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Prophete-Camille v. Stericycle, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. New York

February 13, 2017

RACHELE PROPHETE-CAMILLE, Plaintiff,
v.
STERICYCLE, INC., Defendant.

          For Plaintiff: Brian Adam Heller, Esq., Davida S. Perry, Esq.

          For Defendant: James V. Garvey, Esq., Cara J. Ottenweller, Esq. Jonathan A. Wexler, Esq.

          MEMORANDUM & ORDER

          JOANNA SEYBERT, U.S.D.J.

         Plaintiff Rachele Prophete-Camille (“Plaintiff”) commenced this action against Stericycle, Inc. (“Defendant” or “Stericycle”), asserting claims for hostile work environment and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000 et. seq. (“Title VII”) and the New York State Human Rights Law, N.Y. Exec. Law § 290 et. seq. (“NYSHRL”). Presently pending before the Court is Defendant's motion for summary judgment. (Def.'s Mot., Docket Entry 52.) For the following reasons, Defendant's motion is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

         BACKGROUND[1]

         Stericycle collects, processes, and disposes of medical waste, including “sharps” or needles, for various medical facilities. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt., Docket Entry 52-2, ¶ 3.) In November 2009, Plaintiff began working at Stericycle as a Sharps Services Specialist. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 4.) Plaintiff was a member of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local 813 (the “Union”) while she was employed at Stericycle. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 5.)

         In 2012 and 2013, Stericycle utilized a Team Member Handbook and Business Conduct Guideline that contained, inter alia, a harassment policy “stat[ing] that Stericycle does not tolerate any form of harassment, including harassment on the basis of sex, ” (the “Harassment Policy”). (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 9, 11.) The Harassment Policy states that employees should report harassment to their immediate supervisor, the Area Vice President of Human Resources for their area, or the Vice President of Human Resources. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 12.) The Harassment Policy also provides the phone number for an employee help line. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 13.) On November 18, 2009, Plaintiff acknowledged receipt of the Team Member Handbook. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 17.)

         Stericycle's Business Conduct Guideline contains a “Communications Channels” policy that provides that an employee who becomes aware of an “unlawful or unethical situation” should immediately inform Stericycle by contacting their manager or Human Resources, calling the confidential hotline, or sending a confidential communication directly to senior management. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 21.) On November 18, 2009, Plaintiff acknowledged receipt of the Business Conduct Guideline. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 23.)

         As a Sharps Service Specialist, Plaintiff traveled to hospitals and medical facilities in the New York area and was responsible for replacing full containers of sharps with empty containers. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 28.) Different site supervisors were responsible for certain locations. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 29.) Benjamin Hart (“Hart”) served as Plaintiff's manager. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 26-27.)

         Plaintiff took a disability leave of absence from July 4, 2011, through February 7, 2012. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 30.) In early 2012, Plaintiff began working at the Katz Women's Center (“Katz”) at Long Island Jewish Medical Center (“LIJ”). (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 31.) At that time, Plaintiff began working with Alex Navarro (“Navarro”), a Service Supervisor who was responsible for approximately fifteen locations, including LIJ. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 34-35.) The parties dispute the amount of time Navarro spent at Katz. While Defendant alleges that Navarro did not work at LIJ every day and “pop[ped] in” at Katz once or twice per week, (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 36-37), Plaintiff alleges that “at one point” Navarro worked on-site at LIJ every day, (Pl.'s 56.1 Counterstmt., Docket Entry 54, ¶¶ 36-37). Defendant alleges that Navarro's conversations with Plaintiff “generally lasted only a few minutes, ” while Plaintiff disputes that assertion as a mischaracterization of her deposition testimony. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 38; Pl.'s 56.1 Counterstmt. ¶ 38.)

         During 2012, Plaintiff also worked at New York University (“NYU”) three days per week and served LIJ two days per week. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 39.) The Site Supervisor at NYU was Sal Vento (“Vento”); Navarro had no responsibilities at NYU. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 40.)

         Approximately four to six weeks after Plaintiff began working with Navarro, she learned that he had complained to Hart about her work performance, particularly that she “was not doing much work and did not want to work.” (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 41-42.) Navarro testified at his deposition that Plaintiff did not report to work at the appropriate time and containers were not being emptied. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 45.) Bill Kearney (“Kearney”), Director of Environmental Services for LIJ, stated in an Affidavit that he “receiv[ed] complaints from various LIJ personnel about the areas that Plaintiff was assigned to service.” (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 47.) Hart directed Navarro to work with Plaintiff regarding his complaints and “document the issues.” (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 48.) Defendant alleges that Hart testified that other supervisors also complained about Plaintiff. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 49.) Plaintiff disputes that allegation to the extent that Hart only identified Vento as a supervisor who complained about Plaintiff. (Pl.'s 56.1 Counterstmt. ¶ 49.) Similarly, while Defendant alleges that other supervisors gave Plaintiff “warnings, ” Plaintiff alleges that she received a “discipline form or notification” from Vento after she complained about sexual harassment. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 50; Pl.'s 56.1 Counterstmt. ¶ 50.)

         Hart contacted Plaintiff regarding Navarro's concerns. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 52.) Plaintiff alleges that she advised Hart that Navarro had asked her out and she declined, and that Navarro was assigning her additional work. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 52.) Hart directed Plaintiff to contact her Union. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 53.)

         Plaintiff alleges that she contacted her Union representative, Raymond Woods (“Woods”), and advised that “Navarro had asked her out, that he said she looked like his ex-girlfriend, and that he offered to let her leave early but still get paid for eight hours if she went out with him.” (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 54, 56.) A couple of days later, Woods called Plaintiff, advised that Navarro had denied her allegations, and told Plaintiff to contact him if Navarro made any additional comments. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 58.) Subsequently, Plaintiff called Woods and told him that Navarro had called her, asked where she was, and when she said she was in the bathroom, Navarro waited for her outside of the door. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 59.) Plaintiff also advised Woods that Navarro “frequently call[ed] Plaintiff to ask where she was, and he was coming to LIJ and waiting for her.” (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 60.) Plaintiff also called Woods to complain that Navarro directed her to “work faster, ” and “contact him when she finished her duties for additional work.” (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 62.) Plaintiff alleges that during this phone call, she also complained that Navarro said he wanted to have sex with her. (Pl.'s 56.1 Counterstmt. ¶ 62.)

         Plaintiff, Hart, Navarro, and Woods attended a meeting at Stericycle's Farmingdale facility with Operations Manager Louis Jannotte (“Jannotte”), and Anthony Marino (“Marino”), the Union's business agent. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 64-66.) Woods and Marino represented Plaintiff at the meeting. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 67.) Hart testified that the meeting's purpose was to discuss Navarro's issues with Plaintiff's performance and Plaintiff's issues with the amount of work assigned to her. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 68.) Plaintiff disputes that characterization and alleges that she complained about Navarro's sexual harassment during the meeting. (Pl.'s 56.1 Counterstmt. ¶ 68.) Plaintiff alleges that during this meeting, Plaintiff advised that Navarro asked her out, told her she did not have to pay full-price airfare because he received a military discount, offered to take her to his house in North Carolina, told her that she looked like his ex-girlfriend, and told her that his former employer paid him more than Stericycle to impress her. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 69.) Plaintiff also advised that Navarro had assigned her additional work and sometimes yelled at her. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 73.) While Plaintiff alleges that Navarro also told her she could perform oral sex on him, she was too embarrassed to mention this comment during the meeting. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 71.)

         During this meeting, Navarro denied Plaintiff's allegations and alleged that Plaintiff “was slow at her job, that she could not get to work, and that she was sometimes late to work.” (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 74.) Marino asked whether Plaintiff could be assigned to a different supervisor. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 76.) Plaintiff alleges that Hart replied that LIJ had specifically requested a female employee and “they did not want to interfere with the LIJ account.” (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 76.) At the end of the meeting, Jannotte looked at Navarro and remarked that “he hoped there would not be a problem again.” (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 77.)

         From May 23, 2012, through April 29, 2013, Plaintiff took a workers' compensation leave of absence due to a shoulder injury. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 80-81.) During her leave, Plaintiff inquired whether light duty was available and was told it was not. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 84-85; Pl.'s 56.1 Counterstmt. ¶¶ 84-85.)

         Plaintiff returned to work in 2013 and resumed working two days per week at Katz and three days per week at NYU. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 86.) The parties dispute whether Kearney received complaints about Plaintiff's work areas during her leave of absence. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 87; Pl.'s 56.1 Counterstmt. ¶ 87.) Defendant alleges that when Plaintiff returned, Kearney received complaints from LIJ employees that the rooms Plaintiff was responsible for had not been serviced. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 87.) Hart directed Navarro to investigate these issues. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 89.) Defendant alleges that Navarro conducted an investigation and “determined that Plaintiff had issues arriving to work on time, starting work on time, and missing areas that needed to be serviced.” (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 90.) Plaintiff disputes this allegation and alleges that Hart testified that he did not know whether Navarro spoke to anyone aside from Plaintiff during his investigation. (Pl.'s 56.1 Counterstmt. ¶ 90.) Plaintiff alleges that Navarro told her that she would be fired if she did not move faster and that she was “going to regret [her] life.” (Pl.'s 56.1 Counterstmt. ¶ 92.) Plaintiff concedes that she could not keep up with her assigned work and believes that Navarro assigned her additional work because of her complaints. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 93.)

         Plaintiff alleges that after she returned to work from her leave of absence, Navarro harassed her by walking behind her, commenting on her rear end and mouth, and asking her to tuck her shirt in. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 94.) Plaintiff alleges that she continued to contact Woods to complain about Navarro; however, Hart did not receive any calls from Woods. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 95-96.)

         Plaintiff alleges that in 2013, she contacted Hart “each time she felt that Navarro was intimidating her, ” and told him that Navarro “would pick on her, that he would give her hard, heavy work or additional work, and that he would check up on her more than he would the other technicians.” (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 97-98.) Hart testified that he followed up with Navarro and Navarro advised that he would follow-up on issues that he observed.[2] (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 99.) Hart testified that he did not believe Plaintiff's complaints regarding “harder or heavier work” were valid in light of the equipment Stericycle uses. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 101; Pl.'s 56.1 Counterstmt. ¶ 101.)

         On June 11, 2013, Kearney sent Navarro an email stating that LIJ had previously received complaints about Plaintiff and they continued to receive complaints after she returned to work. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 102.) Kearney further requested that Navarro “remove [Plaintiff] from the building and provide an alternative.” (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 102.) Navarro forwarded Kearney's email to Hart. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 103.) Hart testified that he was “concerned” upon reading Kearney's email, as “[i]t was an indication that the situation was serious given that Kearney himself had become involved” rather than his subordinates. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 104.)

         On June 13, 2013, Hart and Navarro met with Kearney. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 108.) Hart testified that Kearney was “adamant” that Plaintiff be removed. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 109.) Hart further testified that following the meeting, he instructed Navarro to tell Plaintiff to leave LIJ and not to return to the facility, and that Hart would contact her or she should contact Hart. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 110.) Plaintiff testified that Navarro told her “[g]ive me your badge. You're fired.” (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 113.) The parties dispute whether Navarro had the authority to fire employees. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 115; Pl.'s 56.1 Counterstmt. ¶ 115.)

         Hart testified that after his meeting with Kearney, he spoke with Jannotte and they scheduled a meeting with the Union “to discuss Plaintiff's removal from the property.” (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 118.) Hart forwarded Marino a copy of Kearney's email. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 119.) Hart testified that he and Jannotte decided to fire Plaintiff. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 120.) The parties dispute whether Hart relied on Navarro's complaints in deciding to terminate Plaintiff. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 122; Pl.'s 56.1 Counterstmt. ¶ 122.) However, Hart testified that he did not think about terminating Plaintiff until he received Kearney's email. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 123.) Hart also testified that he “did not consider transferring Plaintiff because she had been removed from an entire hospital system” and “employees with performance issues couldn't be relocated.” (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 124.)

         Hart informed Plaintiff that Kearney requested her removal and directed her to contact the Union. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 125.) Plaintiff contacted Woods and advised that Navarro told her she was terminated. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 126.) Subsequently, Plaintiff met with Woods, Marino, Jannotte, Hart, and Navarro. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 127.) Prior to the meeting, Plaintiff told Marino and Woods that the reason Navarro fired her is because “he wanted to have that sexual [sic] with me and I refused, he ke[pt] giving me more work, more work, more work and he was angry after the first meeting. He kept pushing it more and more.” (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 128.)

         At the meeting, Hart presented Plaintiff with Kearney's email; however, Plaintiff “believed that Navarro had manipulated Kearney.” (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 129-130.) The parties dispute whether Navarro discussed Plaintiff's performance with Kearney, and whether Navarro asked Kearney to request Plaintiff's removal. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 131-32; Pl.'s 56.1 Counterstmt. ¶¶ 131-32.) Plaintiff alleges that on June 11, 2013, an LIJ employee sent Kearney an email with the subject line “Message from Alex (Stericycle)” that stated, in relevant part, “Alex asked [me] to ask you to email him the info on not wanting Rachel in the building.” (Pl.'s 56.1 Counterstmt. ¶ 132.) However, Kearney alleges that he requested that Plaintiff be removed from LIJ “based on the complaints he received from LIJ employees and based on his own observations and opinions of Plaintiff's work performance.” (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 134.)

         On June 24, 2013, Plaintiff's employment was terminated. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 135.) Plaintiff concedes that Hart did not harass her, but she alleges that Hart retaliated against her. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 137.) On March 10, 2014, Plaintiff filed a Charge of Discrimination against Defendant with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). (Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 7.)

         DISCUSSION

         Summary judgment will be granted where the movant demonstrates 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). A genuine factual issue exists where “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, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). In determining whether an award of summary judgment is appropriate, the Court considers the pleadings, deposition testimony, interrogatory responses, and admissions on file, together with other firsthand information that includes but is not limited to affidavits. Nnebe v. Daus, 644 F.3d 147, 156 (2d Cir. 2011).

         The movant bears the burden of establishing that there are no genuine issues of material fact. Gallo v. Prudential Residential Servs., L.P., 22 F.3d 1219, 1223 (2d Cir. 1994). Once the movant makes such a showing, the non-movant must proffer specific facts demonstrating “a genuine issue for trial.” Giglio v. Buonnadonna Shoprite LLC, No. 06-CV-5191, 2009 WL 3150431, at *4 (E.D.N.Y. Sept. 25, 2009) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Conclusory allegations or denials will not defeat summary judgment. Id. However, in reviewing the summary judgment record, “‘the court is required to resolve all ambiguities and draw all permissible factual inferences in favor of the party against whom summary judgment is sought.'” Shee ...


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