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Edwards v. New York State Office of Mental Health

United States District Court, E.D. New York

February 20, 2017

DIVENCHY EDWARDS, Plaintiff,
v.
NEW YORK STATE OFFICE OF MENTAL HEALTH, ALTHEA JACKSON, and HARRY JAMES HALL, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

          BRIAN M. COGAN U.S.D.J.

         Plaintiff, currently a Maintenance Assistant for the Long Island Revitalization (“Revite”) Program, which, among other things, provides maintenance services to the New York State Office of Mental Health (“OMH”), has brought claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. (“Title VII”), and the New York State Human Rights Law, N.Y. Exec. Law §§ 290-301 (“NYSHRL”), against OMH, Creedmoor Psychiatric Center (“Creedmoor”) supervisor Althea Jackson, and Creedmoor supervisor Harry James Hall. Plaintiff's causes of action include allegations of discrimination, a hostile work environment, and retaliation based on his religion as a Born Again Christian, and for filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). Defendants have moved for summary judgment as to all claims, and for the reasons stated below, I grant defendants' motion.

         BACKGROUND

         The following undisputed facts are from the parties' Local Rule 56.1 Statements, construed most favorably to plaintiff.

         Plaintiff's first employment with OMH began in February 2011 as a laborer in the Long Island Revite Program. The Revite Program hires teams of laborers, maintenance assistants, and general mechanics that travel throughout New York State to assist OMH psychiatric centers with maintenance tasks, which are necessary to OMH's ability to maintain its accreditation. Revite Program teams service each hospital every six months for two- to three-week periods at a time. The Long Island Revite Team services certain psychiatric hospitals, including Creedmoor. Plaintiff worked at Creedmoor several times in his capacity as a laborer on the Long Island Revite Team.

         Sometime in 2014, Creedmoor had an open position in which it would directly employ a cleaner at its facility. (Apparently, OMH both uses Revite and has its own employees to do maintenance.) Garland Ward, a supervisor at Creedmoor, notified plaintiff about the open position and recommended plaintiff to the Creedmoor housekeeping department and Jim Hall, who oversees all personnel in cleaning services. Subsequent to his applying for the position, plaintiff received an offer for full-time employment at Creedmoor as a cleaner, as did Steve Miles, a fellow Revite Team co-worker.

         Plaintiff began as a probationary employee on August 7, 2014. As a probationary employee, plaintiff knew that he could be terminated if he did not do his job correctly or if there were staff complaints about his work. As a cleaner, plaintiff's cleaning responsibilities included stripping and polishing floors, window washing, vacuuming, trash removal, dusting and cleaning walls, common areas, hospital rooms, and bathrooms. The cleaning assignments ranged between light, medium, and heavy physical effort. Plaintiff's direct supervisors at Creedmoor were Derrick Mullings and Garland Ward, who were, in turn, supervised by defendants Althea Jackson and Harry James Hall.[1] Mullings and Ward inspected plaintiff's ward on at least a daily basis.

         As to defendant Hall, his title is Chief Housekeeper 2 and his responsibilities include oversight over all personnel in the Support Services department, which itself includes housekeeping supervisors and cleaners. Hall also oversees Jackson, who is currently Chief Housekeeper 1 and the part-time Employment Assistance Program Coordinator. Mullings is a Supervising Housekeeper and is responsible for overseeing housekeepers and cleaners, including newly hired cleaners during their one-year probationary periods. Mullings trained plaintiff during his first two weeks at Creedmoor.

         Plaintiff was initially assigned to clean Ward 6B. He performed satisfactorily during his first probationary period, which began in August 2014 when he started, going through November 2014. The second probationary period, which went from December 2014 to February 2015, also yielded a satisfactory evaluation, but plaintiff was warned during this period that he needed to increase the volume of his work by working more quickly, complete all of his assignments, and clean the ward as he was trained to do. Toward the end of March, Mullings asked Jackson to observe plaintiff's performance, and Jackson reported the following: the ward smelled; the corridor and bedroom floors were not swept or mopped and needed buffing; the bathrooms were not cleaned, and there were feces on the toilet seats, on the wall, and under the toilet paper dispensers; and the shower needed scrubbing and mildew removed. Plaintiff disputes that this was the case; instead, he states that Jackson was over-scrutinizing his work.

         In any event, plaintiff's supervisors transferred plaintiff to Ward 6A. In mid-April, Jackson again observed that plaintiff was not performing his duties, this time in Ward 6A, and that his work had not improved. Hall had one or two conversations with plaintiff's direct supervisors about whether or not plaintiff should pass probation. In early May, Hall, Jackson, Mullings, and Ward met to discuss whether to recommend terminating plaintiff. They decided that, because plaintiff was still working too slowly and not cleaning thoroughly even after his transfer to Ward 6A, they would terminate him. Shortly thereafter, plaintiff received his third and final probationary report, which was unsatisfactory. Plaintiff was terminated that same day.

         On the day following his termination, plaintiff applied for a position with his former employer, the OMH Long Island Revite Program. At the end of May, plaintiff was rehired as a Maintenance Assistant, G-9, for the Long Island Revite Team, under the supervision of Barbara Daros and Pierre Yacinthe.

         On June 29, 2015, plaintiff filed a complaint with the EEOC against Creedmoor. Plaintiff alleged religious discrimination and hostile work environment on the basis of his faith as a Born Again Christian. Plaintiff had told several people at Creedmoor about his beliefs, including one brief conversation with Hall where he told Hall that he worked to please God and Hall said he did not want to hear about that, and another conversation with Jackson. In that conversation, Jackson told plaintiff that she is a pastor and he replied that he is a minister. Plaintiff also advised Jackson in that conversation that he believes that everyone who follows the gospel is a minister. Plaintiff believes, based on her facial expression, that Jackson disagreed with him.

         Plaintiff and Jackson had another conversation about religion after plaintiff, citing his religious beliefs, declined to contribute to a collection for an employee whose father had died. In response to plaintiff's declination, Jackson shared with him a portion of scripture that dealt with giving, and during a conversation about that scripture passage, Jackson and plaintiff discussed the meaning of the Biblical verse.

         That was the last conversation plaintiff had with Jackson about religion. Plaintiff never told anyone about either conversation he had with Jackson. However, it was after these two conversations that (1) Jackson began to heavily scrutinize his work and (2) Mullings, Hall, and Jackson inspected his ward more frequently.

         Hall would visit plaintiff's ward on the weekends, even though those were Hall's days off. After the conversations with Jackson, an individual, Gordon, who previously assisted plaintiff with moving the beds, no longer assisted plaintiff with that task. In March 2015, Mullings stopped spraying the bathroom every week, an act that had facilitated plaintiff's ability to clean the bathrooms. Plaintiff attempted to complain about Mullings to Jackson and Hall, but both dismissed him out of hand.[2]

         In his EEOC complaint and in the present action, plaintiff alleges religious animus based on comments by his direct supervisor Ward, namely, Ward's handful of references to plaintiff as “Rev, ” short for “Reverend.” Plaintiff never complained or said anything to anyone about Ward calling him “Rev, ” nor did he ever complain to anyone at Creedmoor about religious discrimination. Furthermore, plaintiff testified that he did not know what Ward intended when he called plaintiff “Rev.”

         The timing is unclear, but plaintiff also claims that Miles, the fellow Revite Team employee who was also hired by Creedmoor, and who was not a Born Again Christian, was treated differently than plaintiff; Miles would show up late or not at all on several occasions and would sometimes show up to work drunk, but was never terminated.

         Despite his termination from Creedmoor, plaintiff returned to work at Creedmoor as a member of the Revite Team in mid-July 2015, working there in July and August 2015. Prior to plaintiff's tour of duty at Creedmoor as part of Revite, a routine pre-assessment meeting was held, and present were Yacinthe and Daros from Revite and Hall, among others, from Creedmoor. Hall was aware that plaintiff was once again working for Revite and suggested that plaintiff work on the painting side of the team, so that there would be no direct contact between plaintiff and Hall or the other supervisors involved in his termination. Yacinthe and Daros said they would consider Hall's suggestion, but they did not think there was anything they could do about plaintiff's assignment.

         There was no change in plaintiff's position, location, or supervisory responsibilities. Plaintiff was able to enter Creedmoor when he returned as part of the Revite Team. Plaintiff would again return to Creedmoor with the Revite Team in February 2016. Although neither Hall nor Jackson controlled or supervised plaintiff's work for Revite during his tours at ...


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