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Wright v. City of Ithaca

United States District Court, N.D. New York

March 20, 2015

B. DOUGLAS WRIGHT, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF ITHACA, NEW YORK et al., Defendants.

AJ BOSMAN, ESQ., DANIEL W. FLYNN, ESQ., Bosman Law Office, Rome, NY, for The Plaintiff.

ANNE-MARIE MIZEL, ESQ., Stokes, Roberts Law Firm, Pittsburgh Office, Pittsburgh, PA, ARCH Y. STOKES, ESQ., Stokes, Roberts Law Firm, Atlanta Office, Atlanta, GA, PAUL E. WAGNER, ESQ., Stokes, Roberts Law Firm, Ithaca Office, Ithaca, NY, PATRICIA M. O'ROURKE, ESQ., City of Ithaca, Office of the City Attorney, Ithaca, NY, for The Defendants.

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

GARY L. SHARPE Chief District Judge.

I. Introduction

Plaintiffs B. Douglas Wright (hereinafter "Wright") and Melissa Wright commenced this action against defendants City of Ithaca, New York, Carolyn Peterson, Schelley Michell-Nunn, Edward Vallely, Lauren Signer, and John and Jane Doe defendants, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983 as well as the New York State Human Rights Law[1] (NYSHRL) and the City of Ithaca Municipal Code (IMC), alleging discrimination based on race.[2] ( See generally Compl., Dkt. No. 1.) Pending before the court are defendants' motion for summary judgment, (Dkt. No. 98), and motions by Wright seeking to amend his complaint, (Dkt. No. 114, Attach. 2), and to strike the declaration of John Barber, (Dkt. No. 121). For the reasons that follow, defendants' motion is granted in its entirety, and Wright's motions are denied.

II. Background[3]

Wright, a Caucasian male, was hired as a police officer by the City of Ithaca in 1992. (Defs.' Statement of Material Facts (SMF) ¶ 1, Dkt. No. 98, Attach. 2.) He was promoted to sergeant in 1999. ( Id. ¶ 2.) Shortly before Wright's hire, the City of Ithaca hired Marlon Byrd, an African-American, as a patrol officer in July 1991, ( id. ¶ 7), and Byrd was promoted to sergeant in May 2005, ( id. ¶ 10).

In 2008, Wright, Byrd, and others took a civil service examination for a promotion to lieutenant. ( Id. ¶ 12.) Based on the results of the examination, Wright was one of three candidates considered eligible for the promotion. ( Id. ; Dkt. No. 112, Attach. 4 at 5.) Although Byrd was not initially one of the three eligible candidates, he became eligible when sergeant John Norman withdrew his name from consideration. (Dkt. No. 98, Attach. 5 at 18; Dkt. No. 112, Attach. 4 at 5, 7.)

The three candidates-Wright, Byrd, and sergeant Michael Watkins-were interviewed for the position. (Defs.' SMF ¶¶ 12-13; Dkt. No. 106 at 81-83; Dkt. No. 112, Attach. 4 at 7.) The interview committee consisted of Chief of Police Vallely, Deputy Chief John Barber, union representative Jeff Huddle, and Michell-Nunn, the City's Human Resources Director. (Defs.' SMF ¶ 13; Dkt. No. 106 at 51.) Vallely was ultimately responsible for making the final decision, and, after interviewing the candidates, he sought guidance from Peterson, who at the time was the mayor of Ithaca, due to his struggle in making a decision. (Defs.' SMF ¶ 14; Dkt. No. 98, Attach. 4 at 2-3; Dkt. No. 106 at 84-85; Dkt. No. 108 at 129-30.) Peterson advised Vallely to make a matrix to lay out each of the candidates' qualifications for the job. (Defs.' SMF ¶ 14; Dkt. No. 98, Attach. 4 at 3; Dkt. No. 107 at 31-32.) Wright contends that, at some point during the deliberation process, Vallely spoke to Wright and told him that unless he could show "clear and convincing evidence" why Wright was the better candidate, he would "have to promote" Byrd. (Dkt. No. 103, Attach. 1 at 53-54.) Vallely could not recall uttering such statement. (Dkt. No. 108 at 116.)

Ultimately, Wright was not chosen for the promotion, and it was instead given to Byrd, (Defs.' SMF ¶ 16; Dkt. No. 112, Attach. 4 at 7), despite what Wright claims were "serious criminal allegations" against Byrd, which defendants intentionally failed to properly investigate, (Compl. ¶ 23). Vallely indicated that the reason he ultimately chose Byrd was his superior skill in "community policing, " (Dkt. No. 108 at 126-28), in addition to his more extensive experience supervising officers on the line and his demonstrating leadership and ambition through the pursuit of advanced degrees and attendance at the FBI academy, (Dkt. No. 98, Attach. 4 at 3). Byrd was sworn in on March 5, 2009. (Dkt. No. 98, Attach. 5 at 30; Dkt. No. 117, Attach. 9 at 2.)

Wright commenced this action on February 29, 2012, alleging that defendants discriminated against him on account of his race when he was passed over for promotion to lieutenant in both 2007 and 2009, in favor of African-American officers. ( See generally Compl.) After a motion to dismiss by defendants was granted in part by this court, which dismissed Wright's claim as to the 2007 failure to promote as well as his prima facie tort claim and Melissa Wright's loss of consortium claim, (Dkt. No. 14), Wright's remaining causes of action include claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983, the NYSHRL, and the IMC, all stemming from the 2009 failure to promote, (Compl.).

III. Standard of Review

The standard of review pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 is well established and will not be repeated here. For a full discussion of the standard, the court refers the parties to its decision in Wagner v. Swarts, 827 F.Supp.2d 85, 92 (N.D.N.Y. 2011), ...


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