Campbell v. National Fuel Gas Distribution Corporation
DECISION AND ORDER agreeing with the 58 Report and Recommendations, and granting 28 Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. SO ORDERED. Signed by Hon. Elizabeth A. Wolford on 5/11/17. (JPL)-CLERK TO FOLLOW UP-
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
DECISION AND ORDER
NATIONAL FUEL GAS DISTRIBUTION
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)(l). (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).
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.
The factual background of this case is set forth in detail in the R&R. (See Dkt. 5 8
at 3-11). Familiarity with the R&R is assumed for purposes of this Decision and Order.
Standard of Review
A district court reviews any specific objections to a report and recommendation
under a de nova standard. Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b)(3); see also 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(l)(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 nova 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. KLM Royal 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. NY 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).
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).
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.3d 70, 78 (2d Cir. 2008).
At the first stage of the McDonnell Douglas analysis, the plaintiff bears the
burden of establishing a primafacie 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 plaintiff's 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 minim is."'
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.
Similarly Situated Individuals
Plaintiff next argues that the Magistrate Judge's recommendation as to the fourth
prong "applies far too strict a standard of a similarly situated analysis, requiring
identicality when similarly is all that is required .... " (Id.). Plaintiff asserts that two
similarly situated males were treated differently than she was, and, as such, the
circumstances give rise to an inference of discriminatory intent sufficient to satisfy the
fourth prong of a prima facie case of discrimination. (Id. at 6-14 ).
To establish the fourth element of a prima facie case, a plaintiff may point to
evidence that she was treated differently than similarly situated persons outside her
protected class. Shumway v. United Parcel Serv., Inc., 118 F.3d 60, 63-64 (2d Cir. 1997);
see also Abdu-Brisson v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., 239 F.3d 456, 468 (2d Cir. 2001) (holding
that a plaintiff may, but is not required to, show disparate treatment to establish the fourth
prong of a prima facie discrimination claim). "To be 'similarly situated,' the individuals
with whom [the plaintiff] attempts to compare herself must be similarly situated in all
material respects." Shumway, 118 F.3d at 64. This does not mean that they must be
similarly situated in all respects. McGuinness v. Lincoln Hall, 236 F.3d 49, 53 (2d Cir.
2001 ). "A plaintiff is not obligated to show disparate treatment of an identically situated
employee." Id. at 54; see, e.g., Ruiz v. Cty. of Rockland, 609 F.3d 486, 494 (2d Cir.
2010) ("The standard for comparing conduct requires a reasonably close resemblance of
the facts and circumstances of plaintiffs and comparator's cases, rather than a showing
that both cases are identical." (citation omitted)).
In other words, where a plaintiff seeks to establish the minimal prima facie
case by making reference to the disparate treatment of other employees,
those employees must have a situation sufficiently similar to plaintiffs to
support at least a minimal inference that the difference of treatment may be
attributable to discrimination.
McGuinness, 236 F.3d at 54. "An employee is similarly situated to co-employees if they
were (1) 'subject to the same performance evaluation and discipline standards' and
(2) 'engaged in comparable conduct."'
Ruiz, 609 F.3d at 493-94 (citation omitted).
Individuals are not similarly situated where there are "so many distinctions between the
plaintiffs situation and theirs that the defendant's treatment of those employees ha[ s] no
logical relevance to the plaintiffs claims." McGuinness, 236 F.3d at 54. "(T]he fact that
one comparator (who had been treated differently from the plaintiff) had committed
fewer infractions than had the plaintiff d[ oes] not in itself mean that he could not be a
comparator." Matusick v. Erie Cty. Water Auth., 757 F.3d 31, 54 (2d Cir. 2014).
"Whether two employees are similarly situated ordinarily presents a question of
fact for the jury." Graham v. Long Island R.R., 230 F.3d 34, 39 (2d Cir. 2000). "This
rule is not absolute, however, and a court can properly grant summary judgment where it
is clear that no reasonable jury could find the similarly situated prong met." Harlen
Assocs. v. Inc. Vill. of Mineola, 273 F.3d 494, 499 n.2 (2d Cir. 2001). Only in a rare case
can the issue be determined as a matter of law. Woods v. Newburgh Enlarged City Sch.
Dist., 288 F. App'x 757, 760 (2d Cir. 2008).
Here, Plaintiff admits that her meter-reading reports did not "accurately reflect the
times when [she] read or attempted to read the meters." (Dkt. 33 at
iJ 79). Plaintiff also
admits misusing company time by making unauthorized personal stops at her home, her
mother's home, a Tim Hortons, and OfficeMax during the workday. (Id. at iii! 77, 86-91).
Defendant contends that when confronted with the falsification of her timesheet and her
unauthorized personal stops, Plaintiff lied to her supervisor, Assistant General Foreman
Russell Jandreau ("Jandreau"). (Dkt. 62 at 9). Plaintiffs essential argument is that her
falsification and making of personal stops were routine and commonplace, and those
infractions warranted, at most, a verbal or written warning, not termination. (See Dkt. 33
iii! 78, 117-24). Plaintiff asserts that she "was the only person to be fired for
allegations of misuse of company time and falsification of records under Mr. Jandreau
and she was female, while men who engaged in the same conduct were treated in a way
that prevented them. from being fired." (Dkt. 61-2 at 3).
Plaintiff points to two male employees who she claims were similarly situated but
treated differently than she was: Timothy Hacic ("Hacic") and Jerry King ("King").
(Dkt. 61-2 at 11-13). Both Hacic and King were also supervised by Jandreau. (Dkt. 58 at
17). The R&R found that neither Hacic nor King was similarly situated to Plaintiff. (Dkt.
Hacic, like Plaintiff, made a personal stop during work hours. (Dkt. 61-2 at 11;
Dkt. 62 at 10). During Hacic's personal stop, he was involved in a car accident, which he
immediately reported to Defendant.
Thereafter, Hacic "received a five-day unpaid
suspension for making a personal stop .... " (Dkt. 58 at 17; see, e.g., Dkt. 28-13 at ,-i 23).
Defendant argues that Hacic's situation is so factually different from Plaintiffs-because
Hacic did not falsify his timesheet or lie after the incident-that Plaintiff failed to
establish a prima facie case. While the Court believes that the question is a close call, as
evidenced by the R&R' s conclusion that Hacic was not similarly situated, this Court
concludes that for purposes of the minimal burden required to establish a prima facie
case, the fourth prong of the test could be satisfied by reliance on Hacic as a similarly
Plaintiffs and Hacic's situations are factually different. But the differences are
not so stark so as to preclude reliance on Hacic to establish Plaintiffs prima facie case.
Both Plaintiff and Hacic misused company time by doing personal errands during the
workday. The consequences for Hacic, a male, were far less than those for Plaintiff.
Strict similarity between the situations is not required.
There are not "so many
distinctions" between Plaintiff and Hacic that Defendant's treatment of Hacic has no
logical relevance to her claims. See McGuinness, 236 F.3d at 54. The facts are close
enough to give rise to a minimal inference of discrimination. See Graham, 230 F.3d at
38 ("[T]he standard for comparing conduct requires a reasonably close resemblance of
the facts and circumstances of plaintiffs and comparator's cases .... "). Plaintiff has
made the de minimis showing required to establish a prima facie case.
Contrastingly, Plaintiffs situation is so factually dissimilar to King's that King is
not a similarly situated individual. Plaintiff argues that King misused company time and
falsified his timesheets, but that King was not terminated for such offenses. (Dkt. 42 at
10; Dkt. 61-2 at 12). King was accused by "a member of the public" of being in a
location other than what was on his timesheets, suggesting that King misused company
time and falsified his timesheets. (See Dkt. 55 at
if 17). However, unlike Plaintiff (and
Hacic ), the allegations against King were never corroborated. (Id.).
Thus, there was no
basis on which to discipline King, because Defendant "could not confirm whether [he]
misused work time or falsified timesheets." 1 (Id.).
Plaintiffs situation-in which she was personally observed by her supervisor
misusing company time (see Dkt. 28-5 at 35), and then submitted falsified timesheets to
cover up that misuse of time-is so factually different from King's that no reasonable
jury could find that King and Plaintiff were similarly situated.
Defendant has Shown a Legitimate Non-Discriminatory Reason for
Terminating Plaintiff's Employment
Under the McDonnell Douglas framework, "[i]f the plaintiff successfully
establishes a prima facie case, 'the burden then must shift to the employer to articulate
some legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse employment action."' Walsh
v. NYC Haus. Auth., 828 F.3d 70, 75 (2d Cir. 2016) (quoting United States v. Brennan,
650 F.3d 65, 93 (2d Cir. 2011)). Defendant asserts that its legitimate, non-discriminatory
reasons for firing Plaintiff are that she: (1) misused company time; (2) falsified her
The Court notes that Plaintiff, like King, was the subject of an unsubstantiated
report from the public. A member of the public alleged that Plaintiff was at her mother's
house drinking alcohol during the workday in June 2011. (Dkt. 33 at if 105). Plaintiff
was not disciplined, but simply told that she was not to visit her mother's house during
the workday. (Id. at if 106).
timesheet; and (3) lied to her supervisor when confronted with misusmg time and
falsifying her timesheet.
(Dkt. 62 at 8-9).
The R&R found, and Plaintiff does not
challenge, that Defendant has put forth legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for
terminating Plaintiff. (See Dkt. 58 at 19 ("[T]he undisputed facts show that Defendant
had legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for terminating Plaintiff's employment.");
Dkt. 62-1 at 14 ("Just because an employer sets forth a legitimate, non-discriminatory
reason [for termination], like Defendant has here, that does not end the analysis."
(emphasis added))). 2
Defendant has set forth legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for terminating
Plaintiff, and the Court finds no error with respect to the R&R on this point.
Plaintiff has Not Established that Defendant's Legitimate Reasons for
Terminating Her Were Pretextual
If the employer can show legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for the adverse
employment action, "the plaintiff's admissible evidence must show circumstances that
would be sufficient to permit a rational finder of fact to infer that the defendant's
employment decision was more likely than not based in whole or in part on
discrimination." Walsh, 828 F.3d at 75 (citation omitted). "In other words, to survive
summary judgment, a plaintiff must come forward with evidence to support the
conclusion that the defendant's proffered reason is a pretext for discrimination." Forte v.
Liquidnet Holdings, Inc.,_ F. App'x _, 2017 WL 104316, at *2 (2d Cir. Jan. 10, 2017).
Additionally, Plaintiff's union chose not to arbitrate Plaintiff's termination
because "it [was] likely an arbitrator would find that [Defendant] had just cause to
discipline [Plaintiff], and that discharge was not an inappropriate discipline." (Dkt. 28-9
at 16; see, e.g., Dkt. 51 at~ 6).
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"[T]he employer will be entitled to summary judgment ... unless the plaintiff can point
to evidence that reasonably supports a finding of prohibited discrimination." James v.
NY Racing Ass'n, 233 F.3d 149, 154 (2d Cir. 2000); see, e.g., Garcia v. Hartford Police
Dep't, 706 F.3d 120, 127 (2d Cir. 2013) ("When the defendant offers a legitimate,
nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse employment action, the burden is on the
plaintiff to point to evidence that reasonably supports a finding of prohibited
discrimination; otherwise, the defendant is entitled to summary judgment.").
plaintiff "must be afforded the 'opportunity to prove by a preponderance of the evidence
that the legitimate reasons offered by the defendant were not its true reasons, but were a
pretext for discrimination." Riley v. HSBC USA, Inc., 784 F. Supp. 2d 181, 201-02
(W.D.N.Y. 2011) (quoting Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 143
(2000)). "The task ... is to examine the entire record and ... make the case-specific
assessment as to whether a finding of discrimination may reasonably be made."
Zimmerman v. Assocs. First Capital Corp., 251 F.3d 376, 382 (2d Cir. 2001); see, e.g.,
Walsh, 828 F.3d at 76 (stating that the court must view the evidence as a whole).
In making this demonstration, the plaintiff cannot rely on conclusory, unsupported
allegations of discrimination. Mattera v. JP Morgan Chase Corp., 740 F. Supp. 2d 561,
575 (S.D.N.Y. 2010). "However, the plaintiff is not required to show that the employer's
proffered reasons were false or played no role in the employment decision, but only that
they were not the only reasons and that the prohibited factor was at least one of the
'motivating' factors." Cronin v. Aetna Life Ins. Co., 46 F .3d 196, 203 (2d Cir. 1995). A
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plaintiff is not required to adduce additional evidence from that relied upon in support of
her primafacie case. Id.
Here, Plaintiff, as described above, has shown a de minimis inference of
discrimination. However, the record before the Court does not rise about a minimal
showing sufficient to support a prima facie case, and it does not overcome the legitimate
reasons offered by Defendant so as to establish pretext. As such, summary judgment for
Defendant is appropriate.
There is no evidence in the record that the individuals who actually made the
decision to terminate Plaintiff acted discriminatorily. Plaintiff admits as much. (Dkt. 612 at 20 (conceding that Plaintiff was "fired entirely due to [Jandreau's] active
involvement in the investigation and information sharing" (emphasis added)).
Defendant's Chief Safety Officer and Senior Vice President James Ramsdell
("Ramsdell") made the decision to terminate Plaintiffs employment. (Dkt. 28-12 at ,-i 5;
see, e.g., Dkt. 56 at 4).
Defendant's Labor Relations Manager Keith Richards
("Richards") recommended to Ramsdell that Plaintiff be fired based on information he
learned from Jandreau. (Dkt. 56 at 3-4). Jandreau-who Plaintiff claims reported her
actions to Richards knowing that termination would result (Dkt. 61-2 at 23)-neither
terminated Plaintiff, nor made any recommendation that she should be terminated. (Dkt.
28-13 at ,-i 8 ("Mr. Jandreau did not make-and his report did not include-any
recommendation regarding the appropriate discipline for Plaintiffs conduct."); Dkt. 56 at
2 (same)). Richards informed Plaintiff of her termination at a meeting on February 16,
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2012. (Dkt. 56 at 4). Plaintiff makes no allegations that Ramsdell or Richards acted with
Plaintiff relies on the cat's paw theory of liability to overcome the fact that the
individuals who made the decision to terminate Plaintiffs employment did not act with
discriminatory intent. (Dkt. 61-2 at 22-25). Plaintiffs essential argument is that she was
reported to senior management for misusing company time and falsifying her timesheets
by Jandreau, and that Jandreau knew both: (1) that this conduct was common, and (2) that
by reporting Plaintiff to senior management, she would be severely disciplined. (See Dkt.
33 at iii! 179, 209; Dkt. 61-2 at 23-24). According to Plaintiff, by reporting her, Jandreau
used senior management's non-discriminatory reaction to Plaintiffs misdeeds as a way to
further Jandreau's discriminatory intent. (See Dkt. 33 at iii! 184-87).
Under the cat's paw theory, "if a supervisor performs an act motivated
by ... animus that is intended by the supervisor to cause an adverse employment action,
and if that act is a proximate cause of the ultimate employment action, then the employer
is liable .... " Staub v. Proctor Hosp., 562 U.S. 411, 422 (2011); see, e.g., Vasquez v.
Empress Ambulance Serv., Inc., 835 F.3d 267, 272 (2d Cir. 2016) ("[T]he 'cat's paw'
metaphor now 'refers to a situation in which an employee is fired or subjected to some
other adverse employment action by a supervisor who himself has no discriminatory
motive, but who has been manipulated by a subordinate who does have such a motive and
intended to bring about the adverse employment action."' (quoting Cook v. !PC Intern.
Corp., 673 F.3d 625, 628 (7th Cir. 2012))).
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[A]n employer who, non-negligently and in good faith, relies on a false and
malign report of an employee who acted out of unlawful animus cannot,
under this "cat's paw" theory, be held accountable for or said to have been
"motivated" by the employee's animus. And, of course, an employer who
negligently relies on a low-level employee's false accusations in making an
employment decision will not be liable under Title VII unless those false
accusations themselves were the product of discriminatory or retaliatory
intent. ... Only when an employer in effect adopts an employee's unlawful
animus by acting negligently with respect to the information provided by
the employee, and thereby affords that biased employee an outsize role in
its own employment decision, can the employee's motivation be imputed to
the employer and used to support a claim under Title VIL
Vasquez, 835 F.3d at 275.
Here, information Jandreau provided to senior management provided the basis for
Ramsdell and Richards' decision to terminate Plaintiff. (Dkt. 33-3 at 28). However,
Plaintiff has failed to establish that Jandreau was motivated by discriminatory intent.
Although it is quite clear that Jandreau targeted Plaintiff by surreptitiously surveilling her
on January 26, 2014, (see Dkt. 28-2 at 8-9 (stating that Jandreau used GPS to find
Plaintiffs location, and that Jandreau then "observed" Plaintiff making personal stops)),
there is no evidence that he did so because of Plaintiff's gender rather than for some other
Plaintiff claims that Jandreau treated her and "other women ... differently through
his actions." (Id.
148; see, e.g., id.
155-56). This claim lacks support in the
record. Plaintiff admits that Jandreau never said or did anything discriminatory towards
her while she was working for Defendant. (Dkt. 33 at
147 ("Jandreau did not say
anything overtly discriminatory to me.")). Plaintiff states that the basis for thinking that
she was discriminated against because of her gender was "just a feeling." (Dkt. 28-4 at
- 14 -
61 ). Plaintiff alleges only that Jandreau ignored her, and treated her "as though [she] was
not even there." (Id. at i1 116).
One woman supervised by Jandreau testified that he was a "tough supervisor," but
that he was not any tougher on women than he was on men. (Dkt. 54 at 58).
woman testified that Jandreau was a "good" supervisor. (Id. at 79). Plaintiffs only
purported evidence to show actual gender discrimination by Jandreau himself is an
unsubstantiated, third-party report that women tried to transfer out of Jandreau's
department. (See Dkt. 34 at
The assertion lacks any corroboration, such as a sworn
statement from a woman who sought such a transfer away from Jandreau.
Plaintiff also points to two affidavits in which Defendant's former employees
state, "[t]hroughout my employment at [Defendant], I have witnessed men being treated
more favorably than women." (Dkt. 34 at i1 5; Dkt. 36 at i15). Neither employee asserts
that they witnessed Jandreau treating men more favorably than women, only that within
the company there seemed to be differential treatment between employees of different
genders. (See Dkt. 34; Dkt. 36).
circumstantially, discriminatory intent by Jandreau.
As noted above, King is not
similarly situated such that his non-punishment even establishes a de minimis inference of
discrimination. And although Hacic's treatment is sufficiently similar to meet Plaintiffs
minimal burden to establish a prima facie case, it is not sufficient to permit a rational
finder of fact to infer that Jandreau's actions were motivated by gender animus.
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Plaintiff admits to misusing company time and filing a falsified timesheet. (Dkt.
28-4 at 43-44, 46; Dkt. 33-1 at 34-39, 42; Dkt. 61-2 at 2). 3 Hacic, as noted above,
misused company time.
However, Hacic, unlike Plaintiff, did not submit a falsified
timesheet; indeed, Hacic immediately reported his accident and, consequently, his misuse
Additionally, there is at least one similarly situated individual whose adverse
employment outcome cuts against a finding that Jandreau was motivated by gender
animus. Lori Mee ("Mee"), a female, was supervised by Jandreau, like Plaintiff. (Dkt.
19). Mee "was caught falsifying records," and misusing her company phone.
Defendant contends that Plaintiff also lied when confronted about the falsified
timesheets, a proposition to which Plaintiff objects. (See Dkt. 41 at 7 ("Plaintiff did not
lie when she said [her timesheets] were accurate.")). Defendant points to Jandreau's
sworn affidavit in which he asserts: "Plaintiff was asked [during a January 26, 2012,
meeting] if the times on her timesheet were correct with respect to both the completion
times and the location, and she responded 'yes."' (Dkt. 28-10 at ~ 32; see, e.g., Dkt. 28-6
at 8; Dkt. 28-11 at 7; see also Dkt. 28-6 at 6 (stating, in deposition testimony, that
Plaintiff "initially" denied having made personal stops during company time); Dkt. 28-6
at 8 (stating that Plaintiff "gave different versions of where she was")). Plaintiff
allegedly persisted in stating that her timesheets were accurate when questioned about
specific entries. (Dkt. 28-10 at ~ 33). Even after being informed that Jandreau had
observed her making personal stops on company time, Plaintiff maintained that her
timesheets were accurate. (Id. at ~ 35; see, e.g., Dkt. 28-11 at 7). Post-termination,
Plaintiff "maintained that she never stopped working on January 26, 2012, even though
she had been observed making personal stops at times when her timesheet stated she was
working." (Dkt. 56 at 5). Although Plaintiff did, at some point, admit to misusing
company time, Defendant claims Plaintiff lied when she said that her timesheets were
accurate and they were, in fact, not accurate.
In response, Plaintiff asserts that during an interview with Jandreau and her union
representative she was "up front" about her personal stops during the January 26, 2012,
meeting, and that Jandreau did not allow her to explain herself. (Dkt. 33 at~~ 128-30).
This is an issue of fact not properly resolved on summary judgment. However, even
without a resolution of this disputed issue, the Court is in a position to resolve the motion
based on the undisputed facts that do not establish Jandreau,'s discriminatory intent.
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(See id.). For these infractions, Mee was given a written warning, but not terminated.
(Id.). Mee's conduct and discipline is similar to that of Hacic. Unlike Plaintiff, Mee did
not misuse company time. 4
The Court finds that even viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, Plaintiff
has not met her burden of establishing that Defendant's legitimate reasons for terminating
her were pretextual. It should be noted, again, that Plaintiff acknowledges that she was
never subject to overt discrimination by Jandreau. Jandreau was a tough supervisor and
may have ignored Plaintiff, but this, standing alone, is not sufficient to divine
discriminatory intent. Plaintiffs "feeling" that Jandreau did not like women is similarly
insufficient to establish intent to discriminate. And even if Plaintiff is correct that "no
supervisor other than [Jandreau] would have turned Plaintiff in to his superiors" for her
conduct (Dkt. 41 at 12), that does not demonstrate that Jandreau was motivated by
discriminatory intent, rather than for some other reason.
The record before the Court, viewed as a whole, does not allow for the reasonable
inference that Jandreau was biased against Plaintiff because of her gender. Reading
every fact in Plaintiffs favor, the best she can establish is that Jandreau did not like her,
and that he targeted her for termination by reporting her for violating company policies
which were routinely ignored. Plaintiffs allegations that Jandreau discriminated against
her because she is a woman are nothing more than conjecture. No reasonable jury could
Defendant also points to a number of other allegedly similarly situated individuals
who were not supervised by Jandreau. As Jandreau's discriminatory intent is the sole
issue under the cat's paw theory of liability, outcomes for those other individuals are not
material to the Court's determination.
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find by a preponderance of the evidence that Jandreau acted with discriminatory animus.
Therefore, because Plaintiff cannot establish Jandreau's discriminatory intent with any
reasonable probability, summary judgment is appropriate. See Bickerstajf v. Vasser Coll.,
196 F.3d 435, 450 (2d Cir. 1999) (finding inappropriate the imputation of employer
liability for discrimination where the evidence did not allow for any reasonable inference
of intent to discriminate).
Further, even if Jandreau was motivated by gender animus, Plaintiff has not put
forth any facts which could establish that Defendant acted negligently or in bad faith. See
Vasquez, 835 F.3d at 275. Plaintiff argues that Defendant relied solely on Jandreau's
report in making the determination to fire Plaintiff, suggesting negligence. (Dkt. 61-2 at
24). On this point there is no issue of material fact-contrary to Plaintiffs assertion,
Defendant did not rely solely on Jandreau's report.
Defendant, through Richards,
completed an independent investigation into the facts in Jandreau's report before
Richards' investigation included: reviewing Jandreau's report;
reviewing Plaintiffs admittedly falsified January 26, 2012, timesheet; discussing the
situation with Jandreau, Defendant's Assistant Vice President Jeff Hart, and Defendant's
Assistant Superintendent Mike Rodgers; and meeting with Plaintiff on February 16,
2012. (Dkt. 56 at 2-4). During the meeting, Plaintiff admitted that it "was not the first
time [she] had engaged in" similar conduct. (Id.). Thus, Plaintiff cannot establish the
cat's paw theory of liability based on Defendant's negligence. See Lobato v. NM Env't
Dep't, 733 F.3d 1283, 1295 (10th Cir. 2013) ("In short, an employer is not liable under a
[cat's paw] theory ifthe employer did not rely on any facts from the biased subordinate in
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ultimately deciding to take an adverse employment action-even if the biased
subordinate first alerted the employer to the plaintiffs misconduct."); see also Staub, 562
U.S. at 421 ("[T]he supervisor's biased report may remain a causal factor if the
independent investigation takes it into account without determining that the adverse
action was, apart from the supervisor's recommendation, entirely justified." (emphasis
Similarly, there is no information in the record suggesting bad faith by Defendant.
Indeed, Plaintiff concedes that once management was made aware of her misdeeds "they
had to fire Plaintiff." (Dkt. 61-2 at 23).
Plaintiff cannot establish either that Jandreau was motivated by gender animus, or
that Defendant acted negligently or in bad faith. As there is no issue of material fact
regarding cat's paw theory liability, summary judgment is appropriate.
Hostile Work Environment
Magistrate Judge Foschio recommended granting summary judgment for
Defendant on Plaintiffs hostile work environment claim. (Dkt. 58 at 22-27). Neither
party objects to this recommendation. (See Dkt. 61-2; Dkt. 62). Indeed, at oral argument
Plaintiff conceded that she did not challenge this portion of the R&R. (See Dkt. 64).
The Court has reviewed Magistrate Judge Foschio's recommendation as to
Plaintiffs hostile-work-environment claim, and, finding no clear error or manifest
injustice, adopts that portion of the R&R.
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For the foregoing reasons, Defendant's motion for summary judgment (Dkt. 28) is
Dated: May 11, 2017
Rochester, New York
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