United States District Court, E.D. New York
Decided September 30, 2014
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For Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Plaintiff: Adela P. Santos, LEAD ATTORNEY, Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, New York District Office, New York, NY; Ami T. Sanghvi, LEAD ATTORNEY, EEOC, Homelessness Outreach & Prevention Project, New York, NY; Elizabeth Anne Grossman, LEAD ATTORNEY, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, New York District Office, New York, NY; Nora E. Curtin, LEAD ATTORNEY, EEOC, N.Y. District Office, New York, NY; Ana Consuelo Martinez, U.S. EEOC, New York, NY.
For Marlyn Gonzalez, Rosa Guevara-Martinez, Marina Vilorio, Xiomara Veliz-Amaya, Mirian Velasquez, Azucena Castillo, Maria Del Carmen Amaya, Intervenor Plaintiffs: Alan Levine, New York, NY; Christopher McNerney, Outten & Golden LLP, New York, NY; Elizabeth Joynes, Latino Justice PDLEF, New York, NY; Kathleen Willert Peratis, Outten & Golden, New York, NY; Roberto Concepcion, Jr., Latino Justice PRLDEF, New York, NY.
For Suffolk Laundry Services, Inc., Defendant: Joshua A Marcus, Franklin & Gringer PC, Garden City, NY.
MEMORANDUM & ORDER
MARGO K. BRODIE, United States District Judge.
Plaintiff, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (" EEOC" ), commenced the above-captioned action on January 30, 2012, against Suffolk Laundry Services, Inc. (" Suffolk Laundry" ) alleging, inter alia, sexual harassment and a hostile work environment and seeking relief under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., as amended, (" Title VII" ). (Docket Entry No. 1.) On February 2, 2012, Intervenor-Plaintiffs, Marlyn Gonzalez, Rosa Guevara-Martinez, Marina Vilorio, Xiomara Veliz-Amaya, Mirian Velasquez, Azucena Castillo and Maria del Carmen Amaya, moved to intervene in this action pursuant to Rule 24(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Docket Entry No. 5.) On March 9, 2012, Judge Sandra J. Feuerstein granted the Intervenor-Plaintiffs' motion to intervene. (Docket Entry No. 12.) Intervenor-Plaintiffs filed an Intervenor Complaint on March 12, 2012, adding state law claims pursuant to the New York State Human Rights Law, N.Y. Exec. Law § 290 et seq. (" NYSHRL" ), and alleging Title VII claims of sexual harassment and retaliation against Defendant Suffolk Laundry, and claims of discrimination and retaliation against Suffolk Laundry, Walter Sullivan II and Cathy Sullivan. (Docket Entry No. 13.)
Currently before the Court are Defendants' motion for partial summary judgment as to (1) the hostile work environment claims alleged by Guevara-Martinez, Vilorio, Veliz-Amaya, Velasquez, Castillo and Amaya and (2) the retaliation claims by Gonzalez, Guevara-Martinez, Vilorio, Veliz-Amaya, Castillo, Amaya and Edith Cruz. (Docket Entry No. 39.) Defendants also move for summary judgment as to all claims against Walter Sullivan II and Cathy Sullivan (collectively, the " Sullivans" ) arguing that they cannot be held personally liable for the hostile work environment claims alleged in the Intervenor Complaint. For the reasons discussed below, Defendants' motion for partial summary judgment as to the hostile work environment claim is denied. The Court will issue a separate ruling on Defendants' motion
for summary judgment as to the retaliation claims.
a. Suffolk Laundry
The Sullivans own Suffolk Laundry, (Joint Pre-Trial Order (" JPTO" ) ¶ 7, Docket Entry No. 34), a commercial laundry business that provides laundry services for hospitals, nursing homes and restaurants, (Def. 56.1 ¶ ¶ 1-2; Pl. 56.1 ¶ ¶ 1-2). Suffolk Laundry employs approximately 75 employees, in addition to the Intervenor-Plaintiffs. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 5; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 5.) Walter Sullivan II (" Walter Sullivan" ) is the President of Suffolk Laundry, and Cathy Sullivan is the Corporate Secretary. (Def. 56.1 ¶ ¶ 3, 7; Pl. 56.1 ¶ ¶ 3, 7.) Their son, Walter Sullivan III (" Sullivan III" ) also works at Suffolk Laundry. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 10; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 10.) He " takes care of the linen routes, does packing and is a back-up driver."  ( Id.)
Suffolk Laundry hired Rajindra Singh in 2003 as a mechanic. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 35; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 35.) At all times during his employment at Suffolk Laundry, Singh reported to Walter Sullivan. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 36; Pl. ¶ 36.) In or about May 2010, Singh was promoted to Plant Manager, (Def. 56.1 ¶ 38, Pl. ¶ 38), and is currently still employed at Suffolk Laundry, (JPTO ¶ 13). The parties dispute whether Singh had supervisory responsibilities at Suffolk Laundry. (See Pl. 56.1 ¶ 4.) EEOC claims that Singh " had the power to influence the firing of employees, make recommendations about employees' work performance, issue disciplinary warnings, and control employees' hours, including overtime hours." (Pl. 56.1 ¶ ¶ 4, 6, 28.) According to Defendants, Walter Sullivan is in charge of hiring, firing and employees' hours, and managers like Singh may only discipline employees with Walter Sullivan's permission. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 4.) Rigoberto Cardona, known as " Fito," works in maintenance at Suffolk Laundry, and reports to Singh. ( Id. ¶ 39; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 39.) Cardona occasionally translates for the Spanish-speaking employees. (Pl. 56.1 ¶ ¶ 131, 183.)
Female and male employees at Suffolk Laundry work in different areas. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 17; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 17.) Employees at Suffolk Laundry learned about their assigned work station one day in advance by reviewing a daily schedule, (Def. 56.1 ¶ 20; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 20), which EEOC asserts was created and managed by Singh, (Pl. 56.1 ¶ 20). Some machines are easier to work than others, although there is no universal consensus amongst the employees as to which machines are the best or easiest machines to work. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 19; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 19.) EEOC contends that the different work station assignments in the main work areas, " flatwork" and " finishing," vary in difficulty. (Pl. 56.1 ¶ 18.) The parties dispute whether employees at Suffolk Laundry received training on how to perform their job assignments. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 22; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 22.)
b. Alleged harassment
On or about January 19, 2011, each of the Intervenor-Plaintiffs filed charges of discrimination (" EEOC charge" ) against Suffolk Laundry with the EEOC. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 49; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 49.) The EEOC charges allege misconduct by Singh against female employees at Suffolk Laundry. Intervenor-Plaintiffs Marlyn Gonzalez and Mirian Velasquez filed amended charges against Suffolk Laundry on or
about July 13, 2011, and March 23, 2011, respectively, alleging retaliation. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 49; Pl. 56. 1 ¶ 49.) The Intervenor-Plaintiffs claim that they were not aware of any policy at Suffolk Laundry addressing sexual harassment. (Pl. 56.1 ¶ 13.)
i. Marina Vilorio
Vilorio was employed at Suffolk Laundry from 2006 until April or May 2011. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 51; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 51.) According to Vilorio, she was discriminated against due to her gender and subjected to sexual comments by Singh. (Def. 56.1 ¶ ¶ 52-53, Pl. 56.1 ¶ ¶ 52-53.) Vilorio was subjected to unwanted touching by Singh, and was " afraid to complain about [Singh's conduct] for fear of losing hours on the job." (Vilorio EEOC Charge dated December 20, 2010, annexed to Santos Sur. Reply Decl. as Ex. 4 ¶ ¶ 7, 9.)
After Singh became Plant Manager, he touched Vilorio several times on the shoulder. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 55; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 55.) Singh " pass[ed] his hand on her shoulder as a caress." (Def. 56.1 ¶ 55; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 55.) Singh continued to touch Vilorio, despite her " repeated" requests that he stop the unwanted touching and " mock[ed] her each time [by] saying 'oh, I forget, you don't like it.'" (Pl. 56.1 ¶ 55.) Singh touched Vilorio's face " on several occasions and also touched her waist on several occasions." (Pl. 56.1 ¶ 56.) Vilorio told " Sister Margarita"  that Singh had been touching her and other co-workers. (Pl. 56.1 ¶ 58.) Singh also asked Vilorio for a kiss in Spanish, (Def. 56.1 ¶ 59; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 59), and asked her for a kiss on several occasions, possibly more than five times, (Pl. 56.1 ¶ 59). Defendants contend that Vilorio never told anyone about Singh touching her. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 58.)
Vilorio either observed or learned of Singh's conduct towards two other female employees at Suffolk Laundry. Vilorio saw Singh touch Castillo and Gonzalez at the tablecloth machine. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 63; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 63.) Castillo told Vilorio that when she went to Singh's office to ask permission to go to the doctor, he agreed to grant her permission if she sat on his legs. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 60; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 60.) Gonzalez told Vilorio once that Singh touched her shoulder and waist and had given her a note, or multiple notes, though Gonzalez did not tell Vilorio the contents of the note or notes. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 62; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 62.)
When Vilorio first started working at Suffolk Laundry, her job assignment was to " feed" napkins into one of the machines with four other employees. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 54; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 54.) She did not believe that this job was difficult and this was the only responsibility at the laundry that Vilorio felt was not difficult. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 54; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 54.) Prior to filing a claim with the EEOC, Vilorio was assigned to feed napkins and tablecloths and to fold napkins. (Pl. 56.1 ¶ 65.) After she filed the EEOC charge, Singh assigned Vilorio to " practically all of the work stations in the laundry." ( Id.) In addition to her previous assignments, Singh assigned her to " feed sheets, fold shirts, feed diapers, fold blankets," which she found difficult. ( Id.) Singh insisted on higher production from
Vilorio than from other co-workers. ( Id. ¶ 70.) According to Vilorio, Singh also increased the speed of the tablecloth machine and sheet machine, although, " it did not affect the machine if she did not feed it quickly enough," even with the increased speed. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 71; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 71.) Singh would get upset if Vilorio did not increase her speed. (Pl. 56.1 ¶ 71.) The Defendants dispute Vilorio's allegations as to the nature of Vilorio's work prior to her filing the EEOC charge and after she filed a charge. According to Defendants, Vilorio testified during her deposition that prior to filing the EEOC charge, she was responsible for feeding napkins but after the filing of the EEOC charge, she would " feed sheets, fold shirts, feed diapers and towels, fold blankets, feed tablecloths and fold aprons." (Def. 56.1 ¶ 65.)
Vilorio also alleges that after she filed the EEOC charge, her hours were reduced and she worked " notably fewer overtime hours." (Pl. 56.1 ¶ 74.) She worked less overtime in 2011 than in 2010 and she received less overtime than 17 of the 29 employees employed at Suffolk Laundry. ( Id. ¶ 75.) Vilorio quit her job because she could no longer tolerate working at Suffolk Laundry. ( Id. ¶ 78.) Defendants claim that the pay records demonstrate that Vilorio did receive overtime hours, noting that " [i]n the nine bi-weekly pay periods from February 3, 2011 until she quit her employment, [Vilorio] received overtime in every bi-weekly pay period except one" and in her last two weeks at Suffolk Laundry, Vilorio received 22.5 hours of overtime. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 74.) Defendants claim that Vilorio quit working at Suffolk Laundry because she moved from Riverhead to Brentwood to be with her boyfriend. ( Id. ¶ 78.)
ii. Azucena Castillo
Castillo worked at Suffolk Laundry between 2008 and 2011. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 80; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 80.) Castillo alleges that she was discriminated against based on her gender and subjected to inappropriate comments and unwanted touching by Singh. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 83; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 83.) Castillo was " afraid to complain about [Singh's conduct] for fear of losing hours on the job or other retaliation." (Pl. Sur-Reply Ex. 2 ¶ 10.)
On one occasion after Singh became Plant Manager, when Castillo asked Singh if she could go home because she was not feeling well, Singh responded by gesturing to her, indicating that he wanted her to sit on his legs. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 87; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 87.) Castillo refused. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 87; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 87.) Singh also told Castillo that he would allow her to go home if she let him place his ear on her chest. (Pl. 56.1 ¶ 87.) Singh eventually allowed Castillo to go home early. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 87; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 87.) On another occasion, Singh asked Castillo for a kiss. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 88; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 88.) On a separate occasion, Singh touched Castillo on the hip and pulled up her pants. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 89; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 89.) Singh touched Castillo's chin several times, and touched her on her waist. (Pl. 56.1 ¶ 363.) Castillo sought help from Sister Margarita about Singh's conduct. (Pl. 56.1 ¶ 91.) Veliz-Amaya saw Singh touch Castillo's back and lower his hand to her buttocks several times and noticed that Castillo would get upset when Singh touched her. (Pl. 56.1 ¶ 366.) According to Defendants, Castillo did not complain to anyone at Suffolk Laundry about Singh's behavior. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 91.)
Castillo observed Singh's conduct towards other female employees at Suffolk Laundry. She saw Singh touch Gonzalez and Vilorio. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 92; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 92.) Gonzalez also told Castillo that Singh was giving her notes indicating that " he wanted to make love to her, have oral sex with her and that she should go out with him." (Def. 56.1 ¶ 94; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 94.)
When Castillo began working at Suffolk Laundry, she was responsible for putting hospital robes and restaurant napkins in a machine for ironing. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 82; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 82.) Castillo was shown how to do this work by other employees and believed it to be a physically challenging job, but less challenging once she learned how to do it. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 82; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 82.) When Singh became Plant Manager, he moved Castillo to the machine that folded hospital sheets and restaurant tablecloths. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 86; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 86.) This machine required more effort but once she learned how to use the machine, this job became easier. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 86; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 86.)
After Castillo filed her EEOC charge, Singh moved her to work on other machines. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 95; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 95.) Her " last 19 assignments show that in her last few weeks of employment with Defendants . . . she was assigned to five different positions . . . and was never scheduled more than two days in a row at any one station." (Pl. 56.1 ¶ 95.) Unlike her assignments prior to when she filed her EEOC charge, Castillo was not trained on how to perform these new tasks despite her requests. ( Id.) After the EEOC charge was filed, Castillo's hours were reduced. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 101; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 101.) Castillo was asked to meet with the Sullivans at their home regarding her EEOC charge. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 107; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 107.) The Sullivans told Castillo that " if she did not like her job, she should find another because they would not prefer her over Singh." (Pl. 56.1 ¶ 84.) Castillo left Suffolk Laundry in 2011 when she became pregnant. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 108; Pl 56.1 ¶ 108.)
iii. Maria del Carmen Amaya
Amaya started working at Suffolk Laundry in 2007. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 110; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 110.) Singh began touching Amaya from the day she started working at Suffolk Laundry. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 117; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 117.) Singh touched her on the back of her neck and the side of her shoulder every time he passed by her work station. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 118; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 118.) Amaya never said anything to him because she was afraid that he would take work away from her. (Amaya Dep. 42:12-16.) When Amaya sustained a work injury on July 12, 2010, and injured her finger, Singh insisted that she keep working. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 120; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 120.) Days after this work injury, Singh called her stupid and questioned why she missed a day of work, referring to a day when Amaya did not go to work because she had a medical consultation at a clinic for her finger. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 122; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 122.) After Amaya's work injury, Singh reduced her work schedule and when Amaya requested additional days for work, Singh told her to sit on his lap if she wanted an increased work schedule. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 123; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 123.) Amaya also saw Singh touch Castillo. (Def. 56.1 ¶ ¶ 126-27; Pl. 56.1 ¶ ¶ 126-27.)
When Amaya first started working at Suffolk Laundry, she was responsible for feeding restaurant napkins into a machine. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 112; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 112.) When Singh became Plant Manager, he moved her to the machine that fed diapers. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 113; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 113.) After the Charges were filed, Amaya was asked to go to the Sullivans' house. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 131; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 131.) Walter Sullivan told Amaya that if " something would happen, we should tell him and not anyone else," and that they " were trying to do a good job so that . . . we will feel good about it, and if something happened, that we should tell him." (Amaya Dep. 73:22-74:20.) When Amaya explained that Singh had asked her to sit on his legs, and asked Walter Sullivan whether he was aware of what Singh was doing, Cardona refused to translate, telling her that " it was not true . . .
it was a lie." ( Id. at 75:14-77:25.) When Amaya asked Cardona why he was refusing to translate what she was saying, he responded " I don't want to say anything." ( Id. at 78:5-9.) According to Cardona, Amaya did not say anything to him other than that she wanted a different translator. (Cardona Dep. 43:21-23.) When Cardona informed Walter Sullivan of this, Walter Sullivan did not respond. ( Id. at 44:2-6.)
iv. Mirian Velasquez
Velasquez began working at Suffolk Laundry on July 25, 2009. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 136; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 136.) On or about March 23, 2011, Velasquez filed an amended charge of discrimination with the EEOC alleging that she was retaliated against for filing her initial charge when the Sullivans required her to speak with them about the charges. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 152; Pl 56.1 ¶ 152.)
Before Singh became Plant Manager, he never touched Velasquez. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 154; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 154.) After he became Plant Manager, Singh touched Velasquez's shoulder. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 155; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 155.) He touched her shoulder at least three times while she worked. (Pl. 56.1 ¶ 155.) On at least two occasions, Singh looked at Velasquez " head to toe and said, 'Very good,'" in English. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 158; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 158.) Velasquez also saw Singh gesture to Rosa Martinez while saying " No good." (Def. 56.1 ¶ 158; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 158.) Velasquez saw Singh touch Martinez, Gonzalez, Amaya and two non-parties, " Esmeralda" and Dina Monroy. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 159; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 159.) Velasquez also saw Singh give gifts to Gonzalez. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 160; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 160.) Velasquez overheard Singh request a kiss from a non-party, in exchange for him repairing a machine. (Pl. 56.1 ¶ 157.)
After the EEOC charges were filed, the speed on the machines for tablecloths, pillowcases, uniforms and large tablecloths was changed. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 164; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 164.) Velasquez met with the Sullivans on February 15, 2011 about the EEOC charges. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 165; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 165.) After this meeting, Velasquez's hours were reduced. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 166; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 166.) Velasquez's employment at Suffolk Laundry was terminated on February 23, 2011, (Def. 56.1 ¶ 167; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 167), weeks after the EEOC charges were filed, (Pl. 56.1 ¶ 595).
v. Rosa Guevara Martinez
Martinez started working at Suffolk Laundry on August 9, 2009. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 169; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 169.) Martinez alleges that she was discriminated against on the basis of her gender, subjected to inappropriate comments and unwanted touching by Singh, and was terminated in retaliation for not submitting to Singh's advances. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 176; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 176.)
After Singh became Plant Manager, he touched her hand, back, face and buttocks. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 177; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 177.) On one occasion, Singh told Martinez that she had a " nice rear" in English. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 182; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 182.) In or about August or September 2010, when Martinez went to Singh's office to report that a machine was not working, Singh responded that he would fix the machine if Martinez sat on his legs. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 183; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 183.) Singh also told Martinez that he was better than her boyfriend and that she was " in [his] heart. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 183; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 183.) Singh touched Martinez's face and told her she was pretty. (Pl. 56.1 ¶ 371.) Singh made inappropriate gestures to Martinez, at one point " he signaled or pointed to his penis indicating that it was swollen and big," and on another occasion, he " blasted the air hose at his penis and laughed." (Def. 56.1 ¶ ¶ 184 -85; Pl. 56.1 ¶ ¶ 184 -85.) Martinez observed Singh touch Gonzalez on the back and waist, and saw Singh touch Vilorio. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 187-188;
Pl. 56.1 ¶ 187-88.) Martinez saw Singh pull up Castillo's pants. (Def. 56.1 ¶ ¶ 189; Pl. 56.1 ¶ ¶ 189.)
When Martinez first started working at Suffolk Laundry, her job was feeding sheets, feeding and folding blankets, and feeding diapers on Sundays. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 170; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 170.) When Singh became Plant Manager, Singh rotated Martinez between different jobs and took her off the machine feeding sheets, assigning her to feeding tablecloths, feeding towels and receiving sheets. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 172; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 172.) Martinez was terminated from Suffolk Laundry in September 2010. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 190; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 190.) According to EEOC, Singh " got [Martinez] fired for refusing his sexual advances." (Pl. Mem. of Law in Opp. to Def. Mot. for Summary ...