Federal Court Grants KM&M's Motion for Summary Judgment in Broad Discrimination Lawsuit Filed by Former Viacom Employee; Plaintiff's Counsel May Be Sanctioned For Refusing To Withdraw Baseless Claims
The plaintiff, a 51 year-old white male, was a Network Engineer in Viacom's Information Systems and Technology Department until he was terminated as part of a reduction in force. He commenced two separate actions against Viacom that were consolidated before Judge Richard Conway Casey in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. In his consolidated complaint, which comprises more than 100 paragraphs of factual allegations, the plaintiff alleged that he had been discriminated against and subjected to a hostile work environment, in violation of federal and state law, on the basis of his age, race, sex, and disability; that he was subjected to retaliation; that he was denied rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), and that he was subjected to intentional infliction of emotional distress ("IIED") under New York State law. At the close of discovery, KM&M moved for summary judgment on all of these claims and, in March 2005, that motion was granted and the complaint against Viacom was dismissed in its entirety.
The court found that one alleged racial comment the plaintiff claimed he had overheard was insufficient to support a hostile work environment claim. In addition, the court found that there was no evidence that other matters about which the plaintiff complained (e.g., undesirable assignments, unrealistic deadlines) were the result of his membership in any protected class. The Court also rejected the plaintiff's retaliation claim, finding that the workplace issues about which he complained (e.g., he did not receive passwords needed to do his job, co-workers avoided him and his work was unfairly criticized) were not adverse employment actions and that his termination, coming eight months after he complained about his supervisor, was too remote in time to support a retaliation claim. Finally, the Court also found the plaintiff's FMLA and IIED claims insupportable.
In conjunction with its summary judgment motion, KM&M sought sanctions against the plaintiff and his counsel for their refusal to dismiss certain insupportable claims despite repeated warnings from KM&M that these claims were without basis. In reaching his decision on the summary judgment motion, Judge Casey agreed with KM&M that sanctions may be warranted, and he suggested that those sanctions might take the form of reimbursement of the attorneys' fees and costs Viacom incurred in making its motion for summary judgment. The Court directed plaintiff's counsel to argue in a further submission to the Court why sanctions should not be imposed.