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Daniel Coates v. City of Niagara Falls

January 6, 2012


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

Plaintiff Daniel Coates 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 Human Rights Law ("NYHRL"), 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.


The following facts are derived from defendants' statements of fact on summary judgment (Items 51-5 and 56) 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. Uniformed police officers, represented for collective bargaining purposes by the Niagara Falls Police Club, Inc. (the "Police Club"), were responsible for guarding male prisoners, and female civilian "Detention Aides," represented for collective bargaining purposes by Teamsters Local 264, were responsible for guarding female prisoners. Item 51-5, ¶¶ 1-5; Item 56, ¶¶ 1-2.

In March 2006 the City informed the Police Club that it was planning to convert the operations of the detention center to a full civilian staff and reassign the police officers guarding male prisoners to the patrol division. The Police Club filed an Improper Practice charge with the Public Employment Relations Board ("PERB") (Charge No. U-26776) alleging that the City's plan to "unilaterally transfer[ ] exclusive bargaining unit work to nonunit civilians" violated New York Civil Service Law § 209-a (commonly referred to as the "Public Employees' Fair Employment Act," or the "Taylor Law"). Item 64-4, p. 18. The Union intervened on behalf of Detention Aides, and reached an informal agreement with the City to the effect that, if the City was allowed to "civilianize" the male area of the detention center, the Union would become the exclusive collective bargaining representative for both male and female Detention Aides. Item 64-3, ¶ 8. In a decision dated April 25, 2008, PERB Administrative Law Judge M. Lynn Fitzgerald dismissed this charge, finding that civilian staffing of the detention center would not violate the Taylor Law because any resulting detriment to the interests of the public employees in the bargaining unit would be "minimal, particularly when compared to the benefit to the City in adding four additional officers to patrol." Item 64-4, p. 26.

In early 2007, while Charge No. U-26776 was pending, plaintiff was hired by the City as a Detention Aide. His probationary appointment became permanent in April 2008 following successful completion of a civil service examination. At about the same time plaintiff was hired, the City also hired David Locurto, a White male, and Crystal Klein, a White female, from the civil service list to work as Detention Aides. The male and female Detention Aides were hired at the same starting hourly wage ($10.00 per hour), but male aides were hired as full time employees and received fully paid health insurance, while female aides were hired as part-time employees and did not receive health insurance. Mr. Locurto's employment was terminated shortly after he was hired, leaving plaintiff as the only male Detention Aide. Item 51-5, ¶¶ 6-13; Item 56, ¶¶ 3-7.

In 2009 the City completed construction of a new public safety facility located on Main Street to accommodate a new detention center and City courthouse. In March 2009, the City notified the Union that, due to the layout of the new facility, a new policy would be implemented which allowed tasers to be used in secure areas of the detention center and, because civilians are prohibited under New York Penal Law from using tasers (see N.Y Penal Law §§ 265.01, 265.20), the Detention Aide position would be eliminated and prison guard services would be provided by uniformed police officers. Item 51-5, ¶¶ 19-20; Item 56, ¶¶ 18-22. As a result, in April 2009 the Union filed an Improper Practice charge with PERB objecting to the City's abolishment of the Detention Aide position. See Item 64-4, pp. 32-35.

In early May 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 age, race, and gender, in violation of New York Human Rights Law (Charge No. 10133572; cross-filed with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") as Charge No. 16GA903901). He alleged that, as a fifty-one year old African American male, he was being paid $10.00 per hour for performing the same job duties as female Detention Aides, who were being paid approximately $17.00 per hour, and police officers, who were being paid approximately $25.00 per hour. He also claimed that he received no vacation time, sick days, personal leave, or other benefits received by full-time City employees. See Item 54-1, pp. 2-7. On February 19, 2010, the NYSDHR issued a "Determination and Order After Investigation" finding no probable cause to believe the City engaged in unlawful discrimination. The determination was based on the following:

The investigation revealed that [plaintiff] and a younger, white female detention aide were hired around the same time and both earned $10.00 an hour. The file reflects that the other detention aides, prior to [plaintiff]'s hire, had obtained a higher rate of pay due to settlement of litigation alleging discrimination base on sex. The record indicates that at the time the Charge was filed and answered, there were ongoing discussions between [plaintiff]'s union and [the City] to address the pay issue. The record show [the City] hired [plaintiff] at age 48. The evidence indicates that, as of 5/09, the job title of Detention Aide was abolished. The evidence does not support a belief [plaintiff] was denied equal terms, conditions or privileges of employment because of his age, race/color or sex.

Item 54-1, pp. 7-8.

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 53-1, 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 Cleaner positions, 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 N/A $14,677.41

4. Susan Winchell 7/1/97 $12,531.00 N/A $12,531.00

5. Daniel Coates 1/2/07 $1,995.80 $7,000 $8,995.80

6. Crystal Klein 12/10/07 $573.33 $2,500 $3,573.33 ...

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