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Gaymon v. MTA Bus Co.

United States District Court, E.D. New York

March 6, 2015

CRAIG GAYMON, Plaintiff,
v.
MTA BUS COMPANY and DENESSA BROWN, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

ROSLYNN R. MAUSKOPF, District Judge.

Plaintiff pro se Craig Gaymon ("Gaymon") brings this action pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e, et seq. ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983"), the New York State Human Rights Law, N.Y. Exec. Law §§ 296, et seq. ("NYSHRL"), and the New York City Human Rights Law, N.Y.C. Admin. Code §§ 8-107, et seq. ("NYCHRL"), asserting claims for employment discrimination against defendants Metropolitan Transportation Authority Bus Company ("MTA Bus") and MTA Bus supervisor Denessa Brown ("Brown") (together, "defendants"). (Compl. (Doc. No. 1).) Gaymon worked as a bus driver for MTA Bus until his termination on November 2, 2010, which he alleges was motivated by racial discrimination. (Id. )

Before the Court is defendants' fully-briefed motion for summary judgment on all claims. (Doc. Nos. 55-63.) For the reasons set forth below, defendants' motion is GRANTED as to plaintiff's federal claims, and the Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction as to any remaining state and city law claims.

BACKGROUND[1]

Gaymon started working for MTA Bus in January 2006 when his then-employer, Jamaica Bus Company, turned over its business operations to MTA Bus. (Def.'s Aff. in Supp. of Mot., Ex. A (Doc. No. 59-1) at 15-16.) In November 2009, MTA Bus enacted a company-wide policy prohibiting its drivers from using "pagers, cellular phones (with or without a hands-free device) or any other electronic device" while operating buses. ( Id., Ex. B (Doc. No 59-2).) Disciplinary action resulting from violations of this policy fell within the collective bargaining agreement ("CBA") between Gaymon's representative, Local 100 of the Transport Workers Union ("Local 100"), and MTA Bus. ( See Def.'s R. in Supp. of Mot., Ex. K (Doc. No. 62-1).) The CBA established a multi-step grievance mechanism consisting of three levels of internal hearings known as Step I, Step II, and Step III Hearings. Step II and III Hearings are triggered upon an employee's appeal of each preceding hearing determination. A Step III Hearing is followed by a final impartial arbitration. (Id. at 16-18.)[2]

In August 2006, prior to the implementation of this new policy, Gaymon received a citation from MTA Bus for using his cellphone while operating a bus. (Def.'s Aff. in Supp. of Mot., Ex. A (Doc. No. 59-1) at 30-33.) On December 2, 2009, after the promulgation of the policy, MTA Bus cited Gaymon for a second time based on a "cellphone violation, texting, and rudeness." (Id. at 33-37, Ex. C (Doc. No. 59-3).) Gaymon was accorded a Step I Hearing and received a one-day suspension. (Id. ) Less than one month later, on December 30, 2009, Gaymon was again found to have violated the electronic device policy, which resulted in a ten-day suspension imposed at a Step I hearing. (Id. at 37-39; Ex. D (Doc. No. 59-3).) Gaymon appealed that decision and, after a Step II Hearing, MTA Bus reduced the suspension to five days. (Id. ) On July 13, 2010, Gaymon once more violated the policy - his fourth violation - resulting in a ten-day suspension. (Id. at 42-44, Ex. E (Doc. No. 59-3).) Gaymon appealed that determination, but MTA Bus upheld the suspension after a Step II Hearing. (Id. )

Approximately four months later, on November 2, 2010, Gaymon was driving passengers on his bus route when Denessa Brown, an MTA supervisor, boarded the bus dressed in plain clothes. (Id. at 50-55.) Gaymon did not know that Brown was an MTA employee. (Id. at 53.) While Gaymon had the bus stopped at a traffic light, Brown - seated near the front of the bus with a direct view of Gaymon - saw Gaymon remove a cellphone from his pocket and press buttons on it. (Def.'s Aff. in Supp. of Mot., Ex. F (Doc. No. 59-3).) Gaymon repeated this conduct when he next stopped the bus, and did so again a third time later in the route. (Id. ) At that point, Brown approached Gaymon and stated, "You're not supposed to have that thing out, " referring to Gaymon's cellphone. (Def.'s Aff. in Supp. of Mot., Ex. A (Doc. No. 59-1) at 56-57.) Gaymon responded, "It's not that I was using it, I was just turning it off." (Id. at 58, 61.)

At the end of the route, Brown advised Gaymon that she was an MTA supervisor. (Def.'s Aff. in Supp. of Mot., Ex. F (Doc. No. 59-3).) Brown removed Gaymon from any further service that day and had him return to the bus depot. (Def.'s Aff. in Supp. of Mot., Ex. A (Doc. No. 59-1) at 59-60.) Gaymon insisted that the device Brown had seen was actually his iPod and he asked her to reconsider, but Brown refused. (Id. )

After a Step I Hearing that same day, MTA Bus terminated Gaymon's employment. (Id. at 63-68, Ex. G (Doc. No. 59-3).) Gaymon appealed and MTA Bus upheld his termination at Step II and III Hearings. (Id. ) Gaymon's final appeal, at which he was represented by an attorney and two Local 100 union officials, occurred before an impartial arbitrator. (Id. at 74-75, Ex. A (Doc. No. 59-1).) Gaymon claimed that the device he took from his pocket was not a cellphone, but rather an iPod that was overheating and that he was attempting to turn off. (Id. at 55-57, 84, 107.)[3]

The arbitrator upheld Gaymon's termination. The arbitrator credited Brown's "clear and consistent" testimony regarding the events that precipitated the firing, and voiced his skepticism as to Gaymon's "unbelievable" account of an iPod overheating. (Def.'s Aff. in Supp. of Mot., Ex. H (Doc. No. 59-3).) The arbitrator noted:

[I]n the space of one year [Gaymon] was cited four times for cellphone violations. As such, he was progressively disciplined, but to no avail. He ignored important safety requirements. Under these circumstances, I find, the Employer's decision to dismiss the Grievant was proper. (Id. )

Gaymon filed a petition in New York Supreme Court, challenging the arbitral decision under Article 78 of the N.Y. Civil Practice Law and Rules ("N.Y. C.P.L.R."). (Def.'s Aff. in Supp. of Mot., Ex. J (Doc. No. 59-3).) Gaymon's state petition alleged disparate treatment, pointing to a past showing of leniency by the same arbitrator toward fellow MTA Bus driver Joseph Minarczyk ("Minarczyk").[4] (Id. ) Gaymon argued that Minarczyk had the same number of cellphone violations in an even shorter span of time, and yet the arbitrator had reversed - not affirmed - Minarczyk's termination. Gaymon requested that his own arbitral award be vacated on the basis that no significant difference existed between his and Minarczyk's respective work histories, and that the arbitrator's failure to afford Gaymon similar leniency was groundless and unjust. (Id. ) On January 4, 2012, the state court converted the proceeding on consent to a petition under Article 75 of the N.Y. C.P.L.R., and granted MTA Bus's motion to dismiss on the ground that Gaymon's petition failed to establish any valid basis for vacating the arbitration award. (Def.'s Aff. in Supp. of Mot., Ex. I (Doc. No. 59-3).)

Gaymon then filed the instant lawsuit for wrongful termination in violation of Title VII, Section 1983, the NYSHRL, and the NYCHRL, alleging claims of disparate treatment based on racial discrimination. ( See Compl. (Doc. No. 1).) ...


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