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Valleriani v. Route 390 Nissan LLC

United States District Court, W.D. New York

September 2, 2014

MARIA VALLERIANI, Plaintiff,
v.
ROUTE 390 NISSAN LLC, d/b/a IDEAL NISSAN/IRONDEQUOIT SUZUKI, Defendant

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For Maria Valleriani, Plaintiff: Ryan Charles Woodworth, LEAD ATTORNEY, The Woodworth Law Firm, Rochester, NY.

For Route 390 Nissan LLC, d/b/a Ideal Nissan / Irondequoit Suzuki, Defendant: Jared P. Hirt, LEAD ATTORNEY, Evans & Fox, LLP, Rochester, NY.

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DECISION AND ORDER

ELIZABETH A. WOLFORD, United States District Judge.

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Maria Valleriani (" Plaintiff" ) brings this employment discrimination action against Defendant Route 390 Nissan LLC, d/b/a Ideal Nissan/Irondequoit Suzuki (" Defendant" ) pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § § 2000e et seq. (" Title VII" ), and the New York State Human Rights Law, Executive Law § § 290 et seq. (" NYSHRL" ). (Dkt. 1). Plaintiff alleges Defendant created a sexually hostile work environment and that she was unlawfully retaliated against through a constructive discharge of employment. ( Id.). Presently before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. (Dkt. 16). For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion is granted as to Plaintiff's retaliation claims, but denied with respect to Plaintiff's hostile work environment claims.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff began working for Defendant on September 4, 2007. (Dkt. 17 at ¶ 2; Dkt. 18 at ¶ 2; Dkt. 24-2 at ¶ 1). Plaintiff voluntarily resigned on March 14, 2008, but returned on December 3, 2008. (Dkt. 17 at ¶ 2; Dkt. 24-2 at ¶ 2). Ultimately, Plaintiff resigned from her position as Finance Manager on September 30, 2010. (Dkt. 17 at ¶ 2).

Angelo Ingrassia was the owner of Defendant (Dkt. 24-2 at ¶ 3), Alan Antinarelli was the General Sales Manager ( id. at ¶ 4), Steve Burnette was a contracted Sales Manager and one of Plaintiff's supervisors ( id. at ¶ 5), and Mike Henry was an employee ( id. at ¶ 6).

Plaintiff claims she was subjected to a hostile environment based on her gender by co-workers, supervisors, and third parties. ( Id. at ¶ 11). According to Plaintiff, this environment was " pervasive, severe, unwelcome and went unremedied by Defendant, despite the fact that they were aware that such misconduct was occurring, and despite the fact that some of the harassment was perpetrated by the owners of the company." ( Id.).

Plaintiff contends that General Sales Manager Antinarelli had a " penchant for engaging in sexual innuendo and comments evincing hostility towards women in the workplace," and made offensive comments to Plaintiff and to other women in Plaintiff's presence. (Dkt. 1 at ¶ 16; Dkt. 24-2 at ¶ 17). Examples of these comments

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include " stop being a cunt," " go take your pills you menopausal bitch," " stop being a bitch," " you smell like a French whore," " you look like shit today," and " your hair looks witchy." (Dkt. 1 at ¶ 16; Dkt. 24 at 6; Dkt. 24-2 at ¶ 17; Dkt. 24-4 at 13, 16-17, 34, 40). Plaintiff claims that Antinarelli stated on at least one occasion that " women shouldn't be in the car business -- they are too fucking emotional -- they can't handle it." (Dkt. 1 at ¶ 14; Dkt. 24 at 6; Dkt 24-2 at ¶ 12; Dkt. 24-4 at 15). Antinarelli also allegedly stated on at least one occasion that he " doesn't like to hire women -- can't work with them -- they get on [his] nerves." (Dkt. 1 at ¶ 15; Dkt. 24 at 6; Dkt. 24-2 at ¶ 13; Dkt. 24-4 at 14, 33; Dkt. 24-4 at 33).

Jody Bunce, former Appointment Coordinator for Defendant and Plaintiff's domestic partner (Dkt. 24-2 at ¶ 7), testified that Antinarelli frequently referred to women as bitches, even his own wife. (Dkt. 24-4 at 73). According to Bunce, when women became emotional at work, Antinarelli would comment that women were too emotional or " couldn't handle" working in the car business. ( Id. at 74-75). Bunce testified that she heard Plaintiff make complaints about co-workers to Antinarelli, and that Antinarelli would dismiss her complaints, responding with statements such as " [g]o take a pill, you menopausal bitch," or that " she must be on the rag." ( Id. at 63, 76).

Bob Gritsay, former Sales Associate for Defendant, signed an affidavit indicating that he witnessed Plaintiff and other female workers for Defendant called " bitches," " cunts," " witches," " shit," and " whores" by Antinarelli and other co-workers. (Dkt. 24-5 at 10). According to Gritsay, Defendant's work environment was " akin to a sports bar atmosphere." ( Id.).

Plaintiff claims that one of her other supervisors, Steve Burnette, also made inappropriate comments to her, such as " let's go get drunk," " blow me," " you fucking bitch," " you dirty wench," and " you fucking baby, you're such a girl." (Dkt. 1 at ¶ 18; Dkt. 24-2 at ¶ 22).

Plaintiff also alleges that Mike Henry, a co-worker, " routinely" called Plaintiff a " turn coat bitch" and told Plaintiff to " go fuck yourself bitch" when Plaintiff refused to participate in what she perceived to be bank fraud. (Dkt. 1 at ¶ 21; Dkt. 24 at 8; Dkt. 24-2 at ¶ ¶ 24-25).

Plaintiff makes numerous allegations about Henry's inappropriate conduct, including an interaction on September 22, 2009, when Henry allegedly called Plaintiff a " fucking bitch" in front of Antinarelli. (Dkt. 1 at ¶ 25).[1] Plaintiff claims that she complained to Antinarelli and asked him to make Henry's conduct stop, and that Antinarelli told her to " shut up." ( Id. at ¶ 27).

Plaintiff alleges that she informed Defendant's owner, Angelo Ingrassia, that she was afraid of Henry and " could not work like this," and that Ingrassia called Plaintiff at home that night, telling Plaintiff that she was " all wrong." ( Id. at ¶ ¶ 28, 30). That same night, Plaintiff claims she sent an email to Ingrassia and Antinarelli complaining about Henry's behavior. ( Id. at ¶ 31). The next day, Plaintiff alleges that Ingrassia told Plaintiff " if you can't get along with Henry then we will fire him," and that Ingrassia would " black ball

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him all over the fucking car business." ( Id. at ¶ 32).

Defendant acknowledges that Plaintiff did make complaints of inappropriate conduct by Henry to Ingrassia in the Fall of 2009. (Dkt. 16-2 at ¶ 39; Dkt. 17 at ¶ ¶ 6-7). According to Ingrassia, he investigated Plaintiff's complaint and determined that, although Henry's conduct was not sexual harassment, it was inappropriate and " required attention." (Dkt. 17 at ¶ ¶ 6-7). Ingrassia terminated Henry on October 15, 2009. ( Id. at 17).

Defendant claims that Plaintiff did not avail herself of Defendant's harassment investigation policy to make complaints of sexual harassment or discrimination, and therefore cannot maintain an action for a hostile work environment. (Dkt. 16-2 at ¶ 32). The Employee Handbook, as issued to Plaintiff, incorporates a section outlining Defendant's policy for " Responding to Discrimination or Harassment." ( Id. at ¶ ¶ 33-34). The policy directs an employee to inform Ingrassia or any department head of any complaints of sexual harassment or discrimination. (Dkt. 17-3). According to Defendant, Plaintiff made complaints to Ingrassia about alleged bank fraud, but she never made any complaints concerning allegations of sexual harassment or discrimination (other than arguably the complaint about Henry, which Defendant contends was promptly addressed). (Dkt. 16-2 at ¶ 35; see Dkt. 1 at ¶ 22 (Plaintiff acknowledges that Ingrassia terminated Henry's employment)). Antinarelli maintains that he has never sexually harassed or discriminated against Plaintiff, nor has he witnessed another employee of Defendant sexually harass or discriminate against Plaintiff. (Dkt. 17 at ¶ ¶ 9-10).

Plaintiff claims that she did avail herself of the company discrimination policy by complaining to Ingrassia about a hostile work environment on " more than ten occasions." (Dkt. 24 at 11; Dkt. 24-4 at 29). Further, Plaintiff alleges that after making a complaint to Ingrassia about Antinarelli calling her a " cunt" and a " bitch," Ingrassia responded " well, you are a bitch, I mean really, you're a nut case." (Dkt. 24 at 12; Dkt. 24-2 at ¶ 21).

Plaintiff claims that she told Antinarelli that she was being " discriminated against because she is a woman" and that if she were a man, Antinarelli would not be treating her the same way. (Dkt. 24-2 at ¶ ¶ 14-15). Plaintiff also alleges that when she complained to Burnette about Antinarelli's comments, Burnette told Plaintiff to " suck it up Nancy." ( Id. at ¶ 20). As a result, Plaintiff asserts that she was " constructively discharged because Defendant failed to take prompt, remedial action" with regard to her complaints. (Dkt. 24 at 18; Dkt. 24-2 at ¶ 34).

Defendant contends that Plaintiff resigned from her position voluntarily and there was no constructive termination. (Dkt. 17 at ΒΆ ...


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