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Mary Richardson v. City of Niagara Falls

January 6, 2012

MARY RICHARDSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY OF NIAGARA FALLS, NEW YORK, THE INTERNATIONAL BROTHERHOOD OF TEAMSTERS, TEAMSTERS JOINT COUNCIL NO. 46, AND THE INTERNATIONAL BROTHERHOOD OF TEAMSTERS, LOCAL NO. 264, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John T. Curtin United States District Judge

Plaintiff Mary Richardson brought this action against the City of Niagara Falls, New York (the "City"), the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and Teamsters Local No. 264 (collectively, the "Union"), asserting claims for discrimination and retaliation on the basis of race (African American) in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1991, 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and the New York State Human Rights Law ("NYSHRL"), N.Y. Exec. Law § 296, as well as a "hybrid" claim for breach of the collective bargaining agreement between the City and the Union in violation of Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act ("LMRA"), 29 U.S.C. § 185, and breach of the Union's duty of fair representation in violation of Section 9(a) of the National Labor Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. § 159(a). Both the City and the Union have moved for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, the summary judgment motions are granted.

BACKGROUND

The following facts are derived from defendants' statements of fact on summary judgment (Items 53-5 and 54-1) and supporting affidavits and exhibits, submitted in accordance with Rule 56 of the Local Rules of Civil Procedure for the Western District of New York.*fn1

For many years, the City Police Department operated a detention center at police headquarters, located on Hyde Park Boulevard, where prisoners and detainees were held for short periods of time. Male and female prisoners were processed and held in separate areas of the detention center. Female civilian Detention Aides, represented for collective bargaining purposes by Teamsters Local 264, were responsible for guarding female prisoners. Item 53-5, ¶¶ 1-4.

Plaintiff was hired by the City on December 5, 1988 as a part-time Auxiliary Policewoman, later reclassified to Detention Aide. In that position, plaintiff had the responsibility of guarding female prisoners in the City Jail under the direct supervision of the City Police Department. From July 20, 2000 through May 31, 2004 (a period of 3 years, 10 months, and 11 days), plaintiff was out of work and off the City payroll due to non-occupational medical reasons. She returned to work in June 2004 after she passed a physical exam. Item 54-1, ¶¶ 1-4.

Prior to plaintiff's return to work, the City consulted the Union in order to properly adjust plaintiff's seniority date to account for the long period of time that she was off the City payroll. The City and Union agreed that, in accordance with City ordinances and Civil Service rules governing medical leave, plaintiff should be credited for her first year of absence, but not for the next 2 years, 10 months, and 11 days, since the City could have terminated her employment after one year of unexplained absence. See, e.g., N.Y. Civil Service Law § 73. As a result, at the time she returned to work in June 2004, plaintiff's seniority date was adjusted to October 16, 1991, placing her third on the seniority list for Detention Aides for purposes of scheduling and overtime. Item 54-1, ¶¶ 5-14.

In December 2008, following plaintiff's repeated requests for review of her seniority status, the City sent plaintiff a letter notifying her that:

After further review of the basis on which your benefit date for purposes of scheduling and call-in for extra time (only) was established, (not the seniority date for lay off purposes), the City Administration has agreed to restore this date to your original date of hire as a part-time Auxiliary Policewoman, which was 12/5/88. This action is being taken despite the fact that you were off work for a period of 3 years, 10 months and 11 days, from July 20, 2000 through May 31, 2004. After reviewing your case, it was determined that, althought eh normal process was not followed, this was through no fault of your own.

Item 57-1, p. 18. As a result, in March 2009 the Union filed an Improper Practice charge with the Public Employment Relations Board ("PERB") (Charge No. U-28788), alleging that the City violated New York Civil Service Law §§ 209-a.1(a) and (d) (commonly referred to as the "Public Employees' Fair Employment Act," or the "Taylor Law") by directly dealing with a member of the bargaining unit without notice to the Union, which resulted in the displacement of more senior Detention Aides from preferred shifts and overtime assignments. See Item 53-4, pp. 21-25.

Also in March 2009, upon completion of a new public safety facility to house the City courthouse and attached detention center, the City notified the Union that the Detention Aide position would be eliminated and prison guard services would be provided by uniformed police officers. This was due to the implementation of a new policy allowing tasers to be used in secure areas of the new facility, and civilians are prohibited under New York Penal Law from using tasers. See N.Y Penal Law §§ 265.01, 265.20. As a result, on April 24, 2009, the Union filed an Improper Practice charge with PERB objecting to the City's abolishment of the Detention Aide position. See Item 53-4, pp. 27-30.

On April 17, 2009, plaintiff filed a verified complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights ("NYSDHR") against the City charging discrimination in employment on the basis of race, in violation of New York Human Rights Law (Charge No. 10133053; cross-filed with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") as Charge No. 16GA903508). She alleged that the City discriminated against her by ranking two later-hired Caucasian employees above her on the seniority list. See Item 56-1, pp. 2-3. On October 10, 2009, NYSDHR issued an order dismissing this charge as "untimely because it was not filed with the Division within one year after the alleged unlawful discriminatory practice [namely, her seniority ranking upon returning to work in June 2004], as required by Section 297.5 of the Human Rights Law." Id. at 6.

Meanwhile, in May and June 2009, representatives from the City and the Union engaged in extensive settlement negotiations regarding the propriety and impact of the decision to transfer Detention Aides' duties to uniformed police officers, and the parties asked PERB to postpone any action on the pending Improper Practice charges related to this issue while negotiations were ongoing. As a result of the negotiations, the Union and the City reached a "Settlement Agreement" in June 2009 whereby the City agreed to award severance pay to Detention Aides based on their years of service, according to the following formula:

Years of Service Weeks of Severance Pay

1 year but not more than 2 years 2 2 years but not more than 5 years 5 5 years but not more than 10 years 8 10 years but not more than 15 years 12 15 years but not more than 20 years 20 20 years but not more than 25 years 25 More than 25 years 52 See Item 55-1, pp. 13-17. As an alternative to severance, the City agreed to offer Detention Aides continued employment with the City in a "Cleaner" position at full time pay and benefits. See id. at 14-15.

To implement the Settlement Agreement, the City and the Union negotiated a separate "Separation and General Release" for each of the eight Detention Aides (the "Separation Agreements"). See id. at 20-67. Two of the eight Detention Aides (Emily Belkota and Pearl Murphy) accepted jobs as Cleaners, and the remaining six were offered the following consideration in their respective Separation Agreements (listed here in order of seniority):

Name Hire Date Severance Amt. Add'l Amt. Total

1. Donna Donohue 1/16/90 $23,362.70 N/A $23,362.70

2. Kathleen Terrana 1/22/90 $18,693.25 N/A $18,693.25

3. Mary Richardson 10/16/91 $14,677.41 ...


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