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Civil Service Employees Association, Inc. v. New York State Dep't of Parks

January 25, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gary L. Sharpe District Court Judge


I. Introduction

Plaintiffs Civil Service Employees Association, Inc., Local 1000, AFSCME, AFL-CIO (CSEA), Hatti Langsford, and Krystal Bullock commenced this action against defendant New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (OPRHP) under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,*fn1 alleging employment-related gender discrimination and unlawful retaliation. (See Compl., Dkt. No. 1.) Pending are plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment, (Dkt. No. 22), and OPRHP's cross-motion for summary judgment. (Dkt. No. 27.) For the reasons that follow, the court (1) denies plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment and (2) grants OPRHP's motion for summary judgment insofar as CSEA is dismissed from this action but denies the remainder of the motion.

II. Background

A. Factual History

Defendant OPRHP is a New York State agency that operates Minnewaska State Park in Ulster County, New York. (See Pl. SMF ¶ 1, Dkt. No. 22:3.) Minnewaska is part of the Palisades Region of OPRHP.

(See id.) From December 1, 2005, to July 1, 2006, Michael Krish, as Minnewaska Park Manager 3, supervised Minnewaska's employees, which included directing their daily work activities and recommending disciplinary measures. (See id. at ¶ 9.)

Plaintiff Hatti Langsford began her employment for OPRHP as a long-term seasonal employee in 1994. (See Pl. SMF ¶ 5, Dkt. No. 22:3.) During her employment, Langsford worked at Minnewaska as Assistant Park and Recreation Supervisor and as an Environmental Educator, which required her to provide educational programs to the public and oversee volunteers and the Student Conservation Association. (See id. at ¶ 6.) Langsford also received training for and served as a sexual harassment prevention and diversity trainer. (Pl. Reply SMF ¶ 6, Dkt. No. 32.) Plaintiff Krystal Bullock, who also worked as a seasonal employee at Minnewaska, began her employment in 2002. (See Pl. SMF ¶ 7, Dkt. No. 22:3.) Bullock was promoted to maintenance in 2004, and then to Park Ranger in 2006. (See Def. SMF ¶ 65, Dkt. No. 27:3.)

According to Langsford, in Fall 2005, Krish reorganized the positions at Minnewaska by assigning the maintenance positions to the male workers and the gatehouse duties to the female workers. (See Def. Ex. 7, Dkt. No. 27:7.) In response, Langsford voiced her complaints directly to Krish, telling him that it "looks like [he is] trying to make an all male workforce" and "[i]t looks bad." (Def. Resp. SMF ¶ 21, Dkt. No. 27:2.) Krish reported Langsford's statements to, among others, the Palisades Regional Manager, Jayne McLaughlin. (See id. at ¶ 21; see also Pl. Reply SMF ¶¶ 10, 21, Dkt. No. 32.) McLaughlin relayed the statement to Mary Thomas, the Palisades Region Affirmative Action Officer. (See Pl. Reply SMF ¶ 21, Dkt. No. 32.) As a result, Thomas contacted Langsford and suggested that she file a formal written complaint. (See id.)

On November 18, 2005, Langsford filed an internal written complaint of discrimination with OPRHP against Krish. (See Pl. SMF ¶ 20, Dkt. No. 22:3.) In her complaint, Langsford stated that Krish had created and was continuing to promote a "hostile work environment" by engaging in "unprofessional conduct," "yelling," and making "jokes [and] inappropriate comments," which caused Langsford's co-workers to make "many complaints" to her as the sexual harassment trainer. (Pl. Ex. 17, Dkt. No. 22:4.) Langsford also stated that Krish "is not a good manager and is a mysogynist who has laid off all female employees in non-traditional roles." (Id.) As a result, an investigation took place, though Langsford contends that she did not receive any notification about whether her complaint was received or any explanation of subsequent actions taken.*fn2 (See Def. Resp. SMF ¶ 24, Dkt. No. 27:2 (citing Def. Ex. 7 at 89, Dkt. No. 27:7).)

On December 8, 2005, Langsford met with Thomas and McLaughlin to discuss her complaint. (See Pl. SMF ¶¶ 31-32, Dkt. No. 22:3.) Following this interview, McLaughlin wrote in her notes that she "felt that the majority of [Langsford's] concerns either had no relation to a sexual harassment issue or were without merit." (Pl. Ex. 28, Dkt. 22:5.) Yet, the notes from this meeting also mention that Krish "laid off people who question his authority and his decisions." (Pl. Ex. 23, Dkt. No. 22:5.) Langsford's complaint was referred to OPRHP's central office in Albany, where Michael Carrasquillo, an Affirmative Action Investigator, conducted a further investigation. (See id. at ¶ 33-34.) In a conference call held on December 14, 2005, McLaughlin, Carrasquillo, Krish, and Alex Collins, the Assistant Park Manager, discussed both Langsford's already existing performance issues and Langsford's recent complaint and the possibility of mediation between Langsford and Krish. (See Pl. Ex. 25, Dkt. No. 22:5.) Specifically, the parties concluded that "the legitimate issues surrounding Ms. Langsford's work performance issues should continue to be addressed notwithstanding the fact that she had filed a complaint (i.e. she should be treated as all other employees are treated)." (Id.) Following this conference, Langsford rejected mediation. (See Pl. SMF ¶ 42, Dkt. No. 22:3.) In particular, Langsford claims that mediation was inappropriate because her claim was not personal but rather was asserted on behalf of all the female workers at Minnewaska. (See id. at ¶ 39.) Defendants counter that by October 2005, Langsford intended to leave Minnewaska unless Krish was removed, making any attempt at mediation futile. (See Def. Resp. SMF ¶ 39, Dkt. No. 27:2.)

During his investigation, Carrasquillo interviewed Bullock and her co-worker, Crystal Wilhelm, who both stated that they had observed Krish staring at them inappropriately and had reported their concerns to Langsford. (See id. at ¶¶ 44-45.) Around that time, Bullock overheard Krish say that "now [he] know[s] who's out to burn [him]." (Def. SMF ¶ 80, Dkt. No. 27:3.) Moreover, as McLaughlin's testimony reveals, Krish, while referencing Langsford, said that "people in the past know if they go against [him], they pay." (Def. Ex. 10, McLaughlin Dep. at 78-79, Dkt. No. 27:11.) During an interview, Collins told Carrasquillo that Krish "treated women differently than he did the men there in the park," that Krish thought "women weren't as capable as men" in operating heavy equipment, and that Krish treated women differently in assigning jobs. (See Def. Resp. SMF ¶ 47, Dkt. No. 27:2.) Carrasquillo issued an investigation report in March 2006, which included findings that Krish stated at a staff meeting that "women are incapable of working in the park," that at least three employees-but not Langsford-were recipients of Krish's sexually harassing behavior, and that this behavior toward co-workers and subordinates negatively changed the nature of the work atmosphere. (See Pl. Ex. 29, Dkt. No. 22:5.) However, Carrasquillo ultimately concluded that probable cause did not support a finding of unlawful sexual discrimination. (See id.) Carrasquillo recommended that Krish be made aware of the impact of his comments and behavior and advised OPRHP that "these actions, should they become a pattern of behavior could constitute sex discrimination." (See id.)

On May 3, 2006, Carrasquillo sent a letter to Langsford to notify her of his findings, which, according to Langsford, was the first time she received such notice. (See Pl. SMF ¶¶ 57-58, Dkt. No. 22:3.) However, it is unclear whether this delay was caused by further work towards a resolution, a lapse of process in the Affirmative Action Office (AAO), or Langsford's absence from the office, which began in March.*fn3 (See Def. Resp. SMF ¶ 60, Dkt. No. 27:2.) In the letter, Carrasquillo advised Langsford of his findings and that the findings had been referred to OPRHP management for consideration and disposition. (See Pl. Ex. 39, Dkt. No. 22:6.) Meanwhile, on April 10, 2006, Cheryle Giroux, Director of Human Resource Management for OPRHP, issued a memorandum to Richard Rose, Director of Personnel and Acting Director of Affirmative Action, and Dennis Hanrahan, a consultant with OPRHP. (See Pl. Ex. 41, Dkt. No. 22:6.) In the memo, Giroux noted that "[i]t is up to management to determine the appropriate course of action" and, in order to "show appropriate response to the findings and protect the agency from future liability in this matter," Giroux recommended discussing an approach with McLaughlin and advising Krish of the findings and the need to avoid any actions that could be found to be retaliatory. (Id.) Giroux further recommended monitoring the management practices at Minnewaska closely and that Krish take a "refresher course" in Sexual Harassment and Discrimination Prevention and attend a Supervisory/Management training course. (See id.) McLaughlin and Fred Williams, General Park Manager for the Palisades Region, met with Krish, discussed the AAO's findings, and informed him about what constitutes a hostile work environment and third-party harassment. (Pl. Ex. 43, Dkt. No. 22:6.)

In June 2006, Collins made Williams aware of new complaints about Krish, which included "a widespread dislike of [Krish] due to [his] management style (abrasive, doesn't listen to staff, lies, threatens people, makes inappropriate jokes) and a widely held view that [Krish's] behavior toward female staff members was inappropriate and that they were very uncomfortable around him."*fn4 (Pl. Ex. 45, Dkt. No. 22:6.) And according to Collins, Krish's behavior did not improve. (See Pl. Ex. 47, Dkt. No. 22:6.) On June 21, 2006, Terri McNeil, Minnewaska Office Manager, telephoned McLaughlin to express her concerns that "female staff members were very uncomfortable with [Krish's] behavior (ogling, touching) and did not want to be alone with him." (Pl. Ex. 49, Dkt. No. 22:6.) In addition, as evidenced by McLaughlin's notes taken during this conversation, McNeil stated that "girls don't want to work with [Krish] alone," that Bullock, Wilhelm, and other employees had complained of Krish's inappropriate conduct, that Krish was telling perverted jokes, and that Krish had an inflexible "attitude of his way or no way." (Pl. Ex. 50, Dkt. No. 22:6.) McNeil also discussed an episode where Krish held Wilhelm's wrist and caressed her bracelet in front of other employees. (See id.)

On June 13, by telephone, and June 16, by letter, McLaughlin offered Langsford four alternate work locations at the same pay rate. (See Pl. Ex. 51, Dkt. No. 22:6; see also Def. SMF ¶ 51, Dkt. No. 27:3.) During the phone conversation, McLaughlin told Langsford that they had taken administrative action regarding Krish, but that he was staying at Minnewaska. (See Pl. Ex. 51, Dkt. No. 22:6.) Langsford turned down the proposed alternatives because she claimed that childcare was too expensive, she was offered another job with more money, and because she wanted to stay at Minnewaska but felt that management had not done anything to fix the problems caused by Krish. (See id.; see also Def. Ex. 5, Dkt. No. 27:6.) Based on her rejection of these offers and refusal to stay at Minnewaska under Krish's supervision, OPRHP accepted Langsford's resignation on June 22. (See Pl. Ex. 51, Dkt. No. 22:6.)

On June 30, 2006, McLaughlin and Williams met with Krish to discuss, among other things, the widespread complaints from both male and female staff members of Minnewaska regarding Krish's inflexibility, inability to listen, inappropriate behavior, and perceived gender bias. (See Pl. Ex. 52, Dkt. No. 22:6.) At this meeting, Krish admitted that he might do a "double take" depending on the female's attire and, with regards to one particular female employee, Krish stated that he was "not getting anything out of it ... [because] she's not the slickest filly in the corral." (Id.) And on July 3, 2006, McLaughlin held a meeting with four female Minnewaska employees, wherein each employee voiced her feelings that Krish "did not treat women fairly or appropriately either due to job assignments, scheduling, inappropriate staring, or the woman's physical characteristics." ...

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