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Cooper v. Niagara Community Action Program

March 31, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: William M. Skretny Chief Judge United States District Court



In this employment discrimination action, Plaintiff David Cooper alleges that his former employer, Defendant Niagara Community Action Program ("NCAP"), subjected him to disparate treatment with regard to administrative support, performance evaluations, training, and salary increases because of his race in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq., the Equal Pay Act of 1963, 29 U.S.C. §§ 206(d) et seq., New York State Human Rights Law, N.Y. EXEC. LAW § 296, and section 194 of the New York Labor Law.

This Court has federal question jurisdiction over Plaintiff's federal claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and supplemental jurisdiction over his state claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367. Presently before this Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment pursuant to Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.*fn1 For the reasons discussed below, Defendant's motion is granted.


A. Undisputed Facts

In "late 2002," Plaintiff, an African-American male, began working for NCAP, a nonprofit agency providing services to needy and working families in Niagara County. (Def's Statement, ¶¶ 1, 3, 13.)*fn2 Those services include, among other things, budget counseling, food and clothing pantries, housing advocacy, and family development. (Shears Decl. ¶ 3.)

One of the programs NCAP operates is a Neighborhood Centers Program ("NCP") with locations in Niagara Falls, Lockport, and North Tonawanda, New York. (Def's Statement, ¶ 2.) Each NCP is staffed by one Community Outreach Worker, whose duties include providing outreach, advocacy, information, referral, and follow-up assistance to poor, homeless, disabled, and senior individuals. (Def's Statement, ¶¶ 2, 15; Shears Decl. Ex. 1.)

Plaintiff was the Outreach Worker assigned to the Niagara Falls location, known as the Rose Marra Center. (Def's Statement, ¶¶ 3, 13.) Mary Ann Cox and Linda Harrington, both Caucasian, were the Outreach Workers assigned, respectively, to the Lockport and North Tonawanda locations. (Def's Statement, ¶ 4; Pl's Aff. ¶ 44.) All outreach workers are supervised by Carol Palumbo, NCAP's Family Development and Nutrition Coordinator. (Def's Statement, ¶ 5.)

NCP's Niagara Falls Facility

The Rose Marra Center is a small space, consisting of Plaintiff's office in the front, and a two-bedroom apartment in the back. (Def's Statement, ¶ 6.) Palumbo's office occupies one of the bedrooms, and the other is used to store food for distribution to NCAP clients. (Palumbo Decl. ¶ 7.) The apartment's kitchen and the living room are common areas used for business purposes. (Def's Statement, ¶ 6; Pl's statement ¶ 9.)

Initially, the Center's fax machine was located in Palumbo's office. (Def's Statement, ¶ 7.) Because confidential files were stored there, only Palumbo and one other individual had access to her office. (Def's Statement, ¶ 7.) After Plaintiff was unable to access the fax machine for a client, he complained about its location. (Def's Statement, ¶ 7, Pl's Statement ¶ 6.) A short time later, the fax machine was placed in the common work area. (Brown Decl. Ex. E, 117:6-9.)

Plaintiff's Responsibilities

As previously noted, Plaintiff's duties involved providing services to individuals who sought help at the Rose Marra Center. (Def's Statement, ¶ 15.) He was responsible for screening potential clients, and was authorized to determine whether a particular client should receive food, clothing, or referrals. (Def's Statement ¶ 23.) Plaintiff also was required to document the goods and services distributed to clients at his location. (Def's Statement, ¶¶ 17-18.) This involved entering client information in a computer database from which monthly reports of services provided could be generated. (Def's Statement, ¶¶ 18-19.) Maintaining complete and accurate records is a critical job function for Outreach Workers because NCAP relies on its records to receive, maintain, and secure funding from federal and state grant programs. (Def's Statement, ¶¶ 17, 20-22.) Failure to maintain proper records could result in NCAP being suspended, denied reimbursement, or unable to secure future grants. (Def's Statement, ¶ 24.)

Plaintiff's Performance Reviews

NCAP's evaluations rate employee performance as (1) unacceptable, (2) minimum acceptable, (3) good to very good, or (4) exceptional. (Def's Statement, ¶ 25.) Employees who receive an "unacceptable" or "minimum acceptable" rating may be placed on probation. (Def's Statement ¶ 27.) Employees who attain a rating of minimum acceptable or above are eligible to receive an annual merit pay increase. Those who receive an unacceptable evaluation are not eligible for a merit increase, but may be placed on probation and provided an opportunity to increase their ratings to at least "minimum acceptable." (Def's Statement ¶ 28.)

Plaintiff's initial probationary period ended on July 9, 2003, and his post-probation evaluation, dated July 11, 2003, was "good." (Def's Statement ¶¶ 14, 25, 29.)

However, on April 14, 2004, Plaintiff was rated unacceptable in seven categories-work quality and quantity, job knowledge, communication, initiative, planning and organization, managing and developing subordinates, and teamwork-and received an overall evaluation of unacceptable. (Def's Statement ¶ 30.) He was placed on a 30-day probationary period, created an action plan, and was able to increase his rating to minimum acceptable, after which he was given a merit pay increase. (Def's Statement ¶¶ 31-32.)

On April 8, 2005, Plaintiff again received an "unacceptable" evaluation and, this time, was placed on a 60-day probationary period. (Def's Statement ¶ 33.) At the conclusion of the probationary period, his performance was rated "minimum acceptable" and he received a merit pay increase. (Def's Statement ¶ 34.)

Plaintiff received a further evaluation, dated August 8, 2005, and was rated "minimum acceptable." He wrote on that evaluation "I am tired of making promises to my supervisors and not fully completing them. This is the last time that my evaluation will be less than satisfactory to my supervisor and myself." (Def's Statement ¶ 35.)

An evaluation dated April 10, 2006 again ranked Plaintiff's performance as "minimum acceptable" and he received a merit pay increase. On this evaluation, Plaintiff wrote "I am not satisfied with my own time and attendance and will work hard to improve." (Def's Statement ¶ 36.)

On May 24, 2007, Plaintiff's performance was again rated as minimum acceptable, and he was placed on a 30-day probation period. (Def's Statement ¶ 37.) He received a further evaluation of minimum acceptable on August 8, 2007, and another on September 14, 2007. Though his overall rating had not improved, the probationary period was concluded in September. (Def's Statement ¶¶ 38-39.)

Plaintiff received another overall rating of minimum acceptable on April 8, 2008, and received a pay increase. ...

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