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Heroux v. Ingrassio

May 6, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: David G. Larimer United States District Judge


Plaintiff, Bernard R. Heroux, Sr., has filed a pro se complaint against his former employer, CQC Prosthodontics, and two CQC employees, Robert F. Ingrassio and Jennifer Mahanger (collectively "defendants").*fn1

Plaintiff's complaint sets forth a variety of claims relating to harassment and discrimination by defendants, and denial of various employment benefits. Specifically, plaintiff asserts that he was discriminated against on the basis of his national origin as a French Canadian in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et. seq. ("Title VII"), that defendants denied plaintiff Workers' Compensation benefits in violation of New York Workers' Compensation Law, that plaintiff was denied participation in defendants' 401(k) program in violation of the Employment Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C. § 1101, et. seq. ("ERISA"), and that defendants failed to reimburse plaintiff for mileage expenses in violation of Federal and New York law. Defendants now move to dismiss the complaint in its entirety, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) (Dkt. #9).

I. Standard of Review

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides that a complaint may be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 12(b)(6). Generally, in evaluating a motion to dismiss under 12(b)(6), a court must "accept the allegations contained in the complaint as true, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-movant." Sheppared v. Beerman, 18 F.3d 147, 150 (2d. Cir. 1994), citing Ad-Hoc Comm. of Baruch Black & Hispanic Alumni Ass'n v. Bernard M. Baruch College, 835 F.2d 980, 982 (2d. Cir. 1987). To survive a motion to dismiss, the "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007).

In assessing the sufficiency of the pleadings for a complaint filed pro se, the Supreme Court has reiterated that "[s]pecific facts are not necessary, and that the complainant need only give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and on the grounds upon which it rests." Boykin v. Keycorp, 521 F.3d 202, 214 (2d Cir. 2008), citing Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 2220 (2007) (internal quotations omitted). "A document filed pro se is to be liberally construed and a pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Boykin, 521 F.3d at 214, quoting Erickson, 127 S.Ct. at 2220. Mindful of this framework, I turn to plaintiff's allegations.

II. Title VII Claims

The majority of plaintiff's claims are governed by Title VII, which makes it unlawful for an employer to discharge or otherwise discriminate against an individual on the basis of national origin. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a). Defendants contend that plaintiff's Title VII claims should be dismissed because plaintiff has failed to establish a prima facie case under Title VII for discrimination based on plaintiff's status as a French Canadian.

Plaintiff, however, is not required to establish a prima facie case under the McDonnell Douglas framework in order to survive a motion to dismiss. See Williams v. New York City Housing Authority, 458 F.3d 67, 71 (2d. Cir. 2006), quoting Swienkiewicz v. Sorema, 534 U.S. 506, 511 (2002) (stating that "the requirements for establishing a prima facie case under McDonnell Douglas [do not] apply to the pleading standard that plaintiffs must satisfy in order to survive a motion to dismiss."). In Swienkiewicz, the Supreme Court held that at the pleadings stage, the plaintiff in an employment discrimination case is required to meet the standard set forth in Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a), which requires a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Swiekiewicz, 534 U.S. at 512.

Initially, plaintiff's claims against the individual defendants under Title VII must be dismissed. It is well-settled that, "individuals are not subject to liability under Title VII." See, e.g., Wrighten v. Glowski, 232 F.3d 119, 120 (2d. Cir. 2000).

With respect to plaintiff's Title VII claims against CQC, plaintiff has failed to allege the exhaustion of his administrative remedies. In order to bring a claim under Title VII in federal district court, a plaintiff must first file a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") or an analogous state agency. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5; McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 798-99 (1973); Legnani v. Alitalia Linee Aeree Italiane, S.P.A., 274 F.3d 683 (2d. Cir. 2001). The charge of discrimination must be filed with the EEOC or state agency within 180 or 300 days, respectively, after the date of the alleged unlawful acts. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e)(1); National R.R. Passenger Corp. v. Morgan, 536 U.S. 101, 109 (2002). If an employee fails to submit a timely EEOC charge with respect to his employer's activity, the employee may not challenge that activity in federal court. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(1); Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., Inc., 550 U.S. 618, 127 S.Ct. 2162, 2166, (2007) ("[I]f the employee does not submit a timely EEOC charge, the employee may not challenge that practice in court . . . ."), abrogated in part by statute, 42 U.S.C. 2000e-5(e)(3)(A); Quinn v. Green Tree Credit Corp., 159 F.3d 759, 765 (2d Cir.1998) ("[D]iscriminatory incidents not timely charged before the EEOC will be time-barred upon the plaintiff's suit in district court"). Here, plaintiff has not pleaded, nor does the record otherwise indicate, that he filed a timely complaint with either the EEOC or the New York State Division of Human Rights prior to commencing the present action. As such, plaintiff's claims under Title VII must be dismissed.

III. Workers' Compensation Claim

Plaintiff's claim for Workers' Compensation must also be dismissed. The relevant statutes impose no obligation on defendants to advise plaintiff of his right to seek Workers' Compensation. CQC's only obligation under New York Workers' Compensation Law concerning notice to its employees is to post notice of benefit coverage in the workplace. See N.Y. Workers' Compensation Law § 51. The penalty for failure to post notice of benefit coverage is a fine of up to $250 assessed by the Workers' Compensation Board, see id., not a private civil action in federal court.

Further, plaintiff has already applied for and been denied Workers' Compensation benefits in connection with the injuries that form the basis for his current claims against defendants. See Dkt. #12, Exhibit 2. The Workers' Compensation Board, after conducting a hearing and listening to testimony from both parties in this case, found plaintiff's testimony "inconsistent and contradictory" and held that plaintiff's claims for Workers' Compensation benefits were time-barred for failure to give timely notice of injury to ...

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