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Gupta v. City of Bridgeport

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

March 24, 2016

RENU GUPTA Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF BRIDGEPORT, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

MICHAEL P. SHEA, U.S.D.J.

Plaintiff, Renu Gupta, brought this action against Defendant, the City of Bridgeport (the “Defendant” or the “City”), alleging that it discriminated against her because of her Indian national origin and Indian ethnicity in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5, et seq. (“Title VII”). (Compl. ECF No. 1.)

For the reasons that follow, the Court GRANTS in part and DENIES in part Defendant’s motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 42.) The Court also GRANTS Defendant’s motion for an extension of time, nunc pro tunc, to file its reply brief. (ECF No. 53.)

I. BACKGROUND

A. Relevant Factual Background [1]

Gupta was born in India and is of Indian ethnicity. (Am. Compl., ECF No. 37 ¶ 9.) She is an American citizen, and has resided in the U.S. since she was about 24 years old. (Defendant’s Local Rule 56(a)1 Statement, ECF No. 42-2 (“Def.’s L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt.”) ¶¶ 2-3; Plaintiff’s Local Rule 56(a)2 Statement, ECF No. 52 (“Pl.’s L.R. 56(a)2 Stmt.”) ¶¶ 2-3.) Gupta was hired by the Defendant as a “grant writer” in November 2009 (Def.’s L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt. ¶¶ 5, 11; Pl.’s L.R. 56(a)2 Stmt. ¶¶ 5, 11), and she remains employed by the Defendant as a grant writer. (Def.’s L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt. ¶ 13; Pl.’s L.R. 56(a)2 Stmt. ¶ 13.) As a grant writer in the Department of Central Grants and Community Development (the “Department”), Gupta engages in “grants writing”; “processing . . . contracts, which are related to the grants”; and related financial tasks, such as budget preparations. (Def.’s L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt. ¶ 14; Pl.’s L.R. 56(a)2 Stmt. ¶ 14.)

Prior to being hired by the Defendant, Gupta had a “pretty extensive” interview with the Defendant’s Civil Service Commission that lasted about 45 minutes. (Def.’s L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt. ¶¶ 4, 7, 9; Pl.’s L.R. 56(a)2 Stmt. ¶¶ 4, 7, 9.) Alexandra McGoldrick was present for the interview. (Def.’s L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt. ¶ 8; Pl.’s L.R. 56(a)2 Stmt. ¶ 8), and Alanna Kabel was present during the latter part of Gupta’s second interview. (Def.’s L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt. ¶¶ 10, 16; Pl.’s L.R. 56(a)2 Stmt. ¶¶ 10, 16 (citing Gupta Tr. 19:1-5).) McGoldrick and Kabel-two of Gupta’s supervisors-are Caucasian women. (ECF No. 52-1, Gupta Affidavit ¶ 22.)

1. Failure to Promote a.Policy Analyst Position - May 2012

In October of 2011, there was a vacancy in the position of Policy Analyst, and Gupta “verbally expressed” to McGoldrick that she wanted “to be appointed to the position of Policy Analyst.” (ECF No. 52-1, Gupta Affidavit ¶¶ 6-7; Am. Compl., ECF No. 37 ¶¶ 65-66.) McGoldrick told Gupta “that no decision had been made about the posting and filling of the position.” (ECF No. 52-1, Gupta Affidavit ¶ 8; Am. Compl., ECF No. 37 ¶ 67.) Gupta “continuously reviewed the website of the Department . . . as well as the physical bulletin board of the civil service commission of the City of Bridgeport for information regarding the filling of the Policy Analyst position.” (ECF No. 52-1, Gupta Affidavit ¶ 10; Am. Compl., ECF No. 37 ¶ 69.) Nevertheless, “[i]n May 2012, without any notice, and without accepting applications from qualified candidates for the position, the city of Bridgeport appointed Isolina De[J]esus . . . to the position of Policy Analyst, retroactive to March 28, 2012.” (ECF No. 52-1, Gupta Affidavit ¶ 11; Am. Compl., ECF No. 37 ¶ 70.) DeJesus is a Hispanic woman. (ECF No. 52-1, Gupta Aff. ¶ 24.)

b. Director of Central Grants Position - September 2013

Gupta informed her supervisor, Kabel, of her desire to be considered for the position of Director of Central Grants[2] when McGoldrick was appointed to the position, and also in September of 2013, when McGoldrick resigned from that position.[3] (ECF No. 52-1, Gupta Affidavit ¶¶ 12-15; Am. Compl. ¶ 73.) The Defendant “did not post the position, nor did it accept applications from interested candidates for the vacant position.” (ECF No. 52-1, Gupta Affidavit ¶ 16; Am. Compl. ¶ 75.)

During the same week that McGoldrick resigned the Defendant appointed Christina B. Smith, an African American woman, to the position. (ECF No. 52-1, Gupta Aff. ¶¶ 12-13; 23.) Smith had applied for the position of Deputy Director of the Office of Policy & Economic Development and, following her interview, was offered the position of Director of Central Grants that had been made available by the resignation of Alexandra McGoldrick. (ECF No. 52-1, Gupta Aff. ¶ 14.) Smith, unlike Gupta, had no prior experience in grants management. (ECF No. 52-1, Gupta Aff. ¶¶ 12-13; Am. Compl. ¶¶ 71-72.)

Gupta’s affidavit states that, for both positions, the City engaged in a practice that “was inconsistent with the practice of the City of Bridgeport, ” which involved “first publicly issu[ing] a notice of its intent to fill the position, accept[ing] applications from qualified candidates, conduct[ing] an interview process, and then select[ing] the successful candidate to fill the position.” (ECF No. 52-1, Gupta Affidavit ¶¶ 17-18.)

2.Discipline

a. June 2012 Suspension with Pay

On June 11, 2012, McGoldrick gave Gupta a letter stating that Gupta was “suspended with pay pending an investigation and action by the Labor Relations Department” with respect to an incident involving DeJesus. (Pl.’s Ex. 17, ECF No. 52-18.) McGoldrick’s letter stated that the suspension was “as result of the incident last Friday afternoon where you assaulted Isolina DeJesus regarding work that was assigned to you.” (Id.) The letter further stated that the suspension was “prompted not only by last Friday’s incident but by your long history of hostile interactions with your co-workers, your verbal abuse of co-workers, your insubordinate attitude and generally argumentative and disruptive behavior. All of the above represent violations of the City’s work rules and unprofessional behavior in the work place.” (Id.) Phillip White of the Office of Labor Relations investigated the incident, as well as McGoldrick’s claim that Gupta has been insubordinate in processing a contract called the Healthy Homes Initiative contract. White completed a report of his investigations on August 13, 2012. (Pl.’s Ex. 18, ECF No. 52-19, Office of Labor Relations Investigative Report: Renu Gupta.) White’s report found no support for McGoldrick’s claim that Gupta had been insubordinate with respect to the Healthy Homes Initiative contract, and therefore did not suggest that discipline should be imposed against Gupta for her conduct with respect to that contract. (Id. at p. 5.)

White investigated the “confrontational incident of June 8, 2012, ” with DeJesus by interviewing Gupta, DeJesus, McGoldrick, and Patrick Carleton (another grant writer). White found that Gupta had asked DeJesus to help her with a FedEx label, and DeJesus had “mentioned the request to . . . McGoldrick.” (Id. at p. 6.) DeJesus told White that Gupta had confronted her in the hallway and “said something to the effect of ‘You call yourself a Christian. You’re a snake.’” (Id.) Gupta, on the other hand, claimed that she had said “you appear so nice and friendly on the surface. Why did you go behind my back and say things to Alex?” (Id.) White’s report does not mention an assault. White concluded that Gupta had made “comments that were disruptive to the workplace” (id.), and that her conduct violated City work rule 9, “[b]ehavior that disrupts the work environment to include indecent, inappropriate, or immoral conduct.” (Id. at p. 7.) White suggested that Gupta receive a written warning. (Id.) Gupta returned to work on October 31, 2012. (Deposition of Phillip White, ECF No. 52-27 (“White Tr.”) at p. 21.) It is not clear from the record whether Defendant ever gave Gupta this written warning.

b. February 2013 Suspension with Pay

In February 2013, Gupta was suspended with pay pending the Defendant’s investigation of the events surrounding the rejection by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) of the 2013 HUD Lead Hazard Control Grant (the “Grant”), which was a lead remediation grant on which Gupta was working. (Def.’s L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt. ¶¶ 26-28; Pl.’s L.R. 56(a)2 Stmt. ¶¶ 26-28; Pl.’s Ex. 7, ECF No. 52-8, February 6, 2013 Suspension Letter.)

Gupta contends that the rejection of the Grant application was McGoldrick’s fault because McGoldrick failed to renew the City’s account with an online grants submission system called System for Award Management (“SAM”), despite Gupta’s reminders. (Def.’s L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt. ¶ 29; Pl.’s L.R. 56(a)2 Stmt. ¶ 29.) Gupta forwarded McGoldrick an e-mail dated December 3, 2012, from samadmin@sam.gov warning that the City’s registration was about to expire. (Pl.’s Ex. 10 (E-mail dated December 3, 2012 from Gupta to McGoldrick), ECF No. 52-11.) On January 9, 2013, Gupta forwarded to McGoldrick another e-mail dated January 2, 2013, which contained the same warning. (Pl.’s Ex. 4 (E-mail dated January 9, 2013 from Gupta to McGoldrick), ECF No. 52-5.) Gupta also alleges that later on January 9, she saw McGoldrick in the hallway and mentioned the e-mail of January 2, 2013. McGoldrick told Gupta that she had seen the e-mail and would take care of it. (Pl.’s Ex. 11, ECF No. 52-12 at 1.) McGoldrick never updated the City’s registration in the SAM system, however. As a result, the Grant application was rejected when Gupta tried to file it on February 4, 2013, the day it was due. (Pl.’s Ex. 21, ECF No. 52-22 at p. 6; see also Pl.’s Ex. 11, ECF 52-12.) On February 6, Gupta told Tyler Fairbarn, Acting Deputy Director of the Bridgeport Department of Housing and Community Development, that the “problem with the submission of the grant” was McGoldrick’s fault for failing to update the City’s registration. (Def.’s L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt. ¶ 37; Pl.’s L.R. 56(a)2 Stmt. ¶ 37; see also Pl.’s Ex. 3, ECF No. 52-4.)

Following the rejection of the Grant, the department scrambled to contact HUD to resolve the submission problem or obtain permission to submit the Grant in an alternative manner.

Eventually, a HUD employee agreed to accept an e-mail with the Grant application, but advised that it was unclear whether HUD itself would accept an application submitted in this manner. (ECF No. 52-22 at p. 7.) Thus, even after the City sent the Grant application to HUD by e-mail and FedEx, it still had to submit the Grant application through the SAM system. (Def.’s L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt. ¶ 36; Pl.’s L.R. 56(a)2 Stmt. ¶ 36.) While Gupta was suspended pending an investigation of the events involving the Grant in February of 2013, McGoldrick submitted the Grant application through the SAM system. (Pl.’s L.R. 56(a)2 Stmt. ¶ 30.) On March 8, 2013, HUD notified the City that the Grant application was defective because it was missing a form called HUD 2991. (Def.’s L.R. 56(a)1 Stmt. ¶ 30; Pl.’s L.R. 56(a)2 Stmt. ¶ 30.) Gupta testified that she had prepared and submitted the form, and someone from the Department must have removed the form before submitting the Grant application through the SAM system. (ECF Gupta Tr. at ...


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