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Quinones v. Hyundai

February 25, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Tucker L. MELANÇON, Senior United States District Judge:


Before the Court are defendant Atlantic Hyundai's Motion for Summary Judgment [Rec. Doc. 39] and plaintiff Manuel Quinones' Memorandum in Opposition thereto [Rec. Doc. 49]. For the reasons that follow, defendant's Motion [Rec. Doc. 39] will be GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

Defendant moves for summary judgment on plaintiff's Title VII discrimination claim, arguing that plaintiff cannot make out a prima facie case of discrimination and, assuming arguendo that he could, that he cannot show that defendant's articulated, legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for plaintiff's termination is mere pretext. Defendant also moves for summary judgment on plaintiff's defamation and unauthorized credit check claims; plaintiff consents to the dismissal of those claims, Pl. Mem. Opp. at 2, thus they will be dismissed by the Court but not addressed in this ruling.

I. Plaintiff's Title VII Claim

A. Legal Framework for Title VII Claims

Race and national origin discrimination claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-2000e-17, are analyzed under the familiar three-step, burden-shifting framework established by the Supreme Court in McDonnell Douglas v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973).

Under the McDonnell Douglas framework, a Title VII plaintiff must first proffer sufficient evidence to make out a prima facie case. See Patterson v. County of Oneida, 375 F.3d 206, 221 (2d Cir.2004). This burden is minimal and does not require specific evidence of discrimination. Joseph v. Leavitt, 465 F.3d 87, 90 (2d Cir.2006). If a plaintiff meets this burden, the defendant employer must then articulate a "legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason" for the adverse employment action. McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802. A plaintiff must then provide evidence that the employer's explanation is not true, but rather a pretext for discrimination. Slattery v. Swiss Reinsurance Am. Corp., 248 F.3d 87, 91 (2d Cir.2001).

"The ultimate burden of persuading the trier of fact that the defendant intentionally discriminated against the plaintiff remains at all times with the plaintiff." Texas Dep't of Comm. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 253 (1981). However, the Second Circuit has "repeatedly expressed the need for caution about granting summary judgment to an employer in a discrimination case where...the merits turn on a dispute as to the employer's intent." Holcomb v. Iona Coll., 521 F.3d 130, 137 (2d Cir.2008).

B. Plaintiff's Prima Facie Case

A plaintiff's prima facie case of discrimination must consist of four elements: "(1) that he belonged to a protected class; (2) that he was qualified for the position he held; (3) that he suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) that the adverse employment action occurred under circumstances giving rise to an inference of discriminatory intent." Holcomb, 521 F.3d at 138. Plaintiff's burden at this stage is "de minimis," and the requirement of meeting it is "neither onerous, nor intended to be rigid, mechanized, or ritualistic." Abdu-Brisson v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., 239 F.3d 456, 467 (2d Cir. 2001) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). "This burden is one of production, not persuasion; it can involve no credibility assessment." Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 142 (2000) (internal quotation marks omitted).

Defendant does not contest the first three elements of plaintiff's prima facie case; rather, they argue that plaintiff cannot establish the fourth element, i.e. that his termination occurred under circumstances giving rise to an inference of discrimination.

In establishing this fourth element, an employee may rely on evidence of discriminatory comments made to an employee by a supervisor who had influence in the decision-making process. See Rose v. New York City Bd. of Educ., 257 F.3d 156, 162 (2d Cir. 2001) (finding that sexist remarks attributed to an employee's supervisor were probative evidence that the employee's demotion was motivated by discriminatory animus). "The relevance of discrimination-related remarks does not depend on their offensiveness, but rather on their tendency to show that the decision-maker was motivated by assumptions or attitudes relating to the protected class." Tomassi v. Insignia Financial Group, Inc., 478 F.3d 111, 116 (2d Cir.2007) (emphasis added).

The affidavits submitted in opposition to defendant's Motion contain admissible evidence tending to show that Daniel Toomey, the manager who ultimately fired plaintiff, both made and tolerated remarks evoking a discriminatory attitude toward Puerto Ricans and Hispanics. Plaintiff claims that Toomey once "grabbed [him] hard around the ear and pulled [him] off the podium, yelling 'no Puerto Rican is allowed at the podium.'" Quinones Aff. ¶ 12. On another occasion, plaintiff alleges, Toomey, referring to a person of Mexican origin, "turned to [plaintiff] and said, 'here comes one of your kind'...then said 'they're all spics, they're all the same.'" Id. at ¶ 13.

Former employee Ricardo Aviles claims that "the white employees often told Puerto Rican jokes in front of management, Daniel Toomey, and the employees." Aviles Aff. ΒΆ 3. Former employee Art Norvell claims that it was "common practice in the dealership for the white employees to make ethnic jokes," and that ...

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