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Spadaro v. McKeon

March 15, 2010

CHRISTY SPADARO, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JACK MCKEON, INDIVIDUALLY; CAROLE LAVIGNA, INDIVIDUALLY; ALEXANDER B GRANNIS, INDIVIDUALLY; NEW YORK STATE DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL CONSERVATION, AND THE STATE OF NEW YORK, DEFENDANTS.



MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER*fn1

On February 11, 2008, after being discharged from her position with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation ("DEC") while on maternity leave, Plaintiff Christy Spadaro ("Plaintiff") filed this action against Defendants Jack McKeon ("McKeon"), Carole LaVigna ("LaVigna"), Alexander Grannis, DEC, and the State of New York (collectively, "Defendants"). Compl. (Dkt. No. 1). She alleges that her discharge was motivated by unlawful discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as amended ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000 et seq.; 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("§ 1983") and; 42 U.S.C. § 1981 ("§ 1981"). Plaintiff sues McKeon, LaVigna, and Grannis for these alleged violations in their individual capacities only. Presently before the Court is Defendants' Motion for summary judgment on all of Plaintiff's claims. Dkt. No. 25.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff is a white female previously employed by the State of New York as an Administrative Action Administrator 2 ("AAA2) in the DEC. She was terminated from this position on or about May 23, 2007. Dkt. No. 25-2 Exh. O. She was informed of this termination by letter on May 7, 2007 while she was on maternity leave. Compl. ¶¶ 3, 12.

Plaintiff worked in the DEC, beginning in 2001, as the Special Assistant for Human Resources. Spadaro Dep. (Dkt. No. 26-4) at 13-14. In 2006, Plaintiff created the AAA2 position by reclassifying a then vacant position, which she could fill, and which would enable her to retain state service after the Spitzer administration came into office.*fn2 Id. at 23-30. In creating this position, Plaintiff worked with Defendant LaVigna, Director of Personnel at the DEC, to establish the duties associated with the position and to gain administrative approval. Id. at 26. As created, the position afforded its holder tenure after one year; thus, the occupant of the AAA2 position would not be subject to at-will termination after one year from the date of hire. Id. at 28-29.

After establishing the duties associated with the proposed position with Plaintiff, LaVigna submitted the proposal for approval by the Civil Service Commission, which was granted in September 2006. Id. at 33-34. Plaintiff and LaVigna then began meeting to try to qualify Plaintiff for the job by, for example, tailoring Plaintiff's resume to fit the position's requirements. Id. LaVigna advised Plaintiff that her resume, as originally produced would not qualify, telling Plaintiff that she should document any supervisory experience and affirmative action experience Plaintiff possessed. Id. Plaintiff submitted a revised resume evidencing greater supervisory experience. Id. at 36-37. Plaintiff cannot recall what affirmative action experience she added on the resume except for one notation that as Special Assistant for Human Resources she "dealt with underrepresented class people," that she would "look at the organization equity-wise, and bring people up to where they should be," citing one example where she helped elevate a white female to a higher position. Id. at 38-39. Plaintiff also noted that she had affirmative action work while working as Assistant to the Appointment Secretary in the Governor's office, where working with various committees, she helped "try to bring in certain people for positions," for example, where "an agency that needed a woman... or needed a minority for the position... that's what [she] would recruit." Id. at 40. The facts are disputed as to whether, as revised, the resume satisfied LaVigna's concern about Plaintiff's qualifications. Compare id. at 45 with LaVigna Decl. (Dkt. No. 25-2) ¶ 42.

During this process, LaVigna received a memo and Job Applicant Log*fn3 from Juan Abadia, an African American male who headed the DEC's Affirmative Action Office and would supervise the holder of the AAA2 position. LaVigna Decl.¶¶ 33-35. She passed these on to Jack McKeon, Assistant Commissioner for Administration of the DEC. The memo and log disapproved of Plaintiff's proposed hiring for the new position. This disapproval essentially blocked Plaintiff's application. Id. at 37.

Defendants admit that filing a Job Applicant Log for a position such as the AAA2 was unusual. McKeon Decl. (Dkt. No. 25-3) ¶¶ 17-18. Plaintiff then told McKeon that she was taking appropriate action against Abadia, and she filed a complaint against him alleging discrimination. See Dkt. No. 25-3 Exh. B. McKeon, nevertheless, proceeded with the hiring process of Plaintiff.

He spoke first with LaVigna, asking her to sign off on the appointment. LaVigna refused, allegedly because she felt Plaintiff was unqualified. McKeon Decl. ¶ 22. McKeon did not agree with LaVigna's assessment and asked Lynette Stark, then Executive Deputy Commissioner at DEC, to sign off on the appointment, which she did. Id. ¶¶ 23-25.

On December 11, 2006 McKeon informed Plaintiff that she would be appointed to the position. Id. ¶ 26. Plaintiff alleges that this offer was conditioned upon her withdrawing her complaint against Abadia, which she did. Id. ¶ 27; Spadaro Dep. (Dkt. No. 26-5) at 71-73. Plaintiff was appointed and began working under the direction of Joseph Lattanzio, head of the DEC Labor Relations Office, rather than under Abadia. Plaintiff continued working until January 30, 2007 when she left on maternity leave. After Plaintiff's hiring, two employees, Kenneth Wilson and Alfonse Vicente, both African American males who had been working for some time under Abadia, allegedly filed discrimination claims against the DEC in response to Plaintiff's appointment.

Plaintiff's maternity leave began at roughly the same time as the Spitzer administration took office. According to McKeon, with the change in administration, the DEC began reviewing with administration members which positions within the department should remain and which individuals should be retained. McKeon Decl. ¶ 29. Allegedly, the decision to terminate Plaintiff was based on this assessment, and had nothing to do with discrimination. Id. ¶¶ 28-32. McKeon thus instructed LaVigna to draft a letter terminating her employment, which she did. LaVigna Decl. ¶ 62; Dkt. No. 25-2 Exh. O.

Plaintiff alleges that the true basis for the termination decision was discrimination based on race, gender, or pregnancy. Compl. ¶ 15. She bases this assertion on comments reported to her by Lattanzio, in which he recounted statements made by McKeon and Abadia suggesting such discriminatory intent. She also notes that within a month or so of receiving the letter, she saw two positions advertised on the DEC website, one of which was allegedly her prior position. Spadaro Dep. (Dkt. No. 26-5) at 100. She asserts that these positions were created specifically for Wilson and Vicente, who Plaintiff claims are less qualified than she, to placate them and have them withdraw their complaints against the DEC. Id.; Compl. ¶ 9. Wilson did not take either position; Vicente was appointed to that which Plaintiff alleges was hers. Id. ¶¶ 13-14.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 provides that summary judgment is proper when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c); Beard v. Banks, 548 U.S. 521, 529 (2006) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986)). A court must "'resolve all ambiguities, and credit all factual inferences that could rationally be drawn, in favor of the party opposing the judgment.'" Brown v. Henderson, 257 F.2d 246, 251 (2d Cir. 2001) (quoting Cifra v. General Elec. Co., 252 F.3d 205, 216 (2d Cir. 2001). "Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

If the moving party meets its initial burden of demonstrating that no genuine issue of material fact exists for trial, the non-movant "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986) (citations omitted). The non-movant "must come forth with evidence sufficient to allow a reasonable jury to find in her favor." Brown, 257 F.3d at 251 (citation omitted). The nonmoving party "may not rely merely on allegations or denials in its own pleadings" and bald assertions unsupported by evidence are insufficient to overcome a motion for summary ...


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