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Joseph v. Owens & Minor Distrib., Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. New York

March 24, 2014

HANCY JOSEPH, Plaintiff,
v.
OWENS & MINOR DISTRIBUTION, INC., Defendant

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For Hancy P. Joseph, Plaintiff: Kenneth W. Richardson, LEAD ATTORNEY, Kenneth W. Richardson, New York, NY.

For Owens and Minor Distribution, Inc., Defendant: Ira G. Rosenstein, Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP, New York, NY.

OPINION

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MEMORANDUM & ORDER

MARGO K. BRODIE, United States District Judge.

Plaintiff Hancy Joseph brought this action against Defendant Owens & Minor

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Distribution, Inc. (" Owens & Minor" ), alleging race and national origin discrimination and retaliation in violation of 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 § 296 (" NYSHRL" ) and the New York City Human Rights Law, N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-107 (" NYCHRL" ). Defendant moved for summary judgment as to all claims. The Court heard oral argument on February 13, 2014. For the reasons set forth below, the Courts grants Defendant's motion for summary judgment .

I. Background

a. Plaintiff's Employment

Plaintiff was employed as a Senior Project Analyst with Defendant, a distributor of medical and surgical supplies. (56.1 ¶ ¶ 1, 5.)[1] Plaintiff is African-American and from Haiti. (Compl. ¶ 6.) Plaintiff began working at Owens & Minor in February 2008 as a Project Analyst. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 5; Compl. ¶ 10.) According to Plaintiff, he was hired by Regional Business Director Tom Leonhardt, and throughout his employment at Owens & Minor, he was supervised and evaluated by Leonhardt. (Affidavit of Hancy Joseph (" Joseph Aff." ) ¶ 6.) Plaintiff claims that he was not trained for his job as a project analyst, but Leonhardt showed him what he needed to do and what was expected of him. (Def. Ex. B, Deposition of Plaintiff Hancy Joseph (" Pl. Dep." ) 158:3-8.) Plaintiff was promoted to Senior Analyst in November 2009. (56.1 ¶ 8; Joseph Aff. ¶ 5.) He was first supervised by William Ayres, a regional director, and in February 2010, David White became his manager. (Pl. Dep. 76-77.) According to Plaintiff, Leonhardt remained his " unofficial manager." (Pl. Dep. 75:15-17; Joseph Aff. ¶ ¶ 7-8.)

Plaintiff's job responsibilities included working on Clinical Supply Solution (" CSS" ), an inventory management system which was provided by Owens & Minor to its clients -- various hospitals that purchased supplies from the parent company of Owens & Minor. (56.1 ¶ 12.) After Plaintiff's promotion, Ayres promised that he would provide Plaintiff with training for the position, and White asked Plaintiff to prepare to travel to Washington for one week in April or May 2010 for a training on CSS, but that trip never took place. (Pl. Dep. 158:16-25.) Plaintiff asserts that Defendant trained similarly situated Senior Analysts Joel A. Kusterer and Courtney Brouilette, both of whom are white, (Joseph Aff. ¶ 10; Compl. ¶ 10), and paid him a lower salary than Brouilette and Kusterer, as well as other lower ranked Project Analysts. (Joseph Aff. ¶ 11-12; Compl. ¶ 24.) According to Defendant, " Plaintiff was trained in his job." (Def. 56.1 ¶ 10).

Plaintiff's evaluations for 2008 and 2009 documented his performance as " meets objectives" or " exceed objectives." (Pl. Ex. B, evaluations dated Feb. 18, 2009 and Feb. 18, 2010.) At some point Plaintiff was removed from his placement at two other hospitals, once due to " an interpersonal dispute," and a second time " at a client's request." (56.1 ¶ 6 (citing Pl. Dep. 62-65); ¶ 7 (citing Declaration of David White (" White Decl." ) ¶ 7).) In 2010 White gave Plaintiff positive feedback about his work as the CSS team prepared to launch CSS at New York Methodist hospital, one of Owens & Minor's clients.

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(White Decl. ¶ 19 and Ex. D, email dated Aug. 19, 2010.)

b. Alleged Racial Remarks

According to Plaintiff, after his November 2009 promotion to Senior Project Analyst, Mark Davis, the CSS Implementation Manager, " stated that he did not believe I was qualified for the position." (Joseph Aff. ¶ 9.) According to an internal investigation of this incident conducted by Defendant, Plaintiff reported that Davis asked him " Who actually selected you for this assignment?" in a manner that suggested that Plaintiff was not qualified for the position. (Pl. Ex. D, (" Hamilton October Investigation" ) at ECF 316.) In January 2010, following a major earthquake in Haiti, Davis commented to Plaintiff that Plaintiff " ha[d] accomplished a lot from where you come from," (Pl. Dep. 130:15-132:19), and, at that or another time, stated that culture, background and color play an important role in succeeding, (Pl. Dep. 176:3-14; Joseph Aff. ¶ 9), which struck Plaintiff as racially demeaning.

Over the weekend of August 28-29, 2010 Plaintiff and his colleagues, including Davis, worked through the weekend to prepare for the launch of the CSS program at New York Methodist Hospital. (Pl. Dep. 146-47.) Plaintiff worked without taking a lunch break on Saturday after an unspecified person urged him to continue working and " don't think about food." (Pl. Dep. 146:21-25.) At 5 p.m. that day, Davis invited Plaintiff to eat the leftover pizza that Davis and others working on the team had ordered and eaten in a different room. (Pl. Dep. 147:1-11.) Plaintiff characterized this incident as " mistreatment," but stated that he did not mention it, or what he felt were racially demeaning interactions with Davis, to anyone else prior to August 30, 2010, as he did not want to " polarize relationship in the institution while [he was] working for them." (Pl. Dep. 133:23-25; 148:8-24.)

c. August 30, 2010 Incident

In August 2010, Plaintiff was part of the team at Owens & Minor that was preparing to launch CSS in various departments at New York Methodist hospital. (56.1 ¶ ¶ 11, 13; White Decl. Ex. D.) Mark Davis was also assigned to this team as the on-site manager for the CSS implementation. (56.1 ¶ 14.) On August 30, 2010, Davis was meeting with Aleksey Manashir, in Manashir's office in New York Methodist hospital. ( Id. ¶ 17.) Manashir was the contact person for New York Methodist hospital working on the launch of the CSS program. ( Id.) Davis and Manashir were discussing " par levels," which are the parameters for the supply of products that are set by the customer. (Davis Decl. ¶ 5.) Defendant claims that Plaintiff was not scheduled to be a part of the meeting but joined it while it was already in progress. (56.1 ¶ 18.) Plaintiff claims that although this " wasn't a meeting that was scheduled," when he returned from lunch he was invited by Davis to join the meeting. (Pl. Dep. 105:16-23; see also Hamilton Decl. Ex. F.)

Davis and Plaintiff started arguing during the meeting with Manashir. According to Davis, Plaintiff " was very rude and began questioning the levels that the customer, Mr. Manashir, had set . . ., was very persistent and aggressive . . . [and] would not stop interrupting and being rude to both me and the customer." (Davis. Decl. ¶ 6.) According to Plaintiff, the customer, Manashir, requested a par level of 50, meaning that an automatic order for the resupply of that product would be placed with Owens & Minor when the in-hospital supply dropped to 50 items. When Davis suggested that a level of 3 was sufficient, Plaintiff chimed in to state that " if it was me, I would leave 15," at

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which point Davis got upset and stood up. (Pl. Dep. 108:10-110:23.) According to Manashir, Plaintiff " began interrupting the discussion and arguing with Mr. Davis about elements of the project." (Manashir Decl. ¶ 5.)

Davis asked Plaintiff to leave the meeting, (56.1 ¶ 19), and when Plaintiff refused, Davis placed his hand on the back of Plaintiff's shoulder, upper arm or back, (Def. Mem. 4; Pl. Dep. 113:11-14). Plaintiff characterized this as a " push" intended to push him out of the meeting. (Pl. Dep. 114:12-15.) Plaintiff told Davis that he had " crossed the line" and Plaintiff refused to leave the meeting, stating that he was the senior analyst who would be dealing with the account, and that his word had value. (Pl. Dep. 115:8-11; Joseph Aff. ¶ 16.) Manashir " never saw [Davis] touch Mr. Joseph in any way." (Manashir Decl. ¶ 6.)

Davis and Plaintiff both left the room and separately called White to report the incident. (Davis Decl. ¶ 9; Pl. Dep. 115:13-15.) Davis returned to Manashir's office, where, according to Davis, Manashir inquired " Do I have to work with this guy for three years?" (Davis Decl. ¶ 9.) Davis apologized to Manashir, telling him that " we would . . . do whatever was necessary to ensure the CSS implementation was successful." ( Id.) Plaintiff followed up his telephone call to White with an email to White describing the incident, (White Decl. Ex. B), followed by a similar email to White's manager Ayres, Davis's manager William Britton, and three other upper-management individuals.[2] (Def. Decl. Ex. C.)

The parties dispute whether Plaintiff complained to White that Davis's actions were racially motivated. White claims that Plaintiff " did not tell me that he believed that the incident resulted from racial or other bias against him on the part of Mr. Davis." [3] (White Decl. ¶ 5; 56.1 ¶ ¶ 31-32.) Plaintiff claims that he told White that " I believe this guy is racially motivated" and that " I'm about to send an email to the VP to address the situation," and White responded by asking Plaintiff not to send an email because he did not " want that to go around the company, Owens & Minor." (Pl. Dep. 120, 138:19-20:11.) Plaintiff also called Leonhardt to tell him about the incident. According to Plaintiff, he told Leonhardt that he believed the incident was racially motivated. ( Id. at 120:16-25, 124:5-18.) According to Defendant, Plaintiff " was kind of wondering out loud" if the reason this happened to him " was related to his race." (Hamilton October Investigation at ECF 316.)

d. Investigation of August 30, 2010 Incident

On September 1, 2010, White investigated the August 30, 2010 incident by speaking with Plaintiff, Davis and Manashir, and concluded that Davis had not done anything wrong. (White Decl. ¶ ¶ 9-12.) White counseled Davis to avoid physical contact with Plaintiff, and spoke to Plaintiff about " the importance of maintain[ing] a professional demeanor at all times in front of customers." ( Id. at ¶ ¶ 12-13; 56.1 ¶ 27.) White also started working with human resources to provide mentoring and counseling to Plaintiff but Plaintiff was terminated before this was arranged. (White Decl. ¶ ¶ 14-15.)

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On September 2, 2010, Plaintiff sent an email to William Angus, the Director of Human Resources, describing the August 30, 2010 incident, characterizing Davis's actions as " deeply humiliat[ing]," and stating his belief that Davis's actions were a violation of Owens & Minor's code of honor. (Def. Ex. C.) As a result of this email, Helen Hamilton of human resources initiated an investigation into the August 30th incident. (56.1 ¶ 38.) Hamilton recalls that Plaintiff told her that he believed that Davis needed " sensitivity training," (Hamilton Decl. ¶ 8; Pl. Dep. 136:23-138:18), " because people are different and it is hard to work with different cultures," (Hamilton Decl. Ex. D at 3). According to Hamilton, " at no time did [Plaintiff] suggest that he believed that Mr. Davis had been motivated in his actions by his race or national origin." (56.1 ¶ 40; Hamilton Decl. ¶ 7.) Plaintiff acknowledged that he did not tell Hamilton that he felt the incident was racially motivated, because he was " sugar coating" the issue, and he " want[ed] to put it in a form so it doesn't look ugly . . . I mean whoever is going to say [I am] playing the race card and I don't want that. I want it to be professional." (Pl. Dep. 138:5-11.) Plaintiff further conceded that he did not tell Hamilton that he felt " it had something to do with [his] national origin." [4] ( Id. at 140:14-18.) Plaintiff also stated that he believed at the time that White " want[ed] to protect [Davis]," but that " this [was] pure speculation because David White [didn't] tell me he [was] going to protect Davis." ( Id. at 137:8-12.)

On September 22, 2010, Hamilton provided a memorandum to Plaintiff documenting the results of her investigation. (56.1 ¶ 42; Hamilton Decl. ¶ 12 and Ex. G.) Hamilton concluded that Owens & Minor was unable to substantiate Plaintiff's allegation that Davis violated the code of conduct and that the dispute in front of the customer " was unnecessary and should have been avoided. Our own internal disagreements should never be displayed in front of the customer or an outside vendor." (Hamilton Decl. Ex. G at 1; 56.1 ¶ 43.)

e. September 22, 2010 Incident

On the afternoon of September 22, 2010, Manashir and Plaintiff were meeting in Manashir's office, and placed a telephone call to Plaintiff's supervisor, White. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 52; White Decl. ¶ 15; Pl. Dep. 187:19-20.) According to Defendant, Plaintiff " proceeded to argue about the type of support Mr. Manashir was receiving at [Owens & Minor], the exact requirements and description of [Plaintiff's] role, and other issues relating to the CSS implementation." (Def. 56.1 ¶ 52.) According to White, both Plaintiff and Manashir were arguing about these issues. (White Decl. ¶ 15.) Plaintiff denies that he argued with Manashir, describing Manishir instead as going " ballistic." (Pl. 56.1 ¶ 52.)

Later that day Manashir left a voicemail message for White informing him that " it is not going to work with me and Hancy," and stating that he believed that he could manage on his own and did " not need this type of support from [an] Owens & Minor Senior Analyst." (56.1 ¶ 54; White Decl. ¶ 16 and Ex. B; Manashir Decl. ¶ 9.) Plaintiff claims that, as he passed Manashir's office when he was leaving the hospital that evening, he overheard Manashir playing a voicemail ...


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