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Moss v. Port Authority of New York and New Jersey

November 20, 2006

SHEILA MOSS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE PORT AUTHORITY OF NEW YORK AND NEW JERSEY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gerard E. Lynch, District Judge.

OPINION AND ORDER

Sheila Moss, an employee of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey ("PA"), brings this action against her employer for discrimination and retaliation pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12112-12117 (amended by the Civil Rights Act of 1991, Pub. L. No. 102-166). Defendant moves for summary judgment, which will be granted.

BACKGROUND

The following facts are drawn largely from defendant's statement of undisputed facts, which have not been directly challenged by plaintiff, supplemented by undisputed portions of plaintiff's deposition testimony and affidavit.

On September 11, 2001, Moss was employed by the PA as a secretary, working at the World Trade Center. Though she escaped without physical injury, she was understandably deeply upset by the tragic events of that day. The office in which she worked was relocated to New Jersey, and for a time Moss went to work there. Although she was placed on restricted duty due to high blood pressure for most of November and December, she worked in New Jersey until February 22, 2002, when she was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder ("PTSD") and began a long-term paid medical leave.

As required by PA sick-leave policy, Moss regularly reported to the PA's Office of Medical Services ("OMS") for evaluation of her fitness to return to work. At OMS, she was seen by Jose Hevia, a clinical social worker who had been hired to assist in evaluating employees experiencing psychological difficulties following the terrorist attacks. On July 25, 2002, Hevia found Moss fit for duty and cleared her to return to work on a part-time basis. Moss, however, failed to report for work, or to keep appointments with OMS, during August 2002. Having been declared fit to work part-time, she was declared absent without leave ("AWOL") and not paid for her AWOL days, from August 6 through September 4, 2002. Moss returned to OMS on September 5, 2002, was found unfit to work, and again received sick-leave pay, from September 6 through December 20, 2002.

While not claiming she had followed official PA sick-leave procedure, Moss contested the PA's decision to treat her as AWOL during August 2002, asserting that she had made adequate efforts to make known the medical reason for her absence. (Miller Reply Aff. Ex. 4.) In an October 30, 2002, letter, her employer informed Moss that she could receive back pay for the period of work she had missed by signing a letter that set forth the PA's sick-leave rules and acknowledging that future failure to comply could result in formal disciplinary action. Moss declined to sign, presumably in objection to the letter's referencing of her AWOL status as a matter of fact. Alluding to a "meeting," where she claimed it was "determined that the AWOL status was made in error," she wrote the PA on December 6, 2002, that "I followed the absence control guidelines and understand my responsibilities." (Id.)

Moss never returned to work in her secretarial position, which by that time had moved back to Manhattan from New Jersey. Instead, the PA offered her a position as a financial analyst at John F. Kennedy International Airport, near her home in Queens. She accepted the position and returned to work in December 2002. Sometime before January 31, 2003, Moss requested a hearing, although there is no evidence that such a procedure was normally available in such cases, to discuss receiving her August 2002 pay without having to sign an acknowledgment of the PA's absence rules. She was refused, for "lack of authority . . . requiring such a hearing." (Miller Reply Aff. Ex. 5.) In an April 29, 2003, letter, Moss again requested a hearing, to protest her past AWOL designation as "without just cause." (Miller Reply Aff. Ex. 6.) Despite not denying that she had received the PA's October 2002 letter setting forth the absence policy, she claimed, "I have not received any documentation stating what [PA] procedure I did not follow in reporting my absence from work." (Id.) The second request for a hearing was also denied, because "there is no basis to change your pay status for the period." (Miller Reply Aff. Ex. 7.)

After returning to work, Moss encountered difficulties regarding certain conditional benefits available to PA employees. The PA provides qualifying employees with "TransitCheks," a form of subsidy for employees who use New York public transportation to commute to work. Employees are only eligible for TransitCheks when they incur at least $65 in monthly commuting expenses. Because they are issued quarterly, Moss had received TransitCheks for March and April 2002, although as noted above she did not work, and thus did not commute to work, during those months. As a part-time worker in December 2002, Moss was not eligible for the program, and when she resumed full-time work, in January and February 2003, she was denied TransitCheks for having ineligibly received them in March and April 2002. Subsequently, Moss refused to pick up and sign for TransitCheks, a procedure required by the PA's accounting system, since the subsidies are considered to be the equivalent of cash. In any event, starting in April 2003, Moss drove to work for several months. (P. Dep. Tr. 138-39.)

In May 2003, Moss requested a tuition-assistance advance in connection with certain college courses she wished to take. The PA provides such a benefit, although approval of tuition assistance is in the discretion of the director of the employee's department. Ordinarily, the program apparently reimburses eligible tuition expenses; however, payment may be advanced on a showing of financial need. Moss submitted a request for an advance, which required the signature of her department director, Edward Jackson. Jackson noted that the request inaccurately stated that Moss had been denied salary in July and August 2002 and asked that the statement be deleted. When Moss refused, Jackson declined to sign the request, and tuition accordingly was not advanced.

On November 1, 2003, Moss filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). The EEOC charge accused the PA of retaliation and harassment on the basis of mental disability and of failure to make reasonable accommodation of that disability. On April 14, 2004, after receiving a right to sue letter from the EEOC, Moss timely filed a complaint in this Court. The complaint charged discrimination on the basis of disability by failure to accommodate, retaliation, and "intimidation, harassment and intentional infliction of emotional and financial distress" during the period August 2002 through June 2003. (Compl. ¶¶ 4, 5, 7.)*fn1 The complaint attached and incorporated the statement of facts provided in connection with the EEOC charge, which noted that plaintiff had been placed on AWOL status in August 2002 and been denied retroactive reinstatement when she refused to sign the letter acknowledging the PA's medical-leave rules. She also asserted that she had suffered additional discrimination upon returning to work, by being denied TransitCheks and tuition assistance and being subjected to "insulting [and] sarcastic remarks." (Id. at 3.)

DISCUSSION

I. Legal Standards

Summary judgment shall be granted "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits . . . show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). A "genuine issue of material fact" exists if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could find in favor of the non-moving party. Holtz v. Rockefeller & Co., 258 F.3d 62, 69 (2d Cir. 2001). The moving party bears the burden of establishing the absence of any genuine issue of material fact. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256 (1986). In deciding a summary judgment motion, the court must "resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable references in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion." Cifarelli v. Vill. Of Babylon, 93 F.3d 47, 51 (2d Cir. 1996). Moreover, the court is not to make any credibility assessments or weigh the evidence at this stage. Weyant v. Okst, 101 F.3d 845, 854 (2d Cir. 1996). Further, the supporting papers of a pro se litigant should be liberally interpreted "to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest." Burgos v. Hopkins, 14 F.3d 787, 790 (2d Cir.1994).

The nonmoving party, however, may not rely on "conclusory allegations or unsubstantiated speculation." Scotto v. Almenas, 143 F.3d 105, 114 (2d Cir. 1998). The non-moving party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts," Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd., v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986), and rather indicate "significant, ...


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