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Bridget Habe v. Bayville Avenue Restaurant Corp

January 12, 2012

BRIDGET HABE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
BAYVILLE AVENUE RESTAURANT CORP., DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

Plaintiff Bridget Habe sued Defendants 333 Bayville Avenue Restaurant Corporation (the "Corporation") and its sole shareholder, James Scoroposki, for employment discrimination. Plaintiff has since discontinued her case against Scoroposki (Docket Entry 14), and the Corporation now moves for summary judgment. For the following reasons, this motion is DENIED.

BACKGROUND*fn1

The Corporation owns and operates an upscale restaurant and catering facility at the Crescent Beach Club (the "Restaurant") overlooking the Long Island Sound in Bayville, New York. (Def. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 1.) Plaintiff was hired as an Assistant Restaurant Manager in April 2001. (Pl. 56.1 CntrStmt. ¶ 3.) She was promoted to Restaurant Manager in 2002 and served in that position until she was fired. As the Restaurant Manager, Plaintiff was responsible for the day-to-day operations of the Restaurant's "front of the house," meaning generally the operations of the Restaurant that occurred in the public eye. (See Def. 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 5-6.) Plaintiff reported to William Meis, the Restaurant's General Manager, and she was ultimately responsible to Scoroposki. (Id. ¶ 8.) Although he had no dayto-day responsibilities for the Restaurant, Scoroposki set the objectives and direction of the business and had the authority to fire Restaurant employees at will. (Id. ¶¶ 8-9.) Scoroposki and Meis viewed Plaintiff's initial performance as Restaurant Manager as satisfactory, and Plaintiff received annual raises and bonuses. (Id. ¶¶ 13-14.)

As late as February 28, 2006, Meis told Plaintiff that her performance had been excellent and that she was approved for another annual raise. (Pl. 56.1 Cntr-Stmt. ¶ 16; Habe Dep. 83-84.) During that same conversation, Plaintiff told Meis that she was pregnant. (Habe Dep. at 131; see Meis Dep. 83.) Meis immediately informed Scoroposki (Scoroposki Dep. 33), and Plaintiff told Scoroposki directly about her pregnancy on March 1, 2006 (Def. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 82). Plaintiff was fired on March 11, 2006, ten days later. (Id. ¶ 89.) Plaintiff had never received any written warnings about her performance (Pl. 56.1 Cntr-Stmt. ¶ 27), unlike other Restaurant employees who had been fired. Peter Bruce, Plaintiff's predecessor as Restaurant Manager, received at least two written warnings before being fired for misconduct (Meis Dep. 35-36), and one of her successors received one or two written warnings before being fired for sexual harassment (id. at 118-19). Meis testified that it was his policy to give employees one or two written warnings before terminating them. (Id.)

In defense, the Corporation maintains that, beginning in 2005, Scoroposki became dissatisfied with Plaintiff's performance for reasons that included her arriving to meetings late and unprepared and her falling short of the Restaurant's sales goals. (See, e.g., Def. 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 16, 21). According to the Corporation, Scoroposki's frustration with Plaintiff hit its boiling point on Valentine's Day 2006, the Restaurant's most important day of the off-season. According to Scoroposki, Plaintiff arrived late and did not prepare the facility for a smoothly-functioning evening. (See, e.g., Def. 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 40-58.) Although Scoroposki had considered firing Plaintiff throughout the fall of 2005, the Valentine's Day incident was what finally convinced him that he needed a new Restaurant Manager. (Scoroposki Dep. 33.) He had several conversations with Meis between February 21 (the day Meis returned from a vacation) and February 23. (Def. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 72.) He claims that he told Meis to fire Plaintiff during a call on February 23, before he learned that Plaintiff was pregnant. (Id. ¶¶ 73, 75.) Plaintiff disputes Defendant's account because, among other things, she was told that her work was excellent as late as February 2006 and Meis spoke with Defendant's controller to arrange Plaintiff's raise after Meis returned from vacation. (Pl. 56.1 Cntr-Stmt. ¶ 29.)

DISCUSSION

Plaintiff asserts claims for unlawful termination under Title VII and the New York State Human Rights Law, N.Y. EXEC. LAW § 290 et seq. (the "NYSHRL"). Defendant argues that Plaintiff cannot show that she was wrongfully terminated and that, even if she could, she is not entitled to front or back pay because she did not conduct a reasonable search for new employment. (Def. Br. 13, 17.) The Court will discuss the standard governing summary judgment motions and then turn to the parties' arguments.

I. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is only appropriate where the moving party can demonstrate that there is "no genuine dispute as to any material fact" and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a). In considering this question, the Court considers "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions on file, together with any other firsthand information including but not limited to affidavits." Nnebe v. Daus, 644 F.3d 147, 156 (2d Cir. 2011); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 2552, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 273 (1986); McLee v. Chrysler Corp., 109 F.3d 130, 134 (2d Cir. 1997); see also FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). "In assessing the record to determine whether there is a genuine issue to be tried . . . the court is required to resolve all ambiguities and draw all permissible factual inferences in favor of the party against whom summary judgment is sought." McLee, 109 F.3d at 134. The burden of proving that there is no genuine issue of material fact rests with the moving party. Gallo v. Prudential Residential Servs., L.P., 22 F.3d 1219, 1223 (2d Cir. 1994) (citing Heyman v. Com. & Indus. Ins. Co., 524 F.2d 1317, 1320 (2d Cir. 1975)). Once that burden is met, the non-moving party must "come forward with specific facts," LaBounty v. Coughlin, 137 F.3d 68, 73 (2d Cir. 1998), to demonstrate that "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party," Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 257, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 2514-15, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 218 (1986). "Mere conclusory allegations or denials will not suffice." Williams v. Smith, 781 F.2d 319, 323 (2d Cir. 1986). And "unsupported allegations do not create a material issue of fact." Weinstock v. Columbia Univ., 224 F.3d 33, 41 (2d Cir. 2000).

II. Defendant is not Entitled to Summary Judgment Questions of material fact preclude summary judgment in this case.

A. Plaintiff may have been Wrongfully Terminated

Because there is no direct evidence of discrimination, Plaintiff's claims that she was wrongfully fired because of her pregnancy are governed by the familiar McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework. E.g., DeMarco v. CooperVision, Inc., 369 F. App'x 254, 255 (2d Cir. 2010) (noting that McDonnell Douglas governs pregnancy discrimination claims under both Title VII and the NYSHRL) (citing McDonnell Douglas v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802-04, 93 S. Ct. 1817, 36 L. Ed. 2d 668 (1973). In this analysis, Plaintiff bears the initial burden of establishing a prima facie case of discrimination. Kerzer v. Kingly Mfg., 156 F.3d 396, 401 (2d Cir. 1998). If she satisfies this requirement, the burden shifts to Defendant to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its action. Id. Then, the burden shifts back to Plaintiff to offer evidence that Defendant's stated reason was merely a pretext for unlawful discrimination. Id.

Plaintiff has established a prima facie case of pregnancy discrimination. "A plaintiff can establish a prima facie case of pregnancy discrimination under Title VII by showing that: (1) she is a member of a protected class; (2) she satisfactorily performed the duties required by the position; (3) she was discharged; and (4) her position remained open and was ultimately filled by a non-pregnant employee." Id. (quoting Quaratino v. Tiffany & Co., 71 F.3d 58, 64 (2d Cir. 1995)). "Alternatively, a plaintiff may establish the fourth element of a prima facie case by demonstrating that the discharge occurred in circumstances giving rise to an inference of unlawful discrimination." Id. With respect to the second element, the question is whether Plaintiff was qualified for her job in that she had "the basic skills necessary." DeMarco v. Stony Brook Clinical Practice Mgmt. Plan, 348 F. App'x 651, 653 (2d Cir. 2009). Here, there is no serious question that Plaintiff (i) was a member of a protected class; (ii) had the basic skills required to be the Restaurant Manager, a position that she filled for four years; (iii) was fired; and (iv) was replaced by Steven Kelban, a ...


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