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Martinez v. State

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

February 23, 2016

REBECCA MARTINEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
STATE OF CONNECTICUT, Defendant.

ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

JEFFREY ALKER MEYER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

This is a case about alleged gender discrimination by the Connecticut Department of Correction (DOC) against a female correctional officer. For purposes of summary judgment, there is no question that plaintiff was wrongfully terminated from her job with the DOC. She was accused of excessive absences from her job, but a union arbitrator found these accusations to be unsubstantiated and to be premised on a less than fair and thorough investigation. The primary issue here is whether a genuine issue of fact remains to suggest not only that plaintiff was wrongfully terminated but also that she was terminated for discriminatory reasons having to do with her female gender. I conclude that there is no genuine issue of fact in this record to show that gender discrimination was a motivating factor with respect to the termination of plaintiff’s employment or any of the other alleged adverse actions taken against her. Accordingly, I will grant defendant’s motion for summary judgment.

Background

Plaintiff Rebecca Martinez has worked as a correctional officer for the DOC since June 1997. In April of 2010, following an internal investigation and hearing, defendant terminated plaintiff’s employment at Osborne Correctional Institution on the asserted ground that she had abused DOC’s “leave” policy due to excessive absences. Her dismissal was effective May 3, 2010.

Plaintiff timely filed a grievance with her union. The union and the State of Connecticut Office of Labor Relations negotiated for many months about a potential stipulated agreement for plaintiff to be able to return to work. She was offered that agreement in February 2011 but refused it. In November 2011, the parties entered arbitration to resolve whether there was “just cause” for the termination of plaintiff’s employment. The arbitrator found that plaintiff was terminated without just cause and ordered defendant to reinstate plaintiff with full back pay. Plaintiff returned to work in July 2012.

Prior to her termination, plaintiff had applied in 2008 for a promotion to the position of lieutenant. Although her institution recommended her for promotion, she was later taken off the list of eligible candidates because of her alleged violations of DOC’s leave policy. Plaintiff did not receive the promotion. In 2012, she was again recommended for promotion but did not receive the promotion. In 2009, the DOC facility where plaintiff worked had three or four female lieutenants out of eighteen total lieutenants; the record does not reflect how many women were promoted in 2008 or 2012.

In 2013, plaintiff filed a discrimination complaint with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities. Plaintiff now alleges gender discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1).[1] She alleges gender discrimination with respect to her termination of employment, with respect to her award of allegedly less than full back pay upon her reinstatement, and with respect to the failure of defendant to promote her to a lieutenant position.

Discussion

The principles governing a motion for summary judgment are well established. Summary judgment may be granted only if, upon viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Tolan v. Cotton, 134 S.Ct. 1861, 1866 (2014) (per curiam) (discussing standard of review that applies to a motion for summary judgment).

Title VII prohibits gender-based discriminatory action by employers. See Kelly v. Howard I. Shapiro & Associates Consulting Engineers, P.C., 716 F.3d 10, 14 (2d Cir. 2013). To defeat a motion for summary judgment in a Title VII case, plaintiff must show facts that would allow a reasonable jury to find she has established a prima facie case under the well-established McDonnell Douglas test: that “(1) she is a member of a protected class; (2) she is qualified for her position; (3) she suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) the circumstances give rise to an inference of discrimination.” Vega v. Hempstead Union Free Sch. Dist., 801 F.3d 72, 83 (2d Cir. 2015). The plaintiff’s burden to establish a prima facie case is “de minimis: it is neither onerous, nor intended to be rigid, mechanized or ritualistic.” Beyer v. Cnty. of Nassau, 524 F.3d 160, 163 (2d Cir. 2008). But “[e]ven in the discrimination context ... a plaintiff must provide more than conclusory allegations to resist a motion for summary judgment.” Delaney v. Bank of Am. Corp., 766 F.3d 163, 170 (2d Cir. 2014) (per curiam).

For a failure-to-promote claim, the test is similar: “In order to establish a prima facie case of a discriminatory failure to promote, a Title VII plaintiff ordinarily must demonstrate that: (1) she is a member of a protected class; (2) she applied and was qualified for a job for which the employer was seeking applicants; (3) she was rejected for the position; and (4) the position remained open and the employer continued to seek applicants having the plaintiff's qualifications, ” Estate of Hamilton v. City of New York, 627 F.3d 50, 55 (2d Cir. 2010) (per curiam), or, alternatively, that the position was filled by someone not in the plaintiff’s protected class. De la Cruz v. New York City Human Res. Admin. Dep’t of Soc. Servs., 82 F.3d 16, 20 (2d Cir. 1996).

If a plaintiff establishes such a prima facie case, the burden then shifts to the defendant to give a “legitimate, non-discriminatory reason” for the adverse employment action or non-promotion. Vega, 801 F.3d at 83, Estate of Hamilton, 627 F.3d at 55. If the defendant articulates a legitimate reason, then the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to show that the proffered reason for the action was pretextual. Vega, 801 F.3d at 83. The plaintiff may show pretext either “directly by persuading the court that a discriminatory reason more likely motivated the employer or indirectly by showing that the employer's proffered explanation is unworthy of credence.” Texas Dep’t of Cmty. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 256 (1981); see also Delaney, 766 F.3d at 168. In showing pretext, the plaintiff must show both that the employer’s stated reason is untrue or incomplete and that discrimination was a motivating factor for her discharge. See Henry v. Wyeth Pharm., Inc., 616 F.3d 134, 157 (2d Cir. 2010). Often, the evidence offered of pretext is similar to the evidence offered for the fourth prong of the prima facie case, and thus these two inquiries “tend to collapse as a practical matter under the McDonnell Douglas framework.” Collins v. New York City Transit Auth., 305 F.3d 113, 119 (2d Cir. 2002).

Termination of Employment

As to plaintiff’s claim for discriminatory termination, I conclude that she has failed to establish even a prima facie case for gender discrimination, much less has she established a genuine issue of fact to show pretext and that gender discrimination was a motivating reason for defendant’s employment actions against her. To be sure, the arbitrator concluded that defendant lacked just cause under the union contract for terminating plaintiff’s employment-that the investigation of her alleged misconduct was not “fair and thorough” and did not provide “substantial proof” of her violation of DOC ...


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