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William J. v. Allvac

August 23, 2012

WILLIAM J. HUNTER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ALLVAC, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: William M. Skretny Chief Judge

DECISION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff William J. Hunter seeks damages for alleged violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq. by his employer, Defendant Allvac. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant impermissibly discriminated against him on the basis of race, he was subjected to sexual harassment and a hostile work environment, and that Defendant improperly retaliated against him for filing grievances. Pending before this Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.*fn1 For the reasons discussed below, this Court finds the matter fully briefed and oral argument unnecessary, and concludes that Defendant's motion should be granted.

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, an African-American male, has been employed by Defendant since 1986, and has worked as a Furnace Operator Helper Job Class 2 in the company's Remelt Department since 2005. (Decl. of Jeff Gmerek ¶¶ 19-21, Docket No. 15-1; Dep. of Plaintiff William J. Hunter at 20-24, Appendix ("App.") Ex. G, Docket No. 16-7.) Prior to 2006, Defendant operated seven furnaces in this department: six Electro Slag Remelt ("ESR") furnaces and one Vacuum Arc Remelt ("VAR") furnace. (Gmerek Decl. ¶ 12.) Three additional VAR furnaces were added after 2006. (Gmerek Decl. ¶ 12; Pl.'s Dep. at 58-59.) There is a Group Leader assigned to each shift in the department, which is a promotion given based on availability to the most senior employee determined to be capable of directing other operators and helpers. (Gmerek Decl. ¶ 16.)

In order to receive a promotion to Group Leader, and the accompanying raise in pay, an employee must be trained in the operation of all furnaces, and be able to properly operate multiple furnaces simultaneously. (Gmerek Decl. ¶ 16; Pl.'s Dep. at 46.) Plaintiff alleges that the training he received on Furnace No. 6, the VAR furnace, was deliberately inadequate in comparison to the training received by employees who were either Caucasian or perceived to be Caucasian. (Compl. ¶ 9-10.) Plaintiff asserts that, as a result of the perfunctory training, he was improperly precluded from receiving a promotion to Group Leader until November 2009, after one Caucasian employee with less seniority had already been promoted. (Compl. ¶¶10-12, 26.) Plaintiff's union filed grievances in 2007 and 2008 alleging failure to promote in violation of the governing collective bargaining agreement; both grievances, however, were later withdrawn by the union after discussions with management. (Pl.'s Aff. ¶¶ 13, 15, 18, Docket No. 20-2; Gmerek Decl. ¶ 32; App. Ex. L.)

Plaintiff further asserts that in August and September 2007 he received a harsher punishment for damaging equipment than similarly situated Caucasian co-workers. (Pl.'s Aff. ¶¶ 16; see Gmerek Decl. ¶¶ 37-39.) Further, Plaintiff asserts that he "was singled out with regard to drug testing" on June 20, 2008. (Pl.'s Aff. ¶ 19.) Plaintiff does not dispute that he tested 'non-negative' twice during an annual physical examination before being sent offsite for a urinalysis. (Def.'s St. of Undisputed Facts ¶¶ 51-52; Pl.'s Aff. ¶¶ 19, 21.) Plaintiff argues, however, that two Caucasian employees who had not filed grievances also tested 'non-negative,' but that the testing device was recalibrated for those employees, who then tested negative without off site referral. (Pl.'s Aff. ¶ 22.) Plaintiff was suspended for approximately a week without pay, but received back pay for that time when the test results came back negative. (Pl.'s Dep. at 100-101.) Finally, Plaintiff asserts that he has been subjected to ongoing harassment based on his perceived homosexuality. (Compl. ¶¶ 19-22.)

In August 2008, Plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the New York State Department of Human Rights ("NYSDHR") alleging race discrimination and ongoing sexual harassment. (App. Ex. A (NYSDHR Charge), Docket No. 16-1.) This charge was cross-filed at that time with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). (Compl. ¶ 6 (b).) The NYSDHR determined that there was no probable cause to believe that Defendant engaged in discriminatory conduct, (App. Ex. C (Determination), Docket No. 16-3.), and on August 18, 2010, the EEOC adopted the findings of the NYSDHR and issued a right-to-sue letter to Plaintiff. (App. Ex. D (Notice), Docket No. 16-4.) Plaintiff commenced the instant action in this Court in November 2010.

III. DISCUSSION

Summary judgment is appropriate, even in a discrimination case, where "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Weinstock v. Columbia Univ., 224 F.3d 33, 41 (2d Cir. 2000), (internal quotation marks omitted), cert denied 540 U.S. 811 (2003); see Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 (a), (c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). A court's function on a summary judgment motion "is not to resolve disputed questions of fact but only to determine whether, as to any material issue, a genuine factual dispute exists." Kaytor v. Electric Boat Corp., 609 F.3d 537, 545 (2d Cir. 2010). "A dispute regarding a material fact is genuine 'if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.' " Weinstock 224 F.3d at 41 (quoting Anderson

v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986)). In reaching a determination, the record is not to be considered "in piecemeal fashion, trusting innocent explanations for individual strands of evidence; rather, it must 'review all of the evidence in the record.' " Kaytor, 609 F.3d at 545 (quoting Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150, 120 S.Ct. 2097, 147 L.Ed.2d 105 (2000)). Further, a court must "construe the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and must resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences against the movant." Dallas Aerospace, Inc. v. CIS Air Corp., 352 F.3d 775, 780 (2d Cir.2003).

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it unlawful for an employer "to discriminate against any individual with respect to his [or her] compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2 (a)(1). Here, the Plaintiff's complaint alleges that Defendant violated Title VII by (1) discriminating against Plaintiff based on his race; (2) failing to take any corrective action with respect to the sexual harassment and hostile work environment to which Plaintiff was subjected; and (3) retaliating against Plaintiff for filing grievances regarding improper training and promotional practices. In determining a motion for summary judgment on any of these claims, courts apply the familiar burden-shifting analysis of McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802-805, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973). See Kaytor, 609 F.3d at 552; Dawson v. Bumble & Bumble, 398 F.3d 211, 216-217 (2d Cir.2005); Terry v. Ashcroft, 336 F.3d 128, 137-138 (2d Cir. 2003). Under this framework, a plaintiff must first establish a prima facie Title VII violation by showing that: "1) he belonged to a protected class; 2) he was qualified for the position; 3) he suffered an adverse employment action; and 4) the adverse employment action occurred under circumstances giving rise to an inference of discriminatory intent." Terry, 336 F.3d at 138. This initial burden is de minimus, and once a plaintiff meets it, the burden shifts to the defendants to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for alleged discriminatory action. See Ruiz v. Cnty. of Rockland, 609 F3d 486, 492 (2d Cir. 2010); see also Carlton v. Mystic Transp., Inc., 202 F.3d 129, 134 (2d Cir. 2000)(describing a plaintiff's initial burden as minimal), cert denied 530 U.S. 1261 (2000).

"Upon the defendant's articulation of such a non-discriminatory reason for the employment action, the presumption of discrimination arising with the establishment of the prima facie case drops from the picture." Weinstock, 224 F.3d at 42. A plaintiff must then come forward with sufficient evidence that the articulated reason is a mere pretext for actual discrimination, as well as sufficient evidence upon which a trier of fact may reasonably conclude that plaintiff's assertion of intentional discrimination is true. Weinstock, 224 F.3d at 42, citing St. Mary's Honor Ctr. v. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502, 519, 113 S.Ct. 2742, 125 L.Ed.2d 407 ...


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