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Rojas v. Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester

October 1, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Charles J. Siragusa United States District Judge



This is an action alleging "hostile environment" employment discrimination on the basis of sex, and retaliation, pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII), as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and the New York Human Rights Law ("NYHRL"), Executive Law § 290 et seq., as well as a state common-law claim for assault and battery. Now before the Court are Defendants' motions [#51] [#52] for summary judgment on the Title VII and NYHRL claims. For the reasons that follow, the applications are granted, and the remaining state-law claim is dismissed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c).


Unless otherwise noted, the following are the undisputed facts of this case, viewed in the light most-favorable to Plaintiff. At all relevant times, Sandra Rojas ("Plaintiff") was employed by the Diocese of Rochester ("DOR") as a Coordinator for Hispanic Migrant Ministry. Plaintiff's immediate supervisor at the DOR was Bernard Grizard ("Grizard"), who was DOR's Director for Parish Support Ministries. Plaintiff worked directly for DOR's Office of Migrant Ministries, which had four regional offices.*fn1

Plaintiff was assigned to the northwest Monroe County regional office, located in Brockport, New York. In that capacity, Plaintiff had an office at the Nativity Catholic parish ("Nativity") in Brockport, where Defendant Pastor Peter Enyan-Boadu ("EnyanBoadu") served as parochial vicar, or pastor. DOR and Nativity are separate corporations, and the Office of Migrant Ministries was permitted to have an office at the parish through an agreement with Nativity. Plaintiff's duties included scheduling Hispanic Masses at the parish, which were presided over by Spanish-speaking priests. Plaintiff also had permission to use the church for other Migrant Ministry observances, provided that they did not conflict with parish events. Throughout the record, Plaintiff complains that Enyan-Boadu had a dictatorial management style and was condescending toward women. Plaintiff also indicates that Enyan-Boadu frequently complained to her about issues such cleaning the church building after Hispanic Masses, locking doors, and turning off lights.

During her employment Plaintiff received DOR's employee handbook, which contains a sexual harassment policy, and she admits that she read it. Specifically, Plaintiff acknowledges receiving copies of DOR's employee handbook on May 5, 2004 and on August 8, 2006.*fn2 The handbook that Plaintiff received in August 2006 is dated July 2006, and states, in pertinent part:


Harassment includes, but is not limited to: the creation of an intimidating or hostile working environment, behavior that is not welcome, behavior that is offensive or abusive.... This policy also prohibits harassment against all legally protected classes including... sex [and] national origin.... Physical harassment refers to pushing, hitting or other offensive behavior.... Verbal abuse refers to derogatory or degrading verbal comments....


Sexually oriented acts or sex-based conduct have no legitimate business purposes. All employees must refrain from sexual harassment of anyone. In addition, sexual harassment includes, but is not limited to: unwelcome sexual advances.... Specific examples of sexual harassment include... uninvited touching.


Employees who believe they have been the subject of harassment should report their charge immediately to Human Resources, which is responsible to promptly and thoroughly investigate all complaints. CONFIDENTIALITY AND RETALIATION It is the intention of the Pastoral Center that any reporting employee or employee participating in the investigation of any harassment complaint will not be retaliated against in any way. [#53-9] at 26-27. Also, in Mary 2003, Plaintiff attended a DOR workshop in sexual misconduct. [#53-9] at 29. Plaintiff indicates that she read DOR's sexual harassment policies, but thought that they only applied to sexual harassment of children. Pl. Exhibits Vol. I, Ex. A at 65-66.

On Saturday, October 28, 2006, Plaintiff was in the process of decorating the Nativity parish altar for a Hispanic Mass celebrating the traditional Mexican Dia de los Muertos ("Day of the Dead"), which coincides with the Catholic feast days of All Saints' Day and All Souls Day. Enyan-Boadu, upon seeing the decorations, told Plaintiff that she needed to change them. In this regard, Enyan-Boadu maintains that he told Plaintiff that the decorations were too big and obscured the pulpit, while Plaintiff indicates that Enyan-Boadu said only that he did not like them. In any event, Plaintiff became upset because she felt that Enyan-Boadu did not respect her Mexican culture. Plaintiff removed the decorations from the church entirely, and took them instead to the nearby Newman Center at State University of New York ("SUNY") Brockport. The following day, Sunday, October 29th, Plaintiff conducted a prayer service and distributed consecrated hosts at the Newman Center. However, Plaintiff did not arrange for a priest to say Mass at the Newman Center, and consequently the Hispanic congregation could not attend Mass in Spanish, although she took it upon herself to distribute communion. Plaintiff admits that she was not authorized to move the prayer service or to distribute communion.

Early the next day, October 30, 2006, Plaintiff called Grizard and told him that he would probably receive a complaint about her from Enyan-Boadu, concerning the events of that weekend. Plaintiff explained what she had done, and Grizard indicated that she was not authorized to move the prayer service to the Newman Center, or to distribute Communion. There is no indication, though, that Grizard intended to take disciplinary action against Plaintiff. Grizard Dep. at 80, 88. Instead, Grizard indicates that he set up a meeting later that day in Brockport between himself, Plaintiff, and Enyan-Boadu, to address the friction between Plaintiff and Enyan-Boadu. Plaintiff met Grizard and Enyan-Boadu that day, and also met with Grizard and others during the following days. As will be discussed further below, the parties sharply dispute what occurred at those meetings.

Briefly, DOR maintains that Plaintiff resigned her position, despite Grizard's attempts to dissuade her from doing so, but later changed her mind. DOR indicates that, at Plaintiff's request, it scheduled meetings with her to discuss her decision to withdraw her resignation, and to discuss the reasons for her resignation. DOR further states, however, that after Plaintiff cancelled the aforementioned meetings and also failed to appear for work, it decided to terminate her employment, effective November 9, 2006. DOR denies that Plantiff ever complained of sexual harassment prior to November 9, 2006. Plaintiff counters that she did not resign. Instead, she maintains that on October 30th, she complained to Grizard about sexual harassment by EnyanBoadu, and that approximately one week later, on November 9, 2006, DOR fired her in retaliation for her complaints.

According to Grizard, at the meeting on October 30th, between himself, Plaintiff, and Enyan-Boadu, Plaintiff said, "I think I want to resign. I resign. I'm done with this ministry. I want to move on with my life. I just got married. I just want to move ahead." Grizard Dep. at 89. Grizard indicates that he then met with Plaintiff privately, and told her to think it over making a final decision. Id. at 89-90. Grizard denies that Plaintiff said anything about sexual harassment, and indicates that her complaints were about her difficulty working with Enyan-Boadu generally:

She would always -- she would regularly complain that Father Peter talked forever, but on this case -- she always had a difficult time to accept that Father Peter is the one responsible for the campus [the Nativity Parish Church campus in Brockport] and we were really using the campus, you know. So there was always some tensions about the way we function as a Diocesan ministries [sic] within the parish campus and to accept that. [sic] Even though Father Peter did not have any supervisory or control or power over Sandra Rojas at the same time we still needed to find compromise for the use of the building according to Father Peter's expectations.

Grizard Dep. at 94.

Grizard indicates that, on the following morning, October 31, 2006, he called Plaintiff and asked if she had changed her mind about resigning, and she said, "No. I didn't change my mind. I resign." Id. at 90. Grizard states that he then asked Plaintiff to come to his office later that day for a meeting,*fn3 to finalize her resignation and discuss how to "transition the ministries." Id. Later that day, Plaintiff met with Grizard and Mary Bauer ("Bauer"), DOR's Director of Human Resources. Grizard Dep. at 91. According to Bauer, at the meeting, Plaintiff reiterated that she was resigning, and when Bauer asked her why she was resigning, Plaintiff stated, "I will write and tell you next week." Bauer Dep. at 52. Bauer states that Rojas never mentioned Enyan-Boadu during the meeting. Id. Bauer further indicates that she did not prevent Plaintiff from telling her anything during the meeting. Id.

On Wednesday, November 1, 2006, Plaintiff met with Grizard and Father Jesus Flores ("Flores"), Diocesan Coordinator of DOR's Migrant Ministry. Grizard Dep. at 91, 9. According to Grizard, the purpose of the meeting was to discuss the transition of the Migrant Ministry program following Plaintiff's resignation. Grizard Dep. at 100. Grizard indicates that during the meeting, Plaintiff reiterated that she was resigning. However, Grizard indicates that following this meeting, Plaintiff telephoned him, and told him that she had not formally resigned, because her resignation was not in writing. Plaintiff also requested another meeting with Grizard, to talk about unspecified issues that she had with Enyan-Boadu. Grizard maintains that he scheduled a meeting between himself and Plaintiff for November 3rd at 11 AM, and that Plaintiff told him she was also going to set up an appointment with Barbara Pedeville ("Pedeville"), in DOR's Human Resources Office, to talk about problems that she had with Enyan Boadu:

On that same day, few hours after our meeting, Sandra called me and told me that she did not formerly resigned [sic] and that she never put in in [sic] writing; I told her at that point that she repeatedly announced, in the presence of witnesses, that she resigned. She asked for a meeting with me (for the next day) because I was not aware of different things which occurred between her and Fr. Peter; By reported to me [sic], she said, I would understand better her situation and the reason why she resigned. We set up the meeting for Friday, November 3rd at 11:00 am in our office, She also told me at that time that she will set up an appointment with Barbara Pedeville to discuss things that happened between Fr. Peter & herself. [#53-11] at 22-23.

On November 2, 2006 at 8:32 AM, Grizard sent an email message to various DOR staff, with a copy to Plaintiff, informing them of "Sandra's decision to leave her Migrant Ministry position." Pl. Exhibits Vol. II, Ex. C. Later that morning, Plaintiff telephoned Grizard and again stated that she had not formally resigned. Grizard indicates that at that time, he did not know whether he would allow Plaintiff to withdraw her resignation:

Q: Now... you had a conversation with Ms. Rojas on the morning [of November 2, 2006] and she told you again that she did not formally resign; is that correct?

A: Yes. And my response was, 'Okay. So we need to talk about this. Because my understanding is you resigned and you said it several times, but now you're telling me' - and that was the writing piece. [Indicating that Plaintiff had said that her resignation was not formal because it was not in writing] I said, 'Even though you didn't put it in writing but [sic] you said it in several instances at different times that you resigned [sic] as a supervisor I take it as a resignation. Now if you're telling me you didn't formally resign we need to talk about it.' At that point I honestly don't know what would have happened if these meetings would have occurred.

She may still be working for me. I don't know. At that point I left even another opening to say let's talk about it.

Grizard Dep. at 114. Subsequently that same day, at 1:49 PM, Plaintiff sent an email to Pedeville at DOR's Pastoral Center. Pl. Exhibits Vol. II, Ex. B. Plaintiff sent the message as a reply to a previously transmitted general email, which Pedeville routinely sent out alerting staff to "Sexual Misconduct Education/Awareness Workshops."*fn4

Plaintiff's email message stated: "Hi Barbara, I leave a message in your voice mail. I really need to talk with you as son [sic] as possible. I will have a meeting with Bernard tomorrow at 11:00 AM and I will like to meet you after the meeting with Bernard. The cell of the ministry is 509-4682. Peace, Sandra Rojas." Id. Plaintiff indicates that she requested the additional meeting with Grizard, and the meeting with Pedeville, because she wanted to explain what had happened to her:

Q: Well, again, you testified that there was some urgency [to your request for the meetings with Grizard and Pedeville on November 3rd].

A: Yes.

Q: And why was there?

A: Because I saw Bernard that he ask me to put in writing my complaints and then I see Bernard that he didn't do any action.*fn5 I saw [Fr.] Jesus in the meeting that -- we have this meeting on the 1st and he didn't say anything to me. He didn't say anything to me. He was just quiet and I was expecting at least something like "Sandra, let's go talk. What is going on with you? Tell us more in detail why you say this, why you say that."

And they didn't say anything to that, [sic] so I was exasperated to talk to people. [#53-5] at 13-15, Pl. Dep. at 227-229. Still later on November 2nd, at 9:32 PM, Plaintiff sent Grizard an email, stating:

I am writing to inform you of the fact that I have NOT formally resigned from my position as a Coordinator of the Hispanic Migrant Ministry. In our meeting tomorrow, I hope that you will comprehend what has been going on, and hopefully you will understand me a little more. Thank you for your patience, and May God bless you. In Peace, Sandra Rojas.

Pl. Exhibits Vol. II, Ex. C (emphasis added). With regard to Plaintiff's statement to Grizard that she hoped he would "comprehend was has been going on" after their meeting on November 3rd, which meeting she later cancelled, Plaintiff testified at her deposition as follows:

Q: Does this [email] in any way refresh your recollection as to whether you actually complained in any way about Father Peter before November 2nd?

A: Yes.

Q: It does?

A: Yes. It's a recollection of what said -- what I said to him. In meeting tomorrow I hope you will comprehend what has been going on, because for me he didn't comprehended [sic] me. He didn't comprehended me. [sic] He didn't. And then I said I hope that you will understand me a little more. He didn't understand me and I was just looking for compassion that he understood what is going on.

Q: I see. Now, if you go back to Exhibit 19*fn6, this is consistent then with the statement from November 1st after your meeting with Father Jesus and Mr. Grizard --

A: Yes.

Q: -- that you were going to set up a meeting for November 3rd to talk about why you resigned.

A: Why he didn't understand me that I am sexually assaulted, not why I resign.

[#53-5] at 5, Pl. Deposition at 219 (emphasis added).*fn7

Approximately one hour after Plaintiff sent this email to Grizard, Grizard forwarded Plaintiff's message to Flores, stating:

There have been new elements added each day re: Sandra's decision;

She is telling me now (a bit late!) that she did not formally resigned; [sic] see email below; she told me also the same thing on the phone this morning; She asked for an appointment tomorrow morning at 11:00 am with me, saying there are other things she wants to share explaining the 'why' of her decision; I agreed to meet with her but I am a bit nervous to meet with her alone; especially in light of different things being said each day.... 4 ears are better than 2!! I am asking you a big favor: could you join us at 11:00 am for this meeting? I would definitevely [sic] feel more comfortable. It is at the Pastoral Center. Thanks for letting me know.

Peace, bernard.

Id., Ex. D. On November 3, 2006, though, Plaintiff cancelled her meeting with Grizard, and Grizard agreed to reschedule the meeting for November 7th.

Plaintiff, subsequent to her email to Pedeville on November 2nd, scheduled a meeting with Pedeville on November 6th. However, Plaintiff cancelled that meeting. Pl. Exhibits Vol. II, Ex. at 5. Moreover, on November 7th, Plaintiff failed to appear for her meeting with Grizard, which he had rescheduled at her request. It appears that Grizard again rescheduled his meeting with Plaintiff for November 9th, and that Plaintiff again failed to attend. See, Pl. Exhibits Vol. I, Ex. C, Grizard Dep. at 104-105 ("We had several attempts.... I think there was two meetings that we set up and she never came for whatever reasons."); Pl. Exhibits Vol. II, Ex. P. In any event, on November 9, 2006, at 3:10 PM, Grizard left a voice message on Plaintiff's phone, stating, in pertinent part:

It's 3:10. I am here with Father (inaudible), mainly because you didn't make the meeting, which is the reason why we met. I have a letter which will go to you in the mail, and I will read it to you and explain it to you....

I didn't want to do this on the phone, but I was trying to do so at our meeting. You can always call me on my cellular phone.

Id., Ex. P. Furthermore, in this voice message, Grizard read the letter, which informed Plaintiff that her last day of work would be November 9, 2006, and which also directed Plaintiff to return property belonging to DOR, including her Rolodex, keys, credit card, and checkbook. Id.; see also, id., Ex. J (Grizard's letter dated November 9, 2006, informing her that her last day of work would be November 9, 2006, and that DOR would pay her until November 28, 2006, "in lieu of notice."). Regarding DOR's decision to terminate Plaintiff's employment, Grizard stated:

This decision took place after several no show [sic] from her. In essence she never came to any of the meetings at that point. Every time we set up a meeting she didn't come. She did not show for the weekend liturgies which was a key piece of her work. So during the Sunday liturgies I was told again Father Lance Genyo [sic] who was the presider for that liturgy came and of course she was not there fore coordinating the liturgy. So at that point my understanding was she's not going to do the work so she better receive a notice in lieu of notice and we can move the transitioning faster.

Grizard Dep. at 111-112.

During the period between November 3rd and November 9th, when Plaintiff failed to appear for work and for meetings with Grizard and Pedeville, she was taking steps to have Enyan-Boadu arrested, and taking steps to file an EEOC complaint against DOR.

Specifically, on November 5, 2006*fn8, Plaintiff made a complaint against Enyan-Boadu with the Village of Brockport Police Department. Plaintiff's sworn supporting deposition alleged the following conduct by Enyan-Boadu: 1) on July 2, 2006, he kissed Plaintiff on the lips; 2) between July 2nd and July 30th, Enyan-Boadu touched her breast; 3) on July 30, 2006, Enyan-Boadu kissed her on the lips and attempted to force her to touch his penis; and 4) on October 2, 2006, Enyan Boadu made inappropriate sexual comments. Pl. Exhibits Vol. II, Ex. N. On November 7, 2006, in cooperation with the Brockport Police, Plaintiff wore a concealed microphone during a meeting with Enyan-Boadu, and attempted to have him admit that he sexually abused her. When Plaintiff went to the Brockport Police Department on November 7, 2006, Attorney Agola, who Plaintiff had retained during the preceding week, was present. Pl. Dep. at 469.

The following day, November 8, 2006, Plaintiff filed a complaint against DOR with the U.S. Equal Opportunities Employment Commission ("EEOC"). The EEOC complaint [#53-12] stated that on July 2, 2006, Enyan-Boadu told her that she was "beautiful, like a doll," and kissed her. The complaint further stated that "sometime between July 2, 2006 and July 30, 2006," Enyan-Boadu asked Plaintiff is she was a virgin,*fn9 and touched her breast. Additionally, the EEOC complaint alleged that "on or about July 30, 2006," Enyan-Boadu grabbed her wrist and attempted to have her touch his penis. The complaint further stated:

After I rejected Pastor Peter's advances, I was given notice of my termination.... I attempted to inform management that Pastor Peter was ruining my life; I was told that they needed 'collaboration and financial support of Father Peter.' No investigation was commenced. The employee handbook doesn't have any complaint mechanism, nor any definition of what sexual harassment is.*fn10

EEOC Complaint [#53-12] (emphasis added). Plaintiff swore to this complaint on November 8, 2006.

On November 10, 2006, Enyan-Boadu was arrested and charged with Forcible Touching and Harassment in the Second Degree under the New York State Penal Code, based on Plaintiff's complaint to the Brockport Police Department. DOR maintains that it had no notice of any allegations of sexual harassment by Enyan-Boadu against Plaintiff prior to the arrest.

Following Enyan-Boadu's arrest, DOR conducted an investigation into the allegations that he had sexually harassed Plaintiff. Plaintiff declined to participate in the investigation.*fn11 However, DOR interviewed a number of individuals, including Lisa O'Brien ("O'Brien"), who was employed at a neighboring Catholic parish. The report of O'Brien's interview states, in pertinent part:

Lisa and Sandra [spoke on] November 1st [2006], when Sandra came to [the parish where O'Brien was employed as Youth Minister] for Mass. After Mass they spoke for an hour, when Sandra gave her account of the resignation. She said that at the meeting with Fr. Peter and Bernard, there was anger involved and yes, she said she quit. She said she felt ambushed.... Lisa told her the resignation wasn't valid because she didn't sign anything*fn12.... There were two subsequent phone conversations that took place over the next two days.... The second phone call is when Sandra told Lisa about the incidents in the summer where 'Fr. Peter kissed her and he put her hand on his genitals.' When Lisa asked why she didn't report it, she said something to the effect that we need to forgive and forget. [#53-11] at 45 (emphasis added). DOR also interviewed another individual, Margot Van Etten ("Van Etten"), who was employed at SUNY Brockport, and documented the interview as follows:

Monday or Tuesday after the [Dia de los Muertos celebration], Margot said that Sandra 'looked like a kitten in a dryer and she broke down' emotionally. At that point, Sandra anticipated having a meeting with Bernard and Peter. Bernard was upset for moving service [sic] t the Newman Center and Bernard allegedly scolded her for having a communion service in the absence of a priest. Sandra asked Fr. Peter why he reported her to the Diocese? 'Sandra felt no support from the Diocese, and said, I quit.'

Margot says that 2 days later, Sandra looked in worse shape, as it was her plan to stay -2 months [sic] to help the ministry find someone else, and indicated that this was not going to happen. It was a this time, that Sandra told Margot that 'she had never told a soul, but Fr. Peter had been sexually harassing her.' [#53-11] at 51 (emphasis added).

On January 26, 2007, Plaintiff filed a sworn Amended EEOC Complaint [#53-12]. The complaint alleged, in pertinent part, that on October 30, 2006, Plaintiff and EnyanBoadu met with Grizard, at which time Enyan-Boadu called her "a crazy person possessed with demons." Plaintiff further stated:

On October 30, 2006, Grizard and I went to my office and I explained to him also that 'Father Peter is making my life miserable' and 'you need to take action.' He indicated to me to write everything down such as my complaints, my thoughts and then we will 'move on from there.' Grizard took no further action.*fn13

Amended EEOC Complaint [#53-12] (emphasis added). The Amended EEOC Complaint did not indicate that Plaintiff complained of sexual harassment during that meeting. The Amended EEOC Complaint further stated that, the following day, October 31, 2006, Plaintiff met with Grizard and Bauer, and that Plaintiff attempted to tell Bauer that she had been sexually harassed:

I started to explain to her about the hostile environment and work conditions in my work place. I started to complain about the hostile environment I suffered as a result of Father Peter's harassment of me, and was told by Bauer to 'stop... stop... stop... tell me about it later, I do not want to know about your work environment right now[.]' [S]he then asked me 'are you going to resign?' I told Ms. Bauer, no, that I do not want to resign. Bauer then asked me to sign a document indicating that I would resign; I refused to sign this document.

Id. [#53-12] at 2 (emphasis added). Notably, although, in the Amended EEOC Complaint, Plaintiff indicated that she "started to explain" that Enyan-Boadu was "harassing" her, she never alleged harassment of a sexual nature. In any event, the Amended EEOC Complaint further stated that on November 1, 2006, Plaintiff met with Grizard and Flores, at which time she stated that she had not resigned her position. Further, Plaintiff stated, "I then told them that Father Peter made my life miserable and Bernard said to me that 'you put yourself in this position.'" (emphasis added) The Amended EEOC Complaint further alleged that on November 2, 2006, Plaintiff sent an email to DOR's Human Resources Office, "indicating that [she] wanted to discuss Sexual Misconduct,"*fn14 and that she "received no response from the Department of Human Resources." Id at 3.*fn15 Finally, the Amended EEOC Complaint stated, in pertinent part: "The respondent has attempted to make it appear as though I resigned; the record evidence shows that I attempted in earnest to bring my claims of sexual harassment by Father Peter to their attention in October 2006." Id. (emphasis added).

On May 14, 2007, Plaintiff commenced the subject action. The original Complaint [#1] alleged five causes of action: 1) hostile environment discrimination under Title VII; 2) hostile environment discrimination under the NYHRL; 3) retaliation under Title VII;*fn16 4) retaliation under the NYHRL; and 5) assault and battery under New York common law.*fn17 Similar to the EEOC complaints, the Complaint in this action alleged that Enyan-Boadu made sexual advances to Plaintiff on three occasions in July 2006. The Complaint stated that Enyan-Boadu was her "co-worker," and that Grizard was her "Supervisor." Complaint [#1] ¶ 31; see also, Pl. Memo of Law [#19-2] at 4. Additionally, the Complaint essentially reiterated the allegations in the EEOC complaints. Namely, the Complaint stated that on October 30, 2006, Plaintiff told Grizard, "'Pastor Peter is making my life miserable,' and 'you need to take action.'" Id. at ¶ 34. The Complaint further stated that on October 31st and November 2nd, she had attempted to complain about sexual harassment during meetings with Grizard and Bauer, and Grizard and Flores, respectively. In that regard, the Complaint stated: "Plaintiff attempted in earnest to bring her ...

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