United States District Court, E.D. New York
October 12, 2005.
LESLIE BALDWIN, Plaintiff,
LIJ NORTH SHORE HEALTH SYSTEM, Defendant.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: ARTHUR SPATT, District Judge
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER
The pro se plaintiff Leslie Baldwin ("Baldwin" or the
"plaintiff") alleges that the defendant LIJ North Shore Health
System ("LIJ" or the "defendant"), her former employer, violated
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as codified,
42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e to 2000e-17 (amended in 1972, 1978 and by the Civil
Rights Act of 1991, Pub.L. No. 102-166) ("Title VII") by
creating unequal terms and conditions of her employment because of her race and gender. She also alleges that
her employer retaliated against her for complaining that she was
discriminated against, and terminated her employment. Presently
before the Court is a motion by the defendant pursuant to Federal
Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) to dismiss the complaint for
failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.
A. Procedural History
On March 16, 2004, the plaintiff filed a timely charge of
discrimination with the New York State Division of Human Rights
("NYSDHR"). The plaintiff's charge was dual-filed with the United
States Equal Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). On March 17, 2005,
the EEOC issued a Notice of Right to Sue to the plaintiff. On May
16, 2005, the plaintiff commenced this action within ninety days
of receipt of the Notice, claiming that the defendant violated
the provisions of Title VII.
On July 5, 2005, the defendant made the present motion pursuant
to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure ("
Fed.R.Civ.P.") to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a
claim for which relief may be granted. On July 18, 2005, the same
day that the plaintiff filed an affidavit in opposition to the
defendant's motion, the plaintiff submitted a letter seeking to
amend the complaint. The proposed amended complaint differs from
the original complaint insofar as it identifies the plaintiff's
race and adds claims of retaliation and unequal terms and
conditions of employment. The defendant has filed a reply memorandum in further
support of its motion to dismiss and in opposition to the
plaintiff's request for leave to amend the complaint.
B. As to Plaintiff's Amended Complaint
Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a) provides that a party is entitled to
amend its pleading "once as a matter of course at any time before
any responsive pleading is served." Here, the defendant filed a
motion to dismiss. A motion to dismiss is not a responsive
pleading and, thus, the plaintiff's amended complaint is properly
before the court. Barbara v. New York Stock Exchange, Inc.,
99 F.3d 49, 56 (2d Cir. 1996).
Furthermore, concurrently with the submission of her amended
complaint the plaintiff filed an affidavit in opposition to the
defendant's motion to dismiss. The plaintiff's affidavit includes
additional factual allegations regarding her treatment while
employed by LIJ and annexes the plaintiff's NYSDHR complaint. In
consideration of the plaintiff's pro se status and the liberal
rules regarding amendments to pleadings, the Court will treat the
factual allegations in the affidavit and its attachments as
amendments to the complaint. See Brooks v. Hevesi, No. 95
Civ. 3209 (JSM), 1995 WL 758611 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 22, 1995).
Accordingly, the motion to dismiss will be considered as being
directed at the amended complaint. See Levy v. Lerner,
853 F. Supp. 636, 638 (E.D.N.Y. 1994). The defendant will not suffer any prejudice from this because LIJ has addressed the amended
complaint in its reply memorandum in further support of its
motion to dismiss.
C. Factual Background
The following facts are derived from the amended complaint and
are taken as true for the purposes of this motion.
The plaintiff, who is black, began working for LIJ in July of
1997 as a "Patient Care Associate." The plaintiff "love[d]" her
job, maintained a "satisfactory" attendance record, and her
"performance was alway[s] good." On December 29, 2003, the
plaintiff received two disciplinary warnings for unspecified
"performance issues" that arose sometime during November and
December of 2003. The warnings were issued by a Ms. McGlynn, a
white nursing director at LIJ. Ms. McGlynn informed the plaintiff
that she was being suspended and that she should speak to a Mr.
Perez, who is involved with LIJ's "Employee Assistan[ce]
Program." Mr. Perez is Hispanic. The plaintiff claims she met
with Ms. McGlynn and Mr. Perez several times between December 29,
2003 and January 20, 2004 concerning the her suspension. The
plaintiff was not allowed to return to work during that period of
time, and has not returned to work. According to LIJ she was
terminated on January 4, 2004. Although the plaintiff does not
describe the "performance issues" that led to her suspension and
eventual termination, the plaintiff claims that "[w]hite
co-workers who have been accused of the [sic] doing the same thing I was counseled and suspended for
have not been disciplined and/or suspended."
In addition, the plaintiff claims that at some point prior to
her suspension and termination, she twice became ill when three
female co-workers allegedly poisoned her drinking water. The
precise dates of these incidents are not clear. The plaintiff
submitted a letter to the EEOC with her original complaint that
places the poisonings in March, presumably of 2004, the same year
the letter is dated. However, the Court notes that this is
unlikely because it is clear from other documents comprising the
amended complaint that the plaintiff was no longer working for
LIJ at that time. The plaintiff sought medical attention for her
illness but was denied treatment by a physician who worked for
LIJ. The plaintiff referred this incident to a supervisor at LIJ,
Ms. McGlyn, and was told that no one at LIJ "wants to deal with
A. Legal Standards
A court may grant a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure
to state a claim only where "`it appears beyond doubt that the
plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of [her] claim
which would entitle [her] to relief.'" Tarshis v. Riese Org.,
211 F.3d 30, 35 (2d Cir. 2000), abrogated on other grounds,
Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 122 S. Ct. 992,
152 L. Ed. 2d 1 (2002), (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41,
45-46, 78 S. Ct. 99, 2 L. Ed. 2d 80 (1975)). All of the factual
allegations in the complaint must be accepted as true and all inferences drawn
in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Id. (citing
Desiderio v. Nat'l Ass'n of Sec. Dealers, Inc., 191 F.3d 198,
202 (2d Cir. 1999)).
In its analysis under Rule 12(b)(6), the court "must confine
its consideration to facts stated on the face of the complaint,
in documents appended to the complaint or incorporated in the
complaint by reference, and to matters of which judicial notice
may be taken." Id. at 39 (citing Allen v. WestPoint-Pepperell,
Inc., 945 F.2d 40, 44 (2d Cir. 1991)). At the pleading stage,
the plaintiff in an employment discrimination case need only
provide a "`short and plain statement'" that "`give[s] the
defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the
grounds upon which it rests.'" Swierkiewicz,
534 U.S. at 512-13, 122 S. Ct. at 998 (citing Conley, 355 U.S. at 47,
78 S. Ct. at 103). This notice pleading standard expects "liberal
discovery rules and summary judgment motions to define disputed
facts and issues to dispose of unmeritorious claims."
Swierkiewicz, 534 U.S. at 512, 122 S. Ct. at 998.
Further, a pro se plaintiff's submissions are held "`to less
stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.'"
Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5, 9, 101 S. Ct. 173, 176,
66 L. Ed. 2d 163 (1980) (per curiam) (quoting Haines v. Kerner,
404 U.S. 519, 520, 92 S. Ct. 594, 595, 30 L. Ed. 2d 652 (1972)); see
also Ferran v. Town of Nassau, 11 F.3d 21, 22 (2d Cir. 1993).
A court must make reasonable allowances so that a pro se
plaintiff does not forfeit rights due to her lack of legal
training. See Traguth v. Zuck, 710 F.2d 90, 94 (2d Cir. 1993). Indeed, courts
must "read the pleadings of a pro se plaintiff liberally and
interpret them `to raise the strongest arguments that they
suggest.'" McPherson v. Coombe, 174 F.3d 276, 280 (2d Cir.
1999) (quoting Burgos v. Hopkins, 14 F.3d 787, 790 (2d Cir.
1994)). On the other hand, pro se status "does not exempt a
party from compliance with relevant rules of procedural and
substantive law." Traguth, 710 F.2d at 95 (internal quotations
B. As to Race Discrimination
In order to establish a prima facie case of discrimination
under Title VII, the plaintiff must show (1) membership in a
protected class; (2) satisfactory job performance; (3) an adverse
employment action; and (4) that the adverse employment action
occurred under circumstances giving rise to an inference of
discrimination. Cruz v. Coach Stores, Inc., 202 F.3d 560, 567
(2d Cir. 2000). Although an employment discrimination complaint
need not contain specific facts establishing a prima facie case
under McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792,
93 S. Ct. 1817, 36 L. Ed. 2d 668 (1973); see also Swierkiewicz v. Sorema
N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 515, 122 S. Ct. 992, 999, 152 L. Ed. 2d 1
(2002), the plaintiff must allege facts which give fair notice of
her claim and the grounds upon which it rests. Swierkiewicz,
534 U.S. at 512, 122 S. Ct. at 998. In her NYSDHR complaint, the plaintiff alleged that she
performed her duties at LIJ well and maintained a satisfactory
attendance record; was "counseled and suspended" for "alleged
performance issues"; that she was eventually suspended and
prevented from returning to work by the defendant; that "White
co-workers" who had been accused of committing acts similar to
those the defendant was accused of committing have not been
disciplined or suspended. In particular, she has alleged that one
white co-worker had not been suspended or disciplined for
"writing prescriptions and selling them"; and that the defendant
was subject to this disparate treatment because of her race.
These allegations are sufficient to give the defendant fair
notice of the plaintiff's claims and the grounds upon which they
rest. Accordingly, the defendant's motion to dismiss the
plaintiff's claims of discrimination based on race is denied.
C. As to Gender Discrimination
Nowhere in the amended complaint does the plaintiff identify
her gender. Assuming the plaintiff is female, her gender
discrimination claim must fail because the amended complaint does
not allege any fact from which to infer that she was subjected to
unequal treatment because she is a woman. In fact, many of the
individuals whom the plaintiff alleges committed the
discriminatory acts were themselves women.
The defendant argues that the gender discrimination claim
should be dismissed because this claim was not raised in the
plaintiff's complaint to the NYSDHR. Although the defendant correctly points out that the plaintiff
failed to raise the gender issue in her complaint to the NYSDHR,
this does not automatically bar the plaintiff's claim. "[C]laims
that were not asserted before the EEOC may be pursued in a
subsequent federal court action if they are `reasonably related'
to those that were filed with the agency." Shah v. New York
State Dep't of Civil Serv., 168 F.3d 610, 614 (2d Cir. 1999).
Nevertheless, the Court declines to address whether or not the
gender claim is "reasonably related" to the race claims filed
with the NYSDHR and EEOC. This claim must fail because the
plaintiff has not alleged facts which give the defendant fair
notice of her gender discrimination claim and the grounds upon
which it rests. Swierkiewicz, 534 U.S. at 512,
122 S. Ct. at 998. Accordingly, the defendant's motion to dismiss the
plaintiff's gender claim is granted.
D. As to Retaliation
The plaintiff also asserts that the defendant retaliated
against her in violation of Title VII, which provides that "[i]t
shall be unlawful employment practice for an employer to
discriminate against any of his employees . . . because [such
employee] has opposed any practice made an unlawful practice by
this subchapter." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a). In order to establish a
prima facie case of retaliation under Title VII, the plaintiff
must show that (1) she took part in a Title VII protected
activity; (2) the employer knew that the plaintiff took part in
that activity; (3) the employer acted adversely toward the plaintiff; and (4) the plaintiff's protected
activity is causally connected to the adverse action taken by her
employer. Gordon v. New York City Bd. of Educ., 232 F.3d 111,
116 (2d Cir. 2000) (citing Cosgrove v. Sears, Roebuck & Co.,
9 F.3d 1033, 1039 (2d Cir. 1993)). At this stage of the case, the
plaintiff is only required to give fair notice of the retaliation
claim and the grounds upon which it rests, in order to defeat the
present motion. See Swierkiewicz, 534 U.S. at 512,
122 S. Ct. at 998.
Here, the only activity protected under Title VII that the
plaintiff engaged in was filing a charge of discrimination with
the EEOC and the NYSDHR. However, this activity occurred after
the plaintiff's alleged mistreatment. The plaintiff was allegedly
poisoned while still working at LIJ, suspended on December 29,
2003, terminated on January 4, 2004, and she filed her
discrimination claim in the NYSDHR on March 16, 2004. Therefore,
even the most liberal reading of the amended complaint fails to
support the inference that the plaintiff's alleged poisoning,
suspension, or termination happened as a result of the
plaintiff's protected activity, namely her filing the claim in
the NYSDHR on March 16, 2004. Accordingly, the motion to dismiss
the retaliation claim is granted.
Based on the foregoing, it is hereby ORDERED, that the motion by the defendant LIJ North Shore
Health System pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) to dismiss the
complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be
granted is DENIED as to the plaintiff's claim of racial
discrimination; and it is further
ORDERED, that the motion by the defendant LIJ North Shore
Health System pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) to dismiss the
complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be
granted is GRANTED as to the plaintiff's claims of gender
discrimination and retaliation.
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