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Campbell v. National Fuel Gas Distribution Corp.

United States District Court, W.D. New York

May 11, 2017

SHARON CAMPBELL, Plaintiff,
v.
NATIONAL FUEL GAS DISTRIBUTION CORPORATION, Defendant.

          DECISION AND ORDER

          ELIZABETH A.WOLFORD, United States District Judge

         INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Sharon Campbell ("Plaintiff) filed this action on April 30, 2013, complaining of employment discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq. (Dkt. 1). The case was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Leslie G. Foschio for disposition of all non-dispositive motions, and to hear and report on dispositive motions for the consideration of this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(B)(1). (Dkt. 8). On November 3, 2014, Defendant National Fuel Gas Distribution Corporation ("Defendant") filed a motion for summary judgment. (Dkt. 28). Magistrate Judge Foschio filed a report and recommendation ("R&R") on July 26, 2016, recommending that this Court grant summary judgment. (Dkt. 58). Plaintiff filed timely objections to the R&R (Dkt. 61), and Defendant filed a response (Dkt. 62). Oral argument was held before the undersigned on November 22, 2016. (Dkt. 64).

         This Court agrees with the R&R's recommendation that summary judgment should be granted in favor of Plaintiff, and for the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion for summary judgment is granted.

         BACKGROUND

         The factual background of this case is set forth in detail in the R&R. (See Dkt. 58 at 3-11). Familiarity with the R&R is assumed for purposes of this Decision and Order.

         DISCUSSION

         I. Standard of Review

         A district court reviews any specific objections to a report and recommendation under a de novo standard. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3); see also 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C) ("A judge of the court shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made."). To trigger the de novo review standard, objections must "specifically identify the portions of the proposed findings and recommendations to which objection is made and the basis for each objection." L.R. Civ. P. 72(b); see, e.g., Molefe v. KLMRoyal Dutch Airlines, 602 F.Supp.2d 485, 487 (S.D.N.Y. 2009). In the absence of a specific objection, the district court reviews for clear error or manifest injustice. Singh v. N.Y.State Dep 't of Taxation & Fin., 865 F.Supp.2d 344, 348 (W.D.N.Y. 2011). Following review of the report and recommendation, the district judge "may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 provides that summary judgment should be granted if the moving party establishes "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). The court should grant summary judgment if, after considering the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, the court finds that no rational jury could find in favor of that party. See Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007) (citing Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986)).

         Once the moving party has met its burden, the opposing party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts. . . . [T]he nonmoving party must come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Caldarola v. Calabrese, 298 F.3d 156, 160 (2d Cir. 2002) (quoting Matsushita Elec., 475 U.S. at 586-87). "[T]he mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment. . . ." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986).

         II. Disparate Treatment

         Magistrate Judge Foschio recommended that this Court grant summary judgment for Defendant on Plaintiffs disparate treatment claim. (See Dkt. 58 at 12-22). Plaintiff objects to this recommendation. (Dkt. 61-2 at 4-25). Plaintiff argues: (1) the R&R confused issues in finding that there was more than one adverse employment action (id. at 5-6); (2) the R&R's finding that other individuals were not sufficiently similarly situated to Plaintiff to show disparate treatment was erroneous (id. at 6-14); and (3) the R&R's finding that Plaintiff failed to show Defendant's legitimate reasons for firing Plaintiff were pretextual was erroneous (id. at 14-25).

         A. Plaintiff Has Established a Prima Facie Case of Gender Discrimination

         "At the summary-judgment stage, properly exhausted Title VII claims are ordinarily analyzed under the familiar burden-shifting framework of McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, [411 U.S. 792] (1973), and its progeny." Mathirampuzha v. Potter, 548 F.3d70, 78(2dCir. 2008).

At the first stage of the McDonnell Douglas analysis, the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing & prima facie case of discrimination by showing that: '1) [she] belonged to a protected class; 2) [she] was qualified for the position; 3) [she] suffered an adverse employment action; and 4) the adverse employment action occurred under circumstances giving rise to an inference of discriminatory intent.'

Id. (citation omitted). "The plaintiffs burden of proof at the prima facie stage 'is not onerous.'" Id. (citation omitted); see, e.g., Cronin v. Aetna Life Ins. Co., 46 F.3d 196, 203-04 (2d Cir. 1995) ("[T]he showing the plaintiff must make as to the elements of the prima facie case in order to defeat a motion for summary judgment is 'de minimis.'" (citation omitted)).

         1. Adverse Employment Action

         Here, it is undisputed that Plaintiff meets the first three prongs of a prima facie case. (See Dkt. 58 at 14-15; Dkt. 62 at 24). Plaintiff seizes on the R&R's statement that "Plaintiff maintains that she suffered a number of adverse employment actions. . ., " and argues that this statement results in a "confusion of the issues and a misapplication of those issues to the [McDonnell Douglas] framework." (Dkt. 61-2 at 5-6 (citing Dkt. 58 at 15)). Plaintiff, in fact, claims that she was subject to only one adverse employment action-her termination. Both parties agree that this is the only adverse employment action. (See id.; Dkt. 62 at 25). Indeed, the R&R recognizes this in finding that there is no dispute regarding the first three prongs. (Dkt. 58 at 14-15). Contrary to what Plaintiff claims, the misstatement as to the number of adverse employment actions does not "taint the rest" of the Magistrate Judge's analysis. (See Dkt. 61-2 at 6). Magistrate Judge Foschio found that Plaintiff had established the third prong of a prima facie case. The parties, the R&R, and this Court agree on that point.

         2. Similarly ...


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