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Karen Jantz v. Emblem Health

February 6, 2012

KAREN JANTZ, PLAINTIFF,
v.
EMBLEM HEALTH, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: P. Kevin Castel, District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiff Karen Jantz brings this suit for employment discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., as amended by the Civil Rights Act of 1991 ("Title VII"). Plaintiff claims that defendant EmblemHealth Services Company, LLC ("EmblemHealth") discriminated against her on the basis of her sexual orientation and gender. Discovery in this case is complete, and the defendant has moved for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56, FED. R. CIV. P. For the reasons set forth below, the defendant's motion is granted.

BACKGROUND

The following facts are either not disputed by plaintiff or, where there is a dispute, plaintiff's evidence is accepted as true and all reasonable inferences are drawn in her favor as non-movant. See, e.g., Costello v. City of Burlington, 632 F.3d 41, 45 (2d Cir. 2011).

Plaintiff is a lesbian. (Compl. ¶ 7; Schmidt Decl. Ex. 6 ("Pl.'s Dep.") at 8.) Plaintiff began working for EmblemHealth in 1998 as a Manager of the Medical Management Call Center. Plaintiff's domestic partner, Toni-Ann Coyne, also worked for EmblemHealth as a nurse beginning in or around 2000. (Plaintiff's Rule 56.1 Counter Statement of Facts ("Pl.'s 56.1 Resp.") ¶ 4; Pl.'s Dep. at 62.)*fn1 Other employees became aware of plaintiff's sexual orientation and relationship with Coyne in 2002 or 2003. (Compl. ¶ 10; Ricotta Decl. Ex. 1 ("Pl.'s Dep.") at 9.)

I. Plaintiff's Allegations and Written Complaints of Discrimination

Beginning in 2003 or 2004, plaintiff allegedly began to suffer harassment and discriminatory treatment from two EmblemHealth employees, Dr. Dennis Liotta and Dr. Mark Cukierman. (Pl.'s Dep. at 78; Compl. ¶¶ 10, 12--15.) Dr. Liotta was the direct supervisor of Coyne, plaintiff's domestic partner. (Pl.'s Dep. at 63.) According to plaintiff, Dr. Liotta approached plaintiff's direct supervisor, Dr. Claudia Hanson, sometime in 2005 detailing a "laundry list" of issues he had with plaintiff and seeking to have plaintiff terminated "solely because of [her] relationship with" Coyne. (Id.)*fn2 Although plaintiff had previously reported to Dr. Liotta at some point in the "early 2000s," Dr. Liotta retained no supervisory authority over plaintiff or plaintiff's supervisor, Dr. Hanson. (Pl.'s 56.1 Resp. ¶ 5; Schmidt Decl. Ex. 12 ("Hanson Dep.") at 29--30.) Plaintiff also never reported to Dr. Cukierman at any point during her employment. (Pl.'s Dep. at 26--27.)

Plaintiff first notified EmblemHealth of discriminatory treatment in a meeting with Dr. Hanson in March 2005. In the meeting, Dr. Hanson told plaintiff that another employee, Dr. Ronald Platt, had accused plaintiff of "speaking poorly" of Dr. Liotta and Dr. Cukierman. (Pl.'s Dep. at 98.) Thereafter, plaintiff submitted a written complaint to Valerie Reardon, the Senior Vice President of Corporate Compliance, on April 20, 2005. (Ricotta Decl. Ex. 4; Pl.'s Dep. at 98.) In her letter to Reardon, plaintiff alleged that Dr. Platt's accusation coupled with "unscrupulous behavior" by Dr. Liotta and Dr. Cukierman were the result of her "being singled out because of [her] sexual orientation and the current employment issues surrounding [her] domestic partner Ms. Toni-Ann Coyne." (Ricotta Decl. Ex. 4 at 24--25.) EmblemHealth responded in May 2005 with a written letter promising to investigate plaintiff's allegations. (Pl.'s Dep. at 126--27.)

Plaintiff subsequently wrote at least five additional letters to EmblemHealth concerning discriminatory treatment she allegedly suffered in 2005 and 2006. In a May 19, 2005 letter to Michael Fullwood, Chief Financial Officer and General Counsel, plaintiff again complained of being "harassed, intimidated, [and] retaliated against because of [her] sexual orientation" and because of "issues surrounding" her relationship with Coyne, plaintiff's domestic partner. (Ricotta Decl. Ex. 5.) Plaintiff further detailed Dr. Liotta and Dr. Cukierman's "retaliatory efforts" in "walking past [her] office door staring at [plaintiff], passing sarcastic comments at meetings, attempting to exclude [plaintiff] from meetings . . . , and by continuing to present issues to [her] superiors that are simply not true . . . . because of [plaintiff's] sexuality." (Id. at 31.) Plaintiff wrote another letter to Fullwood dated June 15, 2005 in which she detailed the "continued efforts by Dr. Dennis Liotta and Dr. Mark Cukierman to harass, retaliate, and discriminate against" her. (Id. Ex. 6 at 32.) Nowhere in either letter did plaintiff allege mistreatment on any basis other than her sexual orientation.

EmblemHealth investigated plaintiff's complaints. (Pl.'s Dep. at 155.) The investigation, which included interviews of other EmblemHealth employees, found no evidence of discrimination based on plaintiff's sexual orientation or that plaintiff was being "retaliated against." (Id.) Plaintiff submitted another letter in November 2005 complaining that Dr. Platt retaliated against her by not inviting her to his retirement party. (Id. at 158--60.) Plaintiff testified as to having "no idea" why she wasn't invited but that she "assumed" it was attributable to her sexual orientation, gender, or "retaliatory" efforts by Dr. Platt. (Id. at 144, 158--60.)

Plaintiff did not complain to EmblemHealth of any further discriminatory or retaliatory acts until July 2006. (Pl.'s 56.1 Resp. ¶ 20.) In a letter to Fullwood dated July 25, 2006, plaintiff expressed frustration at the findings of EmblemHealth's investigation into her previous complaints. (Ricotta Decl. Ex. 7 at 35.) Specifically, plaintiff accused EmblemHealth of "misconstru[ing]" the dates in which Dr. Liotta spoke with Dr. Hanson in an effort to "rationalize Dr. Liotta's retaliatory actions." (Id. at 37.) Plaintiff reiterated that Dr. Liotta sought to have her fired "solely because of [her] relationship with Ms. Coyne." (Id. at 36.) To this letter, plaintiff received a written response dated July 27, 2006 from Assistant General Counsel Joan Ruby in which Ruby confirmed that the investigation uncovered no evidence that Dr. Liotta sought to have plaintiff terminated in June 2005 or that Dr. Hanson would "be influenced by such a statement." (Id. Ex. 8 at 38.)

In her final written complaint, dated July 28, 2006, plaintiff again expressed dissatisfaction with "the way [her] situation was be[ing] handed by" defendant's legal department. Plaintiff recounted a July 18, 2006 meeting wherein Dr. Hanson, in the presence of other EmblemHealth employees, reported that members of the legal department had openly discussed the investigation into plaintiff's allegations. (Id. Ex. 9 at 39.) Plaintiff cited the meeting as an example of the "inappropriate" and "unprofessional" way defendant was handling its investigation into her complaints. (Id.)

In addition to the allegations contained in her written complaints, plaintiff also alleges that at some point during her employment, Dr. Liotta retaliated by disinviting her from a meeting concerning the company's E-Time System, an electronic tool used to monitor employee hours. (Id. at 31--36.) Dr. Liotta and Dr. Cukierman also allegedly made it a habit to "walk by" plaintiff's office and "leer or stare" at her. (Id. at 45.) And on two occasions, Dr. Cukierman made "gender specific" comments that offended plaintiff. In one instance, he "insinuated" that plaintiff engage in oral sex with him, while another time he "stopped [plaintiff] on the street one day" and discussed "his bowel habits." (Id. at 50--51.)*fn3 Plaintiff could not recall the exact year when either comment was made. (Id. at 51.)

II. Plaintiff's Salary Increases and Yearly Performance Reviews

Throughout this period, EmblemHealth provided to plaintiff yearly performance evaluations and salary increases commensurate with performance. (See, e.g., Schmidt Decl. Exs. 7, 13, 14; Pl.'s Dep. at 82.) In December 2003, plaintiff received the highest possible evaluation rating and a salary increase for the work she performed in calendar year 2003. (Pl.'s 56.1 Resp. ¶¶ 11, 13.) Dr. Liotta had no involvement with plaintiff's 2003 performance evaluation. (Id. ¶ 14.)

Despite the allegedly discriminatory and retaliatory conduct of Dr. Liotta and Dr. Cukierman, EmblemHealth continued to provide plaintiff with positive reviews and salary increases. In November 2004, plaintiff was promoted to Administrative Director in the Case Management Department and received a raise in salary from $73,475 to $80,800. (Id. ¶ 15.) Less than a month later, plaintiff received another raise, increasing her yearly salary to $83,625. (Schmidt Decl. Ex. 10; Pl.'s 56.1 Resp. ¶ 15.) For the calendar year 2005, plaintiff received another raise and a grade of "Above Average." Plaintiff alleges that although her department began using a new curve system for its employees beginning that year, the fact that she was not graded as "significantly above average" as in her prior reviews was the result of retaliation by Dr. Platt. (Pl.'s Dep. at 169--80.) Plaintiff does not dispute that Dr. Platt authorized plaintiff's 2004 promotion and her three salary increases from 2003 through 2005. (Id. at 87--88, 123, 125.)

Plaintiff again received the highest possible rating in her annual reviews for years 2006 and 2007, resulting in salary increases of 5% and 7%, respectively. (Pl.'s 56.1 Resp. ¶¶ 28--29, 32.) Plaintiff had since begun reporting to Gail Nachbaur after her previous supervisor, Dr. Hanson, left EmblemHealth earlier in 2006. (Id. ¶ 26.) As with Dr. Hanson, Dr. Liotta had no supervisory authority over Nachbaur. (Nachbaur Dep. at 34, 40.) Neither Dr. Liotta nor Dr. Platt were involved in preparing plaintiff's 2006 or 2007 annual performance evaluations, nor did Dr. Liotta attempt to influence plaintiff's annual performance evaluations from 2005 through 2007. (Pl.'s Dep. at 222--23, 240--42.)

III. EmblemHealth's 2006 Merger and Plaintiff's Eventual Termination

In November 2006, EmblemHealth merged with another company. (Pl.'s 56.1

Resp. ¶ 27.) As a result, EmblemHealth began restructuring its business, including a substitution of its medical management data system. (Id. ¶ 37; Pl.'s Dep. at 250.) Plaintiff alleges that during the implementation of and training on the new "LandaCorp" system, Dr. Liotta "left [plaintiff] out of" several meetings. (Pl.'s Dep. at 29--30, 229--32.) Plaintiff ultimately testified to attending at least two meetings during the preliminary implementation and training on the LandaCorp system. (Id. at 236.)

Plaintiff was terminated in October 2008. (Id. at 55--56.) Plaintiff was informed that her position was being eliminated as a part of a company-wide reduction in force ("RIF") pursuant to the merger. (Pl.'s 56.1 Resp. ¶ 51.) The RIF resulted in the termination of approximately 59 other employees in addition to plaintiff. (Storniolo Decl. ¶¶ 4, 8.) Anthony Storniolo, EmblemHealth's Director of Healthcare Operations, attested that Dr. Liotta "was not involved in any way" in EmblemHealth's decision to implement a reduction in force or to eliminate plaintiff's position. (Id. ¶¶ 6--7.) Plaintiff testified to having no personal knowledge of which employees were responsible for eliminating her position or whether Dr. Liotta was involved in the decision-making process. (Pl.'s Dep. at 58--59, 266; Pl.'s 56.1 Resp. ¶ 56.)

There is no dispute that Dr. Liotta "never had any impact on" Dr. Hanson's supervision of plaintiff nor had any supervisory authority over Nachbaur during the time she supervised plaintiff from 2006 through her 2008 termination. (Pl.'s 56.1 Resp. ¶¶ 24, 43.) The parties also agree that Dr. Liotta never impacted or influenced Nachbaur's supervision of plaintiff from 2006 until plaintiff's 2008 termination. (Id. ¶ 45.) Immediately prior to her termination, plaintiff had received a paid leave of absence and, upon returning, permission to work fewer hours while maintaining her full salary and job title. (Schmidt Decl. Ex. 15; Pl.'s Dep. at 252, 259--64.)*fn4 Plaintiff secured full-time employment with another healthcare company on February 15, 2009. (Pl.'s Dep. at 293.) The position plaintiff held upon termination, Administrative Director of Case Management, has not been filled and no longer exists at EmblemHealth. (Storniolo Decl. ¶ 10; Nachbaur Dep. at 20.) Coyne, plaintiff's domestic partner of thirteen years, is still employed by EmblemHealth. (Pl.'s Dep. at 62--63.)

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff filed a verified complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights ("NYSDHR") on January 6, 2009, alleging unlawful discrimination "because of sexual orientation and retaliation." (Pl.'s 56.1 Resp. ΒΆΒΆ 59, 60; Schmidt Decl. Ex. 3.) On April 16, 2010, the NYSDHR issued a determination finding no probable cause to believe plaintiff suffered sexual orientation discrimination or retaliation for opposing such discrimination. (Schmidt Decl. Ex. 4 at 1.) Plaintiff thereafter received a right-to-sue letter from the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). (Id. at 4.) Plaintiff ...


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