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Lehman v. Bergmann Assocs., Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. New York

March 31, 2014

MARIA LEHMAN, Plaintiff,

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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For Maria Lehman, Plaintiff: Lindy Korn, LEAD ATTORNEY, Buffalo, NY; Lynn Marie King, LEAD ATTORNEY, Law Offices of Lindy Korn, Buffalo, NY.

For Bergmann Associates, Defendant: Scott D. Piper, LEAD ATTORNEY, Harris Beach PLLC, Pittsford, NY.

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WILLIAM M. SKRETNY, Chief United States District Judge.


Maria Lehman alleges that her former employer, Bergmann Associates Inc., violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by creating a hostile work environment and by retaliating against her for filing charges of discrimination. She also alleges that Bergmann violated the federal Equal Pay Act and New York's Equal Pay Act by paying her a wage lower than that of comparable men.

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Bergmann now seeks dismissal of each claim under Rule 12(b)(6). For the following reasons, Bergmann's motion is granted in part and denied in part.


A. Facts[1]

Maria Lehman began working for Bergmann Associates in September of 2007. According to her complaint, Lehman ascended to become the first woman to hold a senior management position at the engineering and architectural firm. (Compl. ¶ 11.[2]) She alleges, however, that it remained a male-dominated enviroment where she encountered sex-based discrimination. For instance, she claims that Shannon Short, the former marketing director, told her that CEO Tom Mitchell referred to Short in front of other supervisors as the " marketing bitch." Short later reported that Mitchell told her that she would never advance in the company because she is a woman. (¶ 15.)[3] Another male manager, Steve Boisvert, reportedly asked if Short was " a bitch like this at home, or just at work." (¶ 15.)

Also, Lehman had access to Bergmann's personnel data, which revealed that Bergmann hired more males, fired more females, and paid males more than females. (¶ 13.)

As for actions allegedly taken against Lehman herself, she maintains that despite Tom Mitchell's awareness that one of Bergmann's employees was charged with sex offenses, Mitchell directed Lehman to travel with this employee without warning her about the pending charges. When Lehman complained, Mitchell shrugged it off, saying it was " too bad." (¶ 25.)

Other incidents, she asserts, contributed to a hostile work environment. Male managers harassed her for complaining of migraines (¶ 29), and Mitchell, who typically did not involve himself in such matters, decided to interview a male job applicant despite Lehman's decision to refuse him an interview because she believed he was " sexist" (¶ 31). Mitchell also complains that " [w]hen male Managers and Directors took the initiative of setting agendas for and facilitating meetings, CEO Mitchell reacted well. [But] [w]hen Ms. Lehman did the same . . .CEO Mitchell expressed anger with her." (¶ 28.)

Apparently due to grievances like these and possibly others, on October 14, 2011 Lehman " reported to CEO Mitchell . . . that she was the only Manager or Director being reprimanded for problems all of the Managers and Directors were having." (¶ 34.) Lehman goes on to assert that " [a]ll of the other Managers and Directors were male." (¶ 34.) Lehman contends that Mitchell retaliated against her for making this complaint. " Less than two weeks later," Lehman asserts, " CEO Mitchell disciplined [her] by putting her on an unwarranted Performance Improvement Plan." (¶ 34.) She was the first " upper level supervisor"

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to be placed on such a plan, which Lehman characterizes as " disciplin[ary]." ¶ 35.) Within the plan, sometimes referred to by the acronym " PIP," Mitchell " falsely accused Ms. Lehman of not performing certain managerial roles with sufficient attention to detail." (¶ 38.) But " Ms. Lehman responded by showing Defendant her actual numbers for the task, which showed that she had been extremely accurate." (¶ 38.)

Then, on November 9, 2011, Lehman " gave . . . Mitchell a written complaint of discrimination and hostile work environment based on sex/gender." (¶ 40.) In response, Mitchell " began excluding Ms. Lehman from corporate discussions" (¶ 42) and announced that, contrary to previous representations, Lehman would no longer be considered for the available CEO position (¶ 43).

Other actions allegedly followed: Lehman asserts that Mitchell attempted to " collapse" her department (¶ 45); a December 2011 bonus was the smallest she had ever received as a manager -- less than what her male counterparts received (¶ ¶ 47-48); and she was forced to take a " demotion to Director of Government Relations, which was a less substantive and less prestigious position than the one [she] had held for the previous 4.5 years." (¶ 50.)

Reasoning that her reputation in the company was now irreparably damaged, Lehman submitted a " letter of resignation/constructive discharge" on March 19, 2012. (¶ 54.) Her last day was April 2, 2012. (¶ 55.)

B. Procedural history

On April 13, 2012, Plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the New York Division of Human Rights and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. That charge did not result in a finding in her favor, and she received her " right-to-sue" letter on February 8, 2013.[4]

Lehman then filed her complaint on May 8, 2013. Three months later, after the parties stipulated to an extension for Bergmann to respond to the complaint, Bergmann moved to dismiss it. Briefing concluded on September 18, 2013, at which time this Court took the motion under consideration.


A. Rule 12(b)(6)

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