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Noel v. Interpublic Group of Co's Inc.

United States District Court, Second Circuit

May 13, 2013

JOY C. NOEL, Plaintiff,
v.
THE INTERPUBLIC GROUP OF CO'S INC.; NICHOLAS JOSEPH CAMERA, as Former Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary and; MARJORIE MARY HOEY, as Former Vice President, Associate General Counsel and Assistant Secretary; each being sued individually and in their capacities as employees of defendant THE INTERPUBLIC GROUP OF CO'S INC., Defendants.

OPINION & ORDER

HAROLD BAER, Jr., District Judge.

Plaintiff Joy C. Noel brings claims for discriminatory failure-to-promote due to her race and retaliation pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 1981, the New York State Human Rights Law ("NYSHRL"), and the New York City Human Rights Law ("NYCHRL"). Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiffs claims and, in the alternative, for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, Defendants' motion for summary judgment is GRANTED as to Plaintiff's retaliation claims. I will stay summary judgment proceedings, however, as to Plaintiff's failure-to-promote claims. Within 10 days of this Opinion & Order, Plaintiff must submit a sworn affidavit or verified amended complaint attesting to her personal knowledge of the facts alleged in the amended complaint. Failure to do so will result in a grant of Defendants' motion in its entirety.

BACKGROUND

On November 30, 2012, I dismissed Plaintiffs original complaint but gave her the opportunity to replead her failure-to-promote and retaliation claims. Familiarity with that Memorandum Order is assumed.

Plaintiff is a Trinidadian woman who has worked at The Interpublic Group of Companies, Inc. ("IPG") since February 1993. During her tenure at IPG, she has performed many different administrative tasks and has a bachelor's degree from St. Francis College in accounting. Today, she occupies the position of legal secretary. And in 2011, Plaintiff applied for a promotion to Executive Assistant to the General Counsel, Defendant Nicholas Camera. Camera has since left IPG. Yet Plaintiff did not receive that promotion. Instead, a white woman, Teresa Muller, was awarded the position.

Plaintiff alleges that Defendants overlooked her because of her race. And indeed, according to Plaintiff, the "decision maker" regarding the promotion, Defendant Marjorie Mary Hoey, had "never promoted [Plaintiff] or any other person of color' to a front office position." (Am. Compl. §§ 23, 24.) Yet Defendants claim that Plaintiffs lack of experience interacting with IPG's Board of Directors was the deciding factor. Interestingly according to Plaintiff this was never mentioned as a qualification when the position was first made available to her.

Eventually, Plaintiff complained of discrimination both to Camera and to the EEOC. After she made these complaints, Plaintiff claims that Defendants created "an uncomfortable work environment, " "reduced her workload, " "isolated her" from other employees, and "transfer[red] [her] to a less senior attorney where she performs very little if any work." ( Id. §§ 49, 51-52, 58.) In Plaintiff's view, this transfer and reduction in her workload resulted in the "loss of job opportunities." ( Id. § 69.)

DISCUSSION

Summary judgment is appropriate "only if there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.' Kuebel v. Black & Decker Inc., 643 F.3d 352, 358 (2d Cir. 2011) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a)). Yet even if the moving party satisfies its burden, the Court in its discretion may still decline to grant summary judgment. See, e.g., Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)(1) ("If a party fails to properly support an assertion of fact or fails to properly address another party's assertion of fact as required by Rule 56(c), the court may... give an opportunity to properly support or address the fact."); 10A Charles Alan Wright et al., Federal Practice and Procedure § 2728 (3d ed. 2013) ("[I]n most situations in which the moving party seems to have discharged his burden of demonstrating that no genuine issue of fact exists, the court has discretion to deny a Rule 56 motion."). Here, the admissible evidence currently before the Court suggests the absence of an issue of material fact.

But this absence of fact issues for trial may be due to Plaintiff's failure to submit any evidence in support of her claims, much less a statement complying with Local Civil Rule 56.1. Instead, she relies only on her amended complaint to defeat summary judgment. This reliance is misplaced. Indeed, "the nonmovant cannot rest on allegations in the pleadings and must point to specific evidence in the record to carry its burden on summary judgment." Salahuddin v. Goord, 467 F.3d 263, 273 (2d Cir. 2006) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986)). Nevertheless, at this time I decline to grant summary judgment on Plaintiff's failure-to-promote claim. If her amended complaint were instead an affidavit, the allegations therein would meet Plaintiffs burden of establishing a genuine issue of material fact on that claim. Plaintiff therefore must swear to the truth of those allegations or face dismissal. This order thus recognizes summary judgment's proper role as a motion for " identing trial-worthy issues" and not as "a vehicle for resolving trial-worthy issues." Arthur R. Miller, Simplified Pleading, Meaningful Days in Court, and Trials on the Merits: Reflections on the Deformation of Federal Procedure, 88 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 286, 311-12 (2013) (lamenting the "Armageddon-like significance" that summary judgment has attained).

A. Discriminatory Failure-to-Promote

Assuming for the moment that Plaintiff had supported her amended complaint with a sworn statement, Plaintiffs failure-to-promote claims would survive. Under state and federal law, Plaintiff must satisfy McDonnell Douglas's burden-shifting framework to make out a failure-to-promote claim.[1] Vivenzio v. City of Syracuse, 611 F.3d 98, 106 (2d Cir. 2010). To establish a prima facie case, Plaintiff "must demonstrate that: (1) she is a member of a protected class; (2) she applied and was qualified for a job for which the employer was seeking applicants; (3) she was rejected for the position; and (4) the position remained open and the employer continued to seek applicants having the plaintiff's qualifications.' Estate of Hamilton v. City of N.Y., 627 F.3d 50, 55 (2d Cir. 2010) (quoting Petrosino v. Bell Atl., 385 F.3d 210, 226 (2d Cir. 2004)).

At the prima facie stage, Defendants dispute only Plaintiff's qualifications. But Plaintiff "need only make the minimal showing" that she "possesses the basic skills necessary for performance of [the] job." Altomare v. Wells Fargo Sec., LLC, No. 09 Civ. 9702, 2012 WL 489200, at *8 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 15, 2012) (alteration in original) (quoting Gregory v. Daly, 243 F.3d 687, 697 (2d Cir. 2001)) (internal quotation marks omitted). While "Board experience" may have been a desirable attribute, this experience appears nowhere in Defendants' written list of job requirements. And indeed, the Board-related activities described in the position description involved only "collect[ing], prepar[ing] and assist[ing] in the distribution of materials for use in discussions and meetings of executive staff and [the] Board of Directors." (Malanga Affirm. Ex. L, at D 0004.) Prior experience interacting with Board members is hardly a "basic skill" necessary to perform these administrative tasks. By contrast, Plaintiff has worked at IPG in an administrative capacity for over 20 years and holds a bachelor's degree in accounting. (Malanga Affirm. Ex. I, at D 0023.) This experience demonstrates that Plaintiff was at least minimally qualified for the promotion to Executive Assistant. Accordingly, Plaintiff's qualifications are sufficient to make out a prima facie case.

And to the extent that Defendants rely upon Plaintiff's lack of Board experience as a legitimate reason not to promote Plaintiff, evidence mirroring the amended complaint's allegations would demonstrate pretext. Defendants claim that "Camera had specifically advised that he wanted the successful candidate to have experience directly interacting with members of the Board of Directors." (Harding Aff. § 4.) But assuming Plaintiff swears to her allegations, only after Defendants denied Plaintiff the position did experience with IPG's Board of Directors become a deciding factor. (Am. Compl. § 29.) The omission of "Board experience" from Defendants' list of job requirements further supports a conclusion that Defendants fabricated this explanation. Based on these inconsistencies, the true significance of this "Board experience" is thus a credibility issue that only a jury may decide. Cf, e.g., Vernon v. Port Auth. of N.Y. & N.J., 154 F.Supp.2d 844, 858 (S.D.N.Y. 2001) (evidence that a claimed job requirement, relied upon for denying ...


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