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O'NEAL v. STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK

March 24, 2003

LINDA O'NEAL, PLAINTIFF,
v.
STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK, HEALTH SCIENCE CENTER BROOKLYN, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: David G. Trager, United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiff Linda O'Neal ("O'Neal") brought this action under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. ("Title VII"),*fn1 against her employer, State University of New York Health Science Center Brooklyn (the "Health Center"). The complaint alleges four causes of action: 1) a Title VII race and gender discrimination claim; 2) a Title VII hostile work environment claim; 3) a Title VII retaliation claim; and 4) a pendent state law claim for injuries sustained during an altercation between O'Neal and her supervisor.

The Health Center moves to dismiss plaintiff's complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Defendant argues that: 1) plaintiff's first claim fails to allege facts sufficient to state a cause of action, and, to the extent that it purports to state a claim for race discrimination, is barred by plaintiff's failure to exhaust administrative remedies; 2) the second claim fails to allege facts sufficient to state a claim; 3) the third claim fails to allege facts sufficient to state a claim and is barred by plaintiff's failure to exhaust administrative remedies; and 4) the state law claim is barred by the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Background

For the purposes of this motion to dismiss, plaintiff's factual allegations are assumed to be true. O'Neal, a black female, has been employed by the Health Center for approximately 30 years as a drug counselor. See Compl. ¶¶ 9-10. After the Health Center merged with Loft "satellite" clinic, in 1995, a Mr. Myzwinski ("Myzwinski") became one of O'Neal's supervisors. See id. ¶ 10.

O'Neal's allegations of discriminatory treatment are predicated entirely on Myzwinski's conduct. Plaintiff alleges that Myzwinski bypassed her immediate supervisor, Mr. Halloran, and harassed her as well as three other female employees. See id. ¶ 11. O'Neal claims that Myzwinski openly embarrassed her in front of clients and fellow employees by chastising her in the hallway under the guise of constructive criticism. See id. ¶ 19. Plaintiff references one particular incident that occurred during a staff meeting, on October 14, 1999: after hearing a "noise" during his presentation, Myzwinski turned toward the plaintiff and characterized the noise as a "grunt." This, according to the complaint, made a spectacle of O'Neal, implying that she was an animal. See id. ¶ 13. Plaintiff further alleges that Myzwinski "would leave his office five . . . door[s] away from me, bypassing other open doors, and close my office door." Id. ¶ 12. O'Neal asserts in an entirely conclusory fashion: "I feel this is because I was female."

Id. ¶¶ 11-12. At the same time, O'Neal also indicates that she perceived the closing of her door as a "personal attack" because Myzwinski would close only her door, while other employees were permitted to work with their doors open. Id. ¶ 22. O'Neal alleges that "Myzwinski never treated the male employees at the clinic in a like manner." Id. 14

Plaintiff avers that, as a result of Myzwinski's behavior, "I became very nervous reporting to work since I felt I could be verbally attacked the minute I stepped out of my office[,] and my job required that I leave my office many times a day." Id. ¶ 21. She further asserts that "Myzwinski's harassment resulted in elevating [her] blood pressure . . . resulting in increased absences from the job" in comparison to her performance prior to Myzwinski's arrival in 1995. Id. ¶ 16.

On one occasion, in June 2000, O'Neal attempted to prevent Myzwinski from closing her door. Myzwinski "tugged on the door and then released it quickly," causing the door to strike O'Neal in the knee.*fn2 Id. ¶ 28. This resulted in injuries that allegedly require O'Neal to take daily pain medication and to attend physical therapy several times a week. See id. ¶ 29. Though the complaint does not specify, it was explained at oral argument that O'Neal has not returned to work since sustaining the knee injury and that she is currently on "permanent disability, getting 60 percent of her salary." Tr. of Oral Arg. at 9, 15.

On August 15, 2000, O'Neal filed an administrative complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights (the "NYSDHR"), claiming discrimination on the basis of sex. See NYSDHR Compl., Ex. B, attached to Decl. of Benjamin Lee [hereinafter "Lee Decl."]. On September 18, 2000, she filed an amended administrative complaint, accusing her employer of retaliating against her. See Am. NYSDHR Compl., Ex. C, attached to Lee Decl. Specifically, the amended complaint alleges that, although O'Neal had been granted leave without pay from July 3, 2000 through September 27, 2000, because of her disability, she received a written notice on September 13, 2000 that threatened: "should you not return to duty, your absence will be considered unauthorized and may subject you to discipline." Id. ¶ 10.

In her complaint before this court, O'Neal asserts that the defendant "continued to request [that] the plaintiff report for work and/or meetings in contradiction to medical evidence that the plaintiff was not fit for work." Compl. ¶ 25. The complaint alleges that, in a further act of retaliation, the defendant "shared information with the attorneys of the Workers['] Compensation Board depriving the plaintiff of a fair review of her disability claim." Id. ¶ 25. This allegation was not raised in the administrative proceedings.

On June 19, 2001, the NYSDHR rendered a determination and order after investigating O'Neal's charges, finding that there was no probable cause to believe that the Health Center had engaged in unlawfully discriminatory practices. See NYSDHR Determination and Order, Ex. A, attached to Lee Decl. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the "EEOC") adopted the NYSDHR findings and issued a right-to-sue letter on August 24, 2001. See Compl. ¶ 8. Thereafter, this action was timely filed.

Discussion

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