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SERRANO v. 900 5TH AVE. CORP.

May 11, 1998

LEONEL SERRANO, Plaintiff, against 900 5TH AVENUE CORP. AND BROWN HARRIS STEVENS RESIDENTIAL MANAGEMENT, LLC, Defendants.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: SCHEINDLIN

OPINION AND ORDER

 SHIRA A. SCHEINDLIN, U.S.D.J.:

 Defendants Brown Harris Stevens Residential Management ("BHS") and 900 5th Avenue Corp. ("900 5th") move to dismiss this employment discrimination case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. *fn1" BHS claims that because it is not Plaintiff's employer, it is an improper defendant and should be dismissed. Similarly, 900 5th argues that because it has less than 15 employees, Plaintiff cannot bring this action against it. *fn2" For the following reasons, the Complaint is dismissed as to 900 5th, but not as to BHS.

 I. Standard for Evaluating Rule 12(b)(1) Motions

 In considering a motion to dismiss for want of subject matter jurisdiction, the Court must accept as true all material factual allegations in the Complaint and refrain from drawing inferences in favor of the party contesting jurisdiction. See Atlantic Mut. Ins. Co. v. Balfour Maclaine Int'l Ltd., 968 F.2d 196, 198 (2d Cir. 1992). A court is not confined to the Complaint, however: "On a motion under [Rule] 12(b)(1) challenging the district court's subject matter jurisdiction, the court may resolve disputed jurisdictional fact issues by reference to evidence outside the pleadings, such as affidavits." Antares Aircraft v. Federal Republic of Nigeria, 948 F.2d 90, 96 (2d Cir. 1991), vacated on other grounds, 505 U.S. 1215 (1992). Thus the standard used to evaluate a Rule 12(b)(1) claim is akin to that for summary judgment under Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e) *fn3" ("Rule 56(e)"). See Kamen v. American Tel. & Tel. Co., 791 F.2d 1006, 1011 (2d Cir. 1986). *fn4"

 II. Discussion

 A. Is BHS Plaintiff's Employer?

 In order to permit a court to exercise jurisdiction over a defendant in a Title VII case, the defendant must meet the statutory definition of an "employer." See Astarita v. Urgo Butts & Co., 1997 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 8112, 96 Civ. 6991, 1997 WL 317028 (S.D.N.Y. June 10, 1997); see also EEOC v. Arabian Am. Oil Co., 499 U.S. 244, 248-49, 113 L. Ed. 2d 274, 111 S. Ct. 1227 (1991) (describing the term "employer" as used in Title VII as "jurisdictional"). The Title VII definition of "employer" is "sufficiently broad to encompass any party who significantly affects access of any individual to employment opportunities, regardless of whether the party may technically be described as an 'employer'. . . at common law." Spirt v. Teachers Ins. & Annuity Ass'n, 691 F.2d 1054, 1063 (2d Cir. 1982), vacated on other grounds, 463 U.S. 1223 (1983). See also Rivera v. Puerto Rican Home Attendants Servs. Inc., 922 F. Supp. 943 (S.D.N.Y. 1996) (collecting and describing the "numerous formulations" used in the Second Circuit to determine the applicability of the Title VII definition of "employer"). *fn5"

 BHS meets this standard. By contract, it has the authority to control who is hired and fired at 900 5th, and how the employees are supervised. See Declaration of Robert Hoff ("Hoff Dec.") Ex. A at P2(a). *fn6" Moreover, it has frequently used this authority with regard to 900 5th employees. For example, BHS employee Paul Ciaramella sent disciplinary letters to 900 5th employees who engaged in improper behavior. See Deposition of Paul Ciaramella, BHS Property Manager for 900 5th ("Ciaramella Dep.") at 28. John Hughes, Ciaramella's predecessor as Property Manager for 900 5th, sent termination letters to certain 900 5th employees.

 BHS exercised its authority with regard to hiring as well as firing and discipline. Applications for employment at 900 5th could be obtained at BHS's office. See Ciaramella Dep. at 122-123. These applications, including the one filled out by plaintiff, bore BHS's name. See Hoff. Dec., Ex. B. When 900 5th's long-time building superintendent died, BHS placed an advertisement for a replacement Super at 900 5th in the New York Times. See Hoff Dec. Ex. L. Ciaramella screened the applicants for the job. See Ciaramella Dep. at 106-108. See Hoff Dec., Ex. E. Ciaramella also handled the situation when one 900 5th employee on leave sought reinstatement. See Hoff Dec., Ex. F.

 BHS also participated in labor/management relations at 900 5th. A BHS employee attends all union arbitrations for 900 5th employees. See Ciaramella Dep. at 69. When it is not possible for a BHS employee to attend, BHS moves to postpone the hearing. See id. at 70. When one employee had an arbitration hearing before the Office of Contract Arbitrators of Local 32B-32J, the union which represents 900 5th's employees, BHS was a party. See Hoff Dec., Ex. F at 8-12.

 BHS's relationship to those employed at 900 5th demonstrates other indicia of employer status as well. It purchased employee uniforms and arranged for the uniform vendor to measure the employees. See Deposition of Robert Pincus, BHS Account Executive, at 63. Furthermore, BHS's logo appeared on the paychecks employees -- including plaintiff -- received. See Hoff. Dec., Ex. J.

 In light of this evidence, it is apparent that BHS "significantly affected the employment opportunities" of those employed at 900 5th. Spirt, 691 F.2d at 1063. BHS seizes upon the fact that due to plaintiff's short tenure at 900 5th, its direct contact with him was limited. *fn7" If I were to draw from this the conclusion BHS recommends, however, an anomalous result would be reached. BHS would not be plaintiff's employer for Title VII purposes; however, it would be the employer of an identically situated worker at 900 5th who happened to have had some further contact with a BHS supervisor. Congress surely did not intend such an illogical outcome. Furthermore, BHS's contractual authority to supervise workers at 900 5th is likely to have affected the conditions of plaintiff's employment in a non-trivial way: The presence of discretionary supervisory ...


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