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McLaughlin v. State

United States District Court, Second Circuit

July 30, 2013



SIDNEY H. STEIN, District Judge.

Plaintiff Patty McLaughlin brings this action for race-based employment discrimination pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., against her former employer Hudson Valley Developmental Disabilities Service Offices ("DDSO"), the State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, and the State of New York. McLaughlin also asserts claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against her former supervisor, Developmental Aide Tiffany Cohen, in her official and individual capacities, for violating plaintiff's rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.[1] Following discovery proceedings, defendants have now moved for summary judgment. (Dkt. No. 25.)

Because no genuine issue of material fact exists with regard to the circumstances surrounding McLaughlin's employment, and defendants are entitled to judgment as a matter of law, their motion for summary judgment is granted.


Unless otherwise noted, the material facts set forth below are undisputed.

A. Plaintiff's Employment

Patty McLaughlin was hired by defendant DDSO as a Developmental Aide Trainee ("DAT") in January 2009. (Defs.' Local Civil Rule 56.1 Statement of Undisputed Facts ("Defs.' 56.1") ¶¶ 1, 5; Pl.'s Local Civil Rule 56.1 Response ("Pl.'s 56.1") ¶¶ 1, 5.) DDSO administers and oversees operations for defendant New York State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, which coordinates services for thousands of New Yorkers with developmental disabilities and provides long-term care to disabled citizens in community settings. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶¶ 2-3; Pl.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 2-3.) These community settings, known as "individual residential alternatives, " provide housing to individuals with physical, medical, and behavioral issues that necessitate twenty-four hour care. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶¶ 4, 13; Pl.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 4, 13.)

McLaughlin was assigned to work at one of the individual residential alternatives - the Riley Road residence - as a DAT. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 5; Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 5.) Riley Road is an all-female facility housing twelve women. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 14; Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 14.) In January 2009, when McLaughlin began her employment at Riley Road, the staff consisted of fifteen Developmental Aides ("DAs") and two DATs. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 7; Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 7.) The other DAT was Selena Williams, who started at the same time as McLaughlin. (Pl.'s Local Civil Rule 56.1 Counterstatement of Undisputed Facts ¶¶ 6-7 ("Pl.'s Counter 56.1"); Defs.' Local Civil Rule 56.1 Counterstatement of Undisputed Facts ¶¶ 6-7 ("Defs.' Counter 56.1").) The DAT position was a probationary one and conferred no tenure rights. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 6; Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 6.)

Tiffany Cohen, one of the DAs, was a supervisor at Riley Road. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 4; Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 4.) Cohen initially supervised both McLaughlin and Williams, who were assigned to the day shift. (Pl.'s Counter 56.1 ¶¶ 10-11; Defs.'s Counter 56.1 ¶¶ 10-11.) Cohen reported to DA William Powe. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 10; Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 10.) Shari Bakst was the Treatment Team Leader responsible for the overall supervision of Riley Road and eight other community residences. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶¶ 11-12; Pl.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 11-12.) McLaughlin and Bakst are Caucasian; Williams and Cohen are African American. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 1; Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 1; Decl. of Shari Bakst dated Feb. 20, - ¶¶ 12, 32; Decl. of Patty McLaughlin dated March 21, 2012 ¶¶ 2, 6, 11.)

From her first week of employment, McLaughlin experienced problems at Riley Road. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 15; Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 15.) She was the only white employee of approximately 14 persons assigned to the day shift. (McLaughlin Decl. ¶¶ 10, 36.) McLaughlin claims that she "was not uncomfortable with the racial makeup of Riley Road per se, but was made to feel uncomfortable by the way the black employees were treating her." (Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 15.)

McLaughlin's issues at Riley Road primarily arose from her interactions with Cohen. Several incidents occurred shortly after McLaughlin started, on or around January 6, 2009. (McLaughlin Decl. ¶¶ 16, 20, 22-25.) Specifically, Cohen refused to sign the training book in which McLaughlin recorded her on-the-job training progress, then "flung" the book at McLaughlin. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 47; Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 47.) Later that day, Cohen asked McLaughlin to comb an African American resident's hair without explaining the proper method. (McLaughlin Decl. ¶ 22.) After watching McLaughlin struggle, Cohen stepped in and demonstrated with a look of "disgust." (McLaughlin Decl. ¶ 23.) Then, when McLaughlin put on gloves before brushing the same resident's teeth - as she had learned to do in classroom training - Cohen reprimanded her for doing so. (McLaughlin Decl. ¶¶ 24-25; Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 47; Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 47.)

Plaintiff asserts that, around the same time, an employee from Goshen Day Treatment Program named Joyce was at Riley Road and explained to plaintiff that "we're all African Americans here, " that "we stick together" and that Riley Road was "very cliquey." (Pl.'s Counter 56.1 ¶¶ 13-14; McLaughlin Decl. ¶ 28.) Defendants dispute this claim and allege that Goshen employee Joyce Mack has denied making the statement. (Defs.' Counter 56.1 ¶ 14.)

Additional confrontations took place between Cohen and McLaughlin over the next several weeks. A fire drill was held at Riley Road on or about January 13, and Cohen reprimanded McLaughlin for taking too long to vacate the building. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 56; Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 56.) Plaintiff admits she stopped to pick up a blanket, and in doing so, took longer than others, but claims that she did not know that what she did was contrary to protocol. (McLaughlin Decl. ¶ 34; Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 57; Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 57.) Additionally, on January 17, plaintiff arrived at work and encountered Cohen and Williams in the kitchen, eating eggs. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 58; Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 58.) Cohen refused to share her eggs with McLaughlin. ( Id. ) Instead, Cohen gave McLaughlin a look of "disgust" and left the room. (McLaughlin Decl. ¶ 38.) Williams offered McLaughlin some of her eggs, but McLaughlin did not take any. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 59; Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 59.)

Plaintiff makes additional claims about Cohen. She asserts that Cohen permitted and encouraged McLaughlin's co-workers to ignore her and refuse to help her, but plaintiff neither observed Cohen doing so, nor was she told that Cohen had done so. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶¶ 48-50; Pl.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 48-50.) McLaughlin also asserts that Cohen failed to train her. The two examples she points to are the above-described grooming incident and an incident in which Cohen failed to instruct her on how to use a device designed to lift patients because that device was broken. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶¶ 51-54; Pl.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 51-54.) Finally, plaintiff asserts that Williams made mistakes during work, but was not disciplined as McLaughlin was, and was instead befriended and assisted by the other staff members. (McLaughlin Decl. ¶ 53; Pl.'s Opp. at 17-18.) Plaintiff concedes that neither Cohen nor any other Riley Road employee used any racial epithets or directed any racially derogatory comment toward McLaughlin at any point during her tenure at Riley Road. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶¶ 46-47; Pl.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 46-47.)

Cohen and her supervisor Powe met with McLaughlin approximately three weeks into her employment to discuss the issues McLaughlin was having at Riley Road. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 17; Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 17.) The meeting was tense from the outset. (Stmt. of William Powe dated Feb. 3, 2009, Ex. B. to Bakst Decl.) Plaintiff began by explaining that she was "not a racist, " but that she was upset by the situation Joyce had allegedly explained to her - that the African American staff members "all stick together." (Powe Stmt., Ex. B to Bakst Decl.; Defs.' 56.1 ¶¶ 17-18; Pl.'s 56.1 ¶¶ 17-18.) Plaintiff then complained that the staff was "very cliquish." ( Id. ) Two days later, on January 24, Williams complained to the overall supervisor of Riley Road, Baskt, that McLaughlin had talked to others in the house about Williams's scores on qualifying tests and about ...

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