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Wael F. Alzawahra v. Albany Medical Center

October 31, 2012

WAEL F. ALZAWAHRA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ALBANY MEDICAL CENTER, DAVID JOURD'HEUIL AND HAROLD A. SINGER, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Thomas J. McAVOY, Senior United States District Judge

DECISION & ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Wael F. Alzawahra commenced this action pro se asserting that he was subjected to a hostile work environment, treated in a disparate fashion regarding terms and conditions of employment, and terminated from his employment based on consideration of his national origin, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act ("Title VII") and New York Executive Law § 290, et seq. ("NY Human Rights Law"). See Am. Comp. ¶ 2. Defendants Albany Medical Center, David Jourd'heuil, and Harold A. Singer ("Defendants") now move for summary judgment seeking to dismiss Plaintiff's claims in their entirety. Dkt. # 23. Plaintiff filed a late response to the motion, dkt. # 41, but the response fails to comply with the Local Rules in that it fails to provide any legal argument in opposition to the motion; fails to constitute a proper response to Defendants' Statement of Material Facts; and fails to provide any admissible evidence in opposition to the motion. Id.*fn1 For the reasons that follow, the motion is granted.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

The Court may grant summary judgment where "there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a). A dispute is genuine if the relevant evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A party seeking summary judgment bears the burden of informing the court of the basis for the motion and of identifying those portions of the record that the moving party believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact as to a dispositive issue. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).

If the movant is able to establish a prima facie basis for summary judgment, the burden of production shifts to the party opposing summary judgment who must produce evidence establishing the existence of a factual dispute that a reasonable jury could resolve in his favor. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). The nonmoving party must show, by affidavits or other evidence, admissible in form, that there are specific factual issues that can only be resolved at trial. Colon v. Coughlin, 58 F.3d 865, 872 (2d Cir. 1995). "[P]roceeding pro se does not otherwise relieve a litigant from the usual requirements of summary judgment." Viscusi v. Proctor & Gamble, 2007 WL 2071546, at * 9 (E.D.N.Y. July 16, 2007).

In determining whether to grant summary judgment, the Court must view all facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, but "only if there is a 'genuine' dispute as to those facts."Scott v. Harris, 127 S. Ct. 1769, 1776 (2007). The nonmoving party cannot defeat summary judgment by "simply show[ing] that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts," Matsushita., 475 U.S. at 586, or by a factual argument based on "conjecture or surmise." Bryant v. Maffucci, 923 F.2d 979, 982 (2d Cir. 1991). In this regard, a party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment may not rest upon "mere allegations or denials" asserted in the pleadings, Rexnord Holdings, Inc. v. Bidermann, 21 F.3d 522, 525-26 (2d Cir. 1994), or on conclusory allegations or unsubstantiated speculation. Scotto v. Almenas, 143 F.3d 105, 114 (2d Cir. 1998).

The Local Rules of the Northern District require a party moving for summary judgment to submit a "Statement of Material Facts" which sets forth, with citations to the record, each material fact about which the moving party contends there exists no genuine issue. N.D.N.Y.L.R. 7.1(a)(3). Once a properly supported Local Rule 7.1(a)(3) Statement is submitted, the party opposing the motion must file a response to the [movant's] Statement of Material Facts. The non-movant's response shall mirror the movant's Statement of Material Facts by admitting and/or denying each of the movant's assertions in matching numbered paragraphs. Each denial shall set forth a specific citation to the record where the factual issue arises. The non-movant's response may also set forth any additional material facts that the non-movant contends are in dispute in separately numbered paragraphs. Any facts set forth in the Statement of Material Facts shall be deemed admitted unless specifically controverted by the opposing party.

Id. (underscoring in original).

The responding Statement of Material Facts is not a mere formality, and the courts apply this rule strictly. See N.Y. Teamsters Conference Pension & Ret. Fund v. Express Servs., Inc., 426 F.3d 640, 648-49 (2d Cir. 2005)(upholding grant of summary judgment where "[t]he district court, applying Rule 7.1(a)(3) strictly, reasonably deemed [movant's] statement of facts to be admitted" because the non-movant submitted a responsive Rule 7.1(a)(3) statement that "offered mostly conclusory denials of [movant's] factual assertions and failed to include any record citations."); Gubitosi v. Kapica, 154 F.3d 30, 31 n. 1 (2d Cir. 1998)(per curiam)(accepting as true material facts contained in unopposed local rule statement of material facts); Meaney v. CHS Acquisition Corp., 103 F. Supp.2d 104, 108 (N.D.N.Y. 2000)(deeming movant's Rule 7.1(a)(3) Statement admitted where non-movant's response "set forth no citations -- specific or otherwise -- to the record")(emphasis in original); McKnight v. Dormitory Auth. of State of N.Y., 189 F.R.D. 225, 227 (N.D.N.Y. 1999)(McAvoy, J.)("deem[ing] the portions of Defendants' 7.1(a)(3) statement that are not specifically controverted by Plaintiff to be admitted"); Osier v. Broome County, 47 F. Supp.2d 311, 317 (N.D.N.Y. 1999) (McAvoy, J.)(deeming admitted all facts in defendants' Rule 7.1(a)(3) statement where "plaintiff submitted thirteen pages of purported facts without any indication where those facts can be located in the record").

While the Court must construe a pro se litigant's pleadings and papers liberally and interpret them to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest, Govan v. Campbell, 289 F. Supp.2d 289, 295 (N.D.N.Y. 2003);*fn2 Veloz v. New York, 339 F. Supp.2d 505, 513 (S.D.N.Y. 2004), the application of this lenient standard does not relieve a pro se litigant of the requirement to follow the procedural formalities of Local Rule 7.1(a)(3). Govan, 289 F. Supp.2d at 295; see also Faretta v. California, 95 S. Ct. 2525, 2541 n. 46 (1975)("The right of self-representation is not a license . . . not to comply with relevant rules of procedural and substantive law."); Edwards v. INS, 59 F.3d 5, 8 (2nd Cir. 1995)("While a pro se litigant's pleadings must be construed liberally, . . . pro se litigants generally are required to inform themselves regarding procedural rules and to comply with them.").

III. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff has not submitted an opposing Statement of Material Facts despite being advised of this obligation.*fn3 Accordingly, the properly supported facts set forth in Defendant's Statement of Material Facts are deemed admitted for purposes of this motion. N.D.N.Y.L.R. 7.1(a)(3). The following facts are taken from Defendant's Statement of Facts Not In Dispute ("SOF").

Defendant Albany Medical Center ("AMC") is a non-profit corporation consisting of a teaching hospital and medical college with biomedical research facilities. AMC has approximately 7,000 employees. Dr. Jourd'heuil is employed by AMC as an Associate Professor for Cardiovascular Sciences. Dr. Harold A. Singer is employed by AMC as a Professor and Director of the Center for Cardiovascular Services (the "Center"). Both Dr. Jourd'heuil and Dr. Singer run research laboratories ("labs") in the Center. SOF ¶¶ 1-3. Plaintiff was employed at AMC as a full-time post-doctoral fellow for a one-year term in the Center for Cardiovascular Sciences beginning on June 18, 2008 and ending on July 17, 2009. SOF ¶¶ 10-13. In that position, Plaintiff worked in support of the research being undertaken by Dr. Singer and Dr. Jourd'heuil's research laboratories ("labs"). SOF ¶ 5. Plaintiff accepted the one-year post doctoral position with knowledge of the nature and limitations of the Center's commitment. SOF ¶ 14. There was no written agreement or contract to employ Plaintiff for longer than one year or to condition renewal of Plaintiff's one-year term solely on the basis of satisfactory performance. SOF ¶ 15.

Plaintiff was hired to work primarily in Dr. Jourd'heuil's lab in collaboration with Dr. Jourd'heuil, his wife, Fran Jourd'heuil, and pre-doctoral research assistant Katherine Halligan. During this time, Plaintiff was treated as a typical post-doctoral fellow. He was consistently assigned work appropriate for his level of experience and expertise related to Dr. Jourd'heuil's ongoing research projects, including work on the cytoglobin project. SOF ¶¶ 17, 19. Part of Plaintiff's duties included generating tissue samples by performing animal surgeries for use in Dr. Jourd'heuil's lab as well as other labs in the Center. SOF ¶ 20. Plaintiff was made aware that the samples he generated would be used by other labs at the Center, and that he would be credited for his work by being listed as a co-author if the samples he harvested were used in connection with any publications submitted by other labs. In fact, when his samples were used in a paper published by another lab, Plaintiff was named as a co-author. SOF ¶¶ 20-21.

During the course of his employment at AMC, Plaintiff never made any complaints of discrimination or harassment on the basis of his national origin, even though he received AMC's policy prohibiting such conduct and which sets forth the proper avenues of complaint. SOF ¶ 22. Plaintiff made only informal reports about incidents he experienced with broken and missing equipment in Dr. Jourd'heuil's lab, but never gave any indication he believed the incidents resulted from harassment or discrimination. SOF ¶¶ 55-56. The frequency of the mishaps occurring to Plaintiff's experiments was no more than occurred for others and typical for the types of experiments being performed. SOF ¶ 56. All broken or missing lab equipment was promptly replaced or repaired and Plaintiff was able to timely complete his assignments. SOF ¶ 57. Plaintiff never identified what caused the incidents or who was responsible and acknowledged the incidents could have been merely accidental. SOF ¶¶ 58-61. Plaintiff also now makes harassment allegations concerning a flat tire in the AMC parking garage, a piece of raw meat at the front door of his home, and several hang-up phone calls from unknown callers (Am. Comp. ¶ 23), but he admitted at his deposition that he does not know who is responsible for these incidents and does not have any basis to believe someone from AMC is responsible. SOF ¶ 62.

Dr. Jourd'heuil intended for Plaintiff to publish a manuscript based upon the data Plaintiff generated in Dr. Jourd'heuil's lab and gave him permission to write it. SOF ¶ 23. Dr. Jourd'heuil supported Plaintiff's efforts and willingly assisted him with this endeavor.

SOF ¶ 24. Plaintiff prepared a manuscript and Dr. Jourd'heuil reviewed it on more than one occasion. Dr. Jourd'heuil also provided Plaintiff with extensive written feedback identifying what he perceived to be significant shortcomings with the supporting scientific data and quality of the writing. SOF ¶ 25. Despite Dr. Jourd'heuil's efforts, Plaintiff admits that he did not revise the manuscript to address the comments made by Dr. Jourd'heuil. SOF ¶ 26. Ultimately, Dr. Jourd'heuil did not approve Plaintiff's manuscript for submission because, in his professional opinion, the quality of the manuscript was not good enough to be competitive. SOF ¶¶ 27-30. Specifically, Dr. Jourd'heuil opined that there were significant grammatical deficiencies with the writing in his presentation that would require the paper to be entirely rewritten to be submitted. SOF ¶ 27. Further, the incomplete scientific data resulted in inconsistent conclusions, some of which repeated results that had already been published. ...


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