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Clemente v. New York State Division of Parole

February 16, 2010

MANUELITA CLEMENTE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
NEW YORK STATE DIVISION OF PAROLE, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Richard J. Holwell, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff brings a Title VII action for employment discrimination against her employer, the New York State Division of Parole (the "Division"). She alleges that the Division discriminated against her and subjected her to a hostile work environment on account of her race and gender, and also in retaliation for a prior Title VII suit she brought against the Division. Now before the Court is defendant's motion for summary judgment. Because plaintiff has not presented evidence that her race, gender, or the prior suit-as opposed to her position as a union leader, which Title VII does not protect- motivated any discriminatory conduct, defendant's motion is GRANTED in its entirety.

BACKGROUND*fn1

Plaintiff is a parole officer ("PO") and a Hispanic female. She began working at the Division in 1994, and during her long career there she has accumulated a number of commendations, including a Medal of Honor for her role in a high-profile arrest. (Clemente Decl. ¶ 2.) Since at least 2005, plaintiff has been assigned to the Manhattan Warrant Squad Field Office (the "Warrant Squad"), a unit within the Division that specializes in apprehending delinquent parolees. (Def 561. ¶ 2; Clemente Dep. at 40:18-20.)

Plaintiff is also a union leader. On June 23, 2005, she became Council Leader for the Local #236 of the Public Employees Federation, and she led union rallies in Albany on July 8 and July 12, 2005.*fn2 (Def. 56.1 ¶ 2.) Soon thereafter, Clemente asserts that the Division began a course of retaliatory and discriminatory conduct against her that lasted through August 2006. She contends that this conduct, comprised of four major incidents, permanently damaged her previously stellar professional reputation, scuttled her prospects for advancement in the Division, and caused her anxiety and humiliation. (Clemente Decl. ¶ 9.)

The conduct Clemente complains of began on July 12, 2005, when the Division's director of operations, a Hispanic female named Angela Jimenez, directed her to evaluate the growing problem of absconder parolees in Manhattan and the Bronx. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 3.) The special assignment required that Clemente assess the causes of the region's high absconder rate, including the correlation between absconders and their individual POs, and recommend a plan to reduce the problem. (Knudsen Decl. Ex. B at 3.) Because the assignment entailed evaluation of other POs, plaintiff believes it should have been given to a Bureau Chief, not a PO, and that it conflicted with her duties as Council Leader. She alleges that Jimenez gave her the assignment "deliberately to compromise [her] position as a parole officer and union leader." (Clemente Decl. ¶ 5.) Clemente completed the absconder report but had to take two weeks of modified duty, away from her standard responsibilities on the Warrant Squad, to do so. (Id.)

Two months later, after additional union rallies in Albany, the Division's management disseminated a letter ridiculing the union throughout the Division and to the media. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 5.) The letter, purportedly written by an anonymous PO, identified and sharply criticized four union leaders. Of Clemente, it said she "should have been arrested for pulling her gun on a truck driver over a parking dispute a few years ago." It also accused her of "hiding behind the union," not carrying a full caseload, and making frequent use of the word "ain't." (Karlan Decl. Ex. B.) The letter leveled similar insults at the three other leaders it identified. (Id. ("[Sue] Jeffords has been in hot water over her misuse of [union] funds for years. Other PO's hate her and have refused to work with her."); id. ("Mike Murphy... is a second-rate PO and shouldn't be on the job either, and no one who has ever worked with Tom Walther (retired) will tell you that he was a 'go to guy' in his day.").)

The Division's director of media relations faxed the letter to a reporter at the Albany Times Union under a cover message reading "I thought you might find this interesting." (Id.) The Division's deputy director of operations also faxed the letter to the Division's five regional directors with instructions that they share it with their staffs. (Karlin Ex. C at 201-02.) The letter was eventually distributed throughout the Division, which Clemente claims destroyed her reputation with union members and management alike. (Clem. Decl. ¶ 6.)

The third incident occurred in May 2006, when the entire Manhattan Warrant Squad, consisting of at least five individuals, was transferred to the Bronx and consolidated with its counterpart in that borough. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 8.) Though defendant asserts that the transfer occurred for office space reasons and because the consolidation made the overall region's Warrant Squad more efficient, Clemente contends that the move "made no sense" and impeded the Manhattan unit's ability to apprehend Manhattan absconders. (Clemente Decl. ¶ 7.) In a grievance filed two days after the transfer, Clemente described the move as a "Union-busting technique," and commented "I am sure that this is happening because of my position as a Union Council leader." (Knudsen Decl. Ex. B at 5.) Further, she stated, "I am being targeted because I am also the first Hispanic female Council Leader in the history of Parole." (Id.) Clemente contends that the other POs in the unit blamed her for the transfer. (Clemente Decl. ¶ 7.)

The fourth and final incident of alleged misconduct occurred at a labor relations meeting on August 25, 2006. Jose Burgos, director of human resources management, attended on behalf of Division management, and Clemente and other leaders attended for labor. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 10.) Burgos and Clemente had a contentious relationship. Due to prior threats Burgos had made about relocating her, Clemente believed he was responsible for transferring the Warrant Squad to the Bronx. (Knudsen Decl. Ex. B at 5.) At the August 25 meeting, the two got into an argument over the appropriateness of removing employees from the field to attend grievance hearings. (Burgos Aff. ¶¶ 5-6.) Clemente says Burgos "badgered and embarrassed" her, insulted her intelligence, and called her a "street person." (Clemente Decl. ¶ 8.) When Clemente stood to leave, Burgos asked her, "what are you gonna do, what are you gonna do, you're gonna pull out your gun on me and you're gonna shoot me?" (Id.) Though the evidence is disputed, according to Clemente and one other witness, Burgos then explained his conduct by remarking, in reference to his own ethnicity, "you know how us Black and Hispanic men are." (Clemente Decl. ¶ 8; Karlan Decl. Ex. E at 2.)

This is not Clemente's first discrimination suit against the Division. She commenced a prior action in 2001 premised on allegations of race and gender discrimination related to her work in a different unit, called the Special Offender Unit, between 1999 and 2001. The allegations in this case do not concern any of the same members of Division management and do not otherwise relate to the allegations in the prior case. See Clemente v. New York State Div. of Parole, No. 01 Civ. 3945 (TPG), 2004 WL 1900330, at *1-7 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 24, 2004). The Division won summary judgment in that case in 2004, in part because plaintiff failed to present evidence "that raise[d] an inference of her alleged ill treatment being motivated by her race or sex." Id. at *12. Plaintiff asserts that the Division's victory in the prior suit "emboldened" it. (Clemente Decl. ¶ 3.) She alleges that the allegedly wrongful conduct described above came in retaliation for her decision to bring that suit and was also motivated by race and gender animus. (Id. at ¶ 9.)

On May 12, 2006, after the absconder assignment, the transfer, and the anonymous letter, but before the meeting with Burgos, Plaintiff filed a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). After receiving a response from the Division, the EEOC dismissed Clemente's claims, concluding that "the issue at stake here appears to be a labor relations dispute, rather than a case of racial or sexually discriminatory animus." (Def. 56.1 ¶¶ 9, 12.) The agency issued Clemente a right to sue letter, after which she timely initiated this suit.

SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c), summary judgment "should be rendered if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). "The plain language of Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment. against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). A party moving for summary judgment ...


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