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Robert D. Hunter v. County of Albany

June 29, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gary L. Sharpe District Court Judge


I. Introduction

Plaintiff Robert Hunter maintains this action against defendant County of Albany, asserting claims of unlawful discrimination and harassment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964*fn1 and New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL).*fn2 (See 2d Am. Compl., Dkt. No. 95.) Pending is Albany County's motion for summary judgment. (Dkt. No. 100.) For the reasons that follow, Albany County's motion is granted and Hunter's complaint is dismissed.

II. Background

Plaintiff Robert Hunter, a Native American, began his employment with defendant Albany County as a corrections officer on September 7, 2001. (See Def. SMF ¶ 1, Dkt. No. 100:25; Pl. Resp. SMF ¶ 3, Dkt. No. 106.) Hunter alleges that during his employment, he was subjected to a discriminatory, hostile, and offensive work environment that included ridicule and harassment, derogatory remarks, and racial epithets and name calling. (See 2d Am. Compl. ¶¶ 7-8, Dkt. No. 95.)

On November 26, 2007, Hunter filed a charge of race-based discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the New York State Division of Human Rights. (See Wukitsch Aff., Exs. E, F, Dkt. No. 100:7-8.) Shortly thereafter, on January 30, 2008,

Hunter filed a complaint with the Albany County Affirmative Action Office (AAO) in which he alleged that he was subjected to derogatory comments regarding his national origin; was depicted with other officers in a video of an inmate escape that was set to the Benny Hill Show theme song, Yakety Sax; was ordered to perform fifteen-minute rounds; was criticized by management for filing a disciplinary report against an inmate for faking a medical emergency; received a poster which depicted Native Americans and had the words "The Hunter Family" written on it; and was told that unless he dropped his claims, a discrimination complaint would be filed against him. (See Def. SMF ¶¶ 7, 12, Dkt. No. 100:25; see also Wukitsch Aff., Ex. U, Dkt. No. 100:23.) Upon completing an investigation of Hunter's claims, the AAO issued a decision dismissing most of Hunter's claims but finding that the poster incident was improper and evidenced potential discrimination. (See Def. SMF ¶¶ 8-9, Dkt. No. 100:25.) In response, the Albany County Sheriff took remedial actions, which included ordering all staff to attend personal awareness training and, at lineup, re-instructing all staff of the County's anti-discrimination policies, rules of conduct, and avenues of redress. (See id. at ¶¶ 9-11.)

On August 6, 2008, the EEOC issued a right-to-sue letter to Hunter notifying him of the right to file a civil action under Title VII. (See id.) Consequently, on December 1, 2008, Hunter commenced this action against Albany County and several other defendants. (See Compl., Dkt. No. 1.) During the pendency of this action, Hunter filed a workers' compensation claim against Albany County. (See Def. SMF ¶ 13, Dkt. No. 100:25.) A workers' compensation hearing was held on February 25, 2009. (See id. at ¶ 14.) At the hearing, Hunter was represented by counsel, testified, and had the opportunity to submit evidence and cross-examine witnesses. (See id. at ¶¶ 14-15.) On April 7, 2009, the Workers' Compensation Judge issued a decision denying Hunter's claim based on a finding that Hunter was a willing participant in the discriminatory conduct because he had also engaged in derogatory behavior and made ethnic and racial comments at the facility. (See id. at ¶ 16; see also Wukitsch Aff., Ex. T, Dkt. No. 100:22.)

Hunter resigned from his employment with Albany County on June 28, 2010. (See Def. SMF ¶ 17, Dkt. No. 100:25.) He contends, in conclusory fashion, that as a result of Albany County's discriminatory behavior, he was "denied various benefits of employment, including but not limited to, promotional opportunities, normal career progression, and benefits, and was compelled to leave his position of employment with the County." (2d Am. Compl. ¶ 10, Dkt. No. 95.)

In December 2010, Hunter stipulated to, and the court ordered, the dismissal of all claims against all defendants except the Title VII and NYSHRL claims against Albany County. (See Dkt. Nos. 94, 99.) Albany County subsequently moved for summary judgment. (Dkt. No. 100.)

III. Standard of Review

The standard for the grant of summary judgment is well established and will not be repeated here. For a full discussion of the standard, the court refers the parties to its previous opinion in Bain v. Town of Argyle, 499 F. Supp. 2d 192, 194-95 (N.D.N.Y. 2007).

IV. Discussion

Albany County argues that Hunter's discrimination and hostile work environment claims are founded on a set of sporadic acts that occurred outside the limitations period, and that such acts fail to provide an adequate basis for liability under Title VII and NYSHRL. (See Def. Mem. of Law at 9-11, 15-23, Dkt. No. 100:24; Def. Reply Mem. of Law at 1-7, Dkt. No. 108.) Without any meaningful discussion of the facts, Hunter counters that his claims were timely made within the harbor of the continuing violation doctrine, and that he has established a case of discrimination and hostile work environment. (See Pl. Resp. Mem. of Law at 3-8, 11-14, Dkt. No. 105.) Upon review of the record, and with a particular focus on Hunter's testimony and affidavit, (see Dkt. ...

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