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Taylor v. Seamen's Society for Children

United States District Court, Second Circuit

December 17, 2013



PAUL A. ENGELMAYER, District Judge.

Plaintiff Vicki Taylor ("Taylor"), a former employee of defendant Seamen's Society for Children ("Seamen's Society"), brings claims of employment discrimination and retaliation against Seamen's Society under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et. seq. ("Title VII"), the New York State Human Rights Law, N.Y. Exec. Law §§ 290 et seq. ("NYSHRL"), and the New York City Human Rights Law, N.Y. City Admin. Code §§ 8-101 et seq. ("NYCHRL"). Taylor alleges that she was discriminated against on the basis of her race and retaliated against for having engaged in a protected act. Seamen's Society denies each claim and now moves for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. For the reasons that follow, the motion is granted.

I. Background[1]

A. The Parties

Seamen's Society is a not-for-profit foster care agency funded by the government. Def. 56.1 ¶ 70. Seamen's Society runs several different programs, each of which has its own budget and source of government funding. Id. For instance, New York City's Administration for Children's Services ("ACS") funds foster care and preventative programs; the New York City Council funds family day care programs; and Medicaid funds medical/psychiatric programs. Id. The costs of administrative departments like Human Resources, IT, and Accounting are "shared across all programs, " in that funding for administrative costs is "taken from all of the program budgets." Id. ¶ 72.

Taylor, an African-American woman, worked for Seamen's Society between 1985 and 2011. Taylor Aff. ¶¶ 1, 2; Def. 56.1 ¶ 4; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 169; Opsha Aff. ¶ 28. She was originally hired by Ann Deinhardt, the Executive Director of Seamen's Society, as a bookkeeper, and for her first three years, she was responsible for accounts payable/receivable, cash disbursements and receipts, bank reconciliations, day care billing, closing books at the end of the month, and preparing expense control worksheets. Taylor Aff. ¶¶ 2, 6. She also assisted the senior bookkeeper with accounting for payroll, Tax Deferred Annuity ("TDA"), and pensions. Id. ¶ 6. Between 1988 and 1992, Taylor performed bookkeeping tasks in connection with health insurance, worker's compensation, life insurance, short and long term disability, pension, TDA, and payroll. Id. ¶ 9. Starting in 1992, Taylor worked for Virginia Hartie ("Hartie"), Seamen's Society's Human Resources Manager. Id. ¶ 11.

In 1998, Taylor moved back to the Accounting Department, where she reported to Nancy Vomero ("Vomero"), who was, at that time, Seamen's Society's Chief Financial Officer ("CFO"). Id. ¶ 12; Def. 56.1 ¶ 10. In June 2006, Vomero was promoted to Chief Executive Officer ("CEO"), and Taylor began to report to Seamen's Society's new CFO, Margaret Bell ("Bell"). Def. 56.1 ¶¶ 1, 11; Vomero Aff. ¶ 1. In September 2010, Anna Opsha ("Opsha") replaced Bell as Seamen's Society's CFO, and Taylor began reporting to Opsha. Def. 56.1 ¶ 39; Opsha Aff. ¶ 1; Taylor Aff. ¶ 51. In May 2011, Taylor's employment at Seamen's Society was terminated. Def. 56.1 ¶ 90; Wooldridge Aff. Ex. KK.

B. Events Leading to Taylor's First EEOC Complaint

Taylor's claims arise out of her dealings with various senior executives of Seamen's

Society between October 2008 and her termination in May 2011. As stated above, starting in 1992, Taylor worked for Hartie, who was, at the time, Seamen's Society's Human Resources Manager. Taylor Aff. ¶ 11. During that time, Taylor handled all aspects of employee benefits, including enrolling the employees, making any changes to benefits, and reconciling payroll to ensure the appropriate deductions were taken from an employee's salary to reflect corresponding benefits. Def. 56.1 ¶ 9. In 1998, Taylor returned to the Accounting Department and began reporting to Vomero. Id. In 2006, when Vomero was promoted to CEO, Taylor began to report to the new CFO, Bell. Id. ¶¶ 1, 11; Vomero Aff. ¶ 1.

In 2007, Hartie retired, and Seamen's Society hired Phyllis Davide ("Davide") as the new Director of Human Resources. Def. 56.1 ¶ 12. Davide was later promoted to Vice President of Human Resources. Id. On February 11, 2008, Andrea Montalvo was hired as the Human Resources Generalist to assist Davide. Id. ¶ 16. In October 2008, Davide, Vomero, and Bell met with Taylor and informed her that the task of enrolling and terminating employees in benefit plans would be transferred to the Human Resources Department. Id. ¶¶ 14, 17. Vomero and Davide agreed that Taylor would continue to monitor benefit accruals (of personal, sick, and vacation time) and the monthly payments to the pension plan. Id. ¶ 15. However, Human Resources would take over responsibility for enrolling the employee in the benefit program, ensuring the submission of proper paperwork to the benefit company, handling any changes to the employee's benefit election, and terminating the employee's enrollment in that benefit if the employee elected to withdraw or was terminated. Id. ¶ 18[2]; Vomero Aff. ¶ 39.

In January 2009, Taylor sent Davide a letter, identifying what Taylor believed to be "several incidents involving [racial] discrimination." Taylor Aff. ¶ 20; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 198; Wooldridge Aff. Ex. B. The incidents raised in Taylor's letter included, inter alia, a female Hispanic secretary whose salary was decreased; an African-American employee whose pay was docked one day; the hiring of two Caucasian secretaries to replace two African-American secretaries; and a reduction in pay for an African-American employee who was transferred to Quality Assurance. Wooldridge Aff. Ex. B. Davide responded in writing, stating that Taylor's "conclusions of discrimination are not justified." Pl. 56.1 ¶ 199; Wooldridge Aff. Ex. C.

On December 16, 2009, Bell provided Taylor with her performance evaluation for the period between July 1, 2008 and June 30, 2009. Pl. 56.1 ¶ 205; Smith Decl. Ex. 14. The choices for overall performance ratings were: (1) improvement needed; (2) valued performance; and (3) exceptional performance. Smith Decl. Ex. 14. Evaluating Taylor, Bell selected "valued performance." Id. Her appraisal of Taylor was: "Vickie tries to go out of her way for the employees of Seamen's, even though at time[s] she is overstepping her boundaries." Id. In a written response, Taylor stated that she "disagree[d] with your statement of overstepping my boundaries[, ] [s]ince your reason is because I talk to employees behind closed doors." Id.

A few weeks after receiving her December 16, 2009 performance evaluation, Taylor received another performance evaluation for an overlapping period: between July 1, 2008 and December 31, 2009. Pl. 56.1 ¶ 207; Smith Decl. Ex. 14. The choices for overall performance ratings on the new form were: (1) improvement needed; (2) satisfactory performance; (3) valued performance; and (4) exceptional performance. Smith Decl. Ex. 14. Evaluating Taylor, Bell selected "satisfactory performance." Id. Her appraisal of Taylor remained the same, except she added that there had "been discussions on several occasions regarding [Taylor's] lack of timeliness in responding to HR with time sensitive information." Id.

On January 15, 2010, Taylor sent a letter to Cara Buonincontri ("Buonincontri"), the Chair of Seamen's Society's Board of Directors. Wooldridge Aff. Ex. D. In the letter, Taylor discussed an incident at work between Doreen Montalvo and Andrea Montalvo (unrelated), the handling of which Taylor asserted was discriminatory and reflected a lack of integrity within the Human Resources Department. Id. Taylor requested to meet with Buonincontri in person. Id.

On January 26, 2010, Buonincontri responded to Taylor's letter. Wooldridge Aff. Ex. E. In relevant part, Buonincontri's letter stated that Taylor's allegations had been investigated, and that "it has been determined that the facts you presented were inaccurate." Id. Buonincontri nonetheless offered to meet, and did meet, with Taylor on February 1, 2010. After the meeting, Buonincontri sent Taylor another letter, stating that she had investigated the incidents raised in Taylor's letter, and "determined that there is no evidence of discrimination." Id.

Sometime in January or February 2010, Taylor was moved out of her private office and into the office pool. Def. 56.1 ¶¶ 134-35.

On March 3, 2010, Bell issued Taylor a memorandum recounting a discussion they had regarding employee benefits. Def. 56.1 ¶ 26. The memorandum stated:

It is Seamen's policy that Human Resources handle all benefits questions. All questions you may be asked should be referred to HR. As you know, this is especially important with questions concerning TDAs.

Wooldridge Aff. Ex. R.

On April 20, 2010, Taylor received a new job description, which she signed. Def. 56.1 ¶ 29; Wooldridge Aff. Ex. T. Taylor's job description listed her position as "Payroll Specialist" and summarized her responsibilities as "process[ing] payroll and related duties." Wooldridge Aff. Ex. T. Among her listed duties and responsibilities were to: review employees' time sheets; track employees' sick, vacation, and personal business time; process payroll for Seamen's Society; transmit semi-monthly TDA and pension transactions; track payroll deductions ( e.g., garnishments, parking, flexible spending), prepare monthly pension reports; and perform related payroll reconciliations for accounts receivable and accounts payable. Id.

On May 18, 2010, Davide and Bell met with Taylor to discuss her job responsibilities. Def. 56.1 ¶ 30; Smith Decl. Ex. 1 at 104. Taylor accused Bell of bullying her into signing the job description on April 20, 2010. Smith Decl. Ex. 1 at 104-06. After the meeting, Davide concluded in a memorandum that there was not "any intention to bully or threaten.... [m]ost probably a misunderstanding on both sides." Wooldridge Aff. Ex. U. Davide also reiterated that Taylor was, going forward, "to perform your job responsibilities as outlined in your current job description." Id. After this meeting, Taylor signed a job description that was substantively identical to the April 20, 2010 job description. Wooldridge Aff. Ex. V.

On June 14, 2010, Taylor met with Vomero and Davide about an incident in which Taylor was accused of providing guidance to another employee regarding vacation and sick leave. Def. 56.1 ¶ 33. On June 16, 2010, Davide drafted a Memorandum of Record, signed by Taylor, Vomero, and Davide, which was placed in Taylor's employment file. Id. ¶ 34; Wooldridge Aff. Ex. X. The memorandum states:

I concluded our meeting by referencing our meeting of 5/18/10 where I clarified Vickie's job responsibilities and the proper procedure to take if she came across anything outside her payroll responsibilities. I reminded Vickie that FMLA and any other benefit related issue is outside the scope of her responsibilities and should be referred to HR. Although Vickie at one time handled benefit related issues she no longer has that responsibility and would not necessarily be aware of benefit changes/guidelines therefore Vickie should not relate benefit info to employees. My recommendation would be: "simply tell the employee that is outside of your responsibility and you should speak to your supervisor or HR.["]

Wooldridge Aff. Ex. X.

On June 14, 2010, Taylor filed a charge of discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), alleging discrimination and retaliation based upon her race and age ("EEOC Charge I"). See Wooldridge Aff. Ex. A. Specifically, Taylor alleged that, after she wrote letters to Davide and Buonincontri about racial discrimination in the workplace, Seamen's Society retaliated against her by: (1) taking away her job duties;

(2) moving her out of her private office; (3) unfairly scrutinizing and criticizing her performance; and (4) changing her performance evaluation from positive to negative. Id.

On May 13, 2011, the EEOC issued a "Right to Sue Letter, " which stated that Taylor's lawsuit under Title VII or the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA") "must be filed in a federal or state court within 90 days." Wooldridge Aff. Ex. F. Taylor did not file a lawsuit on her claims contained in EEOC Charge I.

C. Events After Taylor's First EEOC Complaint

In September 2010, Opsha replaced Bell as CFO of Seamen's Society. Def. 56.1 ¶ 39; Opsha Aff. ¶ 1; Taylor Aff. ¶ 51. Upon joining Seamen's Society, Opsha conducted a review of the Accounting Department, meeting with each employee and asking them to write down their job duties, so that she "could properly evaluate the department." Def. 56.1 ¶ 42; Opsha Aff. ¶ 4. Opsha later stated that she had "a very different outlook on management" than Bell, and that she "prefer[red] to address issues immediately and repeatedly until performance improves." Opsha Aff. ¶ 5. For example, on September 9, 2010, Opsha issued a warning to Doreen Montalvo regarding excessive absenteeism. Def. 56.1 ¶ 98; Opsha Aff. ¶ 6. Opsha also placed Montalvo on a 30-day probation, gave her three written employee counselings due to excessive absenteeism (Dec. 23, 2010, Jan. 13, 2011, and Nov. 10, 2011), and provided written warnings on two other occasions for disclosing confidential information (Jun. 16, 2011 and Nov. 10, 2011). Def. 56.1 ¶ 99.

On September 30, 2010, Opsha gave Taylor a written counseling for advising an employee on Seamen's Society's sick leave policy. Def. 56.1 ¶ 50; Wooldridge Aff. Ex. L at 130-31. The counseling stated:

As revealed by one of the employee[']s e-mails to HR on September 30, 2010, Ms. Taylor continues to advise employees on their benefits. Employee benefits are not a payroll function. All benefit inquiries from employees should be directed to HR. Ms. Taylor was advised multiple times in the past that employee benefits are outside of the scope of her responsibilities.

Wooldridge Aff. Ex. Y. The corrective action was to "not advise other employees on their benefits" and to direct all benefits inquiries to HR. Id.

On November 17, 2010, Taylor received a new job description from Opsha. Def. 56.1 ¶ 48; Wooldridge Aff. Ex. Z. This job description-for "Payroll Bookkeeper"-included the following duties and responsibilities: (1) process semi-monthly payroll; (2) review employees' time sheets; (3) monitor garnishments and flexible spending; and (4) enter day care provider payroll information into Soft Care for payment. Wooldridge Aff. Ex. Z. The description also added as a qualification an "Associates degree and prior payroll experience." Id. On November 24, 2010, Taylor signed the job description, but noted that she "disagree[d] with the new [Associates degree] qualification." Id.

On April 21, 2011, Taylor received another employee counseling from Opsha for advising an employee's supervisor that the employee could not take a half-day as a sick day. Def. 56.1 ¶ 112; Opsha Aff. ¶ 13; Wooldridge Aff. Ex. CC. The counseling stated:

It has come to my attention that, despite having been expressly advised not to do so in the past, Ms. Taylor continues to advise employees on how to handle issues on vacation, personal, and sick time.... Ms. Taylor should not be giving any directives to employees from other departments. She was instructed multiple times to bring all the issues and discrepancies to my attention and not to advise other employees on any issues.

Wooldridge Aff. Ex. CC.

1. Automation of the Payroll System

A few months after Opsha became CFO in September 2010, she suggested to Vomero that Seamen's Society should automate its payroll system. Def. 56.1 ¶¶ 39, 54; Opsha Aff. ¶ 20; Vomero Aff. ¶ 18. Opsha later testified that she believed a fully automated payroll system would be more cost-efficient and accurate. Opsha Aff. ¶ 20. Opsha's prior employment as an auditor for other not-for-profit corporations had exposed her to automated payroll systems, in which employees electronically punch in and out each day and timecards are automatically generated. Def. 56.1 ¶ 55. Opsha believed that such a system would eliminate the need for: (1) employees to hand-write their time; (2) supervisors to review that time; and (3) accounting to cross-check that time with accruals in the payroll system and to work out discrepancies. Id. Under the automated system, employees would no longer need to write times into their time card, because the automated system would require employees to physically sign in and out with a swipe of their finger. Id. ¶ 56; Wooldridge Aff. Ex. MM. Vomero encouraged Opsha to look into the idea. Vomero Aff. ¶ 19.

Opsha asked ADP, a payroll processing company already working for Seamen's Society, to provide a proposal for a fully automated payroll system. Def. 56.1 ¶ 58. On April 15, 2011, ADP presented its proposal to Opsha, Vomero, Davide, and Margaret O'Toole ("O'Toole"), the Chief Operating Officer ("COO"). Id. ¶ 60. This group decided that the new ADP system would meet the company's payroll needs at reduced costs and higher efficiency. Id. ¶ 61.[3] Accordingly, Seamen's Society entered into a contract with ADP. Id. ¶ 62. The new payroll system became operational on July 1, 2011. Id. ¶ 61.[4]

Seamen's Society's "fiscal year" runs from July 1 to June 30 of each year. Def. 56.1 ¶ 69. For fiscal year 2011 (July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2011), before the implementation of the new ADP system, Seamen's Society paid ADP $24, 710.93. Id. ¶ 64; Opsha Aff. ¶ 24; Wooldridge Aff. Ex. PP. For fiscal year 2012 (July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2012), after the new ADP system was installed, Seamen's Society paid ADP $41, 594.26. Def. 56.1 ¶ 64; Opsha Aff. ¶ 24; Wooldridge Aff. Ex. PP. Seamen's Society thus paid ADP $16, 883.33 more for the year after implementing ...

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