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Burgos v. Southeast Works

United States District Court, W.D. New York

May 31, 2017

CARMEN A. BURGOS, Plaintiff,


          WILLIAM M. SKRETNY United States District Judge.


         Plaintiff, Carmen A. Burgos, brings this action against Defendant, Southeast Works f/k/a Southeast Community Work Center, Inc., under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (“Title VII”), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 621-634, 42 U.S.C. §1981, and New York Human Rights Law, N.Y. Exec. Law §§ 290 et seq. (“NYHRL”), alleging that she was discriminated against based on her sex, age, and race. Southeast Works has moved for summary judgment, seeking dismissal of Burgos' claims under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. For the reasons discussed below, Southeast Works' motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         II. BACKGROUND[1]

         Plaintiff Burgos is a black woman born in 1961. Defendant Southeast Works is a not-for-profit agency that provides services for adults with developmental disabilities and operates ten group home locations in Western New York. Southeast Works employed Burgos as a Residential Trainer at its group home facilities from June 5, 2008, through May 21, 2012. Residential Trainers provide instruction, supervision, and counseling to residents and participate in maintenance and housekeeping activities.

         June 2008 through June 2009

         Burgos initially held a part-time Residential Trainer position at Southeast Works' West Payne House location. Burgos alleges that the environment at West Payne was racially charged and sexually abusive and that her supervisors took no action when she complained that her co-workers made racially discriminatory comments. Burgos identifies Jennifer Tedesco and Jill Ryzda, younger white females who also worked as Residential Trainers, as the worst offenders at West Payne. She alleges that Tedesco and Ryzda made numerous comments that were racially offensive, including encouraging one of the developmentally disabled clients to refer to Burgos and other black women as “black nigger bitches.” Burgos alleges that, when she informed a Residential Manager[2] of this behavior, he drew a picture of a black man behind bars and gave it to the client rather than taking any action to stop the behavior. Burgos sought a scheduling change in late 2008 to distance herself from Tedesco and Ryzda, but alleges that she did not give the true reason for the requested change because she feared retaliation.

         Burgos further alleges that, in July 2009, Residential Manager Jessica Cosgrove conducted a meeting at West Payne, in which Cosgrove stated that the house was divided between white staff and black staff, and that Tedesco was causing the division. Burgos alleges that Tedesco was disruptive during the meeting and, when Burgos complained about Tedesco's behavior, Cosgrove said Burgos should leave.

         During this period (June 2008 through June 2009), Burgos alleges both facially neutral and discriminatory comments and actions. In addition to the examples given above, she also alleges that:

• Tedesco stated she did not want to drive a client to an appointment because there are too many black people in Buffalo.
• Another co-worker told Ryzda not to drive to Buffalo because black men would want Ryzda because of her long blonde hair.
• A male co-worker, whose hand had been dyed by a baseball mitt, told Burgos that now he was as black as she is.
• A male co-worker told Burgos to come to his house because he needs black friends now that there is a black president.
• A male co-worker rubbed his genitals on Burgos.
• Tedesco called Burgos' daughter (who is Muslim and wears a veil) a “towel-head.”

         July 2009 through December 2011

         Burgos alleges that, because Cosgrove failed to correct the hostile environment at West Payne, she again sought to change her schedule. Burgos requested to move from part-time status to a “relief” position on May 15, 2009, and began the new position on July 1, 2009. Relief employees did not have regular hours and were not assigned to a specific location, but instead filled in when and where needed. As a relief employee, Burgos worked at a number of Southeast Works' other locations and alleges that she found discriminatory environments in each of them.

         Some of the allegedly discriminatory comments and behavior were directed at Burgos. For example:

• In summer 2010, a white, male co-worker asked Burgos why black women have so much trouble with their hair and whether it made her mad when he called the cupcakes they were making “black cupcakes”.
• Later in 2010, a white co-worker told another co-worker that she “better check [her] bank account, ” after giving Burgos her credit card to make a purchase, which Burgos understood was a suggestion that Burgos was likely to steal because she is black.
• In early 2011, Judith Shanley, CEO of Southeast Works, told Burgos that white residents' families did not want black employees caring for their family members.
• In February 2011, a white co-worker made a comment to Burgos implying that only blacks live in inner-city neighborhoods.
• Later in 2011, a co-worker, who had formerly worked as a prostitute in Buffalo, told Burgos that men preferred her over black prostitutes because she had long blond hair.
• In June 2011, a male co-worker suggested that Southeast Works should hire “some young white girls.” • In summer 2011, a younger co-worker told Burgos that, due to Burgos' age, Burgos was working more hours than she could handle, and that she was too old and slow to work.
• In December 2011, a Senior Residential Trainer, David Abston, asked Burgos, “Are you stupid? Do you know how to use a computer?” when Burgos had trouble logging onto Southeast Works' system.
• Also in December 2011, Abston referred to a group of older women, which included Burgos, as the “hot flash corner.” Around that same time, Abston also made sexual comments to Burgos, telling her to “bend over, yeah, bend over” and telling Burgos that he had to pay his girlfriend for sex before she left him.
• A Residential Coordinator told a disabled resident that he did not have to work with Burgos because Burgos was old and invisible.

         Other allegedly discriminatory incidents were overheard or reported to Burgos by other employees. For example:

• A co-worker told Burgos that she had heard someone call Burgos a “nigger.”
• In summer 2010, a Residential Manager told one of Burgos' co-workers that she was a good color for a biracial black girl.
• In 2011, a male co-worker asked a female co-worker: “When are you going to give me some of that ...

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