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Harris v. New York State Department of Correctional Services

United States District Court, N.D. New York

June 5, 2014

GREGORY G. HARRIS, as Trustee of Kathleen A. Demas' Bankruptcy Estate, Plaintiff,

DANIEL A. JACOBS, ESQ., Gleason, Dunn Law Firm, Albany, NY, for the Plaintiff.

HON. ERIC T. SCHNEIDERMAN, New York State Department of Correctional Services and Brian Fischer New York State Attorney General, COLLEEN D. GALLIGAN, Assistant Attorney General, Albany, NY, ROBERT M. WINN, ESQ., Michael Waite, Office of Robert M. Winn, Granville, NY, for the defendants.


GARY L. SHARPE, Chief District Judge.

I. Introduction

Plaintiff Gregory G. Harris, as trustee of Kathleen A. Demas' bankruptcy estate, commenced this action against defendants New York State Department of Correctional Services (DOCCS)[1], Brian Fischer, in his official capacity as the DOCCS Commissioner, and Michael Waite, in his individual capacity, alleging gender-based claims of hostile work environment and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964[2] against DOCCS and Fischer (collectively, "DOCCS defendants"), and an aiding and abetting claim against Waite pursuant to the New York Human Rights Law[3]. (Am. Compl., Dkt. No. 13.) Pending before the court are motions for summary judgment filed by Waite, (Dkt. No. 45), and the DOCCS defendants, (Dkt. No. 47). For the reasons that follow, both motions are granted.

II. Background[4]

Demas was hired by DOCCS to serve as the Senior Librarian at Mount McGregor Correctional Facility in February 2004. (DOCCS Defs.' Statement of Material Facts (SMF) ¶ 2, Dkt. No. 47, Attach. 1.) At the time, Waite was a corrections officer assigned to oversee the security of the library at the facility. ( Id. ¶ 3.) During her employment, Demas' immediate supervisor was Deputy Superintendent of Programs Paul Garcia. ( Id. ¶ 12.)

Shortly after beginning as the librarian at Mount McGregor, Demas started having disagreements with Waite regarding the policies and operations of the library. ( Id. ¶ 13.) For example, Demas and Waite had disputes over the use of a computer in the law library, ( id. ¶ 14), rules regarding overdue books, ( id. ¶ 16), the arrangement of furniture in the library, ( id. ¶ 19), and the employment of inmates as clerks within the library, ( id. ¶ 23).

In August 2005, Demas filed a complaint against Waite, in the form of a memorandum to Deputy Superintendent of Security Garrett Roberts, alleging that Waite had threatened to get two male prison employees fired, and that Waite had been obtaining legal assistance from inmates. ( Id. ¶¶ 26-27; Dkt. No. 45, Attach. 10.) An investigation occurred, and Waite was ultimately disciplined and suspended for four months. (DOCCS Defs.' SMF ¶¶ 28, 31.)

Following Waite's return from suspension, Demas began having additional incidents with other corrections officers as well, stemming from disagreements about policies on talking in the library, ( id. ¶ 34), the removal of an out-of-date schedule from the library, ( id. ¶ 35), the display of decorations, ( id. ¶ 36), and the use of locks on the library bathroom doors, ( id. ¶ 37). Numerous other minor incidents involving library operations occurred as well. ( Id. ¶ 38.) Demas filed complaints with her superiors about many of these incidents. For example, Demas indicated to Garcia that she felt various corrections officers were "harassing [her] by trying to make it seem that [she is] not security minded." (Waite SMF ¶ 23, Dkt. No. 45, Attach. 2; Dkt. No. 45, Attach. 12 at 3.) Demas alleges that these incidents were occurring because she had testified against Waite in his disciplinary hearing, and the other corrections officers were acting in solidarity with Waite. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 66, 78-79, 82.)

Ultimately, in April 2007, Demas' employment as a librarian at Mount McGregor was terminated, with the stated justification being various security concerns, including allegations that she had provided baked goods and candy to inmates and had physical contact with an inmate, as well as her inability to get along with corrections officers. (DOCCS Defs.' SMF ¶¶ 44-45, 54, 55.)

Following her termination, in September 2007, Demas filed a petition for bankruptcy in the United States Bankruptcy Court, Northern District of New York. ( Id. ¶ 72; Dkt. No. 45, Attach. 4.) In that petition, Demas did not disclose any potential cause of action against DOCCS, Fischer, or Waite as a potential asset; she was ultimately discharged from bankruptcy, and the bankruptcy case was closed on January 4, 2008. (DOCCS Defs.' SMF ¶ 72; Waite SMF ¶ 7.) In May 2012, Demas sought to reopen her bankruptcy case, and, in an affidavit submitted with that petition, stated that not until the middle of January 2008, after her bankruptcy case had closed, did she "finally put the pieces together" and "realized... a link between... Waite's well-known disdain for and hostility to females with [her] termination." (DOCCS Defs.' SMF ¶ 73; Waite SMF ¶ 8; Dkt. No. 45, Attach. 7 ¶ 6.)

This action was commenced on September 8, 2011, (Compl., Dkt. No. 1), and an amended complaint was filed on December 14, 2011, (Am. Compl.). On December 26, 2012, pursuant to the parties' stipulation, the court ordered the substitution of Harris, as the trustee of ...

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