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Jones v. Rochester Institute of Technology

United States District Court, Second Circuit

July 30, 2013

GINGER L. JONES and ESSIE RANKIN, Plaintiffs,
v.
ROCHESTER INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY; DIRECTOR CHRIS DENNINGER, individually; and SUPERVISOR JAMES PRESSEY, individually, Defendants.

DECISION and ORDER

MICHAEL A. TELESCA, District Judge.

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiffs, Ginger L. Jones ("Jones" or "Plaintiff Jones") and Essie Rankin ("Rankin" or "Plaintiff Rankin"), bring this action pursuant to the Civil Rights Act of 1991, 42 U.S.C. § 1981 ("Section 1981"); Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000(e), et seq., ("Title VII"); and Section 290 of the New York State Human Rights Law, Executive Law § 290, et seq., ("Human Rights Law"), against Defendants, the Rochester Institute of Technology ("RIT" or "Defendant RIT"), Director Chris Denninger ("Director Denninger" or "Defendant Denninger") and Supervisor James Pressey ("Supervisor Pressey" or "Defendant Pressey"), alleging discrimination based on race and gender. (Dkt. No. 34 at ¶ 1). Specifically, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants subjected them to an ongoing discriminatory and hostile work environment because of their identities as African-American women, and have retaliated against them for opposing the allegedly discriminatory treatment they received. See id. at ¶¶ 1, 132-243.

Defendant Pressey moves to dismiss the claims against him individually set forth in Plaintiffs' First Amended Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) ("Rule 12(b)(6)") on grounds that Plaintiffs have failed to state a claim against him under Section 1981 or the New York State Human Rights Law. See generally, Dkt. No. 37, 40. Supervisor Pressey argues that Plaintiffs have failed to state a plausible claim against him individually for discrimination based on a hostile work environment because their claims are based on alleged conduct that does not rise to the level of "severe or pervasive" conduct as is required to state such a claim. Id. at 1. Supervisor Pressey further argues that Plaintiffs have failed to establish a prima facie claim against him individually for retaliation, and that, as a result, these claims also must fail. Id . Specifically, Defendant Pressey argues that Plaintiffs failed to allege his knowledge of a protected activity, or any adverse employment action they suffered.

Plaintiffs object to Defendant Pressey's motion, and claim that he was personally involved in creating a hostile work environment. See Dkt. No. 39 at 4-7. Plaintiffs also argue that the Amended Complaint alleges a causal connection between Plaintiffs' complaints against Defendant Pressey and his alleged acts of intimidation and harassment. Plaintiffs also argue that the law of the case doctrine bars his motion because the Court has previously denied a motion to dismiss the same allegations for failure to state a claim, and the only difference is that Plaintiffs have filed an Amended Complaint. For the reasons set forth below, this Court finds that Plaintiffs have not established any claims against Defendant Pressey individually. Accordingly, Defendant Pressey's motion to dismiss is granted and Plaintiffs' claims against him individually are hereby dismissed.

BACKGROUND

The following facts are taken from Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint, and are not findings of fact by the Court, but rather, facts that are assumed to be true for the purposes of considering this motion. The Court will consider "the facts as presented within the four corners of the complaint..." in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs, the non-moving party. See Taylor v. Vt. Dep't of Educ. , 313 F.3d 768, 776 (2d Cir. 2002).

Plaintiffs are both African-American women, who are, and at all times relevant, have been long-term employees of Defendant RIT. (Dkt. No. 34 at ¶¶ 13-14, 87-88). RIT is a corporation organized under the laws of the State of New York. Id. at ¶¶ 10-12. Defendants Denninger and Pressey are both Caucasian-American men, who are, and at all times relevant, have been high-ranking supervisors at RIT. Plaintiffs Jones and Rankin began working as dispatchers at RIT's Public Safety Department in February 2006 and November 2006, respectively. Id. at ¶¶ 14, 88.

Shortly after Plaintiff Jones met her C-shift supervisor, Defendant Pressey, she claims he asked her, "did anyone show you where to take out the trash?" Id. at ¶ 16. Jones was offended by the comment and subsequently complained to Director Denninger, who followed up on the complaint and met with Jones and Supervisor Pressey to discuss the comment. Id. at ¶¶ 17-18.

In March 2006, Jones asked Director Denninger if she could work extra hours (overtime), and claims that he untruthfully responded, "no, it's not part of your contract" and referred her to two outside security agencies. Id. at ¶¶ 19-20. Plaintiff Rankin was also refused overtime hours at RIT. Id. at ¶ 90. Plaintiffs state that similarly situated Caucasian-American male co-workers were freely provided overtime at RIT. Id. at ¶¶ 23, 90. Jones was denied overtime hours at RIT until September 21, 2011, when she filed a formal grievance about the issue with RIT's Human Resources ("HR") Department. Id. at ¶ 25.

Plaintiffs allege that coworkers often used vulgar and offensive language, including sexual innuendo and commentary, referring to women as "bitches, " "sluts, " and "whores, " for example. Id. at ¶¶ 27, 30. Rankin was often greeted by male co-workers with the phrase, "hey bitch." Id. at ¶ 100. Co-workers often refused to acknowledge Jones when she spoke to them during her shift. Id. at ¶ 28.

Plaintiffs state that they could not freely enter and exit the dispatch room because they were not provided with ID badges until 2009, even though ID badges were given to all of their co-workers when they were hired. Id. at ¶¶ 29, 117. A co-worker would often lock Plaintiff Rankin out of the dispatch room and laugh at her as she attempted to re-enter. Id. at ¶¶ 95-96. Defendant Pressey was the supervisor of Plaintiff Rankin's shift and would open the door for her when she was locked out; however, he refused to address Rankin's complaints and defended her co-worker's actions. Id. at ¶¶ 96-97. There was a specific incident in March 2009, when Rankin left work early because her coworkers had denied her access to the dispatch room. Id. at ¶¶ 101-105.

Around March 24, 2009, Plaintiff Rankin met with the co-worker who would lock her out of the dispatch room and Director Denninger. Id. at ¶ 111. Director Denninger did not reprimand the co-worker and told them that they should not mention the meeting or incident to anyone else, threatening punishment if they did. Id. at ¶¶ 109-114. Shortly after, the co-worker who locked her out was promoted to a new position within the department. Id. at ¶ 113.

Plaintiffs made multiple complaints about coworkers, including Supervisor Pressey, who often would watch inappropriate videos at the work site, including "videos of African-American men being viciously beaten." Id. at ¶¶ 30-31, 92. In August 2009, Plaintiff Jones informed Assistant Director Lezette ("Director Lezette") that offensive videos were being played on RIT's computers and she could no longer tolerate it. Id. at ¶ 34. No remedial action was taken, but on September 22, 2009, shortly after she complained, Director Denninger advised a supervisor to threaten Jones' job at RIT. Id. at ¶¶ 35-36.

Several alleged incidents specifically involved Defendant Pressey, who now moves to dismiss the claims against him. In December 2009, Defendant Pressey allegedly ordered Jones to leave work for not answering a question to his satisfaction; when she did not comply, he moved within an inch of her face and loudly demanded that she leave. Id. at ¶¶ 37-38. She did not leave until the end of her scheduled shift. Id . Supervisor Pressey ...


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