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Klings v. New York State Office of Court Administration

April 5, 2010

MADELEINE KLINGS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
NEW YORK STATE OFFICE OF COURT ADMINISTRATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Matsumoto, United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiff Madeleine Klings ("Klings") brings this action against her employer, the New York State Office of Court Administration (the "OCA" or "defendant"), alleging religious and gender discrimination for failure to promote under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000(e) et seq. Defendant has moved for summary judgment, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. For the following reasons, defendant's motion is granted in part and denied in part.

BACKGROUND

The following facts, taken from the parties' statements pursuant to Local Civil Rule 56.1,*fn1 are undisputed unless otherwise indicated. The court has considered whether the parties have proffered admissible evidence in support of their positions and has viewed the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving plaintiff.

A. Plaintiff's Employment History

Klings, a Jewish woman, started working for the New York State Unified Court System (the "UCS") as a Court Assistant for the Civil Court in New York County in May 1986, returned to her former employer in November 1986, and then was reinstated by the defendant in July 1987 in New York County. (Doc. No. 41, Defendant's Statement of Material Facts Pursuant to Local Civil Rule 56.1 ("Def.'s 56.1") ¶¶ 15-17.) Upon the recommendations of Chief Clerk Jack Baer ("Baer") and after taking civil service and promotional examinations, Klings was subsequently promoted to Senior Court Clerk in 1989, to Associate Court Clerk in 1990, and to Principal Court Clerk in 1994. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 18-20.) In 1996, Klings was transferred to the Civil Court, Kings County, where she worked as Principal Court Clerk at the time of the events at issue. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 20-21.) Defendant does not dispute plaintiff's allegation that, in her capacity as Principal Court Clerk (JG-26 level), she performed numerous administrative duties, supervised the work of approximately 55 employees, ran numerous training programs for court staff and significantly improved the court's record-keeping procedures. (Doc. No. 18, Second Am. Compl. ¶ 23.)

B. Structure of the Unified Court System

The OCA is the managing administrative office for the UCS. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 3.) The UCS is comprised of individual courts, distinguished by subject matter - such as the Civil Court, Criminal Court, and Family Court. Each court has a branch in every county of New York City. Chief Clerk Baer manages all of the county branches of the Civil Court of the City of New York. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 9.) In his capacity as Chief Clerk, Baer supervises, inter alia, the Civil Court's non-judicial staff, including Klings, prepares the budget and handles employee relations, such as hiring. (Doc. No. 42, Affidavit of Jack Baer ("Baer Aff.") ¶¶ 2, 4.) Baer receives assistance from Deputy Chief Clerks in each borough. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 9.) Stewart Feigel ("Feigel") retains the Deputy Chief Clerk position in Kings County. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 9.) Feigel, in turn, receives assistance from Angelo Tropea. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 9.)

C. The Assistant Deputy Chief Clerk Positions and the UCS's Job Reclassification Policy

In 2000, the Civil Court sought to reclassify positions into four Assistant Deputy Chief Clerk positions for the purpose of utilizing the positions to manage each borough's Civil Court operations (excluding Staten Island). (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 45; Baer Aff. ¶ 6.) These reclassified positions were ranked at the JG-28 level.*fn2 (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 12.) A similar organizational restructuring had already taken place in the landlord tenant section of the Civil Court, as well as throughout the Criminal and Family Courts. (Baer Aff. ¶ 6.)

Instead of filling the positions through a formalized job announcement and interview process, the OCA chose to offer them through the job "reclassification" process because of labor relations, personnel and operations reasons. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 45; Doc. No. 42, Affidavit of Jeanne Colucci ("Colucci Aff.") ¶¶ 5, 9, 12.) For example, in 1996, the OCA abolished certain lower level positions to create Assistant Deputy Chief Clerk positions in Housing Court in each borough but encountered union complaints. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 46.)

Reclassification of a job entails changing a job title, and often, the responsibilities associated with that title. (Doc. No. 44, Def.'s Mem. in Supp. at 4-5 and documents cited therein.) The UCS has an official policy for the reclassification of positions. Pursuant to the Rules of the Chief Judge, N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. TIT. 22, § 25.5 (2010), the Chief Administrative Judge, upon review of all recommendations and supporting information, may "reclassify" any position in the UCS (the "section 25.5 reclassification policy"). (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 44; see also Doc. No. 42, Ex. B, Deposition of Jack Baer ("Baer Dep.") at 63-65.) According to the UCS internal hiring manual, when a current "incumbent"*fn3 is being appointed to the reclassified position, a formal employment announcement is not required to effectuate the reclassification. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 44; see also UCS Manual at 1.)

During a closed meeting in March 2000, Baer offered the opportunity for job reclassifications to four men: Associate Court Clerk*fn4 (JG-23) Andrew Hassell, Principal Court Clerk*fn5 (JG-26) Ronald Romano, Principal Court Clerk (JG-26) Joseph Traynor, and Principal Court Clerk (JG-26) Mark Spiritus. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 49.) Three of these men -- Spiritus, Romano, and Hassell -- were previously nominated as alternates by a 1999 interview panel for an Assistant Deputy Chief Clerk position in the Civil Court's Housing Part. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 48.) Because Spiritus decided to accept a competitive position as Senior Management Analyst (JG-28) for the OCA instead, he declined Baer's reclassification offer, and Associate Court Clerk (JG-23) Michael Boyle was alternately offered the reclassified position. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 50.) All four employees reclassified to the Associate Deputy Chief Clerk positions were men, and, according to the Second Amended Complaint, of the four who accepted the position, none were Jewish.*fn6 (Second Am. Compl. ¶ 26.) The reclassifications, as approved by Chief Administrative Judge Ann Pfau, were effectuated on September 28, 2000.*fn7 (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 52; Doc. No. 42, Exs. U & V.)

After hearing rumors of certain employees receiving reclassifications, on or around September 12, 2000, two weeks prior to the effectuation of the reclassifications, Klings filed a formal application for reclassification of her existing Permanent Court Clerk position to an Assistant Deputy Chief Clerk position or Court Clerk Specialist. (Second Am. Compl. ¶ 51; Doc. No. 42, Ex. W.) However, by a memorandum dated November 3, 2000, Baer informed Klings that he would not support her request to be reclassified because Ronald Romano had been reclassified to serve the Assistant Deputy Chief Clerk position in her court, Kings County. (Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 52-53; Doc. No. 42, Ex. X, 11/3/00 Mem. re: Request for Reclassification.)

D. Administrative Proceedings and the Instant Complaint

In response to the November 3, 2000 memorandum informing Klings that she would not be reclassified, Klings contacted the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") and her union representative, but did not file a complaint or grievance for her allegations of discrimination. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 77-78.) She did, however, file an administrative complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights ("SDHR") against the OCA around May 11, 2001. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 79.) Her complaint alleged that she was subjected to unlawful discrimination because of sex, age, and religion, related to her non-selection for appointment in 2000. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 79.) The UCS responded, asserting that her non-selection had nothing to do with discriminatory practices or intentions. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 80.) By Determination and Order After Investigation, dated March 26, 2004, the SDHR found that there was "no probable cause" to believe that any unlawful discrimination had occurred and the charges were dismissed. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 81.) The EEOC adopted the SDHR's findings and issued a right to sue letter. (Doc. No. 1, Compl., Ex. B.)

After receiving a right to sue letter from the EEOC on or about May 13, 2004, Klings filed a pro se Complaint in the Eastern District of New York on August 9, 2004, alleging age discrimination under the ADEA, and discrimination based on sex and religion under Title VII. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 82; Compl. & Exs. A & B.) Klings retained counsel and, on February 1, 2005, filed an Amended Complaint expounding on the same causes of action.*fn8 (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 82; Doc. No. 8, Am. Compl.) On August 8, 2005, Klings filed a Second Amended Complaint, adding, inter alia, allegations of retaliation and discrimination based on her Jewish ancestry, in addition to her religion.*fn9 (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 83; Second Am. Compl.) By "so ordered" stipulation dated May 21, 2009, the third through ninth causes of action were voluntarily dismissed. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 84.) Thus, only the first and second causes of action alleging discrimination based on gender and religion under Title VII remain before this court. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 84.)

In the instant complaint, Klings claims that, by failing to promote her to one of the four Assistant Deputy Chief Clerk positions, the OCA unlawfully discriminated against her on the basis of her gender and religion. (Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 64, 66.) Although it is undisputed that no employee in the UCS has ever subjected Klings to any offensive remarks pertaining to her gender or religion (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 85), Klings claims that gender and religious animus can be inferred from the OCA's deviation from the UCS's section 25.5 reclassification policy and from the OCA's failure to document any alleged negative criticism in her performance evaluations. (Second Am. Comp. ¶¶ 16, 30-40, 64, 66; Doc. No. 45, Pl.'s Mem. in Opp. at 12-21 and documents cited therein.) Specifically, Klings claims that: 1) her educational background and experience with the Civil Court made her just as, if not more, qualified than the four men selected, (Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 41-50; Pl.'s Mem. in Opp. at 11, 18-21 and documents cited therein); 2) that Romano, Hassell and Boyle*fn10 were not eligible for reclassification because they were not "incumbents," (Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 34-40; Pl.'s Mem. in Supp. at 12-16 and documents cited therein); and 3) that the lack of any documented criticism of her job performance demonstrates that the OCA's true motivating factor for not promoting her was unlawful discrimination. (Second Am. Compl. ¶ 16; Pl.'s Mem. in Opp. at 19-21 and documents cited therein.)

E. The OCA's Motion for Summary Judgment

The OCA moves for summary judgment, arguing that Klings cannot prove that her non-selection for reclassification was the product of discrimination based on gender or religion.

(See generally Def.'s Mem. in Supp.) The OCA contends that its decision to not reclassify Klings was based on legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons -- specifically, her poor management style and lack of requisite interpersonal skills, rather than any unlawful discrimination. (Def.'s Mem. in Supp. at 1-2, 15-16 and documents cited therein.)

Defendant specifically asserts that plaintiff has failed to make out a prima facie case of either religious or gender discrimination and, alternatively, that she has not produced sufficient evidence to support a rational finding of pretext. (See generally Def.'s Mem. in Supp.; Doc. No. 49, Def.'s Reply Mem.) In response to Klings's religious discrimination claim, the OCA submits that one of the four reclassfications was originally offered to Principal Court Clerk Mark Spiritus, who, according to his affidavit, is Jewish. (Def.'s Mem. in Supp. at 13 and documents cited therein; Affidavit of Mark Spiritus ("Spiritus Aff.") ΒΆΒΆ 1, 2, 5.) Further, in response to plaintiff's gender discrimination claim, the OCA asserts that since 1996, females have filled six out of the twelve Assistant Deputy Chief Clerk vacancies. (Def.'s 56.1 ...


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