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PRUNELLA v. CARLSHIRE TENANTS

May 9, 2000

ANGELO PRUNELLA, PLAINTIFF,
V.
CARLSHIRE TENANTS, INC. AND GARTHCHESTER REALTY, LTD., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: William C. Conner, Senior District Judge.

OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Angelo Prunella, a Jehovah's Witness, brings this action pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq., claiming that defendants Carlshire Tenants, Inc. and Garthchester Realty, Ltd. terminated his employment because of his religious affiliation. Defendants now move to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) and for summary judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56, claiming that: (1) defendant Carlshire Tenants, Inc. ("Carlshire") is not an employer as defined by Title VII and therefore this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction; (2) plaintiff is precluded from bringing this action by a stipulation of settlement; and (3) plaintiff fails to establish a prima facie case of discrimination. For the reasons that follow, Carlshire's motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and defendants' motion for summary judgment are granted.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff has been a Jehovah's Witness since 1984. (Pl. Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 1.)*fn1 Plaintiff began working as the superintendent of a cooperative building located at 1-3 Washington Square in Larchmont, New York (the "Cooperative") on July 18, 1994. (Id.) By letter dated May 6, 1997, John A. Bonito, management agent for Carlshire, advised plaintiff that his employment as building superintendent was terminated, effective May 7, 1997. (McNally Decl., Ex. A.) The shareholders of the Cooperative were notified of plaintiff's termination by a letter from the Cooperative's board of directors. (Id.)

I, Angelo J. Prunella, have read all the terms of the foregoing agreement, and have agreed to them voluntarily, being fully aware that upon acceptance of the money involved in this settlement, I shall have no recourse against the employer, nor can this agreement be opened in the future.

(Id.)

The stipulation also provided that plaintiff would "vacate his apartment on August 1, 1997 or before if possible" and that plaintiff would "get unemployment and a letter of reference from management." (Id.) Neither party was represented by counsel during the negotiation of the stipulation, although the stipulation was signed by both plaintiff and his union representative. (Id.)

By letter dated June 2, 1997, the president of plaintiff's local withdrew plaintiff's arbitration case, stating that "[t]he reason for such withdrawal is that this matter has been settled." (Id., Ex. E.) Plaintiff received payments from defendants totaling $11,000, the amount due under the settlement agreement. (Pl. Rule 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 8.)

DISCUSSION

I. Carlshire's Status as an Employer Under 42 U.S.C. § 2000e

As an initial matter, defendants move to dismiss this action as to Carlshire for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Defendants claim that Carlshire is not an "employer" as defined by Title VII.

In deciding whether to dismiss action pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), 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. Serrano v. 900 5th Ave. Corp., 4 F. Supp.2d 315, 316 (S.D.N.Y. 1998). However, the Court is not limited to the complaint. "On a motion under Fed.R.Civ.P. 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, L.P. v. Federal Republic of Nigeria, 948 F.2d 90, 96 (2d Cir. 1991), vacated on other grounds, 505 U.S. 1215, 112 S.Ct. 3020, 120 L.Ed.2d 892 (1992).

A requirement for jurisdiction of a Title VII case is that the defendant must meet the statutory definition of "employer." Serrano, 4 F. Supp.2d. at 316; see also E.E.O.C. v. Arabian Am. Oil Co., 499 U.S. 244, 248, 111 S.Ct. 1227, 1231, 113 L.Ed.2d 274 (1991) (describing "employer" as defined by Title VII as a "jurisdictional term[]"). Title VII applies to "a person engaged in an industry affecting commerce who has fifteen or more employees for each working day in each of twenty or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding calendar year, and any agent of such a person. . . ." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(b).

Defendant Carlshire claims that it is not an "employer" for purposes of Title VII because it employs fewer than fifteen people. (See Bonito Aff. ΒΆ 27; McNally Decl., Ex. H.) Plaintiff claims, however, that Carlshire and Garthchester Realty, Ltd. "are inextricably intertwined and ...


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