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Lioi v. New York City Dept. of Health & Mental Hygiene

United States District Court, S.D. New York

December 19, 2012

Francine LIOI, Plaintiff,
NEW YORK CITY DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH & MENTAL HYGIENE, Martin Evans, and David Haddow, Defendants.

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Saul David Zabell, Off, Zabell & Associates, LLP, Bohemia, NY, for Plaintiff.

Daniel Chiu, New York City Law Depart. Office of the Corporation Counsel, Kuuku Angate Minnah-Donkoh, New York

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City Law Department (Labor & Employment), New York, NY, for Defendants.


PAUL A. ENGELMAYER, District Judge.

Plaintiff Francine Lioi, a former employee in New York City's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (" DOHMH" ), brings several claims of employment discrimination pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq. (" Title VII" ), New York State Human Rights Law, N.Y. Exec. Law §§ 290, et seq. (" NYSHRL" ), and New York City Human Rights Law, N.Y. City Admin. Code §§ 8-101, et seq. (" NYCHRL" ). Lioi alleges that she was discriminated against on the basis of her gender, and that she was subjected to a hostile work environment and retaliation. Defendant DOHMH is Lioi's former employer. Defendants Martin Evans and David Haddow are DOHMH employees who served in supervisory positions during Lioi's term of employment.

Defendants deny each of Lioi's claims, and now move for summary judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a). For the reasons that follow, the Court grants defendants' motion as to Lioi's Title VII claims and declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Lioi's NYSHRL and NYCHRL claims.

I. Background and Undisputed Facts[1]

A. Key Persons, Entities, and Terms

Lioi was employed as an Associate Staff Analyst (" ASA" ) in DOHMH's Public Health Laboratory (" PHL" ) from December 2005 until April 2009, when she was terminated. PHL provides a variety of clinical and laboratory testing services for the DOHMH and is comprised of several departments. While employed at PHL, Lioi worked in the Laboratory Information Management System Department (" LIMS Department" ), a unit within PHL that provides technical and systems support to the departments that perform actual specimen testing. Def. 56.1 ¶ 11; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 11. The Laboratory Information Management System (" LIMS" ) " is the ‘ clinical [computer] system that is used to record all the specimens that are processed in the lab and [the end] results.’ " Def. 56.1 ¶ 11; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 11 (quoting Lioi Dep. 59).

John Somma is the former Director of PHL, and served as Lioi's direct supervisor from the time of her hire until about

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January 2008. Def. 56.1 ¶ 36; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 36. In or around January 2008, defendant Martin Evans replaced Somma as Lioi's direct supervisor; Evans is the Director of Technical Affairs and the Associate Director of the PHL. Def. 56.1 ¶ 36; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 36. Defendant David Haddow has served as the PHL's Director of Administration and Human Resources since March 24, 2008. Def. 56.1 ¶ 59; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 59.

B. Events Relevant to Lioi's Claims

1. Lioi's Employment

On February 18, 2005, DOHMH posted a job vacancy notice for an ASA position at PHL. Def. 56.1 ¶ 13; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 13. The vacancy notice contained the following job description for the ASA position:

Participate in the design and implementation of the Laboratory Information System (" LIS" ) for the PHL. Interface with program level staff to ensure user needs are met and vendor is on schedule and receiving adequate feedback from users. Document business requirements and deliverables throughout the application development process. Monitor implementation of system, conducting QA on system and providing training of users. Maintain integrity of data collected and stored. Perform daily back up of database using Windows 2003 Server software. Assist program and scientific personnel in the design and use of software applications and maintain necessary documentation.

Minnah-Donkoh Decl. Ex. G.

On or about July 7, 2005, Lioi submitted a pre-employment application to DOHMH, indicating that she was seeking a position as a " LIS Specialist." See id. Ex. D. Lioi was interviewed along with five other candidates for the ASA position— three candidates were male, and three, including Lioi, were female. Def. 56.1 ¶ 17; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 17; see also Minnah-Donkoh Decl. Ex. H. Lioi was ultimately selected by Somma to fill the vacant ASA position. Def. 56.1 ¶ 17; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 17.

Lioi began her employment with DOHMH on December 5, 2005. Def. 56.1 ¶ 20; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 20. At her deposition, Lioi testified that during the interview process she was not made aware that she was being interviewed for the ASA position. Lioi Dep. 43. Rather, Lioi testified that the first time she became aware that she was being considered for an ASA position was when she went to fill out the employment paperwork on the date of her hire. Id. at 44. Lioi testified that she initially refused to sign the employment paperwork indicating that she was being hired as an ASA, stating that she " would not have taken a job if [she] had known it was an [ASA] position." Id. at 44-45. Nevertheless, Lioi signed the employment paperwork and confirmed her appointment as a provisional ASA with a starting salary of $65,000 per year. See Lioi Dep. 46; Minnah-Donkoh Decl. Ex. I.

2. Lioi's Alleged " Blocked" Transfer to DIIT and Gender-Related Comments

Lioi alleges that in January 2007, she was offered an opportunity to transfer to a position as a Computer Systems Manager in the Division of Informatics and Information Technology (" DIIT" ), which paid a higher salary. However, she alleges, that transfer was blocked by Somma due to her gender. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 22-23.[2]

Lioi testified that this transfer opportunity was the result of a series of meetings she had with Hadi Makki, a former Assistant Commissioner of DIIT. Lioi Dep. 76.

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According to Lioi, at her third meeting with Makki she was informed by Makki that " Somma had contacted him and had put a stop to the transfer. [Somma] essentially blocked the transfer[.]" Id. at 79. Lioi testified that Makki informed her that the reason Somma " blocked" the transfer was that PHL wanted to keep her, and that PHL intended to match any offer DIIT was going to make. Id. Lioi further testified that no firm offer to transfer to DIIT was ever made. Id. at 79-80.

Lioi testified that sometime after the alleged blocked transfer, in January or February 2007, she confronted Somma about the transfer to DIIT. Id. at 112. According to Lioi, in response to her questions about the transfer, Somma responded by saying, " [t]his is an old boy's school." Id. at 112.

Lioi testified that she had a second verbal exchange with Somma a few weeks after Somma's " old boy's school" comment, in which she again questioned him about the transfer and her pay. Id. at 113. In response to these questions, Somma allegedly responded by saying, " [t]his is a man's world. Stop rocking the boat." Id. at 113-114.

In or around January 2008, Evans replaced Somma as Lioi's direct supervisor. Def. 56.1 ¶ 36; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 36. Somma left his position as the Director of PHL and began working in DOHMH's Department of TB Control. Def. 56.1 ¶ 37; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 37. Lioi asserts that although Somma was " allowed to transfer" to the Department of TB Control, she " was not afforded similar privileges and opportunities." Am. Compl. ¶ 25. At her deposition, Lioi testified that she does not know whether Somma had to apply for the position at the Department of TB Control along with other applicants. Lioi Dep. 100.

3. Lioi's Rejection of a $10,000 Raise and Initial Visit to the DOHMH Equal Employment Office

In December 2007, around the same time Evans replaced Somma, the Assistant Commissioner of PHL, Dr. Sara Beatrice, sought approval to grant Lioi a pay raise, from $65,000 to $75,000 per year. Def. 56.1 ¶ 35; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 35. In early January 2008, that request was approved, and the raise was subsequently communicated to Lioi. See Minnah-Donkoh Decl. Ex. K. Despite the offered raise, on January 8, 2008, Lioi sent an email to Beatrice, Peter Bachman (then Vice President of PHL), and Somma, to decline the raise. Id. Ex. M. In declining the raise, Lioi stated that even with a salary increase up to $80,000, she " would still be the lowest paid person in the department." Id. Lioi testified that, in making this comment, she was comparing her salary to the salaries of Jack Deutsch and Hang Lam. Lioi Dep. 87. Deutsch was the Director of PHL's Lead Department and had been working at PHL and the LIMS Department since before Lioi's employment with PHL. Def. 56.1 ¶ 40; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 40. Lam was a Computer Specialist and had also been working at both PHL and the LIMS Department since before Lioi's employment there. Def. 56.1 ¶ 40; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 40.

Lioi testified that in or about January 2008, she met with a DOHMH Equal Employment Office (" EEO" ) representative because she was " concerned about the hostile work environment [she] was working in at the time," and to discuss her dissatisfaction with her current pay and job title. Lioi Dep. 136-137. Lioi testified that at this meeting the EEO representative advised her that she should seek assistance from the New York Human Rights Office or the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (" EEOC" ). Lioi did not file a complaint following this meeting; the

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first complaint she filed with the DOHMH EEO was in December 2008, following her suspension by DOHMH. Id. at 135.

4. Lioi's Allegations Against Peter Mura and Complaints of Unequal Pay

Lioi alleges that, sometime after receiving complaint forms from the EEOC and placing them in her locker, Peter Mura, a DIIT Computer Systems Manager who worked at PHL, broke into her locker and removed these forms. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 28-29; Lioi Dep. 117. Mura testified that he never broke into Lioi's locker. See Minnah-Donkoh Decl. Ex. N; Zabell Decl. Ex. P (Deposition of Peter Mura) (" Mura Dep." ) at 8-9.

Lioi alleges that she " was repeatedly overlooked for promotions within her [d]epartment, while less experienced, less qualified males were hired at increased salaries and more significant titles." Am. Compl. ¶ 24. At her deposition, Lioi identified Altaf Shaikh and Kevin Ward as the " less experienced, less qualified males" that she was referring to. Lioi Dep. 96.

Altaf Shaikh was hired by DIIT in March 2008 as a Computer Systems Manager with a starting salary of $75,000. Minnah-Donkoh Decl. Ex. O (Deposition of Altaf Shaikh) (" Shaikh Dep." ) at 14. Shaikh's salary was paid by DIIT and not PHL. Def. 56.1 ¶ 55; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 55. Upon beginning his employment, Skaikh was assigned to work at PHL. Shaikh Dep. 13-14. Towards the beginning of Skaikh's time at PHL, Lioi was asked by Evans to assist in training Shaikh on the microbiology component of LIMS. Lioi Dep. 104-105; see also Minnah-Donkoh Decl. Ex. L; Zabell Decl. Ex. L (Deposition of Martin Evans) (" Evans Dep." ) at 22-23.

With respect to Kevin Ward, Lioi testified that she was unsure how long he had been working at PHL, or what his official title was. Lioi Dep. 56, 96-97. Lioi testified that at some point there was a vacancy posting for a LIS manager position for which she was qualified, and that she had intended to apply for it, but that she was advised by a co-worker, at the direction of Somma, not to apply. Id. at 98-99. Apparently, the co-worker advised Lioi that the position was " created" by Somma for Ward. Id. at 99. Lioi never spoke to Somma directly about the LIS manager position. Id.

Lioi alleges that in or about April 2008, she complained to Evans and Haddow, the latter of whom was serving in the capacity as Director of Administration and Human Resources, " about the escalating discriminatory treatment and harassment to which she was subjected." Am. Compl. ¶ 30. Lioi alleges that no action was taken in response to this complaint. Id. Evans testified that Lioi had complained to him about her pay at some point during her time under his supervision, and that he had attempted to remedy to situation. Evans Dep. 25-26. Haddow similarly testified that Lioi had gone to him on several occasions with complaints about her pay and job title. See Minnah-Donkoh Decl. Ex. P; Zabell Decl. Ex. M (Deposition of David Haddow) (" Haddow Dep." ) at 19-21.

On May 13, 2008, Lioi sent an email to Evans asking if Evans would, as her supervisor, provide her with a letter of recommendation for a graduate scholarship. Minnah-Donkoh Decl. Ex. Q. Evans assented to the request and on May 15, 2008, Evans provided a letter of recommendation, supporting Lioi for the scholarship. Minnah-Donkoh Decl. Ex. R. Evans testified that he had also " recommended" Lioi on a separate occasion, in connection with an attempt to obtain a pay raise for Lioi. Evans Dep. 17.

Lioi alleges that in or about September 2008, she " reported to David Haddow and Martin Evans that the computer she was assigned ha[d] been breached by DIIT employee

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Peter Mura, as part of an ongoing campaign of harassment." Am. Compl. ¶ 31. When asked why she believed it was Mura who had breached her computer workstation, Lioi testified: " Because Peter Mura was constantly trying to get the information from me and when I stopped providing the information that he wanted, that's when I started noticing [the breaches] and I confronted him, and I asked him flat out and he denied it and I informed him that I didn't believe him, because prior to him being there, I never had issues like that." Lioi Dep. 132. Lioi testified that she had never viewed Mura's log-in information on her computer, and that the automated messages she had received of attempted log-ins ...

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