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Reeve v. SEI/Aarons

May 27, 2010

VICKI REEVE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
SEI/AARON'S, INC., D/B/A AARON'S SALES AND LEASE DEFENDANT.



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

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff brings this action pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. ("Title VII") and the New York State Human Rights Law, N.Y. Exec. Law § 296 ("NYSHRL"), alleging gender discrimination in employment. Defendant has moved for summary judgment on the grounds that plaintiff has failed to state a claim for gender discrimination or retaliation, and failed to allege a hostile work environment claim in her administrative charge to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") (Item 30).

BACKGROUND

On October 31, 2005, plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). She stated that she was denied promotion based on her sex, and was terminated for complaining about gender discrimination (Item 34, Exhs. A, B). On June 27, 2006, the EEOC dismissed the charge finding that the evidence failed to indicate a violation of the law. Id., Exh. D. The EEOC issued a "Right to Sue" letter on June 27, 2006. Id., Exh. E.

Plaintiff commenced this action with the filing of a complaint on September 22, 2006 (Item 1).*fn1 She alleged that she worked for defendant from approximately March 6, 2004 until October 7, 2005. Id., ¶ 7. On one occasion, she heard two managers laughing and joking about a memorandum stating that women should not be hired to the position of Customer Accounts Manager ("CAM"). Id., ¶ 17. While working at the Niagara Falls store, plaintiff was told that she was being groomed for a CAM position. Id., ¶ 20. The district manager informed plaintiff that she and a male candidate would each be given a month to "try out" for the position. Plaintiff alleges that the male candidate, a cousin of the general manager, was given six weeks to prove himself and was eventually awarded the position. Id., ¶ 20.

In the summer of 2005, plaintiff transferred to the Lackawanna store, believing it was her best chance at a CAM position. Item 1, ¶ 24. On October 7, 2005, plaintiff was advised that she was not ready for a promotion to the CAM position. Id., ¶ 27. Plaintiff then told Dwayne Stone, district manager, that "she would have to begin looking for a new job if opportunities were closed to her . . . ." Id., ¶ 28. Mr. Stone asked plaintiff if she was giving two weeks' notice, and then told her that it was defendant's policy to terminate anyone looking for another job. Id., ¶ 28. Shortly thereafter, plaintiff's employment was terminated. Id., ¶ 30. Plaintiff has asserted two causes of action alleging gender discrimination pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Right Act of 1964 and the New York State Human Rights Law ("NYSHRL").

Defendant filed an answer to the complaint on November 30, 2006 (Item 4). Following discovery, on September 18, 2009, defendant moved for summary judgment (Item 30). Plaintiff filed her response to the motion on October 20, 2009 (Items 40 - 42). Defendant filed a reply on November 10, 2009 (Item 45). The court determined that oral argument was not necessary. For the reasons that follow, defendant's motion for summary judgment is granted, and the complaint is dismissed.

FACTS*fn2

SEI/Aarons, Inc. is an independently owned and operated franchise of Aaron Rents, Inc., engaged in the sales and rental of electronics, furniture, and appliances (Item 31, ¶ 2). SEI/Aarons operates approximately 72 stores in 9 states, including several in Western New York. Id. Each store has a General manager ("GM") responsible for direct management of the store. The Customer Accounts Manager ("CAM") is responsible for the renewal payment process. A Customer Accounts Advisor ("CAA") assists the Customer Accounts department. As a general rule, an employee must master the essential functions of the CAA and CAM positions in order to be promoted to GM. Id., ¶¶ 4-5.

Plaintiff initially interviewed with Dave Jorden, the District Manager at the time. She accepted a position with defendant, believing that there would be an opportunity for advancement within a year (Item 43, Exh. 3, p. 32). Plaintiff began her employment with SEI/Aarons on approximately February 23, 2004 (Item 31, ¶ 8). She was assigned to the Niagara Falls store as a Sales Manager, and then worked in various capacities in the Tonawanda and Lackawanna stores. Id., ¶ 9.

Plaintiff testified that various co-workers told her that she would never be promoted to a management position. One co-worker, Sandy Odom, told plaintiff to "look around" and see that there was only one female general manager locally and no female CAMs (Item 43, Exh. 3, p. 43). Gerald Welch, the GM of the Niagara falls store, told her to "forget it;" that she would never be promoted to the CAM position. Id., p. 60. She also heard Dave Jorden and a GM joking about a memorandum in which they were instructed not to hire women as CAMs. When she asked about it, Jorden stated that he was told to shred the document, and the two men continued laughing (Item 40, ¶¶ 9-10). Plaintiff testified that the two men were laughing and joking in the presence of other employees, but plaintiff believed that the memorandum was real (Item 43, Exh. 3, p. 126).

Plaintiff testified that she and another employee, Joe Welch, who was the cousin of the GM at the Niagara Falls store, competed for a CAM position. Gerald Welch, the GM, told plaintiff that he would prefer her for the position, but it was not his decision (Item 43, Exh. 3, p. 65). Plaintiff was told that Joe Welch was a "better pick." Id., p. 66. According to Reeve, Welch did "a good job," and his numbers were comparable to hers. Id., p. 64. It was her opinion that he got the promotion over her because he was male. Id. Plaintiff also complained that Welch had more time to prove himself in the position. Id., pp. 135-38. Dwayne Stone, former District Manager, stated in a declaration that there was no "contest" between plaintiff and Joe Welch for a CAM position at the Niagara Falls store. Instead, both plaintiff and Welch were given an opportunity to develop the necessary skills for the job (Item 31, ¶ 4). Ultimately, Stone decided to promote Welch because he exhibited superior leadership skills. He also stated that gender did not enter into his decision. Id., ¶ 5.

Three months after her one-year anniversary, plaintiff's performance was reviewed. Dwayne Stone and Gerald Welch praised her professionalism, organizational skills, and customer rapport, but she was not given a promotion or raise (Item 40, ¶ 32). Plaintiff stated that many men were hired and given management positions on a fast track, while no women were considered for the CAM position during her tenure. Id., ¶ 37.

Plaintiff transferred to the Lackawanna store in the hopes of filling a CAM position that had been vacated. She described the GM at the Lackawanna store, Kim Tanyi, as a tyrant and their working relationship as "[n]ot good" (Item 43, Exh. 3, p. 75). Plaintiff said that Tanyi had a personal vendetta against her, possibly because plaintiff was acquainted with Tanyi's boyfriend (Item 34, Exh. H, pp. 77, 81). She ...


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