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Negron v. Ulster County

November 4, 2010

AMY NEGRON F/K/A OFFICER AMY O'BRIEN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ULSTER COUNTY; PAUL J. VANBLARCUM, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS SHERIFF OF THE COUNTY OF ULSTER, AND INDIVIDUALLY; RICHARD J. BOCKELMANN, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS SHERIFF OF THE COUNTY OF ULSTER, AND INDIVIDUALLY; BRADFORD EBEL, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS SUPERINTENDENT OF THE ULSTER COUNTY JAIL, AND INDIVIDUALLY; RAY ACEVEDO, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS DEPUTY SUPERINTENDENT OF THE ULSTER COUNTY JAIL, AND INDIVIDUALLY; AND PAUL WESOLOWSKI, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS A MEMBER OF THE ULSTER COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT, AND INDIVIDUALLY, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wesolowski Scullin, Senior Judge

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

On June 30, 2008, Plaintiff filed this action pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and the New York State Human Rights Law ("NYSHRL"). Pursuant to Title VII, Plaintiff alleged (1) sexual discrimination, (2) quid pro quo sexual harassment, (3) hostile work environment,*fn1 (4) disparate impact discrimination, and (5) retaliation. See Complaint at ¶¶ 86-111. Pursuant to the NYSHRL, Plaintiff alleged that Defendants*fn2 subjected her to "discriminatory, harassing, reckless, wrongful[,] willful and malicious treatment," which resulted in the denial of equal opportunity in her employment and that Defendants retaliated against her. See id. at ¶¶ 112-25. Finally, Plaintiff alleged that, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Defendants violated her civil rights and that, pursuant to New York State law, Defendants' treatment of her constituted negligent infliction of emotional distress. See id. at ¶¶ 126-136.

Currently pending before the Court is Defendants' motion for summary judgment on all of the above-mentioned claims.*fn3 On August 27, 2010, the Court heard argument in support of and in opposition to the current motion. The Court granted Defendants' motion with respect to Plaintiff's quid pro quo cause of action but reserved decision as to the remainder of the motion. The following constitutes the Court's decision regarding the same.

II. BACKGROUND*fn4

Plaintiff was employed as a corrections officer with Defendant Ulster County in the "old" prison located at Golden Hill and subsequently at the new jail following its completion in 2007. Plaintiff was first employed as a corrections officer from September 1998 to December 2003, during which time the then-superintendent promoted her to corporal. Thereafter, Plaintiff left her employment with Defendant Ulster County for a full-time position with the Town of Ulster but returned as a corrections officer in December of 2003.*fn5 When Plaintiff returned to Defendants' employ, she no longer enjoyed the rank of corporal.

Plaintiff alleges that, throughout her employment, Defendants subjected her and other female co-workers to "severe and pervasive sexual harassment that included sexual solicitations, jokes, comments, remarks and innuendo[.]" See Plaintiff's Statement of Material Facts at ¶ 3. Further, Plaintiff asserts that, although she "would participate in some conversation, jokes and remarks, sexual content and communication were persistent throughout the jail." See id. Moreover, she claims that disparities existed between the assignments and punishments given to male and female corrections officers and that she was passed over for promotion because of her sex. See id. at ¶ 6. Finally, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Wesolowski "physically and forcibly assaulted" her in a sexual manner. See id. at ¶¶ 16-18. Plaintiff asserts that Defendants failed to respond appropriately to her complaints and those of others regarding this behavior.

On February 1, 2006, Plaintiff filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") and the New York State Division of Human Rights. See Affirmation of Joseph J. Ranni dated May 25, 2010 ("Ranni Aff."), at Exhibit "2." In her complaint, Plaintiff claimed disparate impact and treatment relating to a sexually hostile and gender discriminatory environment and that she suffered repeated sexual assaults by her commanding officer. See id. at 1. On January 9, 2008, the EEOC issued a probable cause determination, finding "that there is reason to believe that violations have occurred[.]" See id. at Exhibit "3," at 2.*fn6

III. DISCUSSION

A. Summary judgment standard

A court may grant a motion for summary judgment only if "the court determines that there is no genuine issue of material fact to be tried and that the facts as to which there is no such issue warrant judgment for the moving party as a matter of law." Chambers v. TRM Copy Ctrs. Corp., 43 F.3d 29, 36 (2d Cir. 1994) (citations omitted). When analyzing a summary judgment motion, the court "'cannot try issues of fact; it can only determine whether there are issues to be tried.'" Id. at 36-37 (quotation and other citation omitted).

Furthermore, in assessing the record to determine whether any such issues of material fact exist, the court is required to resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable factual inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. See id. at 36 (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2513-14, 91 L.Ed. 2d 202 (1986)) (other citations omitted). Where the non-movant either does not respond to the motion or fails to dispute the movant's statement of material facts, the court may not rely solely on the moving party's statement of material facts; rather, the court must be satisfied that the citations to evidence in the record support the movant's assertions. See Giannullo v. City of N.Y., 322 F.3d 139, 143 n.5 (2d Cir. 2003).

The Second Circuit has cautioned that summary judgment is often inappropriate in cases where the trier of fact will have to delve into an employer's intent because intent is an issue as to which direct evidence is rarely available. See Gallo v. Prudential Residential Servs. Ltd. P'ship, 22 F.3d 1219, 1224 (2d Cir. 1994) (citations omitted); Patrick v. LeFevre, 745 F.2d 153, 159 (2d Cir. 1984) (citations omitted). However, when an employer has explained its conduct and the plaintiff has offered only conclusory assertions in opposition, a court may grant summary judgment. See Meiri v. Dacon, 759 F.2d 989, 998 (2d Cir. 1985).

B. Plaintiff's Title VII sexual harassment claim*fn7

Defendants assert that the Court should grant their motion for summary judgment because Plaintiff admitted that she participated in the activities creating the allegedly hostile work environment; and, therefore, she cannot now complain about it. See Dkt. No. 86-20 at 1. Further, they assert that there is no specific basis for imputing the conduct that created the alleged hostile environment on the employer. See id. at 3. Defendants claim that, because low-level employees created the alleged hostile situation, the employer can only be liable if it provided no reasonable avenue for complaint or knew of the harassment but did nothing to stop it. See id. at 3-4 (citation omitted). Defendants claim that they had a ...


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