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Iris Cuadra v. Univision Communications

September 1, 2011

IRIS CUADRA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
UNIVISION COMMUNICATIONS, INC., ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Linares, District Judge

NOT FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION

This matter comes before the Court on Defendants', Univision Communications, Inc. ("Univision") and John DeSimone's ("DeSimone") (collectively "Defendants"), motion for summary judgment. The Court has considered the submissions of the parties and decides this matter without oral argument pursuant to Rule 78 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion for summary judgment is granted in part and denied in part.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Iris Cuadra ("Cuadra" or "Plaintiff") is a Hispanic-American female and former employee of Univision. Univision is a Spanish-language multimedia company, which owns and operates three leading Spanish-language broadcast television networks, as well as television and radio stations. The vast majority of Univision employees across the country are of Hispanic heritage. The company "promotes the use of Spanish language in the workplace and recognizes that employees may choose to interact in culturally familiar ways with each other, which may include [] casual references to each other's origins or kissing on the cheek as a greeting." Defendant's Brief in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment ("Def. Brief") at 3. However, according to Defendants, if an employee regards such conduct as unwelcome and raises concerns to management, in accordance with its Anti-Harassment Policy*fn1 , HR investigates and redresses the complained-of conduct. Def. Brief at 4.

Univision hired Plaintiff as a Sales Assistant, a clerical position designed to assist Account Executives on the Sales Team, in the New York office on September 6, 2005. In early March 2006, she was reassigned to the New Jersey office as a Traffic Coordinator; however, upon request, Ms. Cuadra was later transferred back to her Sales Assistant role in the New York office.

In early 2007, Mr. DeSimone, who is of Italian descent, offered Ms. Cuadra a position as his Executive Assistant when his prior Executive Assistant resigned, and Ms. Cuadra accepted. On or around June 16, 2007, Mr. DeSimone advocated for Ms. Cuadra to receive a salary increase of $5,000, which was ultimately approved. Defendants contend that during the first several months of working together, Ms. Cuadra and Mr. DeSimone developed an amicable working relationship. Defendants point to the fact that "on at least one occasion, Ms Cuadra e-mailed Mr. Desimone that she had 'just pinched [her] behind' after sitting on a clothes pin." Def. Brief at 5. However, Plaintiff avers that after becoming employed by Mr. DeSimone, she was subjected to repeated harassment, discrimination, and retaliation.

According to Ms. Cuadra, every morning and throughout the day, Mr DeSimone would kiss her, "often going out of his way to do so." Plaintiff testified that Mr. DeSimone constantly addressed her as "mi amor," "bonita," "chica," "honey-bunny," and would introduce her to others as the "Nicaraguan." Def. Brief at 18-19. Ms. Cuadra claims she objected to Mr. DeSimone's advances and tried to avoid him, often telling him she was sick or contagious. At her deposition, Ms. Cuadra testified that over time Mr. DeSimone also began inviting her to lunch, saying "[w]e need to get to know each other's wants and needs." Plaintiff's Brief in Opposition to Motion for Summary Judgment ("Pl. Brief") at 7. at Ms. Cuadra also testified that Mr. DeSimone told her he just wanted her to "be his wife at work." Pl. Brief at 2.

On or around February 8, 2008, Ms. Cuadra, Mr. DeSimone, and several members of the sales staff attended a lunch meeting. During lunch, Mr. DeSimone began inquiring about his colleagues' favorite sexual positions and even used the word "bicho," a term referring to male genitalia. Mr. DeSimone has stated the question was posed jokingly and that the other employees at the lunch laughed. Also during the lunch, a male co-worker made a comment about how cows were slaughtered and made a gesture with his hand to indicate slitting a throat. Ms. Cuadra took this as a threat from Mr. DeSimone because according to Plaintiff, this particular male co-worker "lives and dies for John." Cuadra, 172: 2-16.

On another occasion in the office, Mr. DeSimone told Ms. Cuadra that he knew "what [was] causing [his] back pain" and proceeded to draw what Ms. Cuadra believes is a picture of a penis. Mr. DeSimone disputes this characterization. According to Ms. Cuadra, Mr. DeSimone then stood behind her chair and started thrusting as if he were having sex with her. Ms. Cuadra claims she told Mr. DeSimone that his behavior was inappropriate.

Ms. Cuadra also testified that one time Mr. DeSimone asked her to pick something up at the printing shop. When she told him that she would, he replied, "okay bitch." Plaintiff stated that she was offended by the remark and when she confronted Mr. DeSimone she told him that her teenage son would not appreciate hearing that his mother's boss had referred to her as a "bitch." In response, according to Plaintiff, Mr. DeSimone got up from his desk and gave her a hug while whispering in her ear, "you are right."

Ms. Cuadra further testified that Mr. DeSimone offered to pay her to take his niece to a club and she refused. The following day Mr. DeSimone said to Plaintiff, "too bad you didn't accept to take my niece to the club because it was an open club." He continued, "do you know that I have many friends that are gay who are leading a double life." Additionally, Mr. DeSimone once referred to a colleague as being "happy," which he told Plaintiff meant "gay."

Plaintiff alleges that Mr. DeSimone often made sexual innuendoes towards her, insinuating that he would like to participate in a three-way sexual encounter with her. She further alleges that Mr. DeSimone would often make sexually suggestive sexual noises or moaning in her presence, and on one occasion did so while showing her a topless picture of himself.

On or about February 20, 2008, Ms. Cuadra complained to Tom Rottenberger ("Mr. Rottenberger"), the Senior Vice President of HR, that she felt she was being harassed by Mr. DeSimone. Mr. Rottenberger referred the matter to Deborah Barrett ("Ms. Barrett"), the Regional Director of HR for the Northeast Region, whose duties include investigating allegations of harassment.

On February 29, 2008, Ms. Barrett met with Plaintiff in person for about three hours. During the meeting, Ms Cuadra complained of Mr. DeSimone's use of nicknames, his hugging and kissing her on the cheek, and her beliefs that she and her son were being followed outside of work because Univision and/or Mr. DeSimone were out to get her. She also stated that Mr. DeSimone had personally profited through the submissions of false expense reports. Ms. Cuadra testified that during the meeting she was crying, trembling, and wringing her hands. Ms. Barrett told Ms. Cuadra that any information provided to HR would remain confidential to the extent possible in conducting an investigation.

Following her meeting with Ms. Cuadra, Ms. Barrett spoke with Mr. DeSimone in a series of calls between February and April 2008 to discuss Ms. Cuadra's complaints. HR staff interviewed the employees who attended the February 2008 lunch and who also worked on the sales team with Ms. Cuadra and Mr. DeSimone. Ms. Barrett's office also conducted a review of Mr. DeSimone's expense reports that ultimately revealed no expense improprieties. After this investigation, Ms. Barrett gave Mr. DeSimone a verbal warning to maintain a professional relationship with Ms. Cuadra. In particular, he was to stop using ...


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