Equal Emp't Opportunity Comm'n v. Suffolk Laundry Servs., Inc., No. 12–CV–409 MKB.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
Writing for the CourtMARGO K. BRODIE, District Judge
Citation48 F.Supp.3d 497
PartiesEQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION, Plaintiff, v. SUFFOLK LAUNDRY SERVICES, INC., Defendant. Marlyn Gonzalez, Rosa Guevara–Martinez, Marina Vilorio, Xiomara Veliz–Amaya, Mirian Velasquez, Azucena Castillo, and Maria Del Carmen Amaya, Intervenor–Plaintiffs, v. Suffolk Laundry Services, Inc., Walter Sullivan II and Cathy Sullivan, Defendants.
Decision Date30 September 2014
Docket NumberNo. 12–CV–409 MKB.

48 F.Supp.3d 497

EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION, Plaintiff
v.
SUFFOLK LAUNDRY SERVICES, INC., Defendant.


Marlyn Gonzalez, Rosa Guevara–Martinez, Marina Vilorio, Xiomara Veliz–Amaya, Mirian Velasquez, Azucena Castillo, and Maria Del Carmen Amaya, Intervenor–Plaintiffs
v.
Suffolk Laundry Services, Inc., Walter Sullivan II and Cathy Sullivan, Defendants.

No. 12–CV–409 MKB.

United States District Court, E.D. New York.

Signed Sept. 30, 2014.
Filed Oct. 1, 2014.


48 F.Supp.3d 501

Adela P. Santos, Ami T. Sanghvi, Elizabeth Anne Grossman, Nora E. Curtin, Ana Consuelo Martinez, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, New York, NY, for Plaintiff.

Joshua A. Marcus, Franklin & Gringer PC, Garden City, NY, for Defendant.

Christopher McNerney, Kathleen Willert Peratis, Outten & Golden LLP, Elizabeth Joynes, Roberto Concepcion, Jr., Latino Justice PRLDEF, Alan Levine, New York, NY, for Intervenor–Plaintiffs.

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

MARGO K. BRODIE, District Judge:

Plaintiff, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), commenced the above-captioned action on January 30, 2012, against Suffolk Laundry Services, Inc. (“Suffolk Laundry”) alleging, inter alia, sexual harassment and a hostile work environment and seeking relief under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., as amended, (“Title VII”). (Docket Entry No. 1.) On February 2, 2012, Intervenor–Plaintiffs, Marlyn Gonzalez, Rosa Guevara–Martinez, Marina Vilorio, Xiomara Veliz–Amaya, Mirian Velasquez, Azucena Castillo and Maria del Carmen Amaya, moved to intervene in this action pursuant to Rule 24(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.1 (Docket Entry No. 5.) On March 9, 2012, Judge Sandra J. Feuerstein granted the Intervenor–Plaintiffs' motion to intervene.2 (Docket Entry No. 12.) Intervenor–Plaintiffs filed an Intervenor Complaint on March 12, 2012, adding state law claims pursuant to the New York State Human Rights Law, N.Y. Exec. Law § 290 et seq. (“NYSHRL”), and alleging Title VII claims of sexual harassment and retaliation against Defendant Suffolk Laundry, and claims of discrimination and retaliation against Suffolk Laundry, Walter Sullivan II and Cathy Sullivan. (Docket Entry No. 13.)

Currently before the Court are Defendants' motion for partial summary judgment as to (1) the hostile work environment claims alleged by Guevara–Martinez, Vilorio, Veliz–Amaya, Velasquez, Castillo and Amaya and (2) the retaliation claims by Gonzalez, Guevara–Martinez, Vilorio, Veliz–Amaya, Castillo, Amaya and Edith Cruz.3 (Docket Entry No. 39.) Defendants also move for summary judgment as to all claims against Walter Sullivan II and Cathy Sullivan (collectively, the “Sullivans”) arguing that they cannot be held personally liable for the hostile work environment claims alleged in the Intervenor Complaint. For the reasons discussed below, Defendants' motion for partial summary judgment as to the hostile work environment claim is denied. The Court will issue a separate ruling on Defendants' motion

48 F.Supp.3d 502

for summary judgment as to the retaliation claims.

I. Background

a. Suffolk Laundry

The Sullivans own Suffolk Laundry, (Joint Pre–Trial Order (“JPTO”) ¶ 7, Docket Entry No. 34), a commercial laundry business that provides laundry services for hospitals, nursing homes and restaurants, (Def. 56.1 ¶¶ 1–2; Pl. 56.1 ¶¶ 1–2). Suffolk Laundry employs approximately 75 employees, in addition to the Intervenor–Plaintiffs. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 5; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 5.) Walter Sullivan II (“Walter Sullivan”) is the President of Suffolk Laundry, and Cathy Sullivan is the Corporate Secretary. (Def. 56.1 ¶¶ 3, 7; Pl. 56.1 ¶¶ 3, 7.) Their son, Walter Sullivan III (“Sullivan III”) also works at Suffolk Laundry. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 10; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 10.) He “takes care of the linen routes, does packing and is a back-up driver.”4 (Id. )

Suffolk Laundry hired Rajindra Singh in 2003 as a mechanic. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 35; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 35.) At all times during his employment at Suffolk Laundry, Singh reported to Walter Sullivan. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 36; Pl. ¶ 36.) In or about May 2010, Singh was promoted to Plant Manager, (Def. 56.1 ¶ 38, Pl. ¶ 38), and is currently still employed at Suffolk Laundry, (JPTO ¶ 13). The parties dispute whether Singh had supervisory responsibilities at Suffolk Laundry. (See Pl. 56.1 ¶ 4.) EEOC claims that Singh “had the power to influence the firing of employees, make recommendations about employees' work performance, issue disciplinary warnings, and control employees' hours, including overtime hours.” (Pl. 56.1 ¶¶ 4, 6, 28.) According to Defendants, Walter Sullivan is in charge of hiring, firing and employees' hours, and managers like Singh may only discipline employees with Walter Sullivan's permission. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 4.) Rigoberto Cardona, known as “Fito,” works in maintenance at Suffolk Laundry, and reports to Singh. (Id. ¶ 39; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 39.) Cardona occasionally translates for the Spanish-speaking employees. (Pl. 56.1 ¶¶ 131, 183.)

Female and male employees at Suffolk Laundry work in different areas. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 17; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 17.) Employees at Suffolk Laundry learned about their assigned work station one day in advance by reviewing a daily schedule, (Def. 56.1 ¶ 20; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 20), which EEOC asserts was created and managed by Singh, (Pl. 56.1 ¶ 20). Some machines are easier to work than others, although there is no universal consensus amongst the employees as to which machines are the best or easiest machines to work. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 19; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 19.) EEOC contends that the different work station assignments in the main work areas, “flatwork” and “finishing,” vary in difficulty. (Pl. 56.1 ¶ 18.) The parties dispute whether employees at Suffolk Laundry received training on how to perform their job assignments. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 22; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 22.)

b. Alleged harassment

On or about January 19, 2011, each of the Intervenor–Plaintiffs filed charges of discrimination (“EEOC charge”) against Suffolk Laundry with the EEOC. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 49; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 49.) The EEOC charges allege misconduct by Singh against female employees at Suffolk Laundry.5 Intervenor–Plaintiffs Marlyn Gonzalez and Mirian Velasquez filed amended charges against Suffolk Laundry on or

48 F.Supp.3d 503

about July 13, 2011, and March 23, 2011, respectively, alleging retaliation. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 49; Pl. 56. 1 ¶ 49.) The Intervenor–Plaintiffs claim that they were not aware of any policy at Suffolk Laundry addressing sexual harassment. (Pl. 56.1 ¶ 13.)

i. Marina Vilorio

Vilorio was employed at Suffolk Laundry from 2006 until April or May 2011.6 (Def. 56.1 ¶ 51; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 51.) According to Vilorio, she was discriminated against due to her gender and subjected to sexual comments by Singh. (Def. 56.1 ¶¶ 52–53, Pl. 56.1 ¶¶ 52–53.) Vilorio was subjected to unwanted touching by Singh, and was “afraid to complain about [Singh's conduct] for fear of losing hours on the job.” (Vilorio EEOC Charge dated December 20, 2010, annexed to Santos Sur. Reply Decl. as Ex. 4 ¶¶ 7, 9.)

After Singh became Plant Manager, he touched Vilorio several times on the shoulder. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 55; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 55.) Singh “pass[ed] his hand on her shoulder as a caress.” (Def. 56.1 ¶ 55; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 55.) Singh continued to touch Vilorio, despite her “repeated” requests that he stop the unwanted touching and “mock[ed] her each time [by] saying ‘oh, I forget, you don't like it.’ ” (Pl. 56.1 ¶ 55.) Singh touched Vilorio's face “on several occasions and also touched her waist on several occasions.” (Pl. 56.1 ¶ 56.) Vilorio told “Sister Margarita”7 that Singh had been touching her and other co-workers. (Pl. 56.1 ¶ 58.) Singh also asked Vilorio for a kiss in Spanish, (Def. 56.1 ¶ 59; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 59), and asked her for a kiss on several occasions, possibly more than five times, (Pl. 56.1 ¶ 59). Defendants contend that Vilorio never told anyone about Singh touching her. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 58.)

Vilorio either observed or learned of Singh's conduct towards two other female employees at Suffolk Laundry. Vilorio saw Singh touch Castillo and Gonzalez at the tablecloth machine. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 63; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 63.) Castillo told Vilorio that when she went to Singh's office to ask permission to go to the doctor, he agreed to grant her permission if she sat on his legs. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 60; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 60.) Gonzalez told Vilorio once that Singh touched her shoulder and waist and had given her a note, or multiple notes, though Gonzalez did not tell Vilorio the contents of the note or notes. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 62; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 62.)

When Vilorio first started working at Suffolk Laundry, her job assignment was to “feed” napkins into one of the machines with four other employees.8 (Def. 56.1 ¶ 54; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 54.) She did not believe that this job was difficult and this was the only responsibility at the laundry that Vilorio felt was not difficult. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 54; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 54.) Prior to filing a claim with the EEOC, Vilorio was assigned to feed napkins and tablecloths and to fold napkins. (Pl. 56.1 ¶ 65.) After she filed the EEOC charge, Singh assigned Vilorio to “practically all of the work stations in the laundry.” (Id. ) In addition to her...

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