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Flores v. Graphtex

June 15, 2009

JOHN FLORES, PLAINTIFF,
v.
GRAPHTEX, A DIVISION OF HUMAN TECHNOLOGIES CORP., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: David E. Peebles U.S. Magistrate Judge

DECISION AND ORDER

Plaintiff John Flores, who is of Hispanic ethnicity, has commenced this action against defendant Graphtex, a division of Human Technologies Corp. ("HTC"), asserting claims of employment discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. Plaintiff alleges that based upon his national origin, and because he previously brought suit against HTC under Title VII complaining of discrimination, his employment was unlawfully terminated by HTC in December of 1994, and seeks damages, including though not limited to back pay, resulting from the violation.

Plaintiff's claims were tried to the court on June 1, 2009.*fn2 Based upon the evidence adduced at trial, I find that plaintiff failed to prove that defendant took adverse employment action against him, a requirement of proving both discrimination and unlawful retaliation under Title VII, and further conclude that even assuming the existence of such adverse action, Flores failed to establish that it was motivated by either his national origin or out of retaliation for his earlier, protected activity. The following decision incorporates within it my findings of fact and legal conclusions regarding the matter.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff John Flores is forty-nine years of age and lives in Utica, New York. Plaintiff is of Hispanic origin and suffers from a disability of an undisclosed nature.*fn3 Flores has a third grade education, and is currently unemployed. Plaintiff receives supplemental security income ("SSI") benefits under the Social Security Act, having applied for those benefits since leaving the employ of HTC.

HTC is a sheltered workshop operated to serve disabled workers, and is certified by the New York State Office of Mental Health. HTC employs individuals in a variety of occupations, and offers disabled workers the opportunity both to be employed within HTC and to learn skills for use outside of the HTC environment with more traditional employers.

At the relevant times Graphtex functioned as a division of HTC. Graphtex was formed to operate under a corporate business model, with a goal of hiring an equal mix of non-disabled employees and disabled workers, the latter being referred to as "participants" or "trainees". Graphtex provides goods and services to a variety of municipal and private customers, including the State of New York.

Plaintiff first became employed with HTC in 1990, but left work in 1992 after a disagreement with one of his supervisors. Plaintiff's separation from employment with HTC in 1992 led to his filing of an administrative complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights, and ultimately to commencement of an action in this court on July 30, 1993, encaptioned Flores v. Human Technologies Corporation, 93-CV-1015 (N.D.N.Y., filed 1993) ("Flores I"). That action was settled on or about October 4, 1994. As part of the Flores I settlement, HTC agreed to reinstate the plaintiff.

Plaintiff subsequently returned to work in or about October of 1994 and was assigned to a position as a silk screener at Graphtex, working between 8:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. each day, Monday through Friday. Plaintiff was compensated for his work at Graphtex based upon the number of pieces which he produced, typically averaging between eighty and one hundred dollars per day.

On December 16, 1994 plaintiff was informed by his supervisor, John Thorp, that he and at least one other disabled worker were being temporarily laid off from Graphtex based upon lack of available work. Plaintiff's layoff was necessitated by a shortage of silk screening work at the company, beginning in or about November of 1994. The other silk screen operator at Graphtex, Candido Garcia, who like plaintiff is of Hispanic national origin, was chosen over Flores for retention based upon the fact that Garcia was the more experienced of the two employees.

When making the job cuts at Graphtex, company officials decided to transfer the laid-off workers to the HTC work center. Plaintiff was told that it looked like there was work available for him at HTC, and was instructed by Thorpe to report to HTC for assignment of work during the layoff period.*fn4 Plaintiff went to HTC on December 19, 1994, the next work day, and awaited instructions concerning another position. After waiting from 7:30 a.m., when he first arrived, until 8:05 a.m. of that day but receiving no work assignment, plaintiff called Dave LaValla, the Vice President of Business Operations for HTC and Thorpe's supervisor, to advise him of his circumstances.*fn5 During that conversation Flores advised LaValla that he was upset, and was hearing voices telling him to purchase a gun and shoot people at Graphtex. LaValla recommended that plaintiff should see a doctor, and Flores agreed. Plaintiff then left, and was later paid for all unused sick leave time and, after exhaustion of accrued sick leave, was placed on medical leave of absence.

Plaintiff spoke with LaValla again shortly after Christmas of 1994. At that time Flores informed LaValla that he needed more time off from work, and was granted a further leave of absence. Plaintiff, who by all accounts was regarded by HTC as a competent employee, was informed by LaValla that he could return to HTC when his health had improved, and during the trial Flores acknowledged having been told that.

At some point following the December 1994 layoff from Graphtex, plaintiff attempted to reopen Flores I. That effort prompted a letter from HTC's counsel of record in that action, Stewart D. Pratt, Esq., dated September 18, 1995, advising the court that plaintiff had been asked by company officials to return to work after seeing a doctor, but never returned. The letter also pointed out that plaintiff had filed applications for disability and workers' compensation benefits, and that in light of the circumstances the company viewed plaintiff as having ...


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