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Brown v. City of New York

United States District Court, S.D. New York

October 23, 2014

SHEILA BROWN, Plaintiff,


PAUL A. ENGELMAYER, District Judge.

Plaintiff Sheila Brown, proceeding pro se. brings claims of employment discrimination against the City of New York ("City") and the Human Resources Administration, Department of Social Services ("HRA") under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq (Title VII"), and New York State Human Rights Law, N.Y. Exec. Lae §§ 290 et seq. ("NYSHRL"), and New York City Human Rights Law, N.Y. City Admin. Code §§ 8-101 et seq. ("NYCHRL"). Brown alleges that she was denied a pay increase because of her gender and was subjected to disciplinary actions in retaliation for her partected activity. Defendant now move to dismiss Brown's Amended Complaint in its entirety. For the following reasons, the Court grants the motion.

I. Background

A. Factual Background[1]

On March 19, 1990, Brown was hired as an HRA Caseworker. Pl. Br. Supp. 1. In March 1999, she was promoted to Supervisor I Social Services (Welfare) based on the results of a civil service examination. Id. In May 2001, she laterally transferred to the Adult Protective Services unit but retained the same title. Id. Brown has held that position ever since. See id. at 1-3.

In September 2001, Brown enrolled in a Master of Social Work ("MSW") program at the State University of New York ("SUNY") Stony Brook. Id. at 1. By December 2003, Brown completed the requirements for her MSW. Am. Compl. 6. Brown thereafter contacted the HRA Personnel Department to request a pay increase. Pl. Br. Supp. 1. According to HRA policy, "[w]hen an employee receives Social Work degree-MSW after civil service appointment, the head of the employee's agency has [the] authority to request HRA-Personnel Dept. for Social Work Differential pay." Id. at 1. The base salary for Brown's current position, Supervisor I Social Work, is $49, 765. Am. Compl. 5. With a MSW, the rate of pay for that position can increase to $55, 119. Id. With a MSW and a promotion to Supervisor II Social Work, the rate of pay can increase to $64, 424. Id. In spring 2004, Brown gave the Personnel Department a copy of her transcript, which confirmed that she had completed the requirements for a MSW. Pl. Br. Supp. 2. Brown also informed Jerry Victor, the Director of the Adult Protective Services unit, that he needed to contact the Personnel Department regarding the pay differential. Id. Victor responded that "he doesn't have Social Workers in his unit" and that Brown would "have to go somewhere else to work." Id. Brown was in fact the only employee with a social work degree in her unit. Id.

Despite these efforts, Brown never received her social work differential pay. Am. Compl. 3, 6; Am. Compl. Supp. 1. On June 27, 2014, however, Brown received notice that she had been placed in a "pre-selective hiring pool" for a promotion to Supervisor II Social Work. Am. Compl. 6. On July 3, 2014, Brown interviewed for a position at a Home Care Agency in Long Island City, a three-hour commute from her home. Pl. Br. 2. Adult Protective Services "was a no show at the promotional pool." Id. Brown was not selected for the promotion, but she put her name back on the list, and her "list number is 7." Id.

On two occasions, Victor disciplined Brown. Am. Compl. 6. First, on April 2, 2012, Victor gave Brown an "unsatisfactory evaluation performance." Id. Second, on June 25, 2014, Brown received notice that she was required to appear at "OATH [Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings] court for disciplinary action" on July 8, 2014. Id. The date of the OATH hearing was later moved to September 9, 2014. Pl. Br. 2. Following the OATH hearing, Brown was suspended from her employment for 10 days. Motion to Amend 1-2. Because of this suspension and Victor's recommendations, Brown is currently ineligible for a promotion and corresponding salary increase. Id. In addition to these two incidents, Brown alleges that Victor has generally been "harassing/discriminating" toward her. Am. Compl. 6.

B. Brown's Prior Lawsuit Against the City and HRA[2]

On April 29, 2011, Brown, through counsel, filed her first lawsuit against the City and HRA.[3] See Brown v. The City of New York et al . (" Brown I "), No. 11 Civ. 2915, at Dkt. 1 (" Brown I Compl."). She alleged that she had been subjected to a hostile work environment and retaliated against for opposing the defendants' unlawful employment practices, in violation of Title VII and parallel state and city laws. Id.

Brown I centered on the bizarre and inappropriate behavior of Brown's former subordinate, George Miller. Brown's Complaint alleged that Miller had been "aggressive towards women, " id. ¶ 16, and "had exhibited serious harassing behavior towards women, " id. ¶ 17. Miller refused to take orders from Brown because of her gender, id. ¶ 20, and touched her hands without her consent several times, id. ¶¶ 22, 23, 36. He also sexually harassed Brown's female co-workers by staring at them in a sexual manner, id. ¶¶ 22, 26, 27, 28, grabbing and touching them, id. ¶¶ 45, 47, and, on at least two occasions, exposing himself at the office, id. ¶¶ 48-51. Brown's Complaint further alleged that Miller had made Brown feel unsafe and discriminated against by "frequently danc[ing] in the hallways, " "rap[ping] loud lyrics [about] gun shots, " "us[ing] profane language, " and "screaming out of the blue." Id. ¶¶ 37-40. Although Brown repeatedly advised Victor, her direct supervisor, of Miller's behavior and her resulting discomfort, Victor, Brown alleged, never reprimanded or disciplined Miller. See id. ¶¶ 16, 19, 21, 22, 25, 28, 29, 41. Brown eventually complained to the Human Resources Department, which also failed to investigate Miller's behavior. Id. ¶ 44.

During the same period, Brown alleged, she faced multiple disciplinary actions. On May 21, 2009, Victor told Brown that she "was a terrible manager and that she had to leave the unit." Id. ¶ 30. On June 22, 2010, Brown was formally reprimanded for failing to enter Miller's time and allowing him to attend to personal business during work hours. Id. ¶ 55. In late 2010 or early 2011, Brown was formally reprimanded and referred to the Employee Disciplinary Unit for refusing to take over the caseload of a caseworker who was on extended sick leave. Id. ¶¶ 56-58. Meanwhile, Brown was not given an opportunity to apply for a particular promotion, and the position was ultimately given to a male caseworker. Id. ¶ 31. Brown alleged that these actions were all taken in retaliation for her complaints about Miller. See id. ¶¶ 30, 31, 57, 70.

On February 21, 2013, defendants moved for summary judgment on all claims. Dkt. 36. After briefing and argument, Dkt. 36-49, the Court denied summary judgment on the hostile work environment claims but granted it as to the retaliation claims. Dkt. 51. Explaining the latter ruling, the Court held that Brown had not established any of the elements of a prima facie case of retaliation under Title VII-"(1) that she participated in a protected activity; (2) that participation in the protected activity was known to the employer; (3) that the employer thereafter subjected her to a materially adverse employment action; and (4) that there was a causal connection between the protected activity and the adverse employment action." Brown v. City of New York, No. 11 Civ. 2915 (PAE), 2013 WL 3789091, at *14 (S.D.N.Y. July 19, 2013) (citing Kaytor v. Elec. Boat Corp., 609 F.3d 537, 552 (2d Cir. 2010)). Brown had not suffered an adverse employment action because her official reprimands had not triggered any negative consequences, id. at *15-16, nor had she come forward with evidence on which a jury could infer that the reprimands were motivated by her complaints about Miller, id. at *15-18. For much the same reasons, the Court granted summary judgment for the City and HRA on Brown's retaliation claims brought under state and city laws. Id. at *19-20.

Between December 9 and 11, 2013, a jury trial was held before this Court on Brown's hostile work environment claims. See Dkt. 77-82. Brown was represented by counsel. Brown testified at trial, as did Victor and other co-workers of Brown's. The jury returned a verdict for the ...

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