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Fuqua v. First Niagara Bank

United States District Court, W.D. New York

February 13, 2014

CRAIG FUQUA, Plaintiff,
v.
FIRST NIAGARA BANK, Defendant.

CORRECTED[1] DECISION AND ORDER

WILLIAM M. SKRETNY, Chief District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Craig Fuqua alleges that his former employer, First Niagara Bank, discriminated against him on the basis of sex and religion in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and New York State's Human Rights Law. He also alleges that First Niagara retaliated against him for filing a complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights.

Currently before this Court is Defendant's motion for summary judgment. For the following reasons, that motion is granted.

II. BACKGROUND[2]

Sometime in June 2008, Craig Fuqua, a male born-again Christian, was hired as a credit analyst at First Niagara Bank. (Pl.'s Stmnt, ¶¶ 1-2; Docket No. 40. Fuqua Dep. 43:1-2; Docket No. 25-1. Indelicato Aff., ¶ 4; Docket No. 25-2.) Credit analysts, sometimes called "portfolio managers" are "required to prepare accurate, objective, and cogent write-ups based on in-depth analysis of financial data." (Def.'s Stmnt., ¶ 7; Docket No. 27.) For approximately one year, Fuqua worked alongside Angela Indelicato, who, at the time, was also employed as a credit analyst. (Indelicato Aff., ¶ 4.) Their cubicles were in close proximity, and they would occasionally discuss personal issues. ( Id., ¶ 5.) In those discussions, Indelicato would sometimes reference her brother, who is a Christian. In Fuqua's words, "[Indelicato] stated that, you know, she had a dislike of born-again Christians. Quote, born-again Christians. Her brother was a Christian and that the [sic] statement was all he does is go to church. And there was reference to a family fight, where... she didn't feel that her family should make amends with her religious brother." (Fuqua Dep., 60:10-14, 61:22-23.) In an affidavit submitted in connection with this action, Indelicato admits to sometimes discussing her family life and her brother with Fuqua, but she clarifies that her brother, while Christian, is not a born-again Christian. (Def.'s Stmnt., ¶ 76.)

In these conversations, Indelicato would also sometimes discuss her relationship with men. "And there was one conversation where she expressed that she was discouraged that she wasn't married, discouraged she didn't have children. Discouraged that her dating life really didn't seem to go anywhere." (Fuqua Dep., 63:20-64:2; 70:12.) She also commented that "all men suck" on "several" occasions. ( Id., 64:18-19.) These comments were always made in connection with her personal life. ( Id., 71:8-10.)

Though Fuqua allegedly believed these comments about men and Christians were inappropriate, he never told Indelicato - or, it seems, anyone else at First Niagara. ( Id., 72:22-73:6.)

Those conversations eventually ended. In May 2009, Indelicato was asked by their supervisor, Russ Gentner, "to oversee the written product of the other portfolio mangers." (Def.'s Stmnt., ¶ 9.) Then, on January 1, 2010, Indelicato was promoted to Assistant Vice President, Senior Portfolio Underwriter. She thus became the supervisor for the remaining portfolio underwriters, including Fuqua. Fuqua admits that "the comments were very limited after she took over the former reporting line in January of 2010." In fact, he admits that virtually all the comments that he now complains of occurred in 2008 or 2009. (Def.'s Stmnt., ¶ 72.) Roughly two or three years after the comments stopped, on May 5, 2011, Fuqua filed a complaint with the New York State Division of Human rights, claiming that Indelicato discriminated against him because of his religion. (Division of Human Rights Compl., attached as Ex. 1 of Brown Aff; Docket No. 25-1.)

Fuqua remained a portfolio manager during his tenure at First Niagara. In that position, his performance was reviewed annually. (Def.'s Stmnt. ¶ 14.) In 2009, Gentner rated Fuqua in the middle category - "Key Contributor" - of five possible performance grades.[3] Within that review, Gentner found that "management is generally satisfied with his work product." (2009 Officer Review, at 2; Docket No. 25-3.) But he also noted, among other things, that "improvement relative to [a management change] is needed. In order to show improvement in this area[, ] it is highly recommended that Craig respond to management coaching, [and] take lessons learned and apply them to future case work." (Id.) He later emphasized that "Craig will need to respond to coaching" and that he "needs to demonstrate continuous improvement on an on-going basis." ( Id., at 3.) Gentner also suggested that he "reduce[] time spent on non-work related issues during the day and "where necessary work[] longer days." (Id.)

In 2010, Indelicato, in her new role as Assistant Vice President, completed Fuqua's annual review. She found no improvement in his work product. She noted that "[c]o-workers have to ask numerous times for him to follow processes and procedures." (2010 Officer Review, at 1; Docket No. 25-2.) Although tasks were "predominantly completed on time, " "quality and accuracy need to improve." ( Id., at 2.) "He continues to be argumentative[, ] to the point of disrespecting his manager's role, " Indelicato went on. (Id.) She also found that he continues to exhibit "poor work quality [and] behavior." (Id.) She assigned him an overall rating of "Development Required, " the second-lowest available rating. (Id.)

After this review, Indelicato contends that his work performance continued to be below average. On March 4, March 21, and April 5, 2011, Indelicato met with Fuqua to discuss his need for improvement. In reports prepared after those meetings, she noted each time that Fuqua "has not met quality expectations." (Employee Conference Reports; Docket No. 25-2.) Other First Niagara employees have also expressed frustration with Fuqua because of errors and inattention to detail. (See emails attached as Ex. L to Indelicato Aff; Docket No. 25-2.) Fuqua, however, has submitted two affidavits from co-workers who attest to his professionalism and respectful manner. (Stbeusz and Sciarra letters; attached as Pl.'s Ex. 7; Docket No. 33-2.)

Citing concerns like those described above, First Niagara eventually fired Fuqua on June 14, 2011. Andrew Zanotta is the Senior Vice President and Director of Commercial Real Estate Credit Risk and Approval at First Niagara; he is Indelicato's supervisor and was ultimately responsible for discharging Fuqua from the bank. By way of affidavit, Zanotta testifies that he met with Fuqua after the 2009 performance review and that during the meeting, Fuqua was "openly disrespectful of Ms. Indelicato." (Zanotta Aff., ¶ 5; Docket No. 25-4.) After being instructed to put his concerns about Indelicato in writing, Fuqua sent Zanotta an email wherein he "launche[d] a highly unprofessional, personal attack on Ms. Indelicato." ( Id., ¶ 8). He criticized her ability as a supervisor, but never mentioned any potentially discriminatory conduct. ( Id., ¶ 10)

Zanotta further testified that Fuqua's job performance continued to deteriorate after the 2009 and 2010 reviews. ( Id., ¶ 14.) In a March 2011 email, he wrote that Fuqua's "uneven work product[, ] as well as his lack of adherence to the stated organizational values are apparent and are continuing to the point where I do not view his career here as salvageable." ( Id., ¶ 24.) He also noted that "the underlying issue is his stated personal dislike for Angela [Indelicato] and the resentment and frustration he feels from having to report to her." ( Id., ¶ 23.) "Rather than make the necessary corrections and modifications, " Zanotta wrote in March 2011, "he goes into denial ...


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