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M.O.C.H.A. Society, Inc. v. City of Buffalo

May 10, 2010

M.O.C.H.A. SOCIETY, INC., ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
CITY OF BUFFALO, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John T. Curtin United States District Judge

In the complaint in this case, plaintiffs M.O.C.H.A. Society of Buffalo, Inc. ("M.O.C.H.A."),*fn1 and individual City of Buffalo firefighters Emanuel C. Cooper, Greg Pratchett, and Russell Ross seek relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e, et seq. (Title VII), 1981, and 1983 on behalf of a proposed class alleging that the City discriminated against African-Americans when it promoted firefighters to the job of Fire Lieutenant based on the scores of a promotional examination administered on April 6, 2002 (the "2002 Lieutenant's Exam"). The City moves for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure dismissing the case on the ground that the court's finding in a related case, M.O.C.H.A. Society, Inc. et al. v. City of Buffalo et al., No. 98-CV-99-JTC, 2009 WL 604898 (W.D.N.Y. March 9, 2009) ("M.O.C.H.A. I"), has conclusively established that the Exam is a valid, nondiscriminatory employment selection procedure as a matter of law.

For the reasons that follow, the City's motion is granted.

BACKGROUND

The following facts are not in dispute. In March, 1998, the City administered the "Lower Level Fire Department Promotional Series" examination (the "1998 Lieutenant's Exam"), which was developed by the New York State Department of Civil Service Testing Services Division under the primary direction of Associate Personnel Examiner Wendy Steinberg. The Exam was provided pursuant to a request by the City for examination services, in accordance with Section 23 of the New York Civil Service Law.*fn2 Ms. Steinberg's work on the Exam encompassed a three-year period between 1994 and 1997, under the supervision of Principal Personnel Examiner Paul Kaiser. See M.O.C.H.A. I, 2009 WL 604898, at *2-6.

The results of the 1998 administration of the Lieutenant's Exam were used as the primary criteria for establishing an eligibility list for promotion of firefighters to the rank of Fire Lieutenant, which had a disproportionate adverse impact on African-American firefighters. Anticipating this result, M.O.C.H.A. filed No. 98-CV-99 in February 1998 as a proposed class action claiming that the City's use of the Exam in this manner constituted a discriminatory employment practice in violation of Title VII and Sections 1981 and 1983.

After nine years of mostly contentious litigation, this court conducted a five-day evidentiary hearing in M.O.C.H.A. I in July and August 2008 for the limited purpose of determining whether the 1998 Lieutenant's Exam was "job related for the position in question and consistent with business necessity," 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(k)(1)(A)(i), as required under Title VII to validate the use of the Exam notwithstanding its disparate impact. Both Ms. Steinberg and Mr. Kaiser testified at the hearing, as did plaintiffs' employment testing expert, Kevin R. Murphy, Ph.D., and the City's Director of Civil Service, Ms. Olivia Licata. Based on the testimony and evidence presented at the hearing, the court determined that the State Civil Service Department had developed the Exam "in a manner that is significantly correlated with important elements of work behavior which are relevant to the position of fire lieutenant as performed in the City of Buffalo," M.O.C.H.A. I, 2009 WL 604898, at *18, and that the City had met its burden to establish the Exam's validity under Title VII. Accordingly, the court dismissed M.O.C.H.A.'s complaint to the extent it claimed that the City's use of the test scores to establish an eligibility list for promotion to the rank of Fire Lieutenant was a discriminatory employment practice. Id.

Meanwhile, in the latter part of 2001, the City again requested promotional examination services from the State Civil Service Department, and was again provided the "Lower Level Fire Department Promotional Series." The City administered the Exam in April 2002, and used the test scores to establish a new eligibility list for promotion to the rank of Fire Lieutenant, which once again reflected disparate impact on African-American firefighters. M.O.C.H.A. then filed this action, No. 03-CV-580 ("M.O.C.H.A. II"), in July 2003, claiming that the use of the 2002 administration of the Exam in this manner constituted employment discrimination in violation of Title VII and Sections 1981 and 1983.

The City now seeks summary judgment dismissing M.O.C.H.A. II, based upon the preclusive effect of the court's ruling on the validity of the Lieutenant's Exam in M.O.C.H.A. I. The City contends that because the evidence supporting the validity of the Lieutenant's Exam administered in 2002 is the same evidence relied upon by the court to establish the validity of the Lieutenant's Exam administered in 1998, plaintiffs' claims in this action are barred by the doctrine of collateral estoppel.

DISCUSSION

Under the doctrine of collateral estoppel, a party is precluded from relitigating in a subsequent proceeding an issue of law or fact that has already been decided in a prior proceeding. Boguslavsky v. Kaplan, 159 F.3d 715, 720 (2d Cir. 1998); see also United States v. U.S. Currency in Amount of $119,984.00, More or Less, 304 F.3d 165, 172 (2d Cir. 2002) ("when an issue of ultimate fact has once been determined by a valid and final judgment, that issue cannot again be litigated between the same parties in any future lawsuit"). "Collateral estoppel saves parties and the courts from the waste and burden of relitigating stale issues . . . and, by discouraging inconsistent results, forwards public policy favoring the establishment of certainty in legal relations." United States v. Alcan Aluminum Corp., 990 F.2d 711, 719 (2d Cir. 1993) (citing 1B J.W. MOORE, MOORE'S FEDERAL PRACTICE ¶ 0.441[2] (2d ed. 1992)).

Generally, for collateral estoppel to apply, four prerequisites must be satisfied:

(1) the issues in both proceedings must be identical, (2) the issue in the prior proceeding must have been actually litigated and actually decided, (3) there must have been a full and fair opportunity for litigation in the prior proceeding, and (4) the issue previously litigated must have been necessary to support a valid and final judgment on the merits.

Gelb v. Royal Globe Ins. Co., 798 F.2d 38, 44 (2d Cir. 1986) (citing 18 C. WRIGHT, A. MILLER & E. COOPER, FEDERAL PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE § 4416 (1981)), cert. denied, 480 U.S. 948 (1987). The record before the court, developed over many years in both ...


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