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Watts v. Services for the Underserved

June 6, 2007

CELESTE WATTS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
SERVICES FOR THE UNDERSERVED DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Garaufis, United States District Judge.

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Celeste Watts ("Plaintiff" or "Watts") filed this employment discrimination action against Services for the Underserved ("Defendant" or "SUS") on May 4, 2006, pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, codified at 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e to 2000e-17. (Compl. at 1.) SUS now moves to dismiss Watts's complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Mot. to Dismiss at 1.) For the reasons set forth below, SUS's motion is GRANTED.

II. BACKGROUND

The following factual allegations in the Complaint and Affidavits are accepted as true for the purpose of resolving this motion to dismiss. See Jaghory v. New York State Dep't of Educ., 131 F.3d 326, 329 (2d Cir. 1997). Watts identifies herself as "American Black." (Compl. at 15.) For more than 17 years, Watts was employed at SUS, an organization that provides residential and support services for individuals with special needs, including the elderly and mentally disabled. When she first joined SUS, Watts was a secretary, and she was later given the new title of "secretary/program specialist." (Id. at 4, 21.) Watts reports that she took a two-week vacation in early August 2004, and when she returned to work on August 17, 2004, the former SUS program manager told her that she might be transferred to another unit within the company due to budgetary constraints. (Id. at 21.) No action was taken until two weeks thereafter, on August 30, 2004, when an assistant manager called Watts into an office and presented Watts with a letter advising her that, effective as of that date, her title was being changed from "secretary/program specialist" to "program specialist" and that she would be "put[] out on the floor with the mentally challenged." (Id. at 4, 21.) That letter, dated August 26, 2004 but given to Watts on August 30, 2004, stated that Watts's scheduled hours were to remain the same after the reassignment but that she would, as of August 30, 2004, be required to report to the morning supervisor for new tasks. (Id. at 20.)

On March 21, 2005, Watts completed an Intake Questionnaire with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") alleging discrimination on the basis of her color and religion. (Id. at 15.) In particular, Watts alleges that she was reassigned because she fell out of favor with her supervisor and also because of her two-week-long vacation. (Id. at 16.) On April 21, 2005 and August 26, 2005, the EEOC informed Watts by letter that she had "failed to establish a prima facie case" of discrimination. (Id. at 13.) Again, by letter dated March 2, 2006, EEOC Supervisory Investigator William Lai ("Lai") wrote to Watts that she "had failed to provide any information to establish a prima facie case of employment discrimination," noting that "[t]here is no evidence to show that the treatment accorded to you was due to your color, religion or any other bases covered by the laws enforced by the EEOC." (Id. at 6.) Lai further informed Watts that, both because of the failure to submit any information establishing a violation of law and because further investigation was unlikely to find any such violation, the Commission had decided to dismiss its investigation of the case.

Subsequently, on or about May 4, 2006, Watts commenced the instant proceeding against SUS, alleging that SUS's reassignment of her was based on her color and religion. (Id. at 15.) SUS moves to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

III. LEGAL FRAMEWORK

A. Motions to Dismiss

When deciding a motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), a court must read the complaint liberally, assume that the allegations in the complaint are true, and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. See Todd v. Exxon Corp., 275 F.3d 191, 197-198 (2d Cir. 2001). A complaint will survive a motion to dismiss only if it alleges "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S. Ct 1955, 1974 (2007) (discussing and affirming Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 512 (2002)). Thus, a court must consider not whether a plaintiff will ultimately succeed, but whether he or she is "entitled to offer evidence to support the claims." Bernheim v. Litt, 79 F.3d 318, 321 (2d Cir. 1996). Court papers that may be considered when evaluating a motion to dismiss include any written instrument attached to the complaint as an exhibit and any statements or documents incorporated in the complaint by reference. Fed. R. Civ. P. 10(c).

B. Employment Discrimination Cases

The Supreme Court has explained that a plaintiff asserting an employment discrimination claim need not plead facts establishing each element of a prima facie case in order to survive a motion to dismiss, but rather must merely allege facts sufficient to satisfy the notice pleading standard of Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Swierkiewicz, 534 U.S. at 512. That is, to survive a motion to dismiss, a plaintiff need provide only a "short plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8 (a)(2); see also BraphmanBines v. N.Y. City Police Dep't., No. 03 Civ 10207 (KMK), 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 26416, at *14 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 3, 2005) ("Under Swierkiewicz, Rule 8 pleading is extremely permissive.").

Even under this the liberal pleading standard, however, it must be clear from a complaint "what adverse employment action or actions serve as the basis for [a plaintiff's] . . . discrimination claim [thereby] giving fair notice in [the] complaint of the grounds upon which [a] claim that those actions were discriminatory rests." Galvez v. N.Y. Mortg. Co. ...


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