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Peguero-Miles v. City University of New York

United States District Court, S.D. New York

July 6, 2015

Anarosa Peguero-Miles, Plaintiff,
v.
City University of New York, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

ALISON J. NATHAN, District Judge.

Plaintiff Anarosa Peguero-Miles is a former employee of the State University of New York Manhattan Educational Opportunity Center ("MEOC").[1] She alleges that the individual who helped get her hired exhibited severe discriminatory animus towards her after she was hired and spearheaded a wide-ranging conspiracy to have her fired. Defendants move for summary judgment and provide extensive documentary evidence demonstrating a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for their decision to terminate Plaintiff. In opposition, Plaintiff fails to counter Defendants' undisputed statement of facts and similarly fails to persuasively oppose Defendants' arguments in favor of summary judgment. Therefore, and as further explained below, the Defendants' motion for summary judgment is GRANTED.

I. LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment shall be granted "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). A genuine dispute as to any material fact exists "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). On a motion for summary judgment, a court views all evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant, Overton v. N.Y. State Div. of Military & Naval Affairs, 373 F.3d 83, 89 (2d Cir. 2004), and "resolve[s] all ambiguities and draw[s] all permissible factual inferences in favor of the party against whom summary judgment is sought, " Sec. Ins. Co. of Hartford v. Old Dominion Freight Line, Inc., 391 F.3d 77, 83 (2d Cir. 2004).

The movant "always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, ' which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. But "[e]ven where facts are disputed, in order to defeat summary judgment, the nonmoving party must offer enough evidence to enable a reasonable jury to return a verdict in its favor." Byrnie v. Town of Cromwell Bd. of Educ., 243 F.3d 93, 101 (2d Cir. 2001). Similarly, "summary judgment is proper where there is nothing in the record to support plaintiff's allegations other than plaintiff's own contradictory and incomplete testimony.'" Rivera v. Rochester Genesee Reg'l Transp. Auth., 743 F.3d 11, 20 (2d Cir. 2012) (quoting Jeffreys v. City of New York, 426 F.3d 549, 555 (2d Cir. 2005)).

II. BACKGROUND

In her opposition to the Defendants' motion for summary judgment, Plaintiff failed to comply with Local Rule 56.1 (b). Under that rule,

[t]he papers opposing a motion for summary judgment shall include a correspondingly numbered paragraph responding to each numbered paragraph in the statement of the moving party, and if necessary, additional paragraphs containing a separate, short and concise statement of additional material facts as to which it is contended that there exists a genuine issue to be tried.

Local Rule 56.1 (b). Although Plaintiff is appearing pro se, the Court declines to excuse Plaintiff's failure to comply with the Local Rule for several reasons. First, Plaintiff received a copy of Local Rule 56.1 (b) from the Defendants as part of their motion papers, and this copy of the Local Rule emphasized the need for a counterstatement of material facts. Dkt. No. 82-1. Second, it appears from Plaintiff's opposition brief that she originally intended to submit a counterstatement, but inexplicably chose not to do so. Her opposition brief contains a crossedout "Statement of Facts" section stating "[f]or a complete statement of the undisputed facts relevant to this opposition, the Court is referred to Plaintiff's Local Civil Rule 56.1 Statement of Undisputed Facts, dated February 17, 2015, submitted herewith." Opp'n Br. at 4. Plaintiff drew several lines through this section and never submitted a Local Civil Rule 56.1 statement. Instead, Plaintiff attached a declaration to her opposition brief that lists 37 exhibits, including disorganized transcript pages from multiple hearings or depositions (it is unclear which), [2] that are appended to the declaration. Thus, it appears that Plaintiff was clearly aware of the Local Rule's requirements, but chose not to comply with them.

As this and other courts have recognized, "Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 does not require the Court to perform an independent review of the record to find proof of a factual dispute.'" Suares v. Cityscape Tours, Inc., No. 11 Civ. 5650 (AJN), 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 33228, at *5 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 12, 2014) (quoting Amnesty Am. v. Town of W. Hartford, 288 F.3d 467, 470 (2d Cir. 2002)), aff'd No. 14-1561-cv, 2015 U.S.App. LEXIS 3478 (2d Cir. Mar 5, 2015) (summary order). "Therefore, the Court deems [e]ach numbered paragraph in the statement of material facts set forth in [the Defendants' 56.1] statement admitted for purposes of the motion." Id. (citing Local Rule 56.l(c)).

Nevertheless, as in previous cases in which parties have failed to comply with Local Rule 56.1, the Court does not blindly accept Defendants' 56.1 Statement. Id. Rather, the Court crossreferenced the individually numbered paragraphs contained in Defendants' 56.1 Statement to ensure that they contain record citations that support the asserted fact. The Court accepts only those factual assertions that are "accompanied by citation to admissible evidence" that supports the assertion. Id. at *6 (citing F.T.C. v. Med. Billers Network, Inc., 543 F.Supp.2d 283, 302 (S.D.N.Y. 2008)). In light of these procedural issues, the following facts are deemed admitted.

A. Factual Background

The premise for Plaintiff's current suit, as stated in her Third Amended Complaint, is that Defendant Angela Rita-Farias, the Coordinator for Counseling Services at the MEOC, subjected her to numerous discriminatory remarks during her employment at the MEOC and, due to racial and national origin bias, spearheaded efforts to have her terminated after Plaintiff complained about these comments. Defendants counter Plaintiff's unsupported allegations with uncontroverted evidence of a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for Plaintiff's termination.

Around November 8, 2009, Plaintiff met Rita-Farias, a female of Puerto Rican descent, at the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum. SUF[3] ¶¶ 10-11. While at the Museum, Plaintiff informed Rita-Farias that she was unemployed and Rita-Farias asked Plaintiff for her resume, which Plaintiff provided to Rita-Farias via email the next day. SUF ¶¶ 12-15. At the time, Rita-Farias was the Coordinator for Counseling Services at the MEOC, which provides academic and professional training services to low-income New Yorkers. SUF ¶¶ 6, 9. About a month after meeting Plaintiff, Rita-Farias informed her that the MEOC was looking for a Job Developer for the Food Stamp Employment and Training ("FSET") program. SUF ¶ 16. After interviewing Plaintiff, Rita-Farias recommended Plaintiff to Rodney Alexander, the Executive Director of the MEOC at the time, for a temporary position as a Job Developer. SUF ¶ 8, 17. Alexander subsequently approved hiring Plaintiff as a Job Developer for the MEOC and she started her employment in December 2009, reporting initially to Rita-Farias. SUF ¶¶ 18-19.

Plaintiff's responsibilities included counseling MEOC students, placing students in jobs, and building relationships with community-based organizations and employers to identify suitable employment for the FSET candidates. SUF ¶ 20. Plaintiff's initial appointment to the MEOC was for a period of approximately four months; at the end of this period, the MEOC no longer had funding for her position under the FSET program. SUF ¶¶ 21-22. To continue Plaintiffs employment, Defendants appointed her to another temporary position from April 5, 2010 through August 13, 2010. SUF ¶ 23. Plaintiff subsequently applied for and received a position as a Job Developer for the period beginning August 2, 2010 and ending June 30, 2011. SUF ¶ 25. After August 2010, Plaintiff reported to Steven Jacobs, Associate Director for Research and Development at the MEOC. Declaration of Alberto Rodriguez dated January 23, 2015 ("Rodriguez decl.") Ex. DD (Declaration of Angela Rita-Farias dated January 23, 2015) at ¶ 15; Rodriguez decl. Ex. BB (Declaration of Walida Najeullah dated January 23, 2015) at ¶¶ 11-13; Compl. at 15.

Around January 2011, Alexander began receiving complaints regarding confrontations and negative interactions between Plaintiff and her coworkers. SUF ¶ 26. On January 19, 2011, for example, Maria Constantinou, a Career Job Developer, complained to Alexander that Plaintiff was speaking negatively about her to an MEOC student. SUF ¶ 27. On February 9, 2011, Walida Najeeullah, Coordinator of Operations at the MEOC, received a written complaint from Robert Lewis, an MEOC security officer, regarding Plaintiffs hostile demeanor. SUF ¶ 28. Lewis described an incident involving Plaintiff in which he saw her shaking scissors she held in her hand in the direction of staff member Juan Rufino. SUF ¶ 28. When Lewis approached and asked if everything was all right, Plaintiff told him to mind his own business. SUF ¶ 28.

On February 10, 2011, Plaintiff had a meeting with Alexander, Jacobs, Najeeullah, Brown, and Paleski to discuss Plaintiffs complaints that she was not getting appropriate administrative support at the MEOC. SUF ¶ 39. However, contrary to allegations made in Plaintiffs Third Amended Complaint, Plaintiff did not state during this meeting that she felt that she was being treated unfairly or that her job was being affected by alleged unlawful discrimination. SUF ¶ 39.

On February 16, 2011, Najeeullah received a written complaint from Eric Neutuch, Coordinator of Strategic College Initiatives at the MEOC, reporting that he had witnessed Plaintiff yelling at Lewis in a "completely inappropriate" manner. SUF ¶ 29. Najeeullah informed Alexander of Plaintiffs "outburst, " stating that she had "again received complaints about [Plaintiff] and her inappropriate behavior." SUF ¶ 30.[4] On February 16, 2011, Neutuch complained to Alexander about Plaintiffs outburst during a video shoot at the MEOC. SUF ¶ 31.

On February 17, 2011, Carmel Paleski, Director of Academic Affairs, complained to Alexander about Plaintiffs behavior in the MEOC Resource and Computer Lab. SUF ¶ 32. In her email to Alexander, Paleski forwarded a complaint she received from Lawrence Williams, an MEOC Resource Lab employee, who complained that Plaintiff was talking loudly in the computer lab and her phone was constantly ringing in violation of lab rules. SUF ¶ 32. When Williams informed Plaintiff of his concerns, she refused to acknowledge him. SUF ¶ 32. Also on February 17, 2011, Lewis again complained to Najeeullah about Plaintiffs inappropriate behavior. SUF ¶ 33.

A week later, on February 24, 2011, Tanya Brown, Assistant Director of Academic Affairs, sent an email to Jacobs and Alexander regarding Plaintiffs disruptive behavior in the MEOC Resource Lab. SUF ¶ 34. In that email, Brown notes that she went into the computer lab and "watched [Plaintiff] take out [her cell] phone and begin dialing a number." SUF ¶ 34; Rodriguez decl. Ex. 0. In Brown's email to Jacobs and Alexander, she states: "As you know, we do not allow students to use their cell phones in the lab and we cannot have staff talking on their phones being disruptive to the students working in the lab." Id. The email further states that "[d]ue to the several incidents that have involved Ms. Peguero and various members of the Academic Affairs staff in the last few weeks, staff no longer feel comfortable addressing her and feel that ...


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