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Carl Vallejo v. Four Seasons Solar Products

March 28, 2011

CARL VALLEJO, PLAINTIFF,
v.
FOUR SEASONS SOLAR PRODUCTS, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Seybert, District Judge:

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

Pending before the Court is a motion for summary judgment filed by Four Seasons Solar Products, Inc. ("Defendant" or "Four Seasons") against pro se plaintiff Carl Vallejo ("Plaintiff" or "Vallejo") pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56 (Docket Entry 75). For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion for summary judgment is GRANTED.

BACKGROUND

Four Seasons manufactures and sells sunrooms*fn1 through company-owned retail stores and franchise outlets. In January 2003, Jacob "Jack" Chapman, Sales Manager for Four Seasons' retail store in Holbrook, New York, hired Plaintiff as a Design Consultant for the Holbrook store. Defendant's Rule 56.1 Statement ("Def.'s Stmt"), ¶ 5. ("Design Consultant" is Defendant's term for a salesperson employed at a retail store.)

The Design Consultants' primary function was to sell sunrooms to customers whose contact information was distributed to the Design Consultants, who were then expected to meet with the prospective customers at their homes. Def.'s Stmt, ¶ 8. Accordingly, to maximize Four Seasons' marketing efforts, the Design Consultants were also expected to be available to attend customer meetings in the evenings and on weekends, the to better accommodate customers' schedules. Id. ¶ 9.

Compensation for the Design Consultants essentially had two phases. First, when a customer signed a sales contract, the Design Consultants received an initial commission. Then, as the sunrooms were completed and after the customers tendered payments, the Design Consultants were paid a second time. Id. ¶ 10.

To rationalize and streamline customer home visits in 2003 and 2004, Four Seasons began requiring Design Consultants to submit written availability sheets stating the days on which they could make home visits, id. ¶ 14, and to be available to work five days each week. Id. ¶ 16. Furthermore, Design Consultants would also be required to request their vacation time in writing at least two weeks in advance. These new rules were vital to Four Seasons' effort to meet its customer visiting obligations. Id. ¶ 20.

Despite these new rules, however, Four Seasons testifies that it permitted Plaintiff, who alleges that he is a member of the church of Jehovah's Witnesses, to take off two evenings per week or Sundays, so that Plaintiff could participate in church activities. Id. ¶ 21. In spite of the leniency shown to Plaintiff by Four Seasons, Plaintiff failed on a number of occasions to comply with the company's vacation policy. During 2004, for example, Plaintiff took off 18 days for vacation, four days over the limit. Id. ¶ 25(i).

For his part, Plaintiff alleges that in April 2004, "Jack Chapman (Atheist), Sales Manager, and Joseph Ronzino (Christian), General Manager, told me that my attending religious meetings two nights a week and on Sunday was a problem." Pl.'s Compl. p. 7.

Without providing the requisite 14-day notice, Plaintiff advised Jack Chapman that he would take off September 11, 2004 failing to mention, according to Defendant, that this was to observe a religious requirement. Id. ¶ 27. Citing the notice rule, Chapman refused to allow Plaintiff a vacation day, prompting Plaintiff to announce that he would take off that day just the same. In response, Chapman suspended Plaintiff's "leads" (customer contact information) for 10 days. Id. ¶ 28. Plaintiff alleges that, in reality, he was suspended for attending a religious event and that Chapman requested a letter from Plaintiff's congregation verifying "[his] religious participation." Pl.'s Compl. p. 7.

A couple of weeks later, on September 30, 2004, Four Seasons received a letter from the East Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses in Central Islip, New York, which, while confirming that Plaintiff was a member of the church, made no mention of September 11, 2004 or of why Plaintiff would need to be absent on that day. Def.'s Stmt, ¶ 31.

Then, the Defendant started receiving complaints about Plaintiff's policy violations. On January 31, 2005, without the requisite 14-day notice, Plaintiff advised Four Seasons that he would take the next week off so that he could attend a real estate investment training course (which is not a practice associated with the church of Jehovah's Witnesses). Id. ¶ 32. In the face of warnings that such a decision could cost him his job, Plaintiff took the vacation time without authorization. Id. ¶ 35. At this point, Plaintiff absented himself from work for four months. Id.

¶ 36. More specifically, between February 2005 and June 2005, Plaintiff neglected to attend staff meetings, failed to submit any availability sheets, and did not ask to be listed as available to handle leads. Id. ¶ 38. Meanwhile, Plaintiff alleges that Four Seasons' decision not to provide him with sales appointments in this period was based on religious discrimination. Pl.'s Compl. p. 7.

In an effort to seek a rapprochement with Plaintiff in spite of his extended absence, Joseph Ronzino, General Manager of the Holbrook store, met with Plaintiff and offered to let him cover a few leads. Def.'s Stmt, ¶ 41. Ronzino made good on his offer by directing Michele Zezima, Four Seasons' Events Coordinator, to provide Plaintiff with some leads. Upon exhausting the leads, Plaintiff called Jack Chapman with a request for more. Chapman replied: "When are you coming back full time?" Id. ¶ 44. Plaintiff neither responded to this, nor to Chapman's follow-up e-mail message posing the same question. Id. ¶ 46.

After having received no response from Plaintiff for three to four months (during which time Defendant continued to cover Plaintiff's health insurance), Defendant ultimately concluded---in October 2005--that Plaintiff had abandoned his employment as a Design Consultant. Defendant then sent Plaintiff a letter dated October 27, 2005 officially terminating his employment. Id. ¶ 54. For his part, Plaintiff alleges that Four Seasons' failure to provide him with sales appointments between July 2005 and October 27, 2005 was attributable to discriminatory animus and that his termination was a result of the same. Pl.'s Compl. p. 8.

After having his employment terminated with Defendant, Plaintiff's attempts to develop new employment opportunities were patchy and unsuccessful. In December 2005, for instance, he organized a business called "Fitness by the Minute LLC". Id. ¶ 57. Fitness by the Minute, however, did no business in either 2005 or 2006. Id. Further, Plaintiff concedes that he did not actually apply for any positions in 2006. Id. ¶ 59. In 2007, Plaintiff managed to secure a few odd jobs, including positions with a contractor, a landscaper, and an electrical company, but did not hold them for long. Id. ¶ 61. At length, Plaintiff took a job as a personal trainer with the health club Bally Total Fitness Corp. where his employment was terminated less than a year later. Id. ¶ 65. All told, Plaintiff's earned income in 2007 amounted to less than $20,000.00 and in 2008 it was less than $14,000.00. Id. ¶¶ 64, 66. Plaintiff made no effort to secure regular employment in 2008 after his dismissal from Bally's.

On April 20, 2006, Plaintiff filed an administrative complaint with the New York Division of Human Rights ("DHR") charging Defendant with unlawful discriminatory practice in violation of the New York State Human Rights Law. The DHR subsequently dismissed this complaint for want of probable cause. Id. ¶¶ 73, 74. On July 23, 2007, Plaintiff filed his complaint in this case. It offers three discrete claims pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e, et seq. ("Title VII") and New York State Human Rights Law, N.Y. Exec. Law § 296 ("NYSHRL"): (1) disparate treatment; (2) failure to accommodate; and (3)retaliation.

Before proceeding to the merits of Defendant's motion, it is worthwhile to review the extraordinary lengths to which the Court has gone to accommodate this pro se Plaintiff in the prosecution of his case. Defendant filed and served the motion sub judice more than six months ago on August 27, 2010. See Docket Entries 75-82. On November 2, 2010, nearly two weeks after Plaintiff's opposition was due, Plaintiff moved for a three-month extension of time--that is, until January 19, 2011. See Docket Entry 83. By Order dated November 5, 2010, the Court granted Plaintiff until December 6, 2010 but permitted him to renew his request to extend time to January 1, 2011 for good cause shown.

On November 12, 2010, Plaintiff renewed his request for the January 19, 2011 deadline. See Docket Entry 84. This the Court granted by Order dated November 17, 2010.

On January 19, 2011 Plaintiff filed a third motion for an extension of time. See Docket Entries 85, 87. And again the Court granted Plaintiff's request, setting a new deadline of February 11, 2011. This time, however, the Court admonished Plaintiff that "NO FURTHER EXTENSIONS WILL BE GRANTED." See Docket Entry 88. Notwithstanding the categorical language of that Order, on February 1, 2011, Plaintiff made a fourth request for an extension, seeking a March 1, 2011 due date. By Order dated February 3, 2011, the Court denied the motion, commenting that "Plaintiff has received repeated extensions of time to file his opposition to Defendant's motion for summary judgment, which was filed more than five months ago. Plaintiff's latest request cites neither good cause for another extension nor an explanation why five months was insufficient to prepare a response." See Docket Entry 90.

Undeterred, on February 10, 2011, Plaintiff filed his fifth motion for an extension, now seeking a March 4, 2011 deadline. See Docket Entry 91. Bending over backwards and despite its previous Order, the Court granted Plaintiff's request, giving him a last minute reprieve until February 14, 2011, so that he could finish work on his opposition over the weekend. In the Order, dated February 10, 2011, the Court noted that there would be "no further extensions."

On February 14, 2011, Plaintiff finally submitted his opposition on which Defendant relied in crafting and submitting its reply. Yet ten days after Defendant filed its reply, Plaintiff filed a second, 75-page set of opposition papers, prompting a ...


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