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Woodard v. New York Health and Hospitals Corp.

July 7, 2010

HILLAIRE WOODARD, PLAINTIFF,
v.
NEW YORK HEALTH AND HOSPITALS CORPORATION, DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

X Trager, J

Plaintiff Hillaire Woodard ("Woodard") brought this case against defendant New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation ("HHC"), her ex-employer, on December 6, 2004. She alleged discrimination by HHC in violation of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act ("USERRA"), 38 U.S.C. § 4301 et seq., and disputed the amount of money she owes HHC in repayment under a Military Pay Reimbursement Agreement (the "Reimbursement Agreement" or "the Agreement") made between them. HHC asserted a counterclaim for the money it believed Woodard owed it under its interpretation of the Agreement.

Summary judgment was granted to HHC on Woodard's claims and HHC's counterclaim on March 17, 2008. Woodard appealed, and the Second Circuit issued a Summary Order in October 2009 affirming in part and remanding in part. First, the Second Circuit affirmed that Woodard's USERRA discrimination claims were properly dismissed. Second, the Second Circuit affirmed that the Reimbursement Agreement was properly interpreted to require repayment of Woodard's full military salary during the period where she was receiving both HHC and military salary. However, on appeal, Woodard also argued that New York's newly-enacted Military Law § 242(5-a), which, inter alia, reduces the amount of repayment that employees of New York City have to make under military reimbursement agreements, affects the amount of her repayment obligation to HHC. Rather than addressing this issue in the first instance, the Second Circuit remanded for consideration of two questions: (1) Does N.Y. Milit. Law § 242(5-a) apply to HHC employees?; and (2) If so, what effect does this have on the amount that Woodard owes HHC under the Reimbursement Agreement? Additionally, the Second Circuit instructed that Woodard could, on remand, challenge this Court's previous calculation of the amount she owes HHC under the Agreement.

The parties have briefed the questions presented. Having considered these submissions, it is now determined that N.Y. Milit. Law § 242(5-a) does not apply to HHC employees, and, therefore, has no effect on the amount that Woodard owes HHC under the Reimbursement Agreement. Furthermore, although Woodard raises new challenges to the Reimbursement Agreement and section 242(5-a) under USERRA and the Equal Protection Clause, these challenges are without merit. Finally, as Woodard raises no specific challenge to this Court's initial calculation of the amount she owes HHC under the Agreement, the amount HHC is entitled to recoup from Woodard remains as $140,558.07.

Background

Familiarity with the underlying facts of this case, as set forth in Woodard v. New York Health and Hosps. Corp., 554 F. Supp. 2d 329 (E.D.N.Y. 2008) ("Woodard I"), is presumed. Those facts of particular relevance to the questions now presented are set forth below.

As of 2001, Woodard worked for HHC as the Associate Director of Health Care Standards in HHC's Office of Accreditation and Regulatory Services. Woodard I, 554 F. Supp. 2d at 334. Woodard began military leave from this position at HHC on October 22, 2001. At this time, HHC and New York City (the "City") had a policy of granting employees on military leave only the statutorily-required "twenty-two workdays or thirty calendar days of paid military leave." See id. at 335, 339; see also N.Y. Milit. Law § 242(5).*fn1 The precise relationship between HHC and the City, and the extent to which their leave policies should be considered separate or intertwined, are very much in dispute in this case and will be discussed at length infra. However, as the following facts illustrate, it is at least clear that around the time Woodard went on military leave, the City and HHC made independent decisions to revise their military leave policies.

Following the September 11, 2001 World Trade Center attacks, the City decided to adopt a more generous military leave policy. In October 2001, the City announced the creation of its Extended Military Benefits Package (the "City EMBP"), which allowed "City employee reservists to continue to receive the City's salary and benefits when they are called to active duty for more than 30 calendar days or 22 working days," in addition to receiving their military salary and benefits during this time. Affirmation of Gary Port in Supp. of Pl.'s Mem. Law Opp. Def.'s Mot. Partial Summ. J., Jan. 29, 2007 ("Port Aff.") Ex. 5 at 2 (City press release detailing modifications to City EMBP program). This change allowed reservists to continue coverage under the City's health benefits, which were more generous than the military's, and also allowed them to continue to accrue City pension and welfare fund benefits during their absence. Id. However, to avoid "double-dipping," employees who signed up for the City EMBP were required "to pay back to the City the lesser of the two salaries [military or City] upon their return . . . ." Id.

In November 2001, soon after the City adopted the City EMBP, HHC followed suit by amending its own personnel regulations to create an "Extended Military Benefits Program" (the "HHC EMBP"). See Aff. of Nancy Doyle in Supp. of Def.'s Mem. Law on Remand from the Second Circuit ("Doyle Aff.") Ex. A. The HHC EMBP was, if not identical, at least substantially similar to the City EMBP as outlined above. Thus, under the HHC EMBP, an employee was entitled to receive his or her entire HHC salary during periods of military leave, subject to the condition that the employee had to agree to remit the lesser of either military pay or HHC salary at the conclusion of service, excepting the thirty calendar days of double pay to which employees were statutorily entitled. See Woodard I, 554 F.

Supp. 2d at 339-40; Doyle Aff. Ex. A.

Shortly after the HHC EMBP policy was introduced, Woodard opted into it and signed the Reimbursement Agreement at issue. See Aff. of Alan R. Friedman in Supp. of Def.'s Mem. Law on Remand from the Second Circuit ("Friedman Aff.") Ex. A (copy of the Reimbursement Agreement signed by Woodard on Nov. 19, 2001). The Agreement provided that Woodard would receive both her military pay and her HHC salary during her military leave, but would be required "to remit to the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation an amount equal to the amount [she] receive[d] in military pay* or salary, whichever [was] less, for any days in excess of the statutory entitlement of thirty calendar days or twenty-two work days within thirty days after the conclusion of ordered military leave."*fn2 Id.

In 2004, at the conclusion of Woodard's military service, HHC reminded Woodard of the terms of the Reimbursement Agreement and presented her with an accounting of the money she owed. Per initial calculations made by HHC's Director of Corporate Payroll Operations, John K. Yan ("Yan"), HHC informed Woodard in July 2004 that she owed $137,052.97 to HHC. Woodard I, 554 F. Supp. 2d at 345; Friedman Aff. Ex. D. This amount included:

(1) $144,141.98 Military pay received between 11/25/01 and 2/28/04 (the total time Woodard was on leave, except for thirty days at the beginning of her leave, during which she was entitled to receive both military pay and HHC salary)

(2) $6,213.25 "Extended military benefits overpaid," dated 2/29/04 -- 3/27/04

(3) - $6,645.21 "30 Calendar Days Military Leave Benefit 10/22/02 - 11/20/02"

(4) - $6,657.05 "30 Calendar Days Military Leave Benefit 10/22/03 - 11/20/03"

(5) = $137,052.97 Total Amount Owed Friedman Aff. Ex. D. at 7. However, this calculation erroneously included two extra thirty-day periods of double pay (rows (3) and (4) above) -- one for each calendar year of Woodard's absence. In actuality, Woodard was only entitled to one thirty-day period in which she received both HHC salary and military pay during her entire period of continuous military service.*fn3 Woodard I, 554 F. Supp. 2d at 345 n.11; see also N.Y. Milit. Law. § 242(5). Consequently, the amount of money owed by Woodard to HHC was recalculated in June 2005 as $146,771.32. Doyle Aff. Ex. C at 7. This amount broke down to:

(1) $144,141.98 Military pay received between 11/25/01 and 2/28/04 (the total time Woodard was on leave, except for thirty days at the beginning of her leave, during which she was entitled to receive both military pay and HHC salary)

(2) $6,213.25 "Extended military benefits overpaid," dated 2/29/04 -- 3/27/04

(3) - $3,583.91 "Recoupment: 9/10/04 - 1/28/05"

(4) = $146,771.32 Total Amount Owed Id. In contrast to the first calculation, this calculation excluded the 2002 and 2003 thirty-day periods of double pay, and included $3,583.91 that Woodard had made in payroll deduction payments (row (3)) between the dates of the two calculations. Compare id., with Friedman Aff. Ex. D at 7. Notably, "[t]he revised figure [did] not take into account Woodard's housing or food ...


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