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Margaret Piston v. County of Monroe

September 27, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Marian W. Payson United States Magistrate Judge



Plaintiff Margaret Piston ("Piston") has sued Monroe County and her former supervisor Mary Quinlivan ("Quinlivan") under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq., the New York State Human Rights Law ("NYHRL"), N.Y. Exec. L. §§ 296 et seq., and the Equal Protection Clause for same-sex discrimination during her employment. (Docket # 14). Specifically, Piston contends that Quinlivan created a hostile work environment by verbally abusing her, requiring her to work longer hours than her male co-workers and denying her training opportunities. Piston further alleges that she was laid off and rejected for re-employment in retaliation for complaining about the discrimination.

Piston's complaint asserts the following claims: Title VII claims against Monroe County for disparate treatment, hostile work environment and retaliation; NYHRL claims against Quinlivan as an aider and abettor for discrimination and retaliation;*fn1 a Section 1983 claim against the County for discrimination based on the Equal Protection Clause; a Section 1983 claim against the County and Quinlivan for retaliation based on the First Amendment; and, a claim for punitive damages against Quinlivan.*fn2 (Docket # 14 at ¶¶ 42-58, 59-66, 67-72 , 73-77, 78-80).

Currently pending before the Court is defendants' motion for summary judgment.*fn3

(Docket # 41). For the reasons discussed below, defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part.*fn4


I. Overview of IS Department, SAP Project and Employees

Piston worked for Monroe County in the Information Services Department (the "IS Department") for over twenty-seven years, from October 14, 1980 until the date of her termination, December 14, 2007. (Docket # 43 at ¶ 7). In 1980, Piston began as a Computer Operator; at the time she was terminated, Piston's title was Programmer Analyst II. (Id. at ¶ 8). According to Piston, during her tenure with the County, she consistently received satisfactory or above-average performance reviews. (Docket # 43-5 at ¶ 4; Piston Dep.*fn5 at 95).

Quinlivan worked as the IS Department's Computer Project Coordinator and supervised Piston from October 1998 until January 2007. (Docket # 43 at ¶¶ 13, 15). During the relevant time period, Quinlivan supervised a programming group consisting of six male employees and Piston. (Id. at ¶ 17; Quinlivan Dep.*fn6 at 33-34). The six males were: Bob Shaw, Bill Monnate, Chuck Palmiere, Joe Arena, Kelvin Connor and Selva Gnaneswara. (Quinlivan Dep. at 33-34). Of that group, Connor was the only other Programmer Analyst II. (Rivera Dep.*fn7 at 21-22).

The IS Department was responsible for providing technology, computer hardware and software support and project management services to all County departments. (Docket # 43 at ¶ 1). Part of the IS Department's responsibilities included the implementation of computer, telephone and network systems. (Id. at ¶ 2). In January 2004, Nelson Rivera ("Rivera") was appointed Director of the IS Department, and, in that capacity, supervised approximately fifty employees. (Id. at ¶¶ 18-20). Quinlivan reported to Dave Wirley ("Wirley") until September 2007, when Barbara Frisina ("Frisina") became Quinlivan's supervising manager. (Id. at ¶¶ 11-12; Quinlivan Dep. at 40).

In early 2005, the IS Department was involved in a project to implement a new software system known as "SAP." (Docket # 43 at ¶¶ 3-5). The new system became operational for the Finance and Purchasing Department on January 3, 2006, and for the Payroll and Human Resources Department in June 2006. (Id. at ¶ 4; Quinlivan Dep. at 61-62; Rivera Dep. at 33).

Piston was responsible for the security of the new system, which required her to perform some of the final tasks before the system became operational. (Docket # 43 at ¶ 10).

II. Allegations of Discriminatory Treatment

According to Piston, Quinlivan treated her differently than her male co-workers by constantly subjecting her to verbal abuse, requiring her to work longer hours and favoring male employees over her for training opportunities. (Docket # 43-5 at ¶ 5).

A. Verbal Abuse

Piston claims that in January 2006 Quinlivan began to berate, criticize and scream at her during department meetings. (Id. at ¶ 9). According to Piston, Quinlivan did not treat the male employees in her group in the same manner. (Id. at ¶¶ 10-11). Piston alleges that in March 2006 she asked Quinlivan why she was treating her differently than her male co-workers, and Quinlivan denied that she was treating Piston differently and "agreed not to speak to Piston at future meetings." (Id. at ¶¶ 12-13; Piston Dep. at 27).

That same month, Piston complained about Quinlivan's harassment to Wirley, Quinlivan's supervisor, who responded that he had also "had problems" with Quinlivan and agreed to speak to her. (Docket # 43-5 at ¶¶ 16-17). According to Piston, Wirley took no action, however, and Quinlivan's harassment "intensified." (Id. at ¶¶ 18-19). In March 2006, Piston also complained about Quinlivan's treatment to the County's Employee Assistance Program ("EAP"). (Id. at ¶ 24). EAP recommended that Piston speak with Rivera.*fn8 (Id. at ¶ 25).

According to Piston, after she complained to EAP, Quinlivan's treatment again worsened. (Id. at ¶¶ 27, 29). Piston affirms that in June 2006 Quinlivan called her a "bitch" in front of Wirley and Frisina, who did nothing in response. (Id. at ¶ 20; Piston Dep. at 31). Piston further states that on June 9 and 29, 2006, Quinlivan screamed at her in front of her male colleagues. (Docket # 43-5 at ¶¶ 21, 28).

Piston claims that after the June incidents, Quinlivan subjected her to "screaming rants on a daily basis." (Id. at ¶ 34). In addition, Quinlivan allegedly told Piston's co-workers to "stay away" from her and in February 2007 admonished one of Piston's co-workers, "while pounding on her desk with her fists," not to email Piston or ask her for assistance. (Id. at ¶¶ 35-36; Piston Dep. at 49).

Piston described one meeting in which Quinlivan became so "highly agitated" with her that Rivera advised her to leave the meeting, noting that Quinlivan was "very excitable." (Piston Dep. at 60). On another occasion, Quinlivan allegedly screamed at Piston and told her to stop working on a particular task, only to call her at home later and instruct her to complete that same task. (Id. at 60-61). By contrast, Rivera testified that he did not recall any instances in which supervisors raised their voices at Piston. (Rivera Dep. at 50).

In addition, Piston testified that Quinlivan once commented on Piston's brassiere in front of her male co-workers during a meeting. (Piston Dep. at 67). According to Piston, Quinlivan's conduct of commenting "in front of a bunch of males . . . about [her] undergarments was humiliating." (Id. at 68).

On January 11, 2007, Piston complained about Quinlivan's treatment of her to Ronald House ("House"), an employee in the County's Affirmative Action department.*fn9 (Docket ## 43-5 at ¶ 37; 43, Appendix II, Exs. C, D). House testified that Piston complained that Quinlivan was rude to her, yelled at her in a condescending manner and treated her differently than her male co-workers. (House Dep.*fn10 at 62; Docket # 43, Appendix II, Exs. C & D). House concluded that the problems stemmed from a personality conflict, rather than from discrimination. (House Dep. at 63).

As a result of Piston's complaint to House, a meeting was arranged between Rivera and Piston.*fn11 (Id. at 65). After that meeting, Rivera advised House that he and Piston agreed that she would be reassigned to a different supervisor. (Id. at 66). House testified that he confirmed with Piston that she was "amenable" to the reassignment. (Id.). In March 2007, Wirley thereafter replaced Quinlivan as the supervisor for Piston's group. (Docket # 43-5 at ¶ 41; House Dep. at 67; Quinlivan Dep. at 78; Piston Dep. at 53).

After the reassignment, Piston and Quinlivan still attended some of the same meetings. (Docket # 43-5 at ¶ 42; Piston Dep. at 54; Quinlivan Dep. at 79). According to Piston, Quinlivan continued to "mercilessly verbally berate[]" her. (Docket # 43-5 at ¶ 44).

Quinlivan testified that she and Piston had "a very good working relationship" and often ate lunch together. (Quinlivan Dep. at 44). Quinlivan recalled that on one occasion in 2001 she spoke to Piston about inappropriate work behavior, but never formally disciplined her. (Id. at 45-46, 77). Quinlivan denied yelling at her or otherwise berating her. (Id. at 82). According to Quinlivan, Piston stopped speaking to her in approximately January 2007. (Id. at 79-80).

B. Longer Hours

According to Piston, Quinlivan required her to work longer hours than her male co-workers. Piston identifies two occasions preceding the implementation of the SAP system in January 2006 on which she worked later than her male counterparts. One occurred in December 2005, when Quinlivan required her to work until 10:00 p.m., but allowed two male co-workers with similar responsibilities for system security -- Joe Arena and Praveen Kumar -- to leave at 5:00 p.m. (Docket # 43-5 at ¶ 7; Piston Dep. at 12-15).

The second occasion occurred on January 2, 2006, when she was required to work a twenty-three hour day. (Docket # 43-5 at ¶ 8). According to Piston, she was ordered to return to work that day, but the male employees were allowed to leave between 4:00 and 5:00 p.m. and not directed to return. (Id.). Quinlivan testified that on that day Rivera telephoned her at approximately 6:15 p.m. and ordered that both she and Piston return to the office. (Quinlivan Dep. at 50-52). According to Quinlivan, she left at approximately 1:00 a.m. and believes that Piston stayed until approximately 4:00 a.m. (Id. at 53-54).

Piston also contends that Quinlivan called her at home on June 9, 2006, her day off, and required her to come to work, but allowed her male co-workers to remain at home. (Docket # 43-5 at ¶¶ 22-23). Quinlivan testified that she may have asked Piston to work from home, but that she did not recall asking her to return to the office. (Quinlivan Dep. at 64).

C. Less Training

Piston maintains that in 2007 she was denied Oracle and SAP training that her male colleagues received. (Docket # 43-5 at 5; Piston Dep. at 42, 45-46). Piston further contends that in August 2006 her male co-workers were provided consultants to help them with their work, but she was not. (Piston Dep. at 47).

On July 26, 2007, Piston sent the following email to Frisina, Wirley, and Rivera: Why I am not allowed the same SAP education investment as the guys on my team? They are being allowed to attend 3-4 training classes this year and as of yet you have not replied to any of my emails on whether I am allowed to attend even one. I have been requesting training since March both through emails to you and also through the process you set up. (Docket # 43, Appendix II, Ex. E). That same day, Wirley responded:

We have a limited budget for [t]ravel required for offsite training. The travel budget has been expended for this year. We have requested travel funding for 2008 that if approved would allow you to take an offsite class next year. [L]earning licenses are being ordered that would allow you to take one of the prerequisites for your requested class. (Id.).

Employee training decisions were made by a committee comprised of various department heads and were based on considerations of needs and budget. (Docket # 43 at ¶¶ 22-23). Frisina, a member of the committee, evaluated employee training requests and made recommendations to the committee. (Id. at ¶ 24; Frisina Dep. at 73). Quinlivan assisted Frisina in coordinating the travel associated with the ...

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