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NAEEMULLAH v. CITICORP SERVICES

December 17, 1999

RUSTUM NAEEMULLAH PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITICORP SERVICES, INC., CITIBANK, N.A., AND DAVID BUDINGER, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kennelly, Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Rustum Naeemullah is Pakistani and Muslim. In May 1993, after 12 years with Citicorp Services, Inc. and Citibank, N.A., he became a credit officer and vice-president for the company's Global Cash Management Services (GCMS) unit in Chicago. Naeemullah's exact title was "Director of Credit" for GCMS (a U-level position),*fn1 but he made no bones about the fact that he wanted to be a "Senior Credit Officer" or "SCO."

Citicorp bestows the coveted SCO designation on a select group of employees; only about 600 of Citicorp's 100,000 employees have made the SCO cut. The designation increases a credit officer's credit approval authority, allowing approval of up to $5 million. The designation is "sacred" within Citicorp. Though not a promotion per se, the SCO designation is he bank's way of saying "we trust you and think you have the experience and personal characteristics necessary to lead." o become an SCO, a candidate must have "wide and diverse experience" including 10 years in consumer or commercial lending and "a wide range of capabilities," and must possess certain delineated personal traits including integrity, honesty, sound judgment and common sense, balanced and independent judgment, decisiveness and leadership. Citibank's Core Credit Policies, pp. 3-4 to 3-5 (May 1995). To become an SCO, the candidate must be nominated by two "sponsoring" SCOs, the nomination must be endorsed by a "Line Manager [SCO] with at least a Level 2 Credit Limit, the Executive Vice President a Member of the Credit Policy Committee," and finally the nomination must be approved by the Chairman of the Credit Policy Committee. Id. at 3-5.

Naeemullah never made it past step one. Although Figliozzi nominated him for the SCO designation, in September 1995 Naeemullah's Division SCO, David Budinger, refused to second Naeemullah's nominations From there Naeemullah's career at Citicorp began a downward spiral. In July or August 1996, Naeemullah was transferred to a temporary position in New York; six months later he was "job discontinued" — Citicorp's way of saying "fred."

After exhausting his administrative remedies, Naeemullah sued Citicorp, alleging that Budinger refused to second his SCO nomination because of Naeemullah's race, national origin, color and religion, and that the bank transferred him to New York and then fired him in retaliation for complaining about Budinger's discrimination. On November 6, 1997, Naeemullah amended his complaint to add defamation and tortious interference with business relationship claims against David Budinger personally. He claims Budinger made nine defamatory statements about him and that Budinger intentionally and maliciously destroyed his career at the bank. The case is before the Court on Citicorp's and Budinger's motions for summary judgment. For the reasons explained below, the Court denies Citicorp's motion, but grants Budinger's motion.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Similarly, in his 1994 review of Naeemullah, Figliozzi wrote:

  During the year Rustum worked hard to accomplish the
  goals set forth by the DCO [Division SCO] and his
  supervisor. He has demonstrated a good level of
  technical experience, an understanding of credit
  policies and procedures, and sensitivity to process
  management such that he is ready for an SCO
  assignment. To further this objective, he will be
  asked to play a more direct role in providing the DCO
  with ongoing assessments and progress reports.
  Performance and Development Review for the period from
  1/1/94 to 12/31/94, at 5.

Figliozzi reiterated in the 1994 review that Naeemullah "has clearly demonstrated his expertise and professional judgment such that he is ready to move into a more senior position." Id. at 6.

But Naeemullah's 1994 review was not unconditionally glowing. Figliozzi wrote that Naeemullah could "benefit from improving his `people' skills (ie `managing upwards'). While he enjoys the professional respect of his peers and senior officers within the Division, he has a tendency to be abrasive on occasion." Id. at 5. Additionally, while noting that the SCO designation was "reasonable," Figliozzi stated that Naeemullah's SCO nomination "will depend not only on credit skills, but also on interpersonal skills at a senior level. This will be emphasized and accomplished through asking Rustum to assume responsibility for directly keeping I DCO advised and involved in his projects going forward." Id. at 6. Naeemullah read and signed both the 1993 and the 1994 reviews, acknowledging that the contents: were fair and accurate.

Despite his reservations about Naeemullah's people skills, Figliozzi recommended that the bank send Naeemullah to its Senior Risk Seminar, which is traditions viewed within the bank as the precursor getting the SCO designation. On Figliozzi's recommendation, in April 1995, company sent Naeemullah to Switzerland to attend the seminar. Figliozzi nominated Naeemullah for SCO in late August 1995. In mid-September, Figliozzi's boss, David Budinger, who had taken over Division SCO in July 1995, told Figliozzi he would not second Naeemullah's nomination. Neil Volweider, who had been Division SCO before Budinger took over agreed that Naeemullah was not SCO ,material. After learning that Budinger fused to second his nomination, Naeemullah initiated a "problem review," Citicorp's internal investigation process whereby bank's human resourees personnel and dependent human resources counsel gather the facts to determine whether employee was wronged. In his problem review, Naeemullah claimed Budinger tanked his SCO nomination because Naeemullah is Pakistani and Muslim.

Although Figliozzi initially believed Naeemullah worthy of the SCO designation, by the end of 1995 or early 1996, he was rethinking his nomination. Figliozzi perceived that Naeemullah was extremely bitter about his SCO nomination and testified that Naeemullah became hostile aggressive after his nomination canned. Naeemullah's 1995 performance evaluation, which Figliozzi completed Naeemullah initiated the problem review was largely negative:

  In summary, while he is a competent Credit Officer, he
  has failed to behave as is generally expected of a
  V.P. who is otherwise qualified as a candidate for a
  Senior Credit Officer position. Given the appropriate
  change in attitude, I have no doubt that Rustum could
  enjoy a the continuation of a successful career with
  this organization. Performance and Development Review
  for period from 1/1/95 to 12/31/95, at 6.

In a draft version of the review, Figliozzi rated Naeemullah at "did not meet expectations," the lowest category ranking. But for the final version of the review, Naeemillah's ranking was upgraded to "met expectations," the second best performance category.*fn2

Naeemullah's 1995 review addressed anther issue: the bank's recent decision to relocate the GCMS unit from Chicago to ...


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