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Sutera v. Rochester City School District

United States District Court, W.D. New York

August 26, 2014



FRANK P. GERACI, Jr., District Judge.

Plaintiff Robert Sutera ("Sutera") is an employee of the Rochester City School District ("RCSD") who failed to receive a promotion to a foreman position. Sutera brings this action alleging that the District and the seven named Defendants, who interviewed Sutera and voted against recommending him for the position, failed to promote him because of his Caucasian race in violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2, the New York State Human Rights Law ("NYHRL"), N.Y. Exec. Law § 296, 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and the Equal Protection Clause, U.S. Const. Art. XIV, § 1. Dkt. #1. Defendants have moved for summary judgment on all four causes of action. Finding no genuine issues of material fact, the Defendant's motion is granted, and this case is dismissed.


Sutera, who is a Caucasian male, is a longtime employee of the RCSD Plant Maintenance Department. First hired as a painter in 1987, Sutera transferred to the "Maintenance Mechanic I" position in 1991. Def. SMF ¶ 1.[1] He continues to hold the position today. Pl.'s Compl. ¶ 6.

Throughout his career, Sutera has served as a mechanic in different divisions within the Plant Maintenance Department. That Department is divided into six divisions, each led by a foreman: grounds maintenance, plumbing/HVAC, carpentry/locksmithing, painting, preventative maintenance, and electrical. Def.'s SMF ¶ 5; Griffin Dep. at 12-13. From 1991 to 1992, Sutera served in the grounds division. Sutera Dep. at 11, 15. Sutera then transferred to the "tomato crew, " also called the "ketchup crew, " a small group of mechanics that finished incomplete jobs among the six divisions. Id. at 16. Sutera performed carpentry work in the ketchup crew from 1992 to 1995. Id. at 17. When the ketchup crew was disbanded in 1995, Sutera joined the plumbing division. Id. at 18. Except for a yearlong transfer to the carpentry division from 1999 to 2000, Sutera has worked in the plumbing division since 1995. Id. at 19-21.

In September 2009, Sutera applied for the "Maintenance Mechanic I (Foreman)" position after viewing a job posting on a bulletin board. Def.'s SMF ¶ 2. Although the posting did not indicate that two foreman positions were open or what divisions the foremen would supervise, Sutera knew that the plumbing/HVAC and carpentry/locksmithing positions were available because the foremen of those divisions were retiring. Sutera Dep. at 23. Sutera applied for the foreman position by filling out an application and submitting it to the Human Resources Department. Def.'s SMF ¶ 4. When Human Resources did not contact Sutera about his application, Sutera approached Joseph Griffin, the Maintenance Inspector who supervised the six foremen at the time. Sutera Dep. at 25-26. The day after speaking to Griffin, Sutera received a phone call inviting him to interview for the foreman position. Id. at 27.

On October 8, 2009, Sutera interviewed for the plumbing/HVAC and carpentry/locksmithing foreman positions before a committee of eight individuals: the seven named Defendants - Joseph Griffin; Margaret Civiletti, secretary to the foremen; Doug Baker, grounds foreman; John Goodwin, preventative maintenance foreman; Nick Russo, electrical foreman; Robert Crane, outgoing carpentry/locksmithing foreman; Joel Jimenez, outgoing plumbing/HVAC foreman - and an eighth individual not named in this action, glazing foreman Steven Ornt. Civiletti Dep. at 5; Baker Dep. at 5; Goodwin Dep. at 10; Russo Dep. at 5; Crane Dep. at 12; Sutera Dep. at 89; Ornt Dep. at 6. Sutera interviewed for the plumbing/HVAC foreman position first, and then the carpentry/locksmithing foreman position. Def.'s SMF ¶ 7. For the carpentry/locksmithing position, the interview committee asked Sutera a series of questions about carpentry and locksmithing. Sutera Dep. at 32. Sutera recognized that his locksmithing knowledge was limited, and admitted that "[t]here were some [questions] in the locksmith area that I was not fully knowledgeable of." Id. at 33.

After answering a series of questions, Sutera showed the committee a portfolio filled with pictures of homes that Sutera privately built outside of his RCSD employment. Id. at 43-44. Some of the pictures displayed work that Sutera personally completed, including "interior flooring, drywall, ceilings, insulation, trim work, painting, ceramic tiles, heating, plumbing, [and] ventilation." Id. at 127. Other pictures documented work that Sutera did not personally complete but oversaw, such as laying foundation and constructing a home skeleton. Id. at 129. Only Crane asked Sutera a question about the portfolio. Id. at 45. At the end of the interview, the committee asked Sutera which job he would accept, and Sutera answered that he would accept the carpentry position. Id. at 48.

Once the interview finished, the committee confidentially discussed Sutera's qualifications. At the outset, Baker questioned whether the committee was wasting its time discussing candidate qualifications when the hiring decision ultimately would be decided based on seniority. Baker Dep. at 50-51. In his deposition, Baker explained that on numerous occasions he had attempted to hire employees in his division, and the District's Human Resources Department ignored his recommendations and hired the minimally-qualified candidate with the most seniority. Id. In response to Baker's question, Griffin proceeded to reference the language in the labor contract between the District and the Board of Education Non-Teaching Employees ("BENTE") union that governed hiring. Id. A related issue arose as to whether the committee could consider Sutera's private carpentry work as "work history... in the City School District" under Article XIV, Section 2(C) of the contract. Griffin Decl. ¶ 8; Ex. J. The seven individual Defendants interpreted the contract as prohibiting Sutera's private carpentry work from being considered as documented experience. Griffin Decl. ¶ 8. Eventually, the committee members narrowed the candidates for the carpentry/locksmithing foreman position to Roddy Johnson, an African-American RCSD employee, and Sutera. Def.'s SMF ¶ 13. Johnson had prior supervisory experience from past employment with the Navy and the East Pattern and Model Corporation, had been a locksmith with the RCSD since 1994, and had participated in numerous related trainings, all of which were detailed on his resume. Dkt. #24, Ex. Q. The committee voted by secret ballot to determine which candidate the committee would recommend. Id. ¶ 13. Roddy Johnson received seven votes, and Sutera received one. Id. ¶ 15. The seven individual Defendants all voted for Johnson, while Ornt voted for Sutera. Ornt Dep. at 77. The committee members who voted for Johnson did so because they felt he was the better qualified candidate. Civiletti Dep. at 40; Baker Dep. at 49-50; Russo Dep. at 22-25; Crane Dep. at 50-54. Johnson was eventually hired for the carpentry/locksmithing foreman position. Def.'s SMF ¶ 15.

On November 11, 2009, Sutera's union, BENTE, filed a grievance challenging the committee's interpretation of the union contract. Centrone Decl. ¶ 3; Ex. I. While the grievance was in arbitration, Sutera filed a complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights ("NYDHR") on January 7, 2010, alleging that the District unlawfully discriminated against him. Pl. Cmpt. Attachment 1. Sutera did not file a separate EEOC charge because of the filing agreement between the NYDHR and EEOC. Pl. Cmpt. ¶ 2. On December 3, 2010, NYDHR recommended dismissing Sutera's case so he could pursue his charges in Federal court; an order dismissing his case was entered on January 6, 2011. Id. Attachments 1, 2. Similarly, on January 19, 2011, the EEOC dismissed Sutera's administrative case so that he could file charges. Id. Attachment 3.

The ongoing grievance was resolved on December 30, 2010, when BENTE and RCSD entered into a Memorandum of Understanding. Dkt. #24, Ex. K. BENTE and the District agreed to disagree on the meaning of the contractual language and resolve the ambiguity in the next round of contract negotiations. Id. Additionally, as part of the resolution of the grievance, the District offered Sutera the plumbing/HVAC foreman position. Id. Sutera did not accept the position in the required time frame, thereby declining the offer. Centrone Decl. ¶ 9. On February 3, 2011, Sutera commenced the instant action, alleging employment discrimination based on race.


Sutera alleges four distinct but similar employment discrimination causes of action against the District and the seven individual Defendants: (1) disparate treatment under Title VII; (2) disparate treatment under NYHRL; (3) intentional racial discrimination under 42 U.S.C. § 1981; and (4) intentional racial discrimination under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Defendants have moved for judgment on the pleadings under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c) as well as for summary judgment under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. When, as in this case, a movant relies on materials outside the pleadings and the court does not exclude them, a motion for judgment on the pleadings must be converted to a motion for summary judgment. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d). Defendants have presented multiple exhibits and declarations beyond the pleadings, as is typical in summary judgment motions. I have considered those materials in ruling on the current motion, and accordingly, Defendants' Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings is moot, and the operative motion is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment.

Summary judgment is appropriate when a "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." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A moving party can meet this burden by showing that "little or no evidence may be found in support of the nonmoving party's case." Gallo v. Prudential Residential Servs., Ltd. P'ship, 22 F.3d 1219, 1223-24 (2d Cir. 1994). A court cannot try issues of fact, however, but must rather decide if there are disputed issues that must be tried. Chambers v. TRM Copy Centers Corp., 43 F.3d 29, 36 (2d Cir. 1994). To defeat a motion for summary judgment, a non-moving party cannot "simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). "[T]he mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). The Supreme Court has further instructed that "[w]hen ...

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