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McManus v. Town of Hamburg

United States District Court, W.D. New York

May 30, 2014



WILLIAM M. SKRETNY, Chief District Judge.


Rose Mary McManus was a 15-year employee of the Town of Hamburg when she resigned from her full-time position as a civil-service messenger in October of 2010. But that resignation, she contends, was compelled. She claims that council members and a supervisor on the Town Board "forced her to sign [the resignation] letter under threats of being fired." (Compl., ¶ 18.) She further contends that Thomas Best, Sr., now the highway superintendent, and at one time a Town of Hamburg council member, subjected her to "less favorable treatment than Linda Rogers, " with whom Best had had a romantic relationship. (Id., ¶ 10.) According to McManus, this preference for Rogers, and generally a preference for women who fit a "subservient stereotype" violated Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits, among other things, sex-based discrimination in the workplace. She further contends that she was retaliated against for reporting this allegedly discriminatory behavior.

The Town of Hamburg now moves for summary judgment. For the following reasons, that motion is granted.


A. Facts

At the time of the events leading to this lawsuit, the Town of Hamburg was governed by a board consisting of four at-large council members and a town supervisor, each elected to four-year terms. Rose Mary McManus, a woman, was first hired by the Town of Hamburg in 1995 as a part-time clerk in the Town Council's office. In that role, she was given varied assignments by various council members. She was later promoted to a full-time position entitled "messenger." As a messenger, she gathered and delivered the mail, handled the payroll, took messages, and oversaw the management of supplies and equipment for various Town departments.

According to the Town, around January of 2010 it was "in the process of investigating options for reducing costs and increasing efficiency." (Def.'s Stmnt., ¶ 18; Docket No. 39.) As part of that process, it "analyzed the duties of messenger and came to a determination that it did not warrant a full time position." (Id., ¶ 19.) On January 7, 2010, McManus met with Steven Walters, then (and now) the supervisor for the Town, and Kevin Smardz, a Town councilman from 2008 until 2010. To McManus' surprise, they told her that her position was immediately being reduced to part time and that there was no guarantee she would keep the job. According to the Town, however, McManus informed Walters and Smardz that she was "looking to retire in October" anyway, and thus the parties agreed that she could stay in her current position until she reached her 10-year anniversary of full-time work (triggering certain retirement benefits) and that she would resign at the end of October 2010. (See Walters Dep. Tr., 45:19-46:10.) McManus then composed and submitted a letter of resignation, dated January 7, 2010, reflecting this agreement.[1]

But whatever alleged benefits McManus secured in the agreement, she later repudiated it and requested, by a separate letter to the Town Board dated August 31, 2010, to rescind the letter of resignation; she claimed that it wasn't valid, that she signed it under duress. "If I did not make that deal, under pressure, " she avows, "I could have just been fired for an illegitimate reason and left with nothing." (McManus Aff., ¶ 62.) "I never wanted to retire, but I was pushed into a corner by Supervisor Walters and Councilman Smardz, " wrote McManus. (Id., ¶ 69.)

Her removal, she contends, was connected to her next complaint - that Linda Rogers, another Town employee, was given preferential treatment by Thomas Best, the highway superintendent for the Town. McManus lodged a formal, internal complaint to this end on March 26, 2010. "I am filing this complaint for discrimination and harassment" she wrote, because "I believe I have been subject to [sic] harassment and discrimination by my supervisor's [sic] who allow and give favorable treatment to a female employee, who has a romantic relationship with Supervisor Thomas Best, Sr." (Harassment Compl., Pl.'s Ex. 5; Docket No. 45-2.) She concluded, "[T]he only way for female employees to be treated fairly and receive job benefits and advancements is to be romantically involved or a friend of Supervisor's Best [sic] romantic interest[, ] Linda Rogers." (Id.)

She made similar accusations in a complaint filed with the New York State Division of Human Rights on September 9, 2010.

On September 16, 2010, the Board, referring to a section of the New York Code of Rules and Regulations that prohibits a resignation from being "withdrawn, cancelled or amended after it is delivered to the appointing authority, without the consent of the appointing authority, " denied her request to rescind her resignation. (Walters Letter, Def.'s Ex. DD; Docket No. 38-12.) It thus became effective on October 31, 2010.

B. Procedural history

McManus filed her complaint in this Court on January 13, 2012. Afer discovery, the Town of Hamburg moved for summary judgment on February 24, 2014. Briefing concluded on May 5, 2014, at which time this Court took the motion under consideration.


A. Summary judgment

Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that "[t]he court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." A fact is "material" only if it "might affect the outcome of the suit under governing law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). A "genuine" dispute exists "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party." Id . In determining whether a genuine dispute regarding a material fact exists, the evidence and the inferences drawn from the evidence "must be viewed in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion." Adickes v. S. H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 158-59, 90 S.Ct.1598, 1609, 26 L.Ed.2d 142 (1970) (internal quotations and citation omitted).

"Only when reasonable minds could not differ as to the import of evidence is summary judgment proper." Bryant v. Maffucci, 923 F.2d 979, 982 (2d Cir. 1991) (citation omitted). Indeed, "[i]f, as to the issue on which summary judgment is sought, there is any evidence in the record from which a reasonable inference could be drawn in favor of the opposing party, summary judgment is improper." Sec. Ins. Co. of Hartford v. Old Dominion Freight Line, Inc., 391 F.3d 77, 82-83 (2d Cir. 2004) (citations omitted). The function of the court is not "to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249.

B. Title VII and applicable standards

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it unlawful for an employer to "discriminate against any individual with respect to h[er] compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's... sex." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). It further makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee "because [s]he has opposed any practice made an unlawful employment practice by this subchapter." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a); Danials-Kirisits v. New York State Office of Court Admin., No. 05-CV-800S, 2013 WL 1755663, at *6 (W.D.N.Y. Apr. 24, 2013).

McManus claims that her discharge, the environment in which she worked, and actions taken in response to her complaints of discrimination all violated Title VII. Thus, she brings three separate causes of action: a constructive-discharge claim, a hostile-work environment claim, and a retaliation claim.

Ultimately to sustain her discharge claim, McManus must show that sex was a motivating factor in her ...

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