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GARCIA v. LEWIS

June 16, 2005.

IRIS GARCIA, Plaintiff,
v.
ANNAMARIE LEWIS, CAROL BURTON, VIRGINIA LOWERY, and THE OSBORNE ASSOCIATION, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: SHIRA SCHEINDLIN, District Judge

OPINION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

  In these two related actions, Iris Garcia, proceeding pro se, is suing the Osborne Association ("Osborne") and three Osborne employees, AnnaMarie Lewis, Carol Burton, and Virginia Lowery, for violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.*fn1 Garcia, a former employee of Osborne, alleges that she was sexually harassed by Lewis, subjected to a hostile work environment, and was then terminated from her employment in retaliation for filing a sexual harassment claim against Osborne and Lewis with the New York State Division of Human Rights ("DHR"). As a result, Garcia seeks monetary damages. Defendants now move to dismiss both Complaints pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the reasons stated below, defendants' motions are denied in part and granted in part.

  II. BACKGROUND

  Osborne is a not-for-profit organization that provides treatment, education, and vocational services for people involved in the criminal and juvenile justice systems, including prisoners and former prisoners, their children, and other family members.*fn2 Garcia began working in Osborne's Youth and Family Services Department in Brooklyn as a Family Services Specialist (social worker) in late April 2002.*fn3 As part of her job, Garcia was required to travel around the state to attend presentations and meetings.*fn4

  Garcia alleges that on the first day she began working at Osborne, while at an off-site meeting, a female colleague named AnnaMarie Lewis (an Osborne employee based in upstate New York) began a pattern of sexual harassment that consisted of "call[ing] [her] out of [her] name" by using terms of endearment like "honey," "sweetheart," and "love," and "continuously touch[ing] her."*fn5

  Garcia was disturbed by Lewis' behavior*fn6 and, upon the advice of her supervisor, spoke to Lewis about her actions.*fn7 She related to Lewis that she wanted to be addressed only as "Ms. Garcia," and did not want Lewis to "[put] her hands on [Garcia] when she's speaking to [Garcia]."*fn8 On May 31, 2002, Garcia notified the Human Resources Department of her allegations against Lewis, but represented to them that she had resolved the situation on her own.*fn9

  Subsequently, on October 8, 2002, Garcia reported to the Human Resources Department that Lewis had continued to sexually harass her. Two days later, she sent an e-mail to Human Resources recounting her allegations.*fn10 Specifically, she claimed that over a span of approximately seven months Lewis "put her hands in her pants and seemed to be scratching her crotch,"*fn11 told Garcia that she wanted to "get her hands on [Garcia] before anyone else [did],"*fn12 put her hands on Garcia's shoulder when discussing a work project, put her hand on Garcia's hand on two different occasions, rubbed her hand on Garcia's arm when helping Garcia make a phone call, sat next to Garcia at several business lunches, lingered to watch TV in Garcia's room while on a business trip and put her knee on Garcia's bed, "made it known" that her son would not be home and invited Garcia to spend the night at her house,*fn13 and referred to Garcia at different times as "honey," "love," "sweetheart," "sweety," and "doll."*fn14 Garcia also requested a transfer to a different division at Osborne and asked that she have no more contact with Lewis.*fn15 Shortly after Garcia made these allegations, defendant Burton (Garcia's supervisor of two weeks) agreed that Garcia could restrict her contact with Lewis to fax and e-mail only.*fn16

  In further response to the sexual harassment allegations, defendant Lowery and another member of the Human Resources Department met with Garcia on October 28, 2002, to discuss her concerns. The Human Resources employees told Garcia that their internal investigation revealed no sexual harassment. Possibly as a means of explanation for Lewis' behavior, they went on to state that the culture of Osborne was "touchy, feely" and that Lewis' behavior was not intentional.*fn17 Although the Human Resources staff confirmed that they knew Garcia was "really bothered" by Lewis' behavior, they suggested that Garcia's allegations might actually be a result of homophobia directed towards Lewis.*fn18 Finding the response of the Human Resources Department unsatisfactory, Garcia filed a sexual harassment complaint against Lewis and Osborne with the DHR on October 31, 2002.*fn19 Shortly thereafter, on November 13, 2002, Garcia was terminated from her position at Osborne by defendant Burton for unsatisfactory job performance.*fn20

  Following her termination, Garcia filed a second complaint with the DHR for retaliatory firing.*fn21 In its response to this complaint, the DHR stated that it had investigated Garcia's allegations and that there was

  no causal connection between the Complainant's claims of discrimination and discharge from her at will employment. . . . The record shows Complainant had performance issues throughout her employment that were unrelated to her issues of sexual harassment and did not involve the alleged harasser. . . . The record supports that Complainant was discharged based on her failure to correct her performance deficiencies.*fn22 After receiving the DHR's response, Garcia obtained a "right to sue" letter from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and filed this lawsuit.

  III. LEGAL STANDARD

  A. Motion to Dismiss Standard

  Under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a motion to dismiss should be granted only if "it appears beyond doubt that the [nonmovants] can prove no set of facts in support of [their] claims which would entitle [them] to relief."*fn23 The task of the court in ruling on a motion to dismiss is "merely to assess the legal feasibility of the complaint, not to assay the weight of the evidence which might be offered in support thereof."*fn24 When deciding a motion ...


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