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Jenkins v. New York City Transit Authority

July 1, 2009

TAHITA JENKINS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
NEW YORK CITY TRANSIT AUTHORITY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John G. Koeltl, District Judge

OPINION AND ORDER

The plaintiff, Tahita Jenkins, brings this action against the defendants, the New York City Transit Authority ("Transit Authority"), Patrick Sullivan ("Sullivan"), and Phyllis Chambers ("Chambers") pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. ("Title VII"); the New York State Human Rights Law, N.Y. Exec. L. § 290 et seq. ("NYSHRL"); and the New York City Human Rights Law, N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-101 et seq. ("NYCHRL"). The plaintiff, a Pentecostal American, asserts that the defendants discriminated against her because of her religion by rejecting her request to wear a skirt as part of her Transit Authority bus operator uniform and then terminating her when she refused to wear pants. The defendants have moved to dismiss her Complaint in part under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

I.

In deciding a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the allegations in the Complaint are accepted as true, and all reasonable inferences must be drawn in the plaintiff's favor. McCarthy v. Dun & Bradstreet Corp., 482 F.3d 184, 191 (2d Cir. 2007). The Court's function on a motion to dismiss is "not to weigh the evidence that might be presented at trial but merely to determine whether the complaint itself is legally sufficient." Goldman v. Belden, 754 F.2d 1059, 1067 (2d Cir. 1985). The Court should not dismiss the Complaint if the plaintiff has stated "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Twombly v. Bell Atlantic Corp., 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1974 (2007). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). While the Court should construe the factual allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, "the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions." Id.

When presented with a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the Court may consider documents that are referenced in the Complaint, documents that the plaintiff relied on in bringing suit and that are either in the plaintiff's possession or that the plaintiff knew of when bringing suit, or matters of which judicial notice may be taken. See Chambers v. Time Warner, Inc., 282 F.3d 147, 153 (2d Cir. 2002).

II.

The following facts are accepted as true for purposes of this motion. The plaintiff, Tahita Jenkins, applied to the Transit Authority to become a bus operator. (Compl. ¶ 33-36.) According to the Pentecostal American religion, of which she is a member, she may only wear skirts which cover her knees. (Compl. ¶ 29.) In May 2007, the plaintiff received an interview for employment with the Transit Authority. (Compl. ¶ 36.) During the interview, the plaintiff informed her interviewer that she could not wear pants because of her religious beliefs. (Compl. ¶ 37.) The interviewer told her that she did not think the plaintiff's dress restrictions would be a problem, given that they had had other women who had expressed similar concerns in past interviews. (Compl. ¶ 37.)

On May 8, 2007, the Transit Authority hired the plaintiff as a bus operator. (Compl. ¶ 40.) When the plaintiff reported for training, Transit Authority employees told her that she was required to wear pants as part of her uniform as a bus operator. (Compl. ¶ 43.) Upon the Transit Authority's request, the plaintiff obtained a letter from her pastor confirming that her refusal to wear pants was based upon a sincere religious belief. (Compl. ¶ 45-47.) The Transit Authority nevertheless required the plaintiff to sign a uniform policy that required her to wear pants, which she signed under protest. (Compl. ¶ 51.)

After signing the policy, however, a representative of the Transit Authority met with the plaintiff to measure her for a skort. (Compl. ¶ 52.) A skort is defined as a pair of shorts with a flap or panel across the front and sometimes the back to resemble a skirt. (Compl. ¶ 53.) The plaintiff wore a skirt throughout her training to become a bus operator. (Compl. ¶ 61.) Throughout the training, the plaintiff alleges that a Transit Authority employee, Phyllis Chambers, singled out the plaintiff for public ridicule, harassment, and embarrassment in retaliation for her request for a reasonable religious accommodation. (Compl. ¶ 57.) She also claims that, at her final road test, her instructor required her to drive on elongated routes, and at the completion of her road test, said to her: "I can't find anything wrong. You passed." (Compl. ¶ 58-59.)

On May 27, 2007, the plaintiff successfully completed her training. (Compl. ¶ 60.) Two days later, she was asked to attend a meeting with Transit Authority employees, including members of the Transit Authority's legal department, in which she was told she could wear "culottes." (Compl. ¶ 62-66.) Culottes are women's trousers that are cut to resemble a skirt. (Compl. ¶ 66.) The plaintiff learned from her pastor that culottes would not be acceptable and therefore told the Transit Authority that she would either wear a skirt the same length as the Transit Authority-issued culottes, or that she would wear a skort, which she had in fact already ordered through the Transit Authority. (Compl. ¶ 67-69.) The Transit Authority refused to make either of these accommodations for the plaintiff and told her that she should either resign or be terminated. (Compl. ¶ 71.) However, the plaintiff has testified that she herself has viewed a female bus driver wearing a skirt. (Compl. ¶ 74.) The Transit Authority terminated the plaintiff, which the plaintiff alleges was "in retaliation for her request for a reasonable accommodation and in discrimination of the terms, privileges and conditions of her employment based upon her sincere religious beliefs." (Compl. ¶ 76.)

On June 5, 2007, the plaintiff filed a timely charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). The EEOC referred the matter to the Department of Justice on April 9, 2008. On May 1, 2008, she received a Notice of Right to Sue Letter from the Department of Justice. She timely brought this action on July 28, 2008.

III.

The plaintiff's Complaint asserts eighteen causes of action against the defendants under Title VII, the NYSHRL, the NYCHRL, and the New York State and United States Constitutions. The defendants moved to dismiss the plaintiff's Complaint in part, asserting that the Title VII claims against individual defendants Sullivan and Chambers, the causes of action under the NYCHRL, the disparate impact claims, and the Title VII retaliation claim should be dismissed. After the filing of the motion to dismiss, however, the plaintiff agreed to withdraw the Title VII claims against the individual defendants, and the defendants agreed to withdraw their ...


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