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Abdel Nofal v. Jumeirah Essex House

December 3, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Paul A. Crotty, United States District Judge:




Defendants Jumeirah Essex House ("Hotel"), George Dertouzos, and Sarah Gallucci*fn1 move for summary judgment, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56, dismissing Plaintiff Abdel Nofal's claims of employment discrimination in violation of Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, 42 U.S.C. § 1981, the New York State Human Rights Law ("NYHRL"),*fn2 and the New York City Administrative Code ("NYCAC").*fn3 Specifically, Nofal alleges that Defendants discriminated against him on the basis of race, national origin, and religion by, inter alia, (1) refusing to accommodate his religious practices; (2) creating a work environment hostile to his race and religion; and (3) terminating him in retaliation for his complaints of discrimination and statements made in an unrelated investigation. Defendants' motion as to the § 1981 claims is GRANTED. Since the single federal claim is dismissed, the Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state and city claims. Accordingly, this case is DISMISSED.

I. Facts

A. Alleged Discrimination

Nofal, an Egyptian national, who is a Muslim, was an employee of the Essex House from October 12, 1998 until his termination on December 5, 2006. (Def. 56.1 ¶¶ 5, 43.) In January 2006, the Dubai-based organization Jumeirah acquired the Essex House. (Id. ¶ 3.) Although the principals and several employees of the Hotel were Muslim, Executive Chef Christian Gradnitzer (Nofal's supervisor) and other managers were not Muslim. (Id. ¶ 4; Compl. ¶ 10.) Nofal asserts that when Gradnitzer saw Nofal, he often repeated "Salaam Aleikum," which means "peace be with you" in Arabic and is a greeting commonly used by Muslims. The greeting had a barb to it, as Gradnitzer would mockingly touch his forehead while chewing on bacon. (Mem. in Opp. 16.) Gradnitzer allegedly also discussed his Lebanese-Christian wife's eating of pork and sexual activities. (Nofal Dep. 119, 137-38.) Nofal contends that he did not complain about these comments for fear of retaliation. (Pl. 56.1 ¶ 28.)

The Hotel makes some accommodations for their Muslim employees. The Hotel provided a room for religious observance, which Muslim employees have used for prayer. The Hotel permitted employees to break fast for Ramadan during their shifts. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 11.) Nofal regularly had Fridays (the Muslim Sabbath) and Saturdays off. (Id. ¶ 12.) On October 6, 2006, he asked to take off on Sunday, October 22 and Monday, October 23 to celebrate Eid-ul-Fitr ("Eid"), the end of Ramadan. (Pl. 56.1 ¶ 13.) It is undisputed that Gradnitzer responded by saying that he "did not care about Ramadan. It's busy and I need you." (Def. 56.1 ¶ 17.) Defendants

contend that, pursuant to Hotel policy, time off is accorded by written request in the order in which it is received. By the time Nofal made his request, four other departmental employees had either previously requested those days off or were on family medical leave. (Dertouzos Aff. ¶¶ 11, 17, 19.) Nofal complained to Human Resources and met with Dertouzos, Gradnitzer, and Union delegates to discuss the denial of his request. (Id. ¶ 19.) He ended up working on Sunday, October 22, but he was given off on Monday, October 23. (Nofal Dep. 91; Def. 56.1 ¶ 19.) Defendants maintain that Eid began on October 23, but Nofal argues that the date of Eid depends on the lunar calendar and varies among communities. (Def. 56.1 ¶¶ 19, 23; Nofal Dep. 81-82.) In the wash, Nofal had seven days off during Ramadan at his request. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 24.)

B. Termination

On November 16, 2006, Julius Jones, a hotel cook, complained to Human Resources that Nofal harassed a newly hired cook, Robert Felton. (Id. ¶ 35.) Felton allegedly told Jones that Nofal exposed his erect penis to him on two occasions, repeatedly made sexually suggestive comments to Felton, and solicited sex. (Id. ¶ 35.) Jones also reported to Human Resources that Nofal told him that he wanted to "f- Bobby" (i.e., Felton) and bragged about giving candy to underage Mexican boys in exchange for sex.*fn4 (Id. ¶ 36.) Human Resources commenced an investigation, interviewing Felton, Jones, and Nofal, among others, and learned that Nofal also had allegedly harassed an unnamed female employee by soliciting sex for money. (Id. ¶¶ 37, 39.)

At a December 5, 2006 meeting, the Hotel discussed Jones' charges with Nofal in the presence of his Union delegates. (Id. ¶ 40.) Nofal was advised by his Union delegate to remain silent. (Id. ¶ 41.) During the meeting, Jones allegedly revealed that there would be a large "bonus" for all employees willing to speak against Nofal, in the event Nofal was successfully terminated.

(Compl. ¶ 22.) At the conclusion of the meeting, Dertouzos issued the Hotel's decision to terminate Nofal for violating the Hotel's anti-harassment policy.*fn5 (Def. 56.1 ΒΆ 43.) Andrelle Aubourg, one of Nofal's co-workers, subsequently submitted a statement to Human ...

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