United States District Court, N.D. New York
RANDOLPH JONES, Plaintiff, Pro se, Syracuse, New York.
For Defendants: TED H. WILLIAMS, ESQ., OF COUNSEL, HARRIS BEACH, PLLC, Syracuse, New York.
Frederick J. Scullin, Jr., Senior United States District Judge.
MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER
Currently before the Court is Defendants' motion for summary judgment. See
Dkt. No. 33. Plaintiff opposes this motion. See Dkt. No. 35.
A. The parties
Defendant Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency (" Defendant OCRRA" ) is a public benefit corporation that the New York Legislature established to manage Onondaga County's solid waste. See Dkt. No. 1 at ¶ 9; Dkt. No. 33-23 at 8. Defendant OCRRA operates two transfer stations, the Ley Creek Transfer Station (" Ley Creek" ) and the Rock Cut Road Transfer Station (" Rock Cut" ). See Dkt. No. 33-24 at ¶ 14; Dkt. No. 35 at ¶ 14. A fifteen member Board of Directors (" Board" ), of which Defendant Donnelly is the Chair, oversees Defendant OCRRA. See Dkt. No. 1 at ¶ 9; Dkt. No. 33-24 at ¶ 11.
Defendant Rhoads is Defendant OCRRA's former Executive Director. See Dkt. No. 33-24 at ¶ 7; Dkt. No. 35 at ¶ 7. Defendant Fontanella serves as Defendant OCRRA's Transfer Director, and he is responsible for the management of operations at Ley Creek and Rock Cut. See Dkt. No. 33-9 at ¶ 1; Dkt. No. 33-24 at ¶ 8; Dkt. No. 35 at ¶ 8. Defendant Nosik is a Personnel Analyst; and she, among other things, fields employees' complaints about workplace discrimination, retaliation, and harassment. See Dkt. No. 33-24 at ¶ ¶ 9, 12; Dkt. No. 35 at ¶ ¶ 9, 12. Finally, Defendant Cooper is the Assistant Director of Transfer Operations at Ley Creek and has supervisory responsibilities over the workers at that transfer station. See Dkt. No. 33-24 at ¶ 10; Dkt. No. 35 at ¶ 10.
On April 13, 1987, Defendant OCRRA hired Plaintiff, an African-American, as a tractor-trailer driver. See Dkt. No. 33-24 at ¶ ¶ 1-3; Dkt. No. 35 at ¶ ¶ 1-3. In February 2010, Defendant OCRRA promoted Plaintiff to a MEO III classification position at Ley Creek. See Dkt. No. 33-24 at ¶ 5; Dkt. No. 35 at ¶ 5; Dkt. No. 33-15 at 5. Plaintiff currently works in that capacity. See id . Plaintiff also served as the steward for the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 545-C (the " Union" ) from July 25, 2005, to March 31, 2012. See Dkt. No. 33-24 at ¶ 4; Dkt. No. 33-15 at 19; Dkt. No. 35 at ¶ 4.
B. Plant operator position at Ley Creek
The plant operator primarily supervises Ley Creek's daily operations, including customer service issues, maintenance of equipment, dispatch of drivers, delegation of duties to laborers, maintenance of the physical plant, and workers' and customers' safety and security. See Dkt. No. 33-24 at ¶ 17; Dkt. No. 33-9 at ¶ 7. The permanent plant operator is a civil service position and is the highest paid position in the Union. See Dkt. No. 33-24 at ¶ ¶ 17-18; Dkt. No. 35 at ¶ ¶ 17-18. The permanent plant operator's qualifications include three years of full-time work experience in the maintenance, operation, or repair of machines in a solid waste plant and one or more years of managerial experience. See Dkt. No. 33-24 at ¶ 17; Dkt. No. 35 at ¶ 17. Leroy Sabin serves as Ley Creek's permanent plant operator. See Dkt. No. 33-9 at ¶ 4. Mr. Sabin thus has supervisory responsibilities over Ley Creek's employees, including Plaintiff. See Dkt. No. 33-24 at ¶ 18; Dkt. No. 35 at ¶ 18; Dkt. No. 33-9 at ¶ 8.
C. Collective bargaining agreement
At all relevant times, Defendant OCRRA and the Union operated under a
collective bargaining agreement (" CBA" ). Article 2 of the CBA, titled " Management Rights," provides that Defendant OCRRA has
the exclusive right to manage its operations, including, but not limited to the right to maintain the efficiency of operations entrusted to it; to determine the methods, means and personnel by which such operations are to be conducted; to take whatever actions may be necessary to carry out the policies and purposes of OCRRA . . . .
Nothing in this Agreement shall limit OCRRA's management functions, . . ., including, the right to discipline, suspend or discharge for just cause; to determine the qualifications of employees; to observe and evaluate the employee's job performance and to apply disciplinary action to insure a full day's work . . . and to require employees to observe reasonable OCRRA work rules presently in effect and/or to be put into effect . . . .
See Dkt. No. 33-12 at 4-5.
Additionally, Article 17.1 of the CBA reads, in pertinent part, " Agency-wide seniority will apply to layoff, rehire and bidding on jobs posted by the Agency, and when the Agency assigns or reassigns employees to fill a scheduled vacation of more than two (2) consecutive weeks." See Dkt. No. 33-24 at ¶ 6; Dkt. No. 35 at ¶ 6.
Based on Defendant OCRRA's interpretation of Articles 2 and 17.1, its practice had been to select the employee with the greatest familiarity with Ley Creek's daily operations, not the employee with the most seniority, to serve as the temporary plant operator, i.e., a position of less than two weeks. See Dkt. No. 33-9 at ¶ 14. Employees, however, challenged Defendant OCRRA's interpretation of Articles 2 and 17.1. See Dkt. No. 33-9 at ¶ 22. Indeed, in 2010, Darren Brandt, a Caucasian tractor-trailer driver, filed a grievance challenging Defendant OCRRA's practice of assigning employees to temporary vacancies at Ley Creek. See id . at ¶ 25. Resolving Mr. Brandt's grievance in his favor, the arbitrator held that Defendant OCRRA was required to fill temporary vacancies of two weeks or less based on seniority. See id .
D. Plaintiff's administrative complaint and the present lawsuit
On November 24, 2009, Plaintiff filed an administrative complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights (" NYSDHR" ), which was cross-filed with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (" EEOC" ). In that administrative complaint, Plaintiff alleged that Defendant OCRRA discriminatorily appointed, on multiple occasions, employees with more seniority than him to the temporary plant operator position. See Dkt. No. 33-1 at ¶ 6; Dkt. No. 33-9 at ¶ 29. By a Determination and Order dated August 3, 2010, the NYSDHR found no probable cause to support Plaintiff's allegations. See Dkt. No. 33-24 at ¶ 29. On November 12, 2010, the EEOC adopted the NYSDHR's no probable cause finding and issued Plaintiff a right-to-sue letter. See id . at ¶ 30.
On February 1, 2011, Plaintiff filed his pro se complaint in this action, asserting eight causes of action. See generally Dkt.
No. 1. In his first cause of action, Plaintiff alleged that Defendants retaliated against him after he complained about race discrimination on January 8, 2008, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (" Title VII" ). See id . at ¶ 61. Specifically, Plaintiff asserted that, throughout 2008, Defendants intentionally blocked him from any and all temporary plant operator positions by (1) threatening to suspend and discharge Mitchell Steward and Doug Trudeau, Caucasian employees, if they did not assume the temporary plant operator position; (2) reinstating the Assistant Deputy Director position at Ley Creek and reassigning Defendant Cooper to that position; and (3) transferring Ted Pease, a Caucasian crew leader, from Rock Cut to Ley Creek. See id . at ¶ ¶ 20-23, 62-64; Dkt. No. 33-15 at 44, 50.
In his second and third causes of action, Plaintiff alleged that Defendants subjected him to discrimination, disparate treatment, and hostile work environment in violation of Title VII. See Dkt. No. 1 at ¶ ¶ 68-69, 75-76. To support these allegations, Plaintiff asserted that Defendants (1) reassigned Defendant Cooper and Ted Pease, two senior Caucasian employees, to block him from vacant temporary plant operator positions; (2) imposed training requirements on him for the plant operator position that they did not impose on Caucasian employees; and (3) allowed senior Caucasian employees to accrue the plant operator's pay while driving trucks. See id .; Dkt. No. 33-15 at 51.
In his fourth and fifth causes of action, Plaintiff alleged that Defendants violated his equal protection rights under the Fourteenth Amendment and 42 U.S.C. § § 1981a, 1983 by creating a hostile work environment and discriminating against him because of his race in terms of ...