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Inguanzo v. Housing & Services, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. New York

September 19, 2014

MARIAN M. INGUANZO, Plaintiff,
v.
HOUSING & SERVICES, INC., KRISTI KIMMERLE-CILENTI, and DERRICK HORTON, Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

EDGARDO RAMOS, District Judge.

Plaintiff Marian M. Inguanzo ("Plaintiff" or "Ms. Inguanzo") brings this action against Housing & Services, Inc. ("HSI"), Kristi Kimmerle, [1] and Derrick Horton[2] (collectively, "Defendants") pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-2000e-17, and the New York City Human Rights Law, Administrative Code § 8-107 et seq. ("NYCHRL"), alleging discrimination based upon her gender, race, and national origin, as well as retaliation in connection with her complaints regarding the alleged discrimination. Complaint ("Compl.") (Doc. 1) ¶ 1. Pending before the Court is Defendants' motion for summary judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. (Doc. 27) For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion for summary judgment is GRANTED.

I. Factual Background

The following facts are undisputed except where otherwise noted.

Plaintiff is a Hispanic female of Puerto Rican origin who was employed by HSI as a case manager from March 2009 until her termination on November 3, 2011. Pl.'s 56.1 Counter-Stmt. ¶¶ 15, 17.[3] HSI provides permanent supportive housing for over 600 formerly homeless men, women, and children at three facilities and a scatter site program ("Scatter Site"). Id. ¶¶ 7, 8. Scatter Site consists of 100 apartments leased by HSI at various buildings in Manhattan and the Bronx. Id. HSI's operations are primarily funded by the government through, inter alia, the Human Resources Administration and the HIV/AIDS Services Administration ("HASA"). Id. ¶ 9; Defs. Ex. K.[4]

Throughout her employment at HSI, Ms. Inguanzo was a case manager at the Narragansett, HSI's facility located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, New York. Her responsibilities as a case manager included participating in initial interviews and orientation with prospective clients referred by HASA; establishing and maintaining individual case records on assigned clients; ensuring that the records conformed to the guidelines established by HASA and HSI; and visiting hospitalized clients. See Defs. Ex. J.[5] At the start of Ms. Inguanzo's employment, Edward Reardon was program manager at the Narragansett facility and her immediate supervisor. Mr. Reardon left his employment with HSI in July 2010 after becoming terminally ill. Compl. ¶ 39. Derrick Horton was hired as Mr. Reardon's replacement in November 2010. Id. ¶ 44.

At all times relevant to this action, Defendant Kimmerle was HSI's Director of Programs. Id. ¶¶ 12, 13; Answer ¶¶ 12, 13. Ms. Kimmerle was involved in both the decision to hire, and the decision to terminate, Ms. Inguanzo. Pl.'s 56.1 Counter-Stmt. ¶ ¶ 14, 18.

a. Plaintiff's Performance as Case Manager and Disciplinary Record

Ms. Inguanzo began her employment at HSI on March 3, 2009. In her first performance review three months later, on June 10, 2009, Ms. Inguanzo received a 3.40 overall score out of a possible 5.00, placing her in the Fully meets requirements 2.50-3.49' performance level. Defs. Ex. L. According to the review, Ms. Inguanzo "performs all phases of her job in a timely and professional manner. She needs little or no assistance carrying out her daily job responsibilities." Id.

On April 28, 2010, Plaintiff received a Disciplinary Action Form charging her with a violation of HSI policy in connection with missing case notes from March 2010. Defs. Ex. N; Pl.'s 56.1 Counter-Stmt. ¶ 24. The case notes in question related to a client who, according to the form, informed Ms. Inguanzo on April 13, 2010 that he had been admitted to the hospital the day before. Id. The client passed away on April 14, 2010, but it was not until the client's family informed HSI's Narragansett staff two weeks later that HSI became aware of the client's death. Id. The form stated that it is the case manager's responsibility to see a client face-to-face "no less than twice a month, " and that, in this client's case, Ms. Inguanzo did not conduct a home visit or office visit. Id. Additionally, Ms. Inguanzo did not visit the client in the hospital to obtain a better understanding of his condition or otherwise follow up with his doctor or the hospital. Id. The form stated that, when asked about why the March notes were missing, Mr. Inguanzo informed her supervisor that "the notes were in the computer." Id. This constituted a further violation of HSI policies because case notes completed a month prior should have already been in the file and submitted to the program manager for review. Id.; Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 24. Ms. Inguanzo was advised that any further failure to complete case notes on time would cause a written warning to be issued. Id. Plaintiff rebuts Defendants' claims regarding the substance of the April 2010 disciplinary action by stating that she was unable to print from her computer for months due to problems with the office printer. Pl.'s 56.1 Counter-Stmt. ¶ 24.

Defendants contend that a counseling meeting was held between Plaintiff and Mr. Reardon, then her supervisor, following the issuance of the April 28, 2010 Disciplinary Action Form. Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 25. According to Plaintiff, no such meeting was held. Pl.'s 56.1 Counter-Stmt. ¶ 25. However, on June 27, 2011, Ms. Inguanzo submitted an appeal request in which she acknowledged that she did meet with Mr. Reardon on April 28, 2010 to discuss the disciplinary action. See Defs. Ex. HH. In addition, in an April 29, 2010 email to Ms. Kimmerle, Mr. Reardon detailed the April 28, 2010 meeting with Ms. Inguanzo. See Defs. Ex. CC. In the email, Mr. Reardon stated, inter alia, that Ms. Inguanzo is "very difficult with any type of constructive criticism, " and at first refused to sign the form. Id. Mr. Reardon also stated that Plaintiff had a problem with the reference to her notes being in the computer. Id. He noted that "[s]he informed me that the notes for March weren't even typed up yet. I then stated that was even a bigger problem...." Id. According to Mr. Reardon, Plaintiff started to cry upon leaving the meeting, then proceeded to her desk and started taking papers off the walls, and tore them all and put them in her trash bin. Id. After Mr. Reardon approached Ms. Inguanzo and asked what she was doing, she angrily stated, "Nothing, " and placed items from her office into a shopping bag. Id. Ms. Inguanzo returned to work the next day, however, "calmer and in a better frame of mind." Id.

In her second performance review, dated November 10, 2010, Ms. Inguanzo received a 4.00 overall score out of a possible 5.00, placing her in the Exceeds Expectations 3.50-4.49' performance level. Defs. Ex. O. According to the review, Plaintiff "[o]n occasion... falls behind on her case notes and service plans, " which was noted during a recent audit. Id. The review referenced the April 2010 disciplinary action, but also noted that Ms. Inguanzo "has always taken on extra programmatic duties." Id. The review stated that the quality of Ms. Inguanzo's work is "good, " and that she "demonstrates a terrific work ethic and puts a great deal of time into her work." Id.

According to Defendants, Ms. Inguanzo was subsequently reminded in writing on more than one occasion of the importance of preparing the case notes on a timely basis. Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 45. Specifically, after a February 2011 meeting with Ms. Inguanzo, Mr. Horton noted that they discussed how Ms. Inguanzo could improve on the timely submission of her progress notes, and that she agreed to put in time after work to address the issue. Id. [6] Plaintiff contends that this meeting addressed improvement regarding past performance, and cites to printer issues she was having from May 2010 through September 2010. Pl.'s 56.1 Counter-Stmt. ¶ 45.[7]

Defendants claim that the timeliness of case notes was addressed again in Plaintiff's 2011 performance review, which was issued on June 21, 2011. Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 46.[8] According to Plaintiff, however, it was the timeliness of care plans, not case notes, that was at issue in this review. Pl.'s 56.1 Counter-Stmt. ¶ 46.[9] In the June 21, 2011 review, which Ms. Inguanzo did not sign, she received a 4.09 overall score out of a possible 5.00, again placing her in the Exceeds Expectations 3.50-4.49' performance level. Defs. Ex. R. According to the review, Plaintiff "is thorough and conscientious, " and the quality of her work is "always within the guidelines of HSI practices." Id. However, the review went on to say that Ms. Inguanzo "is often late with her care plans, " and that she does not appear to recognize the importance of the timely submission of her work and the negative impact that it could have on HSI's contract with HASA. Id.

In July 2011, Ms. Inguanzo wrote a letter to Ada Tavares, HSI's Human Resources Manager, taking issue with her June 2011 performance evaluation. Pl.'s 56.1 Counter-Stmt. ¶ 48. Ms. Inguanzo charged that the criticism of the timeliness of her care plans and psychosocial treatment plans "ha[d] absolutely no substantiation and [was] completely false because [her] case files are always up to date in accordance with... contract regulations...." Defs. Ex. FF.

According to Defendants, two subsequent meetings were held with Plaintiff - on July 18, 2011 and August 4, 2011 - in which HSI supervisors addressed the importance of proper documentation and conveyed the expectation that care plans be completed on time. Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 47.[10] Ms. Inguanzo disputes this statement, and maintains that she stated in the July 18, 2011 meeting that her care plans and psychological assessments have never been late. Pl.'s 56.1 Counter-Stmt. ¶ 47. According to Defendant Kimmerle's notes for the July 18, 2011 meeting, Ms. Inguanzo said that she did not agree with the evaluation and that Mr. Horton should not have commented negatively about her late submission of care plans. Defs. Ex. DD. Ms. Kimmerle stated in response that her evaluation "was extremely good, " but reminded Ms. Inguanzo that she had previously fallen behind on care plans. Id.

Plaintiff further claims that the August 4, 2011 meeting did not concern the timeliness of care plans, but instead her characterization to co-workers of Mr. Horton as a "frustrated program manager." Pl.'s 56.1 Counter-Stmt. ¶ 47. According to Mr. Horton's notes for the meeting, he discussed Ms. Inguanzo's need to improve her critical listening skills, as well as her comment to fellow HSI employees that he was "one frustrated program manager." Defs. Ex. DD. However, the notes also reflect that Ms. Inguanzo was reminded of the importance of timely documentation, particularly care plans and psychosocial assessments. Id.

Ms. Inguanzo took a vacation from late August to early September 2011. Defendants contend that, prior to taking vacation, Ms. Inguanzo informed Mr. Horton that she had not completed five care plans and nine annual psychological assessments, which were all due within days of Plaintiff's vacation. Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 39. According to Ms. Inguanzo, however, the five care plans and nine assessments only "required coverage." Pl.'s 56.1 Counter-Stmt. ¶ 39.[11] To that end, Plaintiff requested a meeting with Mr. Horton to make arrangements regarding her workload. Id. Ms. Inguanzo claims that during this meeting she and Mr. Horton decided that they would split her workload while she was away. Pl. Ex. F; see Pl.'s 56.1 Counter-Stmt. ¶ 39.

b. Backdating of Care Plans

According to Defendants, in October 2011 it was discovered that Plaintiff had backdated three client care plans. Id. ¶ 50.[12] On October 19, 2011, Mr. Horton sent an email to Ms. Inguanzo stating, "You have received the results of the 10/18/11 and 10/19/11 chart review of all your cases. I will perform another follow-up review on 10/26/11 and expect all deficiencies to be corrected at that time." Defs. Ex. U. According to Defendants, this communication served to alert Plaintiff to the problem of late care plans and advise of the upcoming review. Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 51. In an email response to Mr. Horton, Plaintiff stated, "The date you placed on me is unrealistic but I will try my best." Defs. Ex. U.

On October 24, 2011, a Disciplinary Action Form was issued as a result of the late care plans. Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 52; see Defs. Ex. Z. The form stated that it was a second notice, and that the violation related to repeated performance issues and violations of HSI's policies. Id. According to the form, Ms. Inguanzo was advised that three care plans were out of compliance with Human Resources Administration and HASA contractual guidelines as well as HSI standards. Id.

On October 25, 2011, Ms. Inguanzo turned in the three care plans with dates that preceded the date that Mr. Horton conducted the chart review and alerted her to the "deficiencies." Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 53. Defendants claim that Mr. Horton asked Ms. Inguanzo to put the correct date-the "dates when she had actually met, created and executed the documentation with the clients"-on the plans, but that Plaintiff refused. Id. ¶ 54. Defendants further contend that HSI reviewed computer metadata relating to the three care plans and determined that the plans were backdated suggesting that Plaintiff submitted "falsified records." Id. ¶ 55.

Plaintiff disputes Defendants' claims relating to the allegedly late care plans.[13] First, according to Ms. Inguanzo, dating the care plans as of the date of the client meeting, irrespective of when the form was actually executed, was the standard operating procedure at the Narragansett facility, which Plaintiff had been following throughout her employment. Pl.'s 56.1 Counter-Stmt. ¶ 50; see id. ¶ 41. In support of this claim, Plaintiff has submitted a sworn affidavit from her former co-worker Teronia Campbell, who states that HSI's standard practice was to date case plans as of the date of the client meeting. Pl. Ex. H.; see Pl.'s 56.1 Counter-Stmt. ¶ 50. Plaintiff claims that she dated the three care plans accordingly, but acknowledges that the clients did not sign them on those dates. Id. [14] Ms. Inguanzo further claims that she had submitted the care plans to Mr. Horton by October 19, 2011, and therefore that they were not late. Id. ¶¶ 53, 52.[15] Ms. Inguanzo maintains that she communicated the same to Mr. Horton. Id. ¶ 54.

With regard to the metadata, Plaintiff claims that the "created date" refers to the last date on which the document was accessed, not the date on which the document was actually created. Id . ¶ 55. For this proposition, Ms. Inguanzo cites Defendant Kimmerle's deposition testimony that the "created date" refers to the last day the file was accessed. Kimmerle Tr. 85:20-23; see Pl.'s 56.1 Counter-Stmt. ¶ 55.

Finally, Plaintiff disputes that the October 24, 2011 Disciplinary Action Form was ever issued. Id. ¶ 52. Specifically, because Ms. Kimmerle's signature on the form is dated November 3, 2011, the date of Ms. Inguanzo's termination, Plaintiff claims to have never received the form. Id.

c. Requests for a Salary Increase

Ms. Inguanzo claims that Mr. Reardon promised her a pay raise when she was first hired at HSI. Compl. ¶ 22. However, she asserts that she never received the promised salary increase, and requested a pay raise on at least two occasions. First, on May 6, 2011, she sent an email to Ms. Tavares to inquire about a raise. Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 27; see Defs. Ex. Q. On May 9, 2011, Ms. Tavares advised that HSI had not had salary increases for the past 2 ½ years and that she was not sure if one would be granted that year. Id.

Then, on July 1, 2011, Ms. Inguanzo wrote a letter to Ms. Kimmerle requesting a raise. Pl.'s 56.1 Counter-Stmt. ¶ 49; see Defs. Ex. EE. Ms. Kimmerle addressed this communication in the July 18, 2011 meeting with Plaintiff, Mr. Horton, and Ms. Tavares. At that time, according to Ms. Kimmerle's notes, she told Ms. Inguanzo "that based on the outstanding evaluation Mr. Horton gave her she would potentially receive a sizable increase." Defs. Ex. DD; see Pl.'s 56.1 Counter-Stmt. ¶ 49.

Defendants claim that no HSI employee was given a salary increase during the entirety of Ms. Inguanzo's employment. Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 22.[16] While Plaintiff disputes this assertion, see Pl.'s 56.1 Counter-Stmt. ¶ 27, her denial is contradicted by her earlier deposition testimony. In particular, Ms. Inguanzo testified that she "wouldn't know" whether any other case managers received a raise during the period of her employment, Inguanzo Tr. 35:8, and further testified that she did not know whether any HSI employee received a raise during her tenure. Id. 37:24.

d. Program Manager Openings

During the course of Ms. Inguanzo's employment, two program manager positions became vacant. Pl.'s 56.1 Counter-Stmt. ¶ 30. The first was at the Narragansett facility where she worked, and the second at Scatter Site. Id. Defendants contend that Ms. Inguanzo did not formally apply for either position, although they acknowledge that she inquired about them. Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 31. According to Plaintiff, however, she attempted to apply for the positions but was prevented from doing so. Pl.'s 56.1 Counter-Stmt. ¶ 31. Ms. Inguanzo testified that she "did not apply by application" to the Narragansett position but "asked" Ms. Kimmerle about the position. Inguanzo Tr. 45:11-17. Similarly, Plaintiff testified that she "asked [Ms. Tavares] by e-mail" about the Scatter Site position. Id. 46:10.

Specifically, on July 20, 2011, Plaintiff emailed Ms. Tavares, expressing her interest in the Scatter Site vacancy. Pl.'s Ex. D. Ms. Tavares replied the same day, saying that she would forward the request to Ms. Kimmerle. Id. On July 28, 2011, Ms. Inguanzo sent a follow-up email to Ms. Tavares, noting that she had not heard back from Human Resources. Id. Plaintiff stated that her skills and experience would be an "ideal match" for the position, and that she would send an updated resume and cover letter if necessary. Id. Ms. Tavares replied that the Scatter Site position had to be filled by a Licensed Master Social Worker ("LMSW"), and therefore Ms. Inguanzo could not be considered. Id.

Plaintiff disputes that either program manager position required an LMSW. Pl.'s 56.1 Counter-Stmt. ¶ 32. Specifically, with respect to Narragansett, Plaintiff points out that Ms. Kimmerle testified that the contract with the funder for the facility does not require that its program manager possess a license. Kimmerle Tr. 39:17. However, Ms. Kimmerle testified that HSI itself determined to make that a requirement. Id. 39:17-19. In fact, HSI hired Mr. Horton- who at the time did not have a license-on the condition that he become an LMSW during a probationary period, which he did. Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 32, 36.[17]

With regard to Scatter Site, however, Defendants assert that the contract between HSI and the Human Resources Administration required that Scatter Site's manager be an LMSW. Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 33.[18] According to Defendants, Asha Smith was removed from the position of program manager at Scatter Site when this contractual requirement took effect because she was not an LMSW. Id. ¶ 34. Sarah Stolfi, an LMSW, was hired as Ms. Smith's replacement. Id. ¶ 35.[19]

It is undisputed that Plaintiff is not, and has never been, an LMSW. Id. ¶ 19.

e. September 2011 Training Sessions

On September 14, 2011, Plaintiff was notified that Mr. Horton and a co-worker would be out of the office for a few hours the next day to attend training. Defs. Ex. V; see Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 42. According to Defendants, the reason Plaintiff was not scheduled for this training was that she was on vacation the day the class was scheduled and was told another day would be arranged for her to attend this training. Id. Plaintiff contends that she should have been given the opportunity to attend the training session. Pl.'s 56.1 Counter-Stmt. ¶ 42.

f. Allegedly Discriminatory Comments

According to Ms. Inguanzo, Ms. Kimmerle told her on more than one occasion that she could not find any qualified Hispanic social workers. Pl.'s 56.1 Counter-Stmt. ¶ 57; see Inguanzo Tr. 106:16-19.[20] According to Plaintiff's deposition testimony, Ms. Kimmerle made this comment twice, once at the Narragansett site and once at a Human Resources Administration office. Id. Ms. Inguanzo has not specified the timing of these statements.[21] Additionally, Plaintiff contends that Mr. ...


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