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Patterson v. Xerox Corp.

August 2, 2010

VANESSA PATTERSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
XEROX CORPORATION AND SAMUEL PETERSON, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael A. Telesca United States District

DECISION and ORDER

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Vanessa Patterson ("Plaintiff") commenced this action against Xerox Corporation ("Xerox") and Samuel Peterson ("Peterson"), hereinafter collectively "Defendants," pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e to e-17 ("Title VII"), and the New York State Human Rights Law ("HRL"), New York Executive Law § 290 et. seq., for discrimination based upon Plaintiff's national origin, race and gender. In particular, Plaintiff asserts that she was harassed and subjected to a hostile work environment at the hands of Peterson in retribution for complaints Plaintiff made against another co-worker, a friend of Peterson's. In addition, Plaintiff asserts a common law cause of action for negligent supervision and retention of an unfit employee, namely Peterson.

Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint ("Complaint") pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure ("Defendants' Motion to Dismiss" or "Defendants' Motion") on the grounds that: (1) Peterson is not an "employer" within the meaning of Title VII or the HRL and therefore cannot be held individually liable for employment discrimination; (2) Plaintiff failed to exhaust her administrative remedies, and therefore, to the extent that her Complaint alleges claims not specifically identified in the Charge filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), such claims are untimely, procedurally and jurisdictionally barred; and (3) even if not barred, Plaintiff's claims are legally insufficient to state a plausible claim for relief. Defendants further assert that Plaintiff's negligence claims must be dismissed on the basis that they are prohibited by the exclusivity of New York Worker's Compensation Law ("WCL"), and moreover, Peterson cannot be found liable for negligently supervising and retaining himself.

Plaintiff opposes Defendants' Motion claiming, inter alia, that the Complaint pled facts in sufficient detail to satisfy the pleading standards set forth in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and states plausible claims against Defendants for discrimination and retaliation. Moreover, Plaintiff asserts that her Charge to the EEOC (which is attached to the Complaint as an exhibit), coupled with her repeated internal complaints to Xerox management and union representatives, provided Defendants with sufficient notice of the nature and extent of Plaintiff's claims so as to overcome any purported defects in her EEOC filing.

For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' Motion is granted in-part and denied in-part.

BACKGROUND

The Complaint alleges six causes of action against the Defendants for sexual harassment, discrimination, retaliation and hostile work environment based upon Plaintiff's national origin, race and gender under both federal and state law, as well as for common law negligence. See Complaint ("Compl.")¶ 36. The Complaint alleges the following facts which are presumed to be true for the purposes of the Court's analysis of Defendants' Motion.

Plaintiff Vanessa Patterson is an African-American woman born in the United States. She has been an employee of Xerox since January, 28, 1991, and continues to be employed there at least through the date of the Complaint.

In or about April 2000, Plaintiff filed a sexual harassment complaint with Xerox against a co-worker, Daniel Williams ("Williams"). Xerox subsequently issued warnings to both Plaintiff and Williams. Six months to a year later, Plaintiff was allegedly harassed by Williams for a second time and Williams was suspended for three days while Xerox conducted an investigation. During this time, Peterson, then Plaintiff's co-worker, expressed to the Plaintiff that, "he was not happy with what happened to [Williams] and [] it was wrong and he did not agree with [Williams' suspension]." (Compl. ¶9). As a result, Plaintiff felt uncomfortable around Peterson and Williams and avoided them.

Around January 2007, Peterson was promoted from union employee to custodial supervisor and was assigned to supervise Plaintiff's work group. During 2007, Plaintiff alleges that she suffered hostility at daily shift meetings and was "often verbally attacked and threatened" by Peterson. (Compl. ¶ 12).

Plaintiff asserts that Peterson was the primary offender and source of the allegedly discriminatory and hostile statements. Among the allegations, Peterson is claimed to have said that he needed to "corral the animals, and he was going to start with [Plaintiff]" (Compl. ¶12). Further, Peterson purportedly boasted to Plaintiff and others that he could do anything to the employees he wanted and management would support him. (Compl. ¶¶ 12, 21, 27).

Specifically, Plaintiff alleges Peterson told her that she should have more of a "slave mentality," and that "like most women [] [she] should be seen and not heard." (Compl. ¶11). In April 2007, Peterson purportedly made reference radio talk show host Don Imus' remarks about "nappy headed hoes" and how it "was right on the money for some females." (Compl. ¶ 15).

The Complaint also details instances when Peterson allegedly told Plaintiff that she was "on his shit list" for the incidents with Williams and he would "make her life hell," and he apparently told another employee he would "pay [Plaintiff] back for things that happened back when they were co-workers." (Compl. ¶16, 21). Peterson is alleged to have told Plaintiff she "needed to learn respect for his title," (Id.), and he apparently told others that he would "spank" Plaintiff if she didn't "learn to respect men and their titles." (Compl. ¶20). Plaintiff claims that Peterson tried to bully another of her co-workers and told him that he "would like to fire all the black people in Xerox." (Compl. ¶29).

In addition to the remarks, Plaintiff alleges Peterson denied her overtime, obstructed her from picking up a missing paycheck, singled out or set Plaintiff up for repeated criticism of her work, threatened to fire her or eliminate her job, and applied different standards to the Plaintiff with regards to working without supervision. Plaintiff repeatedly complained to union representatives, Xerox management and lodged complaints with the "Ethics Line," an internal mechanism set in place by Xerox about Peterson's alleged harassment; but Plaintiff's attempts to use Xerox's channels to redress the situation was unsuccessful.

Plaintiff claims that due to the hostility and aggression, mainly at Peterson's hands, she is in constant "fear, anxiety and stress on a daily basis." (Compl. ¶33).

On August 17, 2008, Plaintiff filled out an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") Intake Questionnaire against Xerox alleging discrimination based on sex and retaliation. (Compl. Ex. A)*fn1 . This questionnaire contained specific reference to Peterson as the primary source of the harassment against her. The questionnaire details several of the alleged remarks, including the "slave" remark, and Plaintiff's concerns for her job and safety due to Peterson's threats, comments regarding the futility of calling the Ethics Line, and a "hostile environment." Id.

On October 31, 2008, Plaintiff presented a Charge of Discrimination (the "Charge") to the EEOC alleging retaliation. (Compl. Ex. B). Specifically, the Charge mentioned hostile work environment, retaliation due to the original sexual harassment incident in 2000 and intimidation attempting to keep her from filing complaints against Peterson. Id. She also complained that her supervisor (Peterson) threatened to spank her and threatened her job. Id.

On May 1, 2009, the Buffalo Local Office of the EEOC issued a letter to Xerox stating a determination that Plaintiff had suffered retaliation for making a claim against her supervisor in 2008. (Compl. Ex. C). The EEOC concluded that this was not an isolated incident as Plaintiff was retaliated against in 2000 by the issuance of a warning against her after she complained about Williams. Id. The EEOC invited the parties to discuss settlement. Id.

In November 2009, the EEOC issued a Notice of Right to Sue, stating that the "EEOC found reasonable cause to believe that violations of the statute(s) occurred []" (Compl. Ex. C). On February 25, 2010, Plaintiff commenced the instant action against Xerox and Peterson.

DISCUSSION

I. Legal Standards for Evaluating a Motion to Dismiss

Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint in its entirety pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure claiming that Plaintiff has failed to state any ...


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