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Ferguson v. New Venture Gear

August 31, 2009

VITTORIO FERGUSON AND ALFONSO DAVIS, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
NEW VENTURE GEAR, INC.; DAIMLER CHRYSLER CORPORATION; SCOTT STANTON, AS PRESIDENT OF UNITED AUTOMOBILE, AEROSPACE AND AGRICULTURAL IMPLEMENT WORKERS OF AMERICA LOCAL 624; AND RON GETTELFINGER, AS PRESIDENT OF THE INTERNATIONAL UNION, UNITED AUTOMOBILE, AEROSPACE AND AGRICULTURAL IMPLEMENT WORKERS OF AMERICA, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Scullin, Senior Judge

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiffs allege racial employment discrimination and retaliation claims pursuant to Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and New York Executive Law § 296 et seq. ("Human Rights Law") against Defendants New Venture Gear, Inc. ("NVG"); Daimler Chrysler Corporation ("DC") (collectively "Corporate Defendants"); United Automobile Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America Local 624 ("Local Union"); and International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America ("International Union") (collectively "Union Defendants").

Currently before the Court are the Corporate Defendants' motion for summary judgment and the Union Defendants' motion for summary judgment. The Corporate Defendants argue that they are entitled to summary judgment for the following reasons: (1) Defendant DC was not Plaintiffs' employer; (2) the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the state-law claims; (3) Defendant DC does not share an identity of interest with Defendant NVG to satisfy the administrative complaint requirements; and (4) Plaintiffs' retaliation claims fail as a matter of law because Plaintiffs did not engage in protected activity, have not established a causal connection between any protected activity and the adverse action, and Defendant NVG had legitimate business reasons for its actions.

The Union Defendants assert that they are entitled to summary judgment for the following reasons: (1) Defendant International Union was not involved in any of the alleged conduct; (2) the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the state-law claims; (3) Plaintiffs' discrimination claims fail as a matter of law; and (4) Plaintiffs' retaliation claims fail as a matter of law.

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs are African-Americans who were employees in Department 660 at Defendant NVG's plant in 2003. On October 8, 2003, Plaintiff reported to Defendant NVG's management and Defendant Local Union that three white employees, outside the presence of Plaintiffs, had made racial comments or a joke*fn1 at work on September 27, 2003. Defendant NVG disciplined the three white employees for contributing to a hostile work environment in violation of its "zero tolerance" policy. Additionally, Defendant NVG disciplined former plaintiff Jill Leet, who was present for the conversation, for not reporting the incident to management or to the union but, instead, spreading it by telling her co-workers.

Defendant NVG subsequently disciplined Plaintiffs for contributing to a hostile work environment by allegedly taunting one or more of the three white employees as they left the plant to serve their disciplinary suspension. Upon Plaintiffs' return to work after their discipline, Defendant NVG reassigned them to other departments.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Standard of review

"Summary judgment is appropriate if there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Holcomb v. Iona Coll., 521 F.3d 130, 137 (2d Cir. 2008) (citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)). First, the moving party must demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact; then, the opposing party must present evidence, beyond the pleadings, to satisfy every element of the claim and to show a genuine issue for trial. See id. When analyzing a motion for summary judgment, the court must resolve all ambiguities and draw all permissible inferences in favor of the opposing party. See id. (citation omitted).

B. Plaintiffs' claims against Defendant DC

Defendant DC argues that it was not Plaintiffs' employer for the purposes of Title VII or § 1981. Defendant DC asserts that, although in some instances the single-employer doctrine could allow liability, Plaintiffs have failed to produce the evidence needed to invoke that doctrine. Furthermore, Defendant DC notes that, with respect to Plaintiff's Title VII claim, Plaintiff did not file an EEOC charge naming Defendant DC and cannot show an identity of interest between Defendant DC and Defendants whom Plaintiffs did name in their EEOC charge sufficient to sustain a Title VII claim.

To the contrary, Plaintiffs assert that Defendant DC and Defendant NVG are so interrelated that they operated as one company. To support this position, Plaintiffs note the following: (1) the labor agreement is between Defendant DC and Defendant International Union and (2) they have Defendant DC employee numbers and various paperwork they have received has Defendant DC on it.

Corporations may organize to isolate liability among separate entities under the doctrine of limited liability. See Meng v. Ipanema Shoe Corp., 73 F. Supp. 2d 392, 402 (S.D.N.Y. 1999) (quoting Murray v. Miner, 74 F.3d 402, 404 (2d Cir. 1996) (citation omitted)). Only in extraordinary circumstances will a corporation be liable for the acts of a related, but separate, entity; this exception is the single employer doctrine that applies "where there is '"sufficient indicia of an interrelationship between the immediate corporate employer and the affiliated corporation to justify the belief on the part of an aggrieved employee that the affiliated corporation is jointly responsible for the acts of the immediate employer."'" Id. (quotation omitted).

The Second Circuit has adopted a four-part test to determine the degree of interrelationship between entities. See id. (citing Cook v. Arrowsmith Shelburne, Inc., 69 F.3d 1235, 1240 (2d Cir. 1995). "Under that test, a 'parent and subsidiary cannot be found to represent a single, integrated enterprise in the absence of evidence of (1) interrelation of operations, (2) centralized control of labor relations, (3) common management, and (4) common ownership or financial control.'" Id. (quotation omitted). "A plaintiff 'need not show that each factor exists... nor is there one factor a plaintiff must show.'" Id. (quotation omitted). In this analysis, courts should focus on the second factor and the critical question in the analysis is "'"[w]hat entity made the final decisions regarding employment matters related to the person claiming discrimination?"'" Id. (quotation and other citation omitted).

1. Interrelation of operations

Courts in this Circuit use the following criteria to determine the interrelation of operations: (1) the parent's involvement in the subsidiary's daily "'production, distribution, marketing, and advertising'" decisions; (2) the parent's sharing of "'employees, services, records, and equipment'" with the subsidiary; (3) the parent and subsidiary commingling bank accounts, inventories, and lines of credit; (4) the parent's maintenance of subsidiary's books; (5) the parent's issuing subsidiary's paychecks; and (6) the parent's preparing and filing of tax returns for the subsidiary. Id. (quotation omitted).

Plaintiffs note that they received an employee badge with a DC identification number, as well as documents from or naming DC, including health insurance cards, employee medical records and other employee benefit information. See Affidavit of Vittorio Ferguson dated January 2, 2008, at ΒΆΒΆ 5-7; Affidavit of Alfonso Davis dated January 2, 2008, at 5-7. Plaintiffs also assert that their ...


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