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Graham v. Monmouth County Buildings and Grounds

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

March 19, 2018

LUTHER GRAHAM, Plaintiff,
v.
MONMOUTH COUNTY BUILDINGS AND GROUNDS, DAVID KRZYANOWSKI, ROBERT W. COMPTON, and CRAIG BELL, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          PETER G. SHERIDAN, U.S.D.J.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendants' motions for summary judgment. (ECF Defendants. No. 36, 43, 35, 38).

         I.

         Plaintiff Luther Graham is a Senior Electrician employed by Monmouth County Buildings and Grounds Department (“County”). (First Amended Complaint (“FAC”) ¶ 15, ECF 22). On March 22, 2016, Plaintiff brought a claim against his employer, Defendant Monmouth County Buildings and Grounds for Monmouth County, New Jersey (“Defendant County”); Aaron Kinney (Plaintiff's direct supervisor), Craig Bell (Kinney's supervisor and General Supervisor);[1] David Krzyanowski (Supervisor of General Services, and Bell's supervisor); and Robert Compton (Superintendent and Krzyanowski's supervisor).

         Plaintiff alleged various counts. His first count asserted violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (“Section 1981”) for racial discrimination, retaliation for complaining of racial discrimination and hostile work environment because of his race and/or because of his complaints of race discrimination against all Defendants. Plaintiff's second claim asserted violations of the New Jersey Law against Discrimination (“NJLAD”) for racial discrimination, retaliation for complaining of racial discrimination and hostile work environment because of his race and/or because of his complaints of race discrimination against all Defendants. (Compl. at 6; ECF 1).

         On July 18, 2016, once his administrative remedies were properly exhausted, Plaintiff filed his First Amended Complaint to include a third count for violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) for racial discrimination, retaliation for complaining of racial discrimination, and hostile work environment because of his race and/or because of his complaints of race discrimination against the County only. (FAC ¶ 6, ECF 22).

         On April 11, 2017, Plaintiff voluntarily dismissed his claims for racial discrimination and hostile work environment based upon race. (Bell SOF ¶ 8; ECF 38-1). The claims that remain for the Court's review are claims for Retaliation and Retaliatory Hostile Work Environment, both under federal and state law.

         The Amended Complaint consists of 19 paragraphs of alleged facts, depicting various incidents of alleged discrimination, retaliation, and hostile work environment in support of the above mentioned counts.

         II.

         Generally, Plaintiff is a 50 years old African-American man who began his employment with the County Buildings and Grounds Department on or about 2004 in the position of Electrician.[2] (FAC ¶ 14-15). In August of 2007, the County promoted Plaintiff to Senior Electrician. (County SOF at ¶ 4). Plaintiff remains in the position of Senior Electrician in the Monmouth County Buildings and Grounds Department. (FAC at ¶15, ECF 22).

         As best this Court understands it, Plaintiff is alleging that its employer's discriminatory, retaliatory and hostile actions, began following complaints he filed in 2015. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges filing a complaint to management on February 2, 2015 for selective enforcement of the attendance and other policies against him (FAC ¶17); Plaintiff also alleges filing another complaint on March 12, 2015 for discrimination (Id. ¶20), and on October 1, 2015 for discrimination and retaliation. (FAC ¶29). For clarity, the Court has reorganized the events alleged by Plaintiff in chronological order.

         Construction Project Coordinator Position

         Plaintiff alleges that he was not hired for the position of construction project coordinator in retaliation to the complaints filed with his employer. On October 10, 2013, Defendant Compton approved the posting[3] for an anticipated vacancy for the Construction Project Coordinator position. (Compton SOF ¶ 22; ECF 35-2). The vacancy was “anticipated” because the position was filled at that point by another employee named Walter Gawron, who had expressed that he may retire in 2014. (County SOF ¶ 33, ECF 36-5). Plaintiff alleges that he was not granted an interview for the Project Coordinator position. (Graham SOF ¶ 24; ECF 45-1); however, Plaintiff along with three other County employees were interviewed for the position on January 28, 2015. Id. Although the County eventually narrowed down the applicants to Plaintiff and one other individual, nobody was hired because Walter Gawron never retired. (Compton SOF ¶ 23;¶ 33-35). The job posting was ultimately abandoned. (County Br. at 16, ECF 36-2).

         “Get rid of Luther” Comment

         On March 12, 2015, Plaintiff filed a written complaint with the County, alleging that he was being discriminated based on his race by Defendants Bell, Compton, and Krzyanowski. (FAC ¶ 19-20). Graham claims that because he filed the complaint, Defendant Krzyanowski told Kinney that he wanted to “get rid of” him; and he was very angry that Plaintiff “had gone to Personnel”, and asked something along the lines of “who was Luther [Graham] to question us.” (Graham Br. at 15; ECF 45; Graham SOF at 5, ECF 45-1).

         Assistant Building & Maintenance Supervisor Positions

         Plaintiff alleges that a number of discriminatory and retaliatory actions followed in April 2015. Graham alleges “For example, in or about April of 2015, Defendants management pretexually denied Plaintiff the opportunity to interview for a promotion to Assistant Building & Maintenance Supervisor” on two occasions, and that the promotions were subsequently given to less qualified, nonblack applicants. (FAC 23-24). The County posted these two positions on December 18, 2014.

         1. Assistant Supervising HVAC Mechanic.

         Plaintiff alleges that he was unable to apply for the Assistant Building and Maintenance Supervisor position because it was posted on December 18, 2014, as an Assistant Supervising HVAC Mechanic position. (County SOF ¶ 31, ECF 36-5). Essentially, Plaintiff argues that Defendants Compton, Bell, and Krzyanowski manipulated these job postings to exclude him from applying for higher positions in retaliation for his filing complaints. (Graham SOF ¶ 18, ECF 45-1). However, this position required applicants to hold the title of Heating and Air conditioning Mechanic, which Plaintiff did not hold. Thus, it appears that he was unable to apply because he did not qualify for the positon. (County SOF ¶ 31; ECF 36-5).

         2. General Supervisor of Building Services.

         Plaintiff lacked required qualifications for the General Supervisor of Building Services position as well, because as he admitted that Plaintiff did not have a promotional title in building services. (County Br. at 17; ECF 36-2; see also County SOF ¶36; ECF 36-5).[4] The person who obtained the position, Scott Griffin, held such a title within the Building Services promotional title chain. (Defendant County Br. at 17; ECF 36-2).

         Notices of Lateness

         On or about April 30, 2015[5], Graham again complained in writing to Defendant of “on going harassment, ” and alleging that he was subjected to repeated retaliatory and discriminatory actions because Defendants pretextually denied him the opportunity to interview for a promotion to Assistant Building and Maintenance Supervisor. (County SOF at ¶ 14, ECF 36-5; See FAC at ¶ 21-22, ECF 22). On or about May 1, 2015 James Shirley, who took over Defendant Bell's position as General Supervisor in January 2015, issued Plaintiff a performance notice for lateness because Plaintiff had clocked in late ten times from January to April 29, 2015.[6] (Bell SOF ¶ 21, ECF 38-1; Id. at ¶ 20). Plaintiff alleges that “Defendant Individuals […] issued Plaintiff pretextual discipline in or about April of 2015” (FAC ¶25). “Specifically, Plaintiff was disciplined for being mere seconds late in or about April of 2015.” (FAC ¶26). Plaintiff alleges that the disciplinary action was issued in retaliation of his complains. (Graham SOF ¶ 19; ECF 45-1). Defendant contests whether the complaint was received before the notice was issued. Further, Defendant Compton testified that lateness is not checked every day but rather is part of an audit that is done on the entire staff at once. (County SOF ¶ 22; ECF 36-5). As a result of the May 2015 audit, “multiple” employees were given notices of counseling for lateness. (Id. at 23.) Plaintiff was included in that class, as one of approximately 25 employees who were given counseling notices as a result of being late. Id.

         EEOC Complaint

         On June 18, 2015, Plaintiff filed a written complaint with the County. (Id. at ¶ 26). On July 30, 2015, Graham filed a charge of employment discrimination with the EEOC and the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights. (Id. at ¶ 15). The County responded to Plaintiff's February 2, March 12, April 30, and June 18, 2015, complaints in writing on August 5, 2015. (Id.) The County noted that it investigated Plaintiff's complaint that he was denied an interview for the position of Project Manager and concluded that the County interviewed Plaintiff on January 28, 2014. (Id.) The County also concluded that Kinney denied that Defendant Krzyanowski used the phrase “get rid of” referring to Plaintiff, and admitted that that was only his interpretation of what Krzyanowski had said to him. (Id. at ¶ 17). Plaintiff acknowledged receipt of the County's written response to his three complaints and admitted that the County's response answered his complaints. (Id. at ¶ 16).

         “Driving Miss Daisy” Comment

         Since at least 2013, Plaintiff rode with Defendant Kinney, Plaintiff's direct supervisor, to jobs about two to three times per week because Kinney started relying on him in more of a leadership role. (Id. at ¶ 10). Kinney acknowledged that Plaintiff's new leadership role caused problems with the staff and that he received complaints about Graham not doing his work. (Id. at ¶ 11). On March 6, 2013, Defendant Bell advised Kinney that if Kinney needed down time, he “shouldn't be riding around with [Plaintiff].” (Id. at ¶ 12).

         On September 15, 2015, Defendant Kinney told Plaintiff that they were no longer allowed to ride to jobs together in the same vehicle. (FAC at ¶ 27, ECF 22). In the Complaint Plaintiff alleges that Defendants referred to him and Kinney riding together in a vehicle as “Driving Ms. Daisy.” (FAC at ¶ 28). In his finding of facts, Plaintiffs adds more details to this specific instance stating that he supports that he is the only electrician forced to never ride with his supervisor and argues that this occurred ever since him and Kinney complained about Krzyzanowski referring to the pair as “Driving Ms. Daisy.”[7] (SOF ¶ 26 (a), ECF 45-1) Kinney is Caucasian and Plaintiff is African-American. Id. Defendants dispute who among them made this statement first. (SOF ¶ 26, ECF No. 45-1). On the same day, Plaintiff requested reconsideration of the County's findings in its August 5, 2015, letter response to Plaintiff's three previous complaints. (Id. at ¶ 27). The County responded in writing on September 24, 2015. (Id.) Plaintiff received the letter and then appealed the County's September 24, 2015 response to the Civil Service Commission on September 30, 2015. (Id.).

         On October 1, 2015, Plaintiff filed a written complaint with the County, alleging he was being subjected to discrimination and retaliation. (FAC at ¶ 29, ECF 22). Plaintiff alleged that he had not been considered for any promotion positions, his complaints of discrimination had not been properly investigated, and he continued to be subjected to a hostile work environment based on racial discrimination and retaliation for complaints of discrimination. (Id. at ¶ 30-31). Defendant County responded to this complaint on February 10, 2016, and Plaintiff received this letter. (Id. at ¶ 28-29).

         Supervising Maintenance Repair Position

         Plaintiff applied for a Supervising Maintenance Repair Position which was posted as an anticipated vacancy on or about March 8, 2016. (County SOF ¶ 42; ECF 36-5). However, Defendant Compton abandoned this job posting because Human Resources informed him that if he hired someone for this position, another County employee would be laid off. Id.

         Crew Supervisor-Building Maintenance Position

         Plaintiff also applied for the Crew Supervisor-Building Maintenance position that was posted as an anticipated vacancy on or about March 8, 2016. (Defendant County Br. at 19; ECF 36-2). Graham was interviewed for the position. (County SOF ¶43; ECF 36-5). However, another candidate, Robert Briscoe, was hired. Defendant Compton supports that the other candidate simply had a better interview, thus was awarded the position. Id. Parties have not provided any records regarding Briscoe's qualifications.

         Management Assistant Position

         Plaintiff alleges that he was not hired for a Management Assistant position and someone less qualified was. Defendants submit that a Management Assistant position was posted on July 15, 2016. Plaintiff was interviewed for the Management Assistant position and that “Graham was dismayed that the position would have been a demotion and a pay ...


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