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The old adage about bad cases making bad law notwithstanding, a federal judge has used what he deemed a really bad case to lay out what he views as some pretty good law. Senior Northern District of New York Judge Howard G. Munson’s recent opinion in LaGrande v. Bank National Association, 00-CV-01195, amounts to a tutorial of sorts on summary judgment under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Munson draws on the various threads that can make a Rule 56 motion viable, ties them together in a case involving a pro se litigant entitled to more leeway than a licensed attorney and concludes that even with considerable wiggle room, Quentin LaGrande comes up far short. The case involves a man who worked for Key Bank and later claimed to be the victim of racial and gender discrimination orchestrated by a white, female manager. LaGrande claimed his troubles began in August 1999 when a white female co-worker filed a complaint against him because he would not socialize with her. From that point on, LaGrande alleged, he was scrutinized, ostracized, unfairly criticized and victimized by racial taunts, all because he would not go out with the woman. LaGrande was on the job only five months when, following an internal investigation, he was suspended with pay and eventually terminated. Key Bank, not surprisingly, has a different version of events. It contended that LaGrande’s work product was poor and his demeanor bizarre. Key Bank said LaGrande had a habit of rocking in his chair, singing to himself, hanging out near the women’s room and advising co-workers that he knew the makes, models and license numbers of their vehicles. “Such conduct caused uncomfortableness among his fellow employees, and several complained,” Munson noted. LaGrande’s federal lawsuit was preceded by complaints to the state Department of Human Rights and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Neither agency found evidence to support his allegations, and the matter eventually landed before Munson. Munson found that LaGrande had presented nothing more substantive than the “mere fact that he was in a protected class and was hired and fired by defendant” while the defendant “presented substantial evidence of its nondiscriminatory reasons for the discharge.” The judge dismissed all the plaintiff’s federal and state law claims. For Nixon Peabody, counsel for the defendant, it was a slam dunk. For Munson, it was an opportunity to spell out Rule 56 procedure and case law, summarized as follows: � Courts must be especially careful to “scrutinize proffered evidence” in discrimination case summary judgment motions “because direct evidence of discriminatory intent is seldom available to plaintiffs.” � The 2nd Circuit has left no doubt that pro se litigants should be treated more gingerly than attorneys, but they are still expected to know and follow procedural rules. � In a Rule 56 action, the party opposing summary judgment can not simply rely on allegations in the complaint. Rather, the party must “submit evidence, such as witness statements or documents, countering the facts asserted by the defendant and raising issues of fact for trial.” � Witness statements must be in the form of affidavits or other documentary proof. If those statements go uncontradicted, the court can accept them as true and enter judgment without a trial. In the LaGrande case, then, the make-or-break question was whether the plaintiff submitted sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to find discrimination. Since the plaintiff offered only “unsubstantiated statements, submitted in inadmissible form,” in comparison to the “extensive, admissible documentation” offered by the defense, LaGrande’s action could not survive summary judgment, Munson said. “[O]n this record, a reasonable jury could only find that plaintiff had not met his burden of proving that defendant’s decision to terminate his employment was motivated by his race or gender,” the judge wrote. Sheri L. Moreno of the Albany office of Nixon Peabody appeared for Key Bank.

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