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Jean-Louis v. American Airlines

July 30, 2010

VALENTIN JEAN-LOUIS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
AMERICAN AIRLINES, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Steven M. Gold United States Magistrate Judge

Memorandum & Order

GOLD, S., United States Magistrate Judge

Plaintiff brings this action against American Airlines ("American"), his former employer, pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., New York State Executive Law § 296 ("NYSHRL") and New York City Administrative Code § 8-107 ("NYCHRL").*fn1 Plaintiff now seeks to amend his complaint to add two individual defendants, to add a discrimination claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and to bring claims for tortious interference with employment relations and negligent infliction of emotional distress. Plaintiff's Motion to File an Amended Complaint ("Pl. Mem.") 1, Docket Entry 31. Defendant opposes the motion on the ground that plaintiff's proposed amendments are futile.*fn2 Defendant's Opposition to the Plaintiff's Motion to Amend ("Def. Mem.") 1, Docket Entry 33. The Honorable Frederic Block has referred the motion to me to decide.*fn3 Electronic Order dated Oct. 22, 2009. For the reasons that follow, plaintiff's motion is granted in part and denied in part.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, a Haitian black male, was employed by American in the Fleet Service division from March, 1999 until November, 2007. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 10, 17, 18.*fn4 Relevant to his motion, plaintiff alleges that a fellow Crew Chief, Steve Zografos, a white male, physically assaulted plaintiff on or about April 13, 2007. Id. ¶ 29. More specifically, Jean-Louis contends that he and Zografos exchanged heated words that included Zografos calling plaintiff a "faggot" and, after plaintiff responded that he "cannot be a faggot because he was with [Zografos'] mother last night," Zografos telling plaintiff that "My mother would never date a black guy." Id. Approximately ten to fifteen minutes after that, Zografos punched plaintiff in the face and head. Id. ¶ 30. Jean-Louis alleges that he required medical treatment for the injuries that resulted from Zografos' assault. Id. Plaintiff subsequently reported the incident to Anthony Gallo, his supervisor, a white male, who took no action against Zografos and told Jean-Louis to "get used to it, it's a white world." Id. ¶ 31. American then suspended plaintiff for having physical contact with another employee based on the April, 2007 incident with Zografos, although Zografos was not disciplined in any way for the incident. Id. ¶ 33. American subsequently terminated plaintiff's employment. Id. ¶ 40.

DISCUSSION

A party may amend its pleading by leave of court, which should be freely given "when justice so requires." FED. R. CIV. P. 15(a)(2). A district court, however, has discretion to deny leave to amend in appropriate circumstances, including where the amendment would be "futile."

Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962). See also Lucente v. Int'l Bus. Machs. Corp., 310 F.3d 243, 258 (2d Cir. 2002) ("One appropriate basis for denying leave to amend is that the proposed amendment is futile."); Milanese v. Rust-Oleum Corp., 244 F.3d 104, 110 (2d Cir. 2001) (citing Foman, 371 U.S. at 182). An amendment is considered futile if, for example, it could not defeat a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. See Riccuiti v. N.Y.C. Transit Auth., 941 F.2d 119, 123 (2d Cir. 1991). Thus, whether considered in the context of a motion to dismiss or opposition to a motion for leave to amend, the viability of a claim is evaluated by the same legal standard.

When considering whether plaintiff has stated a claim, a court must accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of plaintiff. Holmes v. Grubman, 568 F.3d 329, 335 (2d Cir. 2009). However, a pleading must contain "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). Allegations that "are no more than conclusions are not entitled to the assumption of truth." Id.

As noted above, plaintiff seeks to add three claims and to add two individual defendants -- Zografos and Gallo. Each of plaintiff's proposed amendments is addressed in turn below.

A. Tortious Interference with Employment Relations

Plaintiff proposes to bring a claim of tortious interference with employment relations against Zografos. Am. Compl. ¶ 83; Pl. Mem. 10. A plaintiff claiming tortious interference under New York law must establish four elements: 1) a valid contract, 2) knowledge by a third party of the contract, 3) conduct by the third party to intentionally and improperly procure the breach of the contract, and 4) damage to the plaintiff as a result of the breach. Albert v. Loksen, 239 F.3d 256, 274 (2d Cir. 2001). At-will employees, like plaintiff here, however, do not have employment contracts.*fn5 Id. Nonetheless, an at-will employee may establish a claim for tortious interference but only if the defendant engaged in fraud or misrepresentation, made threats, or acted with malice. Id.; see also Dooley v. Metro. Jewish Health Sys., 2003 WL 22171876, at *12 (E.D.N.Y. July 30, 2003); Guard-Life Corp. v. S. Parker Hardware Mfg. Corp., 50 N.Y.2d 183, 194 (1980); but see McCormick v. Chase, 2007 WL 2456444, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 29, 2007) (dismissing plaintiff's tortious interference claim after concluding that New York does not recognize such a cause of action for at-will employees).

Plaintiff's proposed amended complaint fails to allege that Zografos maliciously caused plaintiff to be fired or that Zografos threatened or defrauded plaintiff. See, e.g., Am. Compl. ¶¶ 17-42, 85. In fact, the complaint does not allege that Zografos had any role in the decision to fire plaintiff. Accordingly, plaintiff's motion to add a claim of intentional interference with employment relations is denied as futile.

B. Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress

Plaintiff seeks to add a claim of negligent infliction of emotional distress against all defendants based on the alleged assault by Zografos. Am. Compl. ¶ 87; Pl. Mem. 10. American contends that plaintiff's proposed claim of negligent infliction of emotional distress is barred by New York's Workers' Compensation statute, N.Y. WORKERS' COMP. LAW § 29(6), which provides that the statute "shall be the exclusive remedy to an employee . . . injured . . . by the negligence or wrong of another in the same employ."

Courts routinely dismiss workplace negligence claims, including claims based on harassment and infliction of emotional distress, in light of the exclusive remedy provision of the Workers' Compensation statute. See, e.g., Ferris v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., 277 F.3d 128, 138 (2d Cir. 2001); Torres v. Pisano, 116 F.3d 625, 640 (2d Cir. 1997); Gallo v. Alitalia-Linee Aeree Italiane-Societa per Azioni, 585 F. Supp. 2d 520, 554 (S.D.N.Y. 2008) (citing Burlew v. Am. Mutual Ins. Co., 63 N.Y.2d 412, 416-17 (1984)); Pasqualini v. MortgageIT, Inc., 498 F. Supp. 2d 659, 666 (S.D.N.Y. 2007); Thomas v. Ne. Theatre Corp., 51 A.D.3d 588, 589 (1st Dep't 2008). In addition, a claim of negligent infliction of emotional distress based on intentional conduct is not a viable cause of action. See Naccarato v. Scarselli, 124 F. Supp. 2d 36, 45 (N.D.N.Y. 2000) ("When a plaintiff brings . . . assault claims which are premised upon a defendant's allegedly intentional conduct, a negligence claim with respect to the same conduct will not lie."); Universal Calvary Church v. City of New York, 2000 WL 1745048, at *12 (S.D.N.Y. ...


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