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Patricia Townsend v. New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision

September 28, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Charles J. Siragusa United States District Judge



This is an action alleging discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII), as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983"). Now before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Docket No. [#21]). The application is granted in part and denied in part.


Unless otherwise noted, the following are the facts of this case, viewed in the light most-favorable to Plaintiff. At all relevant times Plaintiff worked for the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) as an Education Supervisor. Plaintiff's duties included assessing inmates' education levels and assigning them to particular classes, administering GED exams, supervising teachers and making quarterly reports about the Education Department.

In or about 2003, Plaintiff was assigned to work at Orleans Correctional Facility. At various times at Orleans, Plaintiff was also designated as Acting Deputy Superintendent for Programs, to act in the Deputy Superintendent's absence. Defendant David Unger was the Superintendent of Orleans for approximately three and one-half years, between 2004 and 2007. During the first year or so of Unger's tenure at Orleans, until 2005, William Smith was Deputy Superintendent for Programs, in which capacity he was responsible for overseeing the Education Department. Smith was therefore Plaintiff's immediate supervisor, and he and Plaintiff occasionally socialized outside of work, along with their respective spouses. According to Smith, Unger incorrectly believed that Plaintiff was romantically interested in Smith, and he asked Smith, "[W]hy is Pat interested in you? You're ten years older than me . . . I could do more for her than you." Smith Aff. ¶ 3. Plaintiff alleges that Unger "constantly" told her that he wanted a romantic relationship with her, but she "politely declined his advances." Pl. Stmt. of Additional Facts ¶ 6.

After this rejection, Plaintiff maintains, Unger began to treat her differently. Specifically, she maintains that Unger took the following actions against her: 1) he spread false rumors that she "was engaged in an illicit sexual affair;" 2) he told her not to have lunch with any male co-worker, Pl. Stmt. of Additional Facts at ¶ ¶ 7 & 9; 3) he yelled at her for having lunch with Smith; 4) he told her that under the collective bargaining agreement, she was only entitled to a twenty-minute lunch in her work area, but did not raise that issue with male employees who left the facility for lunch; 5) he falsely accused her of falsifying her time records;*fn1 6) he told her that "people around the state" were talking about her negatively; 7) he told her that she could not go on rounds at the prison with anyone but him, and more specifically, that she could not go on rounds with Smith; and 8) after an inmate wrote a letter threatening to sexually assault her, he banned her from using her office inside the secure prisoner area,*fn2 and assigned her to an office in the facility's administrative building, away from the classrooms, teachers and inmates, where she was unable to perform her teaching and supervisory duties, for a period of four months, during which an investigation was purportedly being conducted, and during which he did not communicate with her.

At the end of 2005, Smith left his position as Deputy Superintendent for Programs at Orleans. In or about January 2006, he was replaced by Defendant James Lindsay. Plaintiff suspects, but cannot prove, that upon Lindsay's arrival at Orleans, Unger communicated false information about her to him, since Lindsay immediately took a negative attitude toward her. Lindsay denies that he did anything improper toward Plaintiff, but he indicates that he had heard a suggestion that Smith and Plaintiff were romantically involved from someone at Groveland Correctional Facility, where he worked prior to transferring to Orleans. Lindsay Dep. at pp. 54-55 ("Someone asked me a question, what's this about Bill Smith and Pat.").

Lindsay maintains that he did not believe the accusation. Id. at 55. In any event, Plaintiff alleges that Lindsay took the following actions toward her: 1) he told her that she was never allowed to sit behind his desk or use his computer, even though she was designated at Acting Superintendent in his absence; 2) he told employees that Plaintiff was trying to "sleep her way to the top," but he was not going to let that happen; 3) at a staff meeting he did not rebuke two female employees who were spreading a rumor that Plaintiff frequented "every motel in the area," and after she complained about it to him, he told her, "get over it, people talk;" 4) he undermined her supervisory authority over her staff, by giving contrary instructions to a teacher under Plaintiff's supervision, Linda Robinson, and by forbidding her to take disciplinary action against Robinson; 5) during a meeting he prevented her from raising issues relative to Robinson, but permitted male supervisors to discuss issues concerning their employees; 6) he (or possibly Unger) removed Plaintiff's name from a list of Core Leaders for Accreditation that was reported to DOCCS Central Office in Albany; and 7) he removed Plaintiff from her position of Acting Deputy Superintendent for a period of eleven months.

Plaintiff indicates that she complained directly to Unger and Lindsay about their behavior, and that she also complained about them to supervisory officials at DOCSS, including Assistant Director of Education John Durkes, Diversity Management and Labor Relations Specialist Mary Mayville, Educational Director Linda Holman, Deputy Commissioner John Nuttall and Commissioner Ray Medina, but none of those persons took any remedial action. Plaintiff indicates that when she complained, she did not expressly indicate that she was being treated differently because she was a woman, since she thought that was obvious. See, e.g., Pl. Dep. at pp. 157-158.

In June 2007, Plaintiff filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In July 2007, Plaintiff filed another EEOC complaint. Plaintiff maintains that Lindsay later ordered her not to make any further complaints against Unger.

On January 13, 2009, Plaintiff commenced this action. Plaintiff succinctly describes her claims in this case as follows: "Plaintiff claims that she was subject to a hostile environment based on sex by her supervisors Unger and Lindsay; that she was denied the equal protection of the law by being submitted to that form of discrimination; [and] that she was subject to retaliation as a result of engaging in protected activity." Pl. Memo of Law [#25-1] at p. 5.

On November 21, 2011, Defendant filed the subject motion for summary judgment.*fn3 As to the Title VII claims, Defendant maintains that Plaintiff cannot establish a prima facie case of either discrimination or retaliation, because she cannot show that she suffered an adverse employment action under circumstances giving rise to an inference of sex-based discrimination or retaliation. As for the Section 1983 claims, Defendant contends that they are precluded by Title VII.

Plaintiff disagrees, and maintains that Defendants failed to meet their initial burden on a summary judgment motion. Defendants did not submit reply papers, though they were afforded the opportunity to do so. On September 12, 2012, counsel for the ...

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