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Purdie v. City University of New York

United States District Court, S.D. New York

January 8, 2015

YVONNE PURDIE, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK, PRESIDENT JEREMY TRAVIS in his official capacity, ROBERT PIGNATELLO, individually and in his official capacity, and DONALD GRAY, individually and in his official capacity, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

NAOMI REICE BUCHWALD, District Judge.

Plaintiff Yvonne Purdie is an African-American employee of the City University of New York ("CUNY"). Plaintiff alleges that two CUNY administrators discriminated on the basis of her race in selecting a White candidate, rather than plaintiff, to become Director of Human Resources at CUNY's John Jay College of Criminal Justice in 2011. Specifically, plaintiff alleges that defendant Donald Gray (plaintiff's supervisor until late 2011) recommended the White candidate, that defendant Robert Pignatello (a more senior administrator) appointed the White candidate, and that Pignatello covered up his discriminatory action by wrongfully reprimanding plaintiff and transferring her out of the Human Resources Department.

Plaintiff additionally asserts that, in early -, some agent of CUNY urged plaintiff's new manager to "manage her out" of her job in retaliation for filing discrimination complaints with state and federal agencies.

For the reasons stated in this opinion, we grant in part and deny in part defendants' motion to dismiss certain claims.

BACKGROUND[1]

I. CUNY Fails to Promote Plaintiff.

At the times relevant to this case, plaintiff, an African-American woman, worked in the administration of John Jay College, a component college of the CUNY system. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 7, 30, 71.

Before joining John Jay as an employee, plaintiff obtained two degrees there: a B.S. in Legal Studies and an M.P.A. with a concentration in Human Resource Management. ¶¶ 31-32. She later obtained an additional certification in human resource management from St. Joseph's College and taught a course in the subject at John Jay for several years. ¶¶ 33-34.

From 1998 to 2012, plaintiff worked in John Jay's Human Resources Department. See ¶¶ 36, 39(1), 71. Over the years, her supervisors gave her several positive performance evaluations, and the college president, defendant Travis, awarded her early salary increases in recognition of her excellent work. ¶¶ 36-45. For much of this time, plaintiff worked under defendant Gray, who, as of late 2012, was both Director of Human Resources and Dean of the College. See ¶ 40 (Gray "oversaw and ratified" plaintiff's evaluations from 1998 to 2002); ¶ 14. Plaintiff eventually became a Deputy Director of Human Resources, one step down from Director Gray. ¶ 19.

In late 2011, Gray announced that he was moving from the Human Resources Department to a position in the College's Office of Legal Counsel. ¶ 13.

CUNY's normal protocol for filling a vacant or new position was to solicit applications internally and externally and to review applicants through a formal hiring committee. ¶ 17. CUNY management, however, did not apply this protocol to fill Gray's vacancy either temporarily or permanently. ¶¶ 18, 25, 26.

Instead, within days of the vacancy, defendant Pignatello, the College's Senior Vice President of Finance and Administration, summarily appointed Gulen Zubizaretta, a White woman who was, like plaintiff, a Deputy Director of Human Resources, to be the Interim Director. ¶¶ 18-19. Defendant Gray recommended Zubizarreta to Pignatello for this interim position, and defendant Travis confirmed Pignatello's decision. ¶¶ 20-21.[2]

Defendant Pignatello took charge of the search for a permanent Director, but did not announce the position publicly or refer applications to a hiring committee. ¶¶ 18, 25. In March 2012, he asked a senior CUNY manager to appoint Zubizarreta as permanent Director of Human Resources, and Zubizarreta was appointed to that position in April 2012. ¶¶ 22-24.

In hiring Zubizarreta, the College allegedly ignored the formal job qualifications that it had set out for the position of Director. Those qualifications were a bachelor's degree (master's degree preferred); eight years of related experience in positions of increasing responsibility; and "evidence of exceptional achievement and demonstrated skills in contract compliance, personnel systems, and strategic human resource planning and management." ¶¶ 27-29. Plaintiff met each of these qualifications through her John Jay degrees, her 13-year employment history at John Jay, and her professional development. ¶¶ 30-35. Zubizarreta, on the other hand, lacked eight years of experience in human resources, had held the position of Deputy Director at the College for eight years fewer than plaintiff, and lacked a master's degree in a relevant field. ¶¶ 46-48, 50-51.

Based on these circumstances, plaintiff alleges that CUNY (and, individually, Pignatello and Gray) failed to promote her on account of her race. To lend further credence to this allegation, plaintiff states that John Jay (again through Pignatello and Gray) nearly promoted a White woman instead of plaintiff in 2005. ¶ 58. (At the behest of a diversity committee, the College hired neither plaintiff nor the other applicant. ¶ 58.)

Plaintiff also alleges that Pignatello tried to "cover up" his discriminatory actions by blaming plaintiff for the Human Resources Department's failure to properly adjust the salaries of the College's civil servants.[3] ¶ 59. Within a month after permanently promoting Zubizarreta, Pignatello formally reprimanded plaintiff for this failure, and transferred plaintiff to the Office of Student Affairs in May 2012. ¶¶ 60-61, 71. According to plaintiff, this reprimand was unwarranted, because the task of adjusting civil servants' salaries belonged to Zubizarreta, rather than to plaintiff. ¶ 63.

II. CUNY Encourages Plaintiff's Supervisor to Manage Plaintiff Out.

On July 24, 2012 (less than four months after Zubizarreta's permanent appointment, plaintiff's reprimand, and plaintiff's transfer to Student Affairs), plaintiff filed complaints with the New York State Division of Human Rights (SDHR) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). ¶ 70.

Plaintiff continued to work for John Jay in the Office of Student Affairs, and received a "very favorable" recommendation from her new supervisor, Tom Stafford, in March 2013. ¶ 71.

However, plaintiff believes that, when Lynette Cook-Francis replaced Stafford later that month, some unnamed CUNY official encouraged Cook-Francis (in the words of the Amended Complaint) "to manage Plaintiff out of her employment." ¶ 72. In order to justify removing plaintiff, CUNY told Cook-Francis that CUNY would blame plaintiff for problems in the College's Human Resources Department. ¶ 74. In exchange for Cook-Francis's help, the College promised to reward Cook-Francis with continued funding for plaintiff's position and freedom to choose a replacement. ¶ 73.

Plaintiff does not allege that Cook-Francis took any specific retaliatory action in response to CUNY's request. Nor does plaintiff allege that she has left CUNY, whether through formal termination, constructive termination, or any other means. (The complaint is silent as to whether plaintiff still works for the College, even though this information is surely within plaintiff's knowledge.)

Based on these circumstances, plaintiff alleges that CUNY retaliated against plaintiff for filing complaints with the SDHR and the EEOC.

III. The Present Action

The SDHR dismissed plaintiff's complaint for administrative convenience, so that plaintiff could pursue her federal and state remedies together in this Court. See Recommended Order of Dismissal, In re Purdie v. City Univ. of New York, No. 10156545 (N.Y.S. Div. of Hum. Rts. July 16, 2013) (citing N.Y. Exec. Law § 297(3)(c)), filed as ECF No. 22, Ex. C. Plaintiff received a right-to-sue letter from the EEOC soon thereafter, see Dismissal and Notice of Rights, No. 16G-2012-04116 (E.E.O.C. Aug. 22, 2013), filed as ECF No. 22, Ex. D, and filed a complaint in this Court on September 12, 2013. After defendants moved to dismiss the original complaint (ECF No. 9), plaintiff amended her complaint in order to moot certain grounds that defendants had raised for dismissal (ECF No. 14; see also Letter, ECF No. 12).

The Amended Complaint raises four causes of action:

1. against CUNY, under Title VII, [4] with to CUNY'S failure to promote plaintiff on account of her race and CUNY's retaliation for plaintiff's filing of complaints with the SDHR and the EEOC;[5]
2. against the individual defendants, in their individual and official capacities, under the Equal Protection Clause and section 1983, [6] with respect to CUNY's failure to promote plaintiff;

3. against the individual defendants (in their individual and official capacities), under the New York State Human Rights Law, [7] with respect to ...


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