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Clarke v. Intercontinental Hotels Groups, Plc

United States District Court, Second Circuit

May 30, 2013

SONIA A. CLARKE, Plaintiff,


J. PAUL OETKEN, District Judge.

Plaintiff Sonia A. Clarke brings this action against her former employers, InterContinental Hotels Group, PLC ("IHG"), InterContinental Hotels Group Resources, Inc. ("IHGR"), Barclay Operating Corporation ("Barclay"), InterContinental New York Barclay a/k/a Hotel Intercontinental New York ("INY") (collectively, "Defendants"), alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. ("Title VII"), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 621, et seq. ("ADEA"), the New York State Human Rights Law, N.Y. Executive Law § 290, et seq. ("NYSHRL"), the New York City Human Rights Law, N.Y.C. Administrative Code § 8-107, et seq. ("NYCHRL"), and the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, 29 U.S.C. § 201, et seq. ("FLSA").

Defendants have moved to dismiss a substantial portion of Plaintiff's Amended Complaint, on the grounds that (1) Plaintiff has failed to serve three of the Defendants in compliance with Rule 4(m); (2) some or all of Plaintiff's discrimination claims are untimely; (3) Plaintiff has failed to state claims for discrimination, retaliation, and/or workplace harassment under the ADEA, Title VII, NYCHRL, or NYSHRL. Also before this Court is Plaintiff's motion for an extension of time to serve certain Defendants.

For the reasons that follow, Defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part, and Plaintiff's motion for an extension of time is granted.

I. Background

A. Factual Background

The following facts are taken from Plaintiff's Amended Complaint, and are presumed true, as they must be at this stage of the litigation.

1. The Parties

Sonia A. Clarke is a resident of the State of New York and resided in Bronx County at all times relevant to this action. Clarke was born in Jamaica, West Indies, on May 2, 1949 and is 63 years old. She is a black woman.

IHG is a corporation organized under the laws of the United Kingdom with its principal place of business in London. IHGR is a corporation organized under the laws of the State of Delaware with its principal place of business in Atlanta, Georgia. IHGR is a wholly owned subsidiary of IHG and is a parent company of Barclay, a corporation organized under the laws of the State of New York with its principal place of business in New York City. Barclay employed Clarke and paid her wages from approximately 1991 until her termination on July 2, 2010. INY is a hotel located in New York City and is owned by IHG and/or IHGR and/or Barclay. INY employed Clarke from 1991 until her termination on July 2, 2010.

2. Clarke's Work History at IHG

Clarke first began work for IHG in 1973 as a receptionist in the New York City Corporate Office. Clarke later worked as a Sales Clerk and then a Reservations Agent. She resigned in 1988. During her first 15 years of employment, Clarke suffered no maltreatment. Clarke returned to work for IHG in 1991, working in the Sales and Marketing Department at the Barclay.

3. The Working Environment in the Sales & Marketing Department

Clarke was the oldest person in the Sales and Marketing Department throughout her time there. Clarke was also the only black person for approximately 13 of the 15 years of her time in the Department.

Clarke contends that she suffered a hostile work environment based on her race, color, and age from approximately 1999 until her termination on July 2, 2010. Deedee Aguilar, a direct superior, would often scream at and demean Clarke. On several occasions, Aguilar would yell at Clarke to get back to her seat after a few minutes away ( e.g. to get a cup of tea) while she would not hold other employee to such strictures. Aguilar would also follow Clarke into the bathroom, presumably on suspicion that Clarke was avoiding work for non-legitimate reasons. On another occasion, Aguilar spoke to another employee about Clarke, saying "I don't know who the F she thinks she is, she's just a secretary."

The Sales Managers snubbed Clarke, and, when they did speak to her, it was in a condescending and discourteous manner. Furthermore, Clarke was required to follow reporting procedures to which other employees were not subjected. For example, unlike other employees, Clarke had to clear her vacation plans with everyone in the department and had to answer questions about her specific plans (supervisors repeatedly asked if she was going to Jamaica). Also, when she called in sick, Clarke was required to speak directly with David Shenman, the Director of Group Sales, while other employees could simply leave voicemails. Clarke was issued a written warning in 2006 when she returned from jury duty because she had not called in every day her duty was ongoing, despite the absence of this requirement from the Employee Handbook.

Clarke complained on several occasions to Dan Costello, Director of Human Resources, and Lynda Whitaker, Assistant Director of Human Resources, about the demeaning treatment she received from others in her department. Costello and Whitaker did not follow up on Clarke's complaints, despite Clarke's requests that they do so.

Clarke developed hypertension, allegedly as a result of her mistreatment at work, and began taking hypertension medications in 1999. On November 1, 2004, Clarke fell ill in the subway from hypertension-related causes and was taken to the emergency room. After spending one night in the hospital, Clarke had to miss one week of work and increase her medications.

Clarke always received performance evaluations throughout her 15 years in the Sales & Marketing Department that deemed her work satisfactory to exceptional.

4. Clarke Is Transferred to the Executive Office

On or about December 4, 2006, Clarke began work as an Executive Office Administrative Assistant, which constituted a promotion and came with a small increase in pay. None of her co-workers in the Sales & Marketing Department wished her luck or said goodbye.

Clarke's salary in the Executive Office was $43, 000 annually but she remained an hourly employee and had to sign a daily attendance sheet. Clarke's predecessor, a younger white person, earned $56, 000 annually, while another younger white person who began the same position in 2007 earned $48, 000 annually. Clarke asserts that her lower rate of hourly pay was attributable to her race, color, and age.

In March 2009, the executive whom Clarke had been assisting left and was not replaced. Clarke was then transferred back to the Sales & Marketing Department.

5. Clarke Returns to Sales & Marketing and Is Terminated

Upon her return to the Sales & Marketing Department, Clarke was assigned to work as a Sales Coordinator, a position with substantially similar responsibilities to those she had previously had as a Sales Assistant.

Linda Hodgson, Director of Sales & Marketing, told Clarke in both a meeting and a subsequent email that her tasks would include administrative assistance to the entire department, the entire hotel, and full administrative support for Gabriela Ong, Sales Manager. Within a short time, Clarke was required to also provide full administrative support to Aguilar and Stephanie Caldwell while maintaining her full list of other administrative duties.

Sometime prior to her return in 2009, the Sales & Marketing Department had created a new position, Group Sales Associate, to which Sales Coordinators were promoted as a steppingstone to becoming Sales Managers. From March 2009 until her termination in July 2010, Clarke saw IHG promote three younger, white Sales Coordinators to the Group Sales Associate position. Contrary to IHG policy, these position openings were not posted prior to the ...

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