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FITZGIBBONS v. PUTNAM DENTAL ASSOCIATES

May 11, 2005.

RHODA FITZGIBBONS, Plaintiff,
v.
PUTNAM DENTAL ASSOCIATES, P.C., Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: WILLIAM CONNER, Senior District Judge

OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Rhoda Fitzgibbons brings the instant action against defendant Putnam Dental Associates, P.C. ("Putnam Dental"), pursuant to Title VII of the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. ("Title VII"). Plaintiff alleges that she was subjected to a hostile work environment and was discriminatorily terminated from her employment at Putnam Dental as a full-time receptionist and appointment coordinator. Defendant moved for dismissal pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) on several asserted grounds, one of which was that Putnam Dental employed less than fifteen employees during the period relevant to this action, and is therefore not covered by Title VII. In an Opinion and Order dated November 22, 2004, we declined to consider defendant's motion to dismiss on the basis that Putnam Dental was not a covered employer subject to Title VII and, instead, converted the motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment to be resolved by this Court after the parties had been given the opportunity to submit additional evidence and supplemental briefs. Plaintiff, however, did not file either additional evidence or a further brief. For the reasons stated hereinafter, defendant's motion for summary judgment is granted.

BACKGROUND

  Plaintiff was employed as a receptionist and appointment coordinator by Putnam Dental, a small dental practice located in Brewster, New York, from July 19, 1999 until March 9, 2003. (Complt. ¶ 7.) In her Complaint, plaintiff alleges that Putnam Dental has continuously employed at least fifteen employees for purposes of Title VII. (Id. ¶ 15.) However, defendant maintains that at no time relevant to this action did it employ more than fourteen employees. (Def. Mem. Supp. Summ. J. at 1.)

  Plaintiff alleges that from approximately July 1999 until the time of her termination from employment at Putnam Dental, she was sexually harassed by her supervisor, Carl Ern, "including but not limited to forcing Ms. Fitzgibbons to perform oral sex to his person, despite the fact that Ms. Fitzgibbons expressed to him that such conduct was unwelcome." (Complt. ¶ 12.) Plaintiff asserts claims of sexual harassment under Title VII and intentional infliction of emotional distress. She alleges that her supervisor's actions created a hostile work environment and that she was discriminatorily terminated from her employment as a result. (Id. ¶¶ 18, 19.)

  Plaintiff alleges that Putnam Dental was aware or should have been aware of this harassment because she made numerous complaints to defendant through its agents, servants and/or employees. (Id. ¶¶ 13, 14.) In addition, plaintiff alleges that defendant, in direct violation of Title VII, refused to take any corrective action to end the hostile environment and did not establish or adhere to an effective policy against sex discrimination and harassment. (Id. ¶¶ 20, 21, 22.) As a direct result of these violations, Fitzgibbons alleges that she has "suffered both pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages in the form of past and future pecuniary losses, emotional pain, suffering, inconvenience, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of work and humiliation." (Id. ¶ 24.) With respect to her claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress, plaintiff alleges that further injuries were proximately caused by defendant's intentional and malicious actions including "personal injury, medical expense, pain and suffering, lost wages, out-of-pocket expenses, for humiliation, indignity and injury to feelings, damages for emotional and/or physical harm. . . ." (Id. ¶ 29.) Plaintiff seeks, inter alia, compensatory and punitive damages, a permanent injunction enjoining defendant from engaging in employment practices that discriminate on the basis of sex and requiring defendant to carry out policies, practices and programs to provide equal employment opportunities. (Id. ¶¶ 25, 29.)

  DISCUSSION

  I. Summary Judgment Standard

  Under FED. R. CIV. P. 56, summary judgment may be granted where there are no genuine issues of material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 247-50 (1986). A fact is material only if, based on that fact, a reasonable jury could find in favor of the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. The burden rests on the movant to demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). In deciding whether summary judgment is appropriate, the court resolves all ambiguities and draws all permissible factual inferences against the movant. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. To defeat summary judgment, the nonmovant must go beyond the pleadings and "do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). The court's role at this stage of the litigation is not to decide issues of material fact, but to discern whether any exist. See Gallo v. Prudential Residential Servs., L.P., 22 F.3d 1219, 1224 (2d Cir. 1994).

  II. Applicability of Title VII

  A. Fifteen Employee Threshold

  Title VII prohibits employers from discriminating against any individual "with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex or national origin." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). For purposes of Title VII, the term "employer" means "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 year, and any agent of such person." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(b). In the present case, Putnam Dental moves for summary judgment on the basis that Title VII applies only to businesses with a minimum of fifteen employees and alleges that, at all periods relevant to this action, Putnam Dental employed no more than fourteen employees. Defendant thus seeks dismissal of plaintiff's action on the ground that Putnam Dental is not a covered employer subject to Tile VII, the sole basis for this Court's jurisdiction. (Def. Mem. Supp. Summ. J. at 3.)

  A Title VII defendant may seek summary judgment on the threshold issue of the number of employees required for Title VII applicability where undisputed facts can be presented to defeat coverage. Da Silva v. Kinsho Int'l Corp., 229 F.3d 358, 366 (2d Cir. 2000). In support of defendant's assertion that it did not employ the required fifteen employee threshold at any period relevant to this action, defendant states that, although for federal income tax purposes Putnam Dental had fifteen employees in 2002 and sixteen employees in 2003, several of those individuals do not constitute "employees" under Title VII. (Def.Mem.Supp. ...


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