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M.O.C.H.A. SOCIETY INC. v. CITY OF BUFFALO

March 16, 2002

M.O.C.H.A. SOCIETY, INC., MICHAEL BROWN, AND OTTO BREWER, PLAINTIFFS,
V.
CITY OF BUFFALO, CITY OF BUFFALO FIRE DEPARTMENT, CORNELIUS KEANE, JOHN D. SIXT, BUFFALO PROFESSIONAL FIREFIGHTERS ASSOCIATION, INC., LOCAL 282 AFL-CIO-CLC, AND RONALD CASSEL, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John T. Curtin, United States District Judge.

    INTRODUCTION

Plaintiffs Men of Color Helping All Society, Inc. ("MOCHA") and Michael Brown — as well as nineteen other individually named plaintiffs*fn1 — bring this employment discrimination action pursuant to various sections of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, including 42 U.S.C. § 1981, 1983, 1985(3), and §§ 2000e-2 and 2000e-5 (Title VII).*fn2 On the basis of these statutes, MOCHA and the individually named plaintiffs assert various discrimination claims against the City of Buffalo, the City of Buffalo Fire Department, Fire Commissioner Cornelius Keane, Deputy Fire Commissioner John Sixt, Buffalo Professional Firefighters Association, Inc., Local 282 ("the Union"), and Union President Ronald Cassell. The City, the Fire Department, Keane, and Sixt (collectively, "the City defendants" or "the City") now move to dismiss plaintiffs' Second Amended Complaints "A" and "B."*fn3 The court heard oral argument on the City defendants' motions on August 17, 2001, and has received and considered subsequent supplemental filings. For the following reasons, the City's motions are granted in part and denied in part.

BACKGROUND

In the amended pleadings, MOCHA describes its constituency and organizational purpose as follows:

MOCHA . . . is a Not-for-Profit corporation organized and existing under the laws of the State of New York. It is an organization of African American firefighters employed by the City of Buffalo Department of Fire and it is a member organization of the International Association of Black Professional Firefighters ("IABPFF"). . . . MOCHA's organizational purpose is to promote understanding, friendship and cooperation among all members of the fire department of the City of Buffalo; to see that competent Blacks are recruited and employed as firefighters; [and] to encourage and aid in the advancement of Blacks to elevated ranks within the fire department. . . .

(Item 55, ¶ 2.)

Plaintiffs make a number of allegations in support of their claims regarding the Fire Department's allegedly discriminatory enforcement of its drug-testing policy. Among other things, plaintiffs claim that nineteen of the twenty-one firefighters who have been terminated as a result of failure to abide by the drug abuse and testing policies have been Black (see Item 55, ¶ 63). In addition, plaintiffs allege that White firefighters receive superior out-patient drug treatment at the Beacon Center's Amherst offices and that the Fire Department treats White firefighters more leniently in terms of the disciplinary consequences of testing positive for drug use. By way of example, plaintiffs allege that the Fire Department has terminated one Black firefighter for a positive drug test while allowing a White firefighter to return to work for a substantially identical test result (see Item 66, p. 3).

MOCHA asserts standing to sue by virtue of the direct harm it suffers as a result of the City's discriminatory enforcement of its drug-testing program. Specifically, MOCHA claims that it loses members and membership dues each time the City fires a Black firefighter for failure to comply with the Fire Department's drug-testing policy, thereby frustrating MOCHA's corporate purposes (Item 55, ¶¶ 2, 68).

Plaintiffs' claims regarding the Fire Department's promotion practices — embodied in Second Amended Complaint "B" — relate to the way in which the Fire Department promotes firefighters to the rank of lieutenant (see generally Item 54). On this point, plaintiffs again make a number of specific allegations in support of their claims regarding the Fire Department's alleged discrimination. By way of example, plaintiffs allege that the Fire Department employs a subjective "points system" as the means of designating which firefighters are qualified to take the lieutenants' exam, and that this system is manipulated to favor Whites. Plaintiffs also claim that the Fire Department sponsors training sessions for the promotion exam and excludes Blacks from participating. Further, plaintiffs allege that Fire Department officials have actually released exam questions and subject areas to White firefighters in advance of the exam, but have not done the same for Blacks. Finally, plaintiffs point to statistical evidence indicating that the promotion exam is racially biased against Blacks (see Item 66, pp. 6-7).

As with the drug-testing policy, MOCHA claims that it is directly harmed by the Fire Department's discriminatory promotion practices in that promotion of mostly White firefighters to the rank of lieutenant has caused it to lose membership and, consequently, the increased membership dues that would come with a member's lieutenant's salary (see Item 54, ¶ 43; see also Item 64, ¶¶ 10, 13, 14).

The City moves pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b) to dismiss both amended complaints "A" and "B" on the following grounds:

1. Lack of standing to sue;

2. Failure to state a claim for which relief can be granted;

3. Unavailability of punitive damages against a municipality;

4. Failure to state a Title VII claim against defendants Keane and Sixt in their individual capacities; and
5. Failure to state a claim against the Fire Department as a separate entity.

Each of these grounds is discussed in turn.

DISCUSSION

VI. Standing

Whether a plaintiff has sufficiently alleged standing to sue presents a question of justiciability — i.e., "whether [a] plaintiff has made out a `case or controversy' between himself and the defendant within the meaning of Art. III." Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 498 (1975). The court's jurisdiction therefore can only be invoked when a plaintiff has suffered "some threatened or actual injury resulting from the putatively illegal action. . . ." Linda R. S. v. Richard D., 410 U.S. 614, 617 (1973), quoted in Warth, 422 U.S. at 499.

In United States v. Vazquez, 145 F.3d 74 (2d Cir. 1998), the Second Circuit provided a comprehensive summary of the standing requirements:

[T]he party invoking federal jurisdiction bears the burden of establishing the elements of standing. To meet this burden, a plaintiff must show (1) that she suffered an injury in fact — an invasion of a legally protected interest that is concrete and particular, and not merely hypothetical; (2) that there is a causal connection between the injury and the conduct complained ...

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