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Tracey v. State of Connecticut Department of Social Services

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

June 19, 2019




         Preliminary Statement of the Case

         The Plaintiff, Claudette Tracey, brings this case against her former employer and several of her former colleagues, alleging violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (age discrimination, hostile work environment, and retaliation) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (national origin, hostile work environment, and retaliation). On February 19, 2019, the Defendants moved for summary judgment as to all counts. (ECF No. 74.) The Plaintiff filed an opposition to the Defendants' motion on April 24, 2019. (ECF No. 81.) For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS the Defendants' motion for summary judgment in its entirety.

         Standard of Review

         The Defendants are entitled to summary judgment if they demonstrate that "there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that [they are] entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Celotex Corp. v. Catretti, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)). A dispute is genuine if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party, ” while a fact is material if it “might affect the outcome of the suit under governing law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         At summary judgment, the movant bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. See Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323; Feingold v. New York, 366 F.3d 138, 148 (2d Cir. 2004). Where the non-movant bears the burden of proof at trial, the movant's initial burden at summary judgment can be met by pointing to a lack of evidence supporting the non-movant's claim. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 325. Once a movant has met this burden, the non-movant “must come forward with ‘specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)). “[M]ere speculation or conjecture as to the true nature of the facts” will not suffice. Hicks v. Baines, 593 F.3d 159, 166 (2d Cir. 2010) (citations and internal quotations omitted). Nor will wholly implausible alleged facts or bald assertions that are unsupported by evidence. See Carey v. Crescenzi, 923 F.2d 18, 21 (2d Cir. 1991); Argus Inc. v. Eastman Kodak Co., 801 F.2d 38, 45 (2d Cir. 1986) (citing Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 585-86). In determining whether there exists a genuine dispute as to a material fact, the Court is “required to resolve all ambiguities and draw all permissible factual inferences in favor of the party against whom summary judgment is sought.” Johnson v. Killian, 680 F.3d 234, 236 (2d Cir. 2012) (citing Terry v. Ashcroft, 336 F.3d 128, 137 (2d Cir. 2003)). The Court's job is not to “weigh the evidence or resolve issues of fact.” Lucente v. Int'l Bus. Machines Corp., 310 F.3d 243, 254 (2d Cir. 2002). Rather, the Court must decide whether a rational juror could find in favor of the non-moving party. Id.


         As a preliminary matter, the Court addresses the parties' compliance with Local Rule 56(a). When a party fails to appropriately deny facts set forth in the movant's Local Rule 56(a)(1) Statement, those facts are deemed admitted. See Shetucket Plumbing Supply Inc. v. S.C.S. Agency, Inc., 570 F.Supp.2d 282, 283 (D. Conn. 2008) (facts “deemed admitted because [they have] not been squarely denied with specific citation to evidence in the record as Local Rule 56(a)(3) requires.”); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e) (“If a party fails to properly support an assertion of fact or fails to properly address another party's assertion of fact … the court may … consider the fact undisputed for purposes of the motion.”); D. Conn. L. Civ. R. 56(a)(3) (“Failure to provide specific citations to evidence in the record as required by this Local Rule may result in the Court deeming admitted certain facts that are supported by the evidence.”). Further, Rule 56 “does not impose an obligation on a district court to perform an independent review of the record to find proof of a factual dispute.” S.E.C. v. Glob. Telecom Servs., L.L.C., 325 F.Supp.2d 94, 109 (D. Conn. 2004).

         The Plaintiff's Rule 56(a)(2) Statement of Facts in Opposition to Summary Judgment runs afoul of these holdings and the rule itself in several ways. For example, at paragraphs 23 and 28 of her supplemental statement of facts, the Plaintiff cites to “[r]ecord, generally.”[1] The Plaintiff attached over 1, 400 pages of documents and transcripts to her opposition. Directing the Court to this record without specific citation is not adequate. See D. Conn. L. Civ. R. 56(a)(3); Amnesty Am. v. Town of W. Hartford, 288 F.3d 467, 470 (2d Cir. 2002) (“nothing in the federal rules mandates that district courts conduct an exhaustive search of the entire record before ruling on a motion for summary judgment”). Moreover, the purported “facts” are merely a summary of the Plaintiff's argument. As such, these paragraphs cannot be relied upon to create a genuine issue of material fact. In addition, many of the Plaintiff's responses on her Local Rule 56(a)(2) Statement are replete with argument, as discussed below. This too is inappropriate. See D. Conn. L. Civ. R. 56(a)(3); see also Risco v. McHugh, 868 F.Supp.2d 75, 88 (S.D.N.Y. 2012) (“the Statement improperly interjects arguments and/or immaterial facts in response to facts asserted by Defendant, without specifically controverting those facts”); Costello v. New York State Nurses Ass'n, 783 F.Supp.2d 656, 661 n.5 (S.D.N.Y. 2011) (disregarding plaintiff's responses to defendant's Rule 56(1) statement where plaintiff responded with conclusory allegations or legal arguments); Cifarelli v. Vill. of Babylon, 93 F.3d 47, 51 (2d Cir. 1996) (“mere conclusory allegations, speculation or conjecture will not avail a party resisting summary judgment”).

         The following facts are therefore either expressly undisputed or deemed admitted by the Plaintiff's failure to comply with Local Rule 56(a)(3). See, e.g., Knight v. Hartford Police Dept., No. 3:04-cv-969 (PCD), 2006 WL 1438649, at *4 (D. Conn. May 22, 2006) (deeming as admitted certain statements of fact that the opposing party failed to unambiguously deny and failed to offer a citation to admissible evidence that would support a denial).

         On March 13, 2015, the Plaintiff applied for the position of Connecticut Careers Trainee (“CCT”) at the Department of Social Services. (ECF No. 74-2 ¶ 3.) The job posting itself stated that “CCTs will be continuously evaluated on their progress during the yearlong training period. Trainees must demonstrate that they have successfully completed all areas of instruction and have mastered the necessary knowledge and skills to advance to the Eligibility Services Worker target classification.” (Id. ¶ 2.) DSS confirmed the Plaintiff's hiring via letter on August 7, 2015, reiterating that “As a Connecticut Careers Trainee you will be required to complete one (1) year in the training position. During this period, your suitability for state service and your position will be evaluated.” (Id. ¶ 4.) Because the CCT position “is a training classification, CCT employees do not have permanent status in the state employment system, and are not covered under any ‘just cause' from dismissal protections ….” (Id. ¶ 17.) The one-year training program “constitutes a probationary period during which the CCT employee's work is closely monitored by the supervisor, [and] the employee's performance is formally evaluated, with efforts made by the employing agency to support the employee in reaching the goals of the training program.” (Id. ¶ 13.) CCT employees can be dismissed if DSS determines that “the employee is not satisfactorily progressing in the training program and is not adequately performing the duties required of the position.” (Id. ¶ 14.) If a CCT employee is “counseled on performance at the three (3) month assessment and has not satisfactorily progressed by the six (6) month assessment and it is determined the CCT employee is not adequately performing the duties of the position” they are “dismissed … generally no later than six (6) months from date of hire.” (Id. ¶ 18.)[2]

         DSS assigned the Plaintiff to its New Haven Office, in the “Generalist Unit, ” which was headed by Lisa A. Wells, Social Services Operational Manager. Wells, in turn supervised Eligibility Services Supervisor Edward Donroe, a defendant herein. Defendant Donroe was the Plaintiff's direct supervisor. (Id. ¶ 6.) Defendant Donroe also supervised Defendant Ryann McDonald, who was assigned to help train the Plaintiff. As a new DSS employee, the Plaintiff “underwent new employee orientation, which included learning DSS policies and procedures including DSS Affirmative Action/Equal Employment Opportunity policy, anti-harassment and complaint procedures.” (Id. ¶ 7.) The Plaintiff further underwent training on November 19, 2015 and December 2, 2015, regarding employee human rights protections, DSS Affirmative Action/Equal Employment Opportunity training, and Understanding Workplace Diversity and Cultural Responsiveness. (Id. ¶ 8.) The relevant DSS policies which prohibit discrimination and harassment on the basis of race, color, gender, national origin, and other protected categories, include a complaint procedure which encourages employees to bring complaints of discrimination or harassment to the agency's attention. Employees are also provided information about how to bring complaints to external agencies such as the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities. (Id. ¶ 9.)[3]

         As part of the training program, the Plaintiff participated in formal “CORE (acronym for ‘Curriculum for Orientation, Reinforcement, and Enrichment') training, ” conducted by Thomas Scott McDonald (Id. ¶¶ 21-22.) During the first CORE evaluation, the Plaintiff only answered 22 out of 42 questions, getting 4 answers incorrect. (Id. ¶ 25.) By comparison, nine other CORE trainees answered all 42 questions, getting only six questions incorrect. (Id.) McDonald reported the results of the Plaintiff's performance to Defendant Donroe via email on October 20, 2015 and November 4, 2015. (Id. ¶¶ 26-27.) McDonald also prepared a feedback report, which characterized the Plaintiff as “need[ing] improvement” in eight out of the twelve subjects covered by the CORE training. (Id. ¶ 31.) McDonald met with the Plaintiff on November 4, 2015, to discuss her pending three-month performance evaluation and his “concern about her problems with navigating and working with the [Eligibility Management System] in particular.” (Id. ¶ 33.) In his feedback report, McDonald assessed the Plaintiff's performance in a case study exercise as “deficient.” (Id. ¶ 35.)

         In addition to the formal CORE training provided to the Plaintiff, DSS also provided the Plaintiff with on-the-job training. (Id. ¶ 37.) Specifically, the Plaintiff would worked with Defendants Donroe, Defendant Ryann MacDonald, Brian J. Buckley and Unique Shephard. (Id.) Defendant MacDonald communicated her observations of the Plaintiff's performance in a series of emails to Defendant Donroe. (Id. ¶ 38.) Buckley did the same. (Id. ¶ 39.)

         On November 4, 2015, Defendant Donroe gave the Plaintiff an “unsatisfactory” three-month “performance appraisal.” (Id. ¶ 41.) Specifically, the Plaintiff received “less than good” ratings on the job elements of knowledge of work (“requires considerable assistance”), quantity of work (“volume below average”), quality of work (“often unacceptable, frequent errors or rejections”), and ability to learn new duties (“requires a great deal of instruction”). (Id.) The appraisal further noted that the Plaintiff “is having difficulty using the computer and completing her assignments timely” and “is slow at using keyboard.” (Id. ¶ 42.)

         Prior to the appraisal, however, Defendant Donroe told the Plaintiff that her evaluation would not be good, but that DSS would continue to work with her for 6 weeks “with two leads.” (Id. ¶ 43.) Defendant Donroe assigned Defendant MacDonald and Buckley, even though the Plaintiff had claimed Defendant MacDonald “talk[ed] down to her.” (Id.)[4] In this regard, Defendant Donroe testified that “Ryann is one of my best leads. The smartest person that I could put on the case[.] [The Plaintiff's] best chances of success would be to be trained by Ryann. Ryann is a direct person. She's what she speaks. I did not see any valid complaint to remove her from the training process.” (Id. ¶ 44.)

         At the end of November 2015, Defendant Donroe issued a memorandum to the Plaintiff, entitled “Performance Expectations, ” which identified areas of concern that, despite training and assistance, were still problematic. (Id. ¶ 46.) The memorandum included steps that would be taken “[i]n order to help [the Plaintiff] facilitate improvement.” (Id.) The memorandum further stated that “[w]e will meet again formally in six (6) weeks to review progress. Please be forewarned that continued unsatisfactory performance may result in dismissal in your probationary period.” (Id. ¶ 47.)

         Defendant Donroe met with the Plaintiff on December 14, 2015 and December 18, 2015, telling her that the information he was receiving from the Leads was that she was still too slow at processing, that she frequently asked the same questions, and she still struggled with retaining information. (Id. ¶ 49.) At the latter meeting, which was halfway through the six-week performance review period, he told her that she “was not at a desired level of knowledge with both programs and computer usage.” (Id. ¶ 50.) The Plaintiff told Defendant Donroe that she felt “intimidated” by Defendant MacDonald. (Id.) The Plaintiff requested that Defendant Donroe spend more time with her in training, (id.), which he ...

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