.' 56.1 Stat. ¶¶ 27-28.)

In 1999, Blohm promoted Plaintiff to Training Coordinator for ACC. (Defs.' 56.1 Stat. ¶ 34.) In this position, Plaintiff was responsible for training employees in all departments at all ACC shelters. (Defs.' 56.1 Stat. ¶ 35.) Plaintiff evaluated conditions at the shelters, identified problems, and trained employees to rectify those problems. (Defs.' 56.1 Stat. ¶ 37.)

Later in 1999, Blohm promoted Plaintiff to Director of Training for ACC. (Defs.' 56.1 Stat. ¶ 41.) In this position, Plaintiff continued to have responsibility for training employees at all ACC shelters. (Defs.' 56.1 Stat. ¶ 42.)

In 2002, Blohm promoted Plaintiff to Deputy Director of Operations for ACC. (Defs.' 56.1 Stat. ¶ 44.) In this position, Plaintiff had further management and public relations responsibilities. (Defs.' 56.1 Stat. ¶¶ 46-47.) Plaintiff began reporting directly to Theresa Geary ("Geary"), the Director of Operations. (Defs.' 56.1 Stat. ¶ 49.)

In 2003, Blohm promoted Plaintiff to Director of Shelter Operations.*fn3 (Defs.' 56.1 Stat. ¶ 50.) In this position, Plaintiff assumed additional responsibility over human resources and client relations. (Defs.' 56.1 Stat. ¶ 52.)

4. Plaintiff's Job Performance at ACC During Blohm's Tenure as Executive Director

Plaintiff states in his deposition that during Blohm's tenure as Executive Director, managers consistently gave him positive feedback about his performance. Plaintiff states that Blohm praised his work as Director of Training. Plaintiff also states that Geary told him that his "problem solving ability and ability to do troubleshooting was great." (Martin 56.1 Aff. Ex. A 118:18-119:22.)

5. The Comptroller's Audit Report

Between January 1999 and June 2001, the New York City Office of the Comptroller audited ACC shelter operations, conditions, and adoption efforts. (Defs.' 56.1 Stat. ¶ 53.) On June 6, 2002, the Comptroller's Office issued an Audit Report. (Defs.' 56.1 Stat. ¶ 54.)

The Audit Report stated that ACC failed to provide humane conditions for animals in its shelters and that animals often received poor veterinary care. (Defs.' 56.1 Stat. ¶ 55.)

Specifically, the Audit Report identified problems at ACC with respect to poor supervision of veterinary staff, failure to terminate employees cited for animal mistreatment, failure to exercise dogs, failure to provide water to animals, failure to consistently clean cages, and failure to appropriately isolate sick and contagious animals. In addition, the Audit Report criticized ACC's management for working only to "push animals through the system" rather than to provide humane care for the animals. (Defs.' 56.1 Stat. ¶ 58.)

6. Blohm's Resignation and the Subsequent Hiring of Boks

Shortly after publication of the Audit Report, several top management employees resigned from ACC, including Blohm and Geary. (Defs.' 56.1 Stat. ¶¶ 60-62.)

From fall 2002 until spring 2003, ACC's Board of Directors searched for a new Executive Director. (Defs.' 56.1 Stat. ¶ 64.) The Board of Directors actively recruited Ed Boks, Executive Director of an animal shelter in Maricopa County, Arizona ("Maricopa County animal shelter"), for the position. (Defs.' 56.1 Stat. ¶ 66.)

In or about July 2003, ACC's Board of Directors hired Boks as the part-time Executive Director of ACC. (Defs.' 56.1 Stat. ¶ 68.) Between July 2003 and December 2003, Boks worked part-time for ACC and part-time for the Maricopa County animal shelter. (Defs.' 56.1 Stat. ¶ 69.)

In January 2004, Boks became full-time Executive Director of ACC. (Defs.' 56.1 Stat. ¶ 71.)

7. The Inception Report and Boks' Subsequent Hiring of Gentles Shortly after he was hired, Boks assembled three volunteer consultants to evaluate ACC's shelter operations, procedures, protocols, treatment of animals, customer service, and medical functions, and also to identify areas for reorganization. (Defs.' 56.1 Stat. ¶ 72.)

Boks chose Mary Martin ("Martin"), Brenda Sipes ("Sipes"), and Richard Gentles ("Gentles") as his three volunteer consultants. (Defs.' 56.1 Stat. ¶ 73.) Martin was Director of Medical Services for the Maricopa County animal shelter. Sipes had expertise in the field of shelter facilities and management. Gentles was a former Director of Law Enforcement for the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. (Defs.' 56.1 Stat. ¶¶ 74-76.)

In July 2003, Boks, Martin, Sipes, and Gentles conducted their evaluation. (Defs.' 56.1 Stat. ΒΆ 77.) Boks and Martin then prepared a written report (the "Inception Report") detailing the problems they had ...

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