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Virginia Rosenberg v. Chesapeake Pharmaceutical and

August 27, 2012

VIRGINIA ROSENBERG, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CHESAPEAKE PHARMACEUTICAL AND HEALTH CARE PACKAGING, AND CHESAPEAKE PHARMACEUTICAL PACKAGING COMPANY LLC, DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

Plaintiff brings this action against defendants, her former employer, alleging gender discrimination in the workplace pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII") as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e, et seq., and New York Executive Law §290, et seq. ("NYHRL"). Before the Court is defendants' motion for summary judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. For the reasons that follow, defendants' motion is granted.

BACKGROUND

In 2006, Virginia Rosenberg ("plaintiff") was hired as Human Resources Manager for Arlington Press, a pharmaceutical packaging company, which was later acquired by Chesapeake Corporation and renamed Chesapeake Pharmaceutical & Health Care Packaging ("Chesapeake I"). (Defendants' Statement of Uncontested Facts Pursuant to Local Civil Rule 56.1 ("Defs.' 56.1") ¶ 2.)*fn1 Plaintiff remained under Chesapeake I's employ for over three years, during which time she received regular raises and satisfactory performance reviews. (Plaintiff's Affidavit in Opposition to Defendants' Motion ("Pl.'s Aff.") ¶ 18.) In early 2009, Chesapeake I underwent a corporate restructuring as a result of its having declared bankruptcy, and as a result of its having been bought out by Chesapeake Pharmaceutical Packaging Company ("Chesapeake II"). (Defs.' 56.1 ¶¶ 18-19.) Plaintiff volunteered to handle, among other things, the company's conversion to a new payroll and benefits computer system managed by ADP. (Pl.'s Aff. ¶ 24.)

Following this period of transition, plaintiff was informed that her position had been eliminated and that a "newly expanded" human resources position had been created for which she would not be considered. (Pl.'s Aff. ¶¶ 37-38; Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 61.) Chesapeake II, allegedly unhappy with plaintiff's performance during the transition, terminated plaintiff and hired Christopher Mathews ("Mathews")*fn2 -a male from outside the company-to fill the position. (Pl.'s Aff. ¶ 43; Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 60.)

Plaintiff alleges that Mathews is "less experienced, less educated and [] less qualified" for a position that entailed "the exact same duties [plaintiff] was performing at the time of [her] termination." (Pl.'s Aff. ¶¶ 47, 51.)

I.PLAINTIFF'S QUALIFICATIONS AND RESPONSIBILITIES AT CHESAPEAKE I

In 2006, Robin Henfling ("Henfling"), the President of Chesapeake I, hired plaintiff for the Human Resources Manager position at Chesapeake I's operating plant in Lake Success, New York ("Long Island office").*fn3 (Defs.' 56.1 ¶¶ 3, 5.) At the time of plaintiff was hired, Chesapeake I also maintained plants in Lexington and Raleigh, North Carolina, with its corporate headquarters located in Richmond, Virginia. (Id. ¶ 5.)

a.Plaintiff's Qualifications and Credentials

Plaintiff has a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology from Montclair State University and a Master's Degree in Applied Psychology from Stevens Institute of Technology. (Pl.'s Aff. ¶ 4.) In 2002, Plaintiff obtained her Senior Professional Human Resources (SPHR) Certification from the Society of Human Resources Management. (Id. ¶ 5.) Plaintiff had approximately ten years of experience working in various human resources positions prior to her position with Defendants. (Id. ¶ 6.) In a majority of these positions, plaintiff was responsible for administering and overseeing payroll and benefits for company employees. (Id. ¶ 8.)

b.Plaintiff's Responsibilities at Chesapeake I

In her role as Human Resources Manager, plaintiff had numerous responsibilities including, but not limited to, designing and implementing policies and procedures relating to human resources, recruiting and interviewing prospective employees, assuring company compliance with Equal Employment Opportunity standards, investigating workplace accidents, assisting with union contracts and negotiations, and performing anti-harassment training for management. (Pl.'s Aff. ¶¶ 12-16.) Additionally, plaintiff counts among her responsibilities "act[ing] as a liaison between the Long Island office and Chesapeake Headquarters with regard to benefit programs." (Id. ¶ 13.) Among the "essential accountabilities" listed in plaintiff's job description is the administration of benefit programs provided to employees as well as "wage and salary administration and data input." (Job Description, Pl.'s Ex. C.) However, despite its inclusion in her job description, plaintiff did not actually administer benefits or handle payroll for Chesapeake I -- a fact that neither party disputes. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 22.) In fact, defendants assert that one of their corporate employees in Richmond, Virginia, Janet Whitley, was responsible for administering Chesapeake I's benefits and for handling payroll for all of the company's locations. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 15.)

Plaintiff received a number of positive performance reviews, (see Pl.'s Aff. ¶ 18; Pl.'s Ex. E), as well as several raises during her tenure at Chesapeake I, (Pl.'s Aff. ¶ 18; Pl.'s Ex. F). It is plaintiff's belief that she had a good relationship with all of her supervisors, including Henfling. (Pl.'s Aff. ¶ 17.)

c.Plaintiff's Involvement in the Corporate Restructuring and Transition from Chesapeake I to Chesapeake II

In December 2008, Chesapeake I declared bankruptcy. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 18.) On May 1, 2009, Chesapeake Pharmaceutical Packaging Company ("Chesapeake II") purchased Chesapeake I's assets as well as its brand name, prompting Chesapeake I to terminate all of its employees, including plaintiff. (Id. ¶ 19.) On May 1, 2009, Chesapeake II subsequently hired back plaintiff in addition to other former Chesapeake I employees. (Id.) Henfling, who became President of Chesapeake II, was responsible for the entirety of the corporate restructuring and transition. (Id.¶¶ 19, 23.)

As part of this restructuring, Chesapeake II began looking into administering its own benefits and payroll at its Long Island office, rather than at the Chesapeake Headquarters in Richmond. (Id. ¶ 24.) Given her experience in handling benefits and payroll at other companies, and recognizing Chesapeake II's need for transitional help in converting to new payroll and benefits systems, plaintiff volunteered to handle this aspect of the transition. (Pl.'s Aff. ¶¶ 22-24.) She further volunteered to manage the payroll and benefits going forward as part of Chesapeake II's operations. (Id. ¶ 24.) Although neither party disputes that plaintiff was to have a "substantial role" in the conversion process, (id. ¶ 26), the parties appear to disagree as to the extent to which plaintiff was expected to take a leadership role in said process.*fn4

Defendants maintain that plaintiff performed poorly during the transition from Chesapeake I to Chesapeake II and that, during the transition, Henfling found plaintiff "to be disorganized, not attentive to details and[] incapable of managing the project." (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 40 (citing Henfling Dep. 70-71).) Defendants contend that, as a result, Henfling had to become "intimately involved in the minutiae of the payroll and benefits conversion project, performing tasks that plaintiff was expected to have handled in an organized fashion." (Id. at ¶ 52.) Specifically, defendants blame plaintiff for a number of alleged blunders, including mixing up the dates for meetings between benefit vendors and Chesapeake employees,*fn5 (id. at ¶¶ 45-46), failing to compile necessary forms (such as the W-4, I-9, and benefit-enrollment documents) into organized packages to be distributed to employees which would have allowed Chesapeake to capture necessary data in an ordered fashion, (id. at ¶ 55), and committing a number of errors on a spreadsheet containing 401(k) deduction data, (id. at ¶ 52). Plaintiff contends that, "until May 7, 2009, [she] never received any criticism, complaints and/or concerns regarding [her] work performance while . . . employed by the Defendants." (Pl.'s Aff. ¶ 29.)

d.Plaintiff's Termination

On May 7, 2009, Plaintiff was invited to lunch by Mr. John McKeough ("McKeough"), defendants' Vice President of Operations. (Pl.'s Aff. ¶ 30.) During this lunch meeting, McKeough informed plaintiff that Henfling "wasn't feeling confident in [plaintiff's] abilities." (Id. at ¶ 31.) However, plaintiff contends that the only specific criticism McKeough was able to provide was that plaintiff had a "messy" desk. (Id. at ¶ 32.) McKeough then offered plaintiff two options: she could either proceed with the same job she had been performing since February with a "written warning" in her file, or she could accept an undefined severance package.*fn6 (Id. at ¶ 33.) Plaintiff subsequently informed McKeough that she would prefer to stay with the company. (Id. at ¶ 36.) Days later, however, plaintiff was informed that, as a result of the creation of a "newly expanded" Human Resources position, plaintiff's position had been eliminated and, as a result, the offer to stay on the job with a written warning had been rescinded. (Pl.'s Aff. ¶¶ 37-38; Defs.' 56.1 ¶¶ 61-62.) Plaintiff's last day of work was June 30, 2009. (Pl.'s Aff. ¶ 39.)

II.MATHEWS'S QUALIFICATIONS AND RESPONSIBILITIES AT CHESAPEAKE II

a.Mathews's Qualifications and Credentials

Mathews began working for Chesapeake II as the "Human Resources and Benefits Manager, North America" on July 6, 2009. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 80.) He has been employed with Defendants ever since.

Mathews earned a Bachelor's Degree in Business Management from Johnson and Wales University in 2004. (Id. at ¶ 74; Mathews Resume, Pl.'s Ex. K.) In his most recent position, which he held for four years, Mathews was "responsible for managing human resources for approximately 500 employees at eight sites throughout the Country." (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 73.) In other prior positions, Mathews dealt with union-related issues, had multi-site responsibilities, supervised other human-resource employees, and handled a payroll and benefits transition to an ADP/HRB system -- the new system to which Chesapeake II had just transitioned at the time of his hire. (Id. at ¶ 78.) Mathews does not have a certificate from SPHR. (Id. at ¶ 79.)

b.Mathews's Position at Chesapeake II

The Human Resources and Benefits Manager position is described as one which "provides leadership and direction to Chesapeake North American operations," and acts "as a strategic partner to the Senior Management Team and [is] responsible for managing and leading the Human Resources and Administrative functions." (See Job Description, Pl.'s Ex. M.) According to defendants, Mathews's overall responsibilities include "manag[ing] and oversee[ing] human resources for the New York, Lexington and Raleigh facilities," "administer[ing] benefits for all three facilities including rolling-out and negotiating the benefit plans," and acting as "the human resources liaison with Chesapeake II's European corporate parent." (Defs.' 56.1 ΒΆ 81.) Additionally, ...


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