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Matthews v. Corning Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. New York

December 31, 2014


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Suzanne M. Matthews, Plaintiff, Pro se, Horseheads, NY.

For Suzanne M. Matthews, Plaintiff: Mimi C. Satter, Satter & Andrews LLP, Syracuse, NY.

For Corning Incorporated, David Dawson-Elli, Michael Moore, Cynthia Giroux, Marc Giroux, as aider and abettors, Defendants: Andrew M. Burns, Jill K. Schultz, Davidson Fink LLP, Rochester, NY.

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ELIZABETH A. WOLFORD, United States District Judge.


Plaintiff Suzanne Matthews (" Plaintiff'), proceeding pro se, brings this action against Corning Incorporated (" Corning" ), David Dawson-Elli, Michael Moore, Cynthia Giroux, and Marc Giroux (collectively, the " Defendants" ), alleging gender discrimination and retaliation, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § § 2000e et seq., (" Title VII" ) and the New York State Executive Law § § 290 et seq. (Dkt. 50). Presently before the Court is Defendants' motion for summary judgment and Plaintiff's cross-motion for summary judgment. (Dkt. 186, 199, 208). Because there is no disputed issue of material fact that Plaintiff cannot establish a gender discrimination or retaliation claim, Defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted, and Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment is denied.


Corning is a multi-national corporation with approximately 25,000 employees, and is a world leader in specialty glass and ceramics. (Dkt. 186-2 at ¶ 1; Dkt. 208-5 at ¶ 1). Corning hired Plaintiff in 1994 as an " at will" employee. (Dkt. 186-2 at ¶ 3; Dkt. 208-5 at ¶ 3).

While Plaintiff was at Corning, she had an informal coaching relationship with Johnny Terry (" Terry" ), who at the time was a project engineer in the MT& E Division at Corning. (Dkt. 186-8 at ¶ 5; Dkt. 208-3 at ¶ ¶ 1-2). The MT& E Division is the corporate engineering group

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that provides engineering resources for the business units and projects within Corning. (Dkt. 186-8 at ¶ 4). Plaintiff told Terry that she hoped to be promoted from a C-band engineer to a D-band engineer. (Dkt. 186-8 at ¶ 10; Dkt. 208-3 at ¶ 5). In September 2003, Terry became the manager at MT & E and Plaintiff's direct supervisor, during which time he worked more closely with Plaintiff, and began talking with her about long-term career goals and development. (Dkt. 186-8 at ¶ 6; Dkt. 208-3 at ¶ 2).

In January 2005, Plaintiff was assigned to work on the " SiOG project," which involved a team of scientists working together at Corning's Sullivan Park facility. (Dkt. 186-2 at ¶ 9; Dkt. 208-5 at ¶ 9). Plaintiff was a " Process Leader" on the project. (Dkt. 186-2 at ¶ 9; Dkt. 208-5 at ¶ 9). Plaintiff's project manager on the SiOG project was Jeffrey Cites (" Cites" ). (Dkt. 186-2 at ¶ 11; Dkt. 208-5 at ¶ 11). Karen Madison (" Madison" ), a human resources manager at Corning, stated that the SiOG project was " diverse, with a number of women and minorities on the project." (Dkt. 186-9 at ¶ 6). Cites contends that beginning in early 2006, he developed concerns about Plaintiff's performance on the SiOG project, including that Plaintiff did not spend enough time in the lab; that she went on a business trip funded by Corning that was " a waste of time and money," which " showed extremely poor judgment on [Plaintiff's] part; " that she did not work well with others; and that she was not professional. (Dkt. 209-2 at ¶ ¶ 7-9).

Terry contends he had concerns regarding Plaintiff's leadership skills on the SiOG project and therefore gave her feedback regarding how to improve those skills (Dkt. 186-8 at ¶ 9); however, Plaintiff contends that Terry " never expressed concerns about [her] leadership skills" (Dkt. 208-3 at ¶ 4). Instead, Plaintiff contends that Terry said that Cites had " poor leadership skills," that Cites " knew [Plaintiff] was a better leader than him," and that to " go to the next level" Plaintiff needed to " accept the mistreatment on the SiOG project" and " refrain from saying the words 'harassment' or 'hostile work environment'...." ( Id.).

Plaintiff spoke to Terry about a promotion from C-band engineer to D-band engineer. (Dkt. 186-8 at ¶ 10; Dkt. 208-3 at ¶ 5). Terry contends that he explained to Plaintiff that a promotion to D-band was not automatic, and not everyone at Corning received such a promotion. (Dkt. 186-8 at ¶ 10). Terry also explained to Plaintiff that she was not yet ready for a promotion based on the objective criteria required by Corning to receive a promotion to D-band because her leadership, management, and conflict resolution skills needed improvement. ( Id. at ¶ ¶ 15-16). Defendants describe these objective criteria to include " knowledge," " problem solving," " discretion/latitude," " impact," and " liaison" skills; D-band engineers are expected to have expertise in the aforementioned criteria, while expectations for C-band engineers are not as high. ( Id. at ¶ ¶ 11-14). However, Plaintiff contends that Terry told her that promotion to D-band was " political," and that it would be necessary to obtain the support of " Jeff Knutson and the directors on the MTE leadership team" for her to achieve a D-band promotion. (Dkt. 208-3 at ¶ ¶ 5, 13).

During the time Plaintiff was " coached" by Terry, she expressed interest in other employment positions. (Dkt. 186-8 at ¶ ¶ 17-21; Dkt. 208-3 at ¶ ¶ 15-20). Plaintiff expressed interest in the following positions:

(1) Tank Supervisor (Dkt. 186-8 at ¶ 17; Dkt. 186-10 at 32:23-25, 33:1-4). The Tank Supervisor position was filled during the time that Plaintiff

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was in the Pressware division at Corning and before she started on the SiOG project. (Dkt. 186-10 at 32:23-25, 33:1-4);
(2) Process Engineering Supervisor/Manager (Dkt. 186-8 at ¶ 18; Dkt. 186-10 at 40:13-21). This position was a D-band position, and was filled by a woman named Jelena Langensiepen, in November 2005. (Dkt. 186-8 at ¶ 18; Dkt. 186-10 at 40:6-19; see also Dkt. 186-9 at ¶ 19 and Ex. D);
(3) Manufacturing Leader (Dkt. 186-8 at ¶ 19; Dkt. 186-10 at 8:6-17). Terry contends that this position was also a D-band position. (Dkt. 186-8 at ¶ 19). Plaintiff asked for Terry's endorsement for the position; however, Terry and Cites did not believe that Plaintiff had the skill set for this position. (Dkt. 186-8 at ¶ 19; Dkt. 186-10 at 9:7-11). Terry and Cites contend that the decision to select Steven Good for the Manufacturing Leader position rather than Plaintiff was objective and had nothing to do with Plaintiff's gender (Dkt. 186-8 at ¶ 19; Dkt. 209-4 at ¶ 4), and that Good was selected for the position because he had significant project management and functional management experience. (Dkt. 209-2 at ¶ 13).
(4) Process Engineering Supervisor (Dkt. 186-8 at ¶ 20; Dkt. 186-10 at 20:6-19). Terry contends that this was also a D-band position. (Dkt. 186-8 at ¶ 20). Terry states that he informed Plaintiff that she was not a candidate because Corning already had a candidate for the position, Max Bliss. ( Id.). Terry explains that Bliss was awarded the position because he was " objectively more qualified for the position than [Plaintiff]," as Bliss had previously worked as a project leader and supervised a team, including approximately nine direct reports; had demonstrated superior leadership and interpersonal skills and an ability to handle technical, interpersonal, and high-pressure situations; and was a mid-career hire with additional job experience from other employers. ( Id.). Plaintiff contends that Terry never informed her that the supervisory position was filled, nor that she was not a candidate, but rather that there were two project supervisor positions available. (Dkt. 208-3 at ¶ 16). Plaintiff contends that Terry told her that he intended to promote both her and Bliss to supervisor positions, but that it would be easier to promote Bliss. ( Id.). Plaintiff maintains that she had " significantly more functional supervisory experience than Max ...." ( Id. at ¶ 17); and,
(5) Innovation Leader (Dkt. 186-8 at ¶ 21; Dkt. 186-10 at 45:9-18). Terry states that he encouraged Plaintiff to apply for this C-band position. (Dkt. 186-8 at ¶ 21). Terry further contends that he believed that Plaintiff had an informational interview for the position, but Corning later decided not to fill it, and no one received the position. ( Id.). Terry contends that Corning will sometimes post a position, but then not fill it based on business or economic reasons. ( Id.). Madison testified that she was not able to find any record of the Innovation Leader position having been posted. (Dkt. 186-9 at ¶ 20).

Plaintiff also contends generally that other positions for which she attempted to apply were cancelled. (Dkt. 208-3 at ¶ 20). Despite Plaintiff's contentions that she was denied various promotions based on her

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gender, she admits that she has received two promotions after transferring to the MT& E Division at Corning. (Dkt. 208-4 at ¶ 63).

Around April or May of 2006, Plaintiff reported to Terry that Cites and others on the SiOG project were not paying attention to her in group meetings, and that Cites raised his voice when speaking with her. (Dkt. 186-8 at ¶ 22; Dkt. 208-3 at ¶ 21-22). Terry states that in November 2006, Plaintiff informed him that she was experiencing harassment on the SiOG Project, and that she wanted to leave the SiOG project. (Dkt. 186-8 at ¶ 23).

In November 2006, Plaintiff made an internal complaint of gender discrimination contending that the SiOG project environment was not inclusive of women and minorities. (Dkt. 186-8 at ¶ ¶ 23-24; Dkt. 208-3 at ¶ 8). Plaintiff contends that she told Cites that she was leaving the SiOG project because of his failure to maintain an environment that was inclusive of women and minorities, and that Cites responded by raising his voice and pointing his finger in her face. (Dkt. 208-3 at ¶ 53).

In late fall 2006, Madison stated that she received a notebook from Plaintiff entitled " SiOG Resignation Decision Suzanne Matthews," dated " 11/20/06." (Dkt. 186-9 at ¶ 7). Madison reviewed the notebook, interpreted the contents to be an internal complaint by Plaintiff against Coming, including allegations of a hostile work environment, and initiated an investigation of Plaintiff's complaint pursuant to Coming's policies. ( Id. at ¶ 8). Janet Williams (" Williams" ), an experienced investigator from Coming's Security division, conducted the interviews. ( Id. at ¶ 9).

Coming contends that it undertook the following process to investigate Plaintiff's complaint:

(1) Identified the employees whom Williams would interview. In total, 22 employees were identified. Most of the interviewees were from the SiOG project, and included 8 women and 5 minorities;
(2) Madison worked with Williams to develop a questionnaire for Williams to use during the interviews;
(3) Contacted each individual to be interviewed and informed them that they would receive a call from Williams; and,
(4) Williams interviewed the employees using the questionnaire, with appropriate follow-up questions. Williams had one other person in the room with her during the interviews to take and type up notes from the interviews.

(Dkt. 186-9 at ¶ 10). Following the interviews, human resources concluded that a hostile work environment did not exist on the SiOG team, and that women and minorities were treated equally. ( Id. at ¶ 12). Defendants contend that several witnesses stated that Plaintiff herself had communication and interaction issues with others that impacted her effectiveness. ( Id.; see also Dkt. 186-9 at Ex. B).[1] Madison informed Plaintiff that Coming took her claims seriously and conducted a thorough investigation of her claims; however, there was no evidence of a hostile work environment on the SiOG project team. (Dkt. 186-9 at ¶ 13). Madison 'and Plaintiff also discussed Coming's willingness to accommodate Plaintiff's request for a transfer to the OLED project. ( Id.). Plaintiff states that at that point, she decided to leave the SiOG project. (Dkt. 186-10 at 17:17-21). Plaintiff's position on the SiOG project was filled by an African-American woman named Robin Walton. (Dkt. 208-3 at ¶ 39; Dkt. 209-2 at ¶ 39).

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Plaintiff contends that her last day on the SiOG project was December 8, 2006. (Dkt. 208-3 at ¶ 55). Plaintiff thereafter received a new assignment on the OLED project. (Dkt. 186-8 at ¶ 25; Dkt. 208-3 at ¶ 31). Plaintiff claims that the OLED project was " a diverse team with a number of women and minorities working on the project," and " lacked much of the disfunctionality of the SiOG project...." (Dkt. 208-3 at ¶ 31).

Madison contends that Plaintiff's transfer to the OLED project was a lateral move, wherein Plaintiff's title, pay grade, and benefits remained the same. (Dkt. 186-9 at ¶ 14). Madison further contends that Plaintiff continues to work as a Senior Process Engineer in the Display Technologies group in the MT & E Division at Corning, which is a " growth area" for Corning. ( Id.). Madison also notes that it is " very common" for employees to move assignments across divisions. ( Id.). Madison contends that Corning provided Plaintiff with an executive coach to support her in her new assignment ( id. at ¶ 15), and in 2011, Plaintiff received a raise commensurate with her peers in the MT & E Division ( id. at ¶ 21).

Plaintiff contends that Defendants' alleged refusal to reward her for her performance, blocking her participation at meetings, and otherwise preventing her from becoming a candidate for a manufacturing leader position, while all male process leaders were recognized for their work, constitutes gender discrimination. (Dkt. 208-3 at ¶ 10). Plaintiff further asserts that women and minorities have been historically underrepresented in leadership positions at Corning. ( Id. at ¶ 11). Plaintiff contends that in 2006, all female process leaders were given cubicles as offices, while all male process leaders were assigned window offices with doors; that two men received promotions, but Plaintiff and another African-American woman did not receive promotions; and that Corning has no corporate policy requiring that airfare or childcare expenses be provided for an employee's children when the employee is assigned to work at another location. ( Id. at ¶ ¶ 37-40). Plaintiff further contends that in early 2006, she discovered that people were calling her the " cleaning bitch." ( Id. at ¶ 45). Finally, Plaintiff contends that Jianwei Feng, another woman on the SiOG project, told Plaintiff that she was mistreated by Michael Moore (" Moore" ) because Moore would not allow Feng to speak at meetings without asking permission, and that Moore did not give Feng the opportunity to work to her capability. ( Id. at ¶ 50). Cites contends that Plaintiff and other minorities were not treated differently on the SiOG project, and that conflicts in the group " were centered on [Plaintiff] because of her inability to interact with other people." (Dkt. 209-2 at ¶ 17).

Plaintiff also contends that she was retaliated against for filing the November 2006 internal complaint regarding gender discrimination. (Dkt. 186-10 at 26:7-23). Plaintiff states that she has observed " numerous instances of intentional retaliation against anyone who refuses to support workplace initiatives or changes" at Coming, which Plaintiff describes as " Coming Justice." (Dkt. 208-3 at ¶ 9). In her affidavit, Plaintiff states that Terry told her that she did not know how to " drop things," ( id. at ¶ 5); that if Jeff Knutson found out about Plaintiff's issues on the SiOG project he would " cancel [her] career" ( id. at ¶ 6); that when she told Cites she was leaving the SiOG project due to his failure to maintain an environment inclusive of women and minorities, Cites said that he would be " backed all the way to David Morse" if Plaintiff repeated her statement ( id. at ¶ 8); and that when Plaintiff asked Williams if Plaintiff would be protected from retaliation for implicating

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David Dawson-Elli in her complaint, Williams said " no, I cannot promise that" (Dkt. 208-4 at ¶ 67).

Plaintiff further contends that several Coming employees, including Moore, David Dawson-Elli, Cynthia Giroux, and Marc Giroux, sabotaged her career at Coming, and took part in the gender discrimination and retaliation against her. (Dkt. 203-8 at ¶ ¶ 21, 30-31, 35). These individual defendants dispute Plaintiff's ...

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