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Kriss v. Schenectady City School Dist.

August 24, 2010

RONALD KRISS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
SCHENECTADY CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT; AND STEPHEN RAUCCI, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Glenn T. Suddaby, United States District Court Judge

MEMORANDUM DECISION and ORDER

Currently before the Court in this employment civil rights action, filed by Ronald Kriss ("Plaintiff") against the Schenectady City School District and Stephen Raucci ("Defendants"), are the following two motions: (1) Plaintiff's motion to amend his Complaint pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(a); and (2) Defendants' opposition to that motion, and their cross-motion to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). (Dkt. Nos. 18, 25.) For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's motion is granted, and Defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part.

I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND

A. Plaintiff's Original Complaint

Generally, liberally construed, Plaintiff's original Complaint alleges as follows: (1) he was employed as a custodial supervisor for the Schenectady City School District ("Defendant SCSD") from August 29, 1998, through about October 20, 2006; (2) beginning in May, 2003, he began reporting to Defendant Raucci, who held the title of director of facilities; (3) "[t]hereafter, [he] began to suffer from a diagnosed anxiety disorder, which is causally connected to [Defendant] Raucci's behavior"; (4) "[he] also suffers from irritable bowel syndrome"; (5) "[o]n more than one occasion, [Defendant] Raucci would say things to ridicule and humiliate [him]"; (6) "[m]ore than once, [Defendant] Raucci directly attempted to grab the [his] genitals, forcing [him] to physically remove himself from Raucci's grasp or otherwise flee to escape"; (7) "[Defendant] Raucci would additionally use sexually charged language in [his] presence despite [his] objection"; (8) "[d]ue to Raucci's conduct, [he] was forced to take medical leave on May 29, 2005"; (9) "[o]n July 6, 2005, [he] filed a complaint with the Director of Personnel for the District, Michael Stricos, alleging sexual harassment";*fn1 (10) a conference was subsequently held on October 6, 2005, "in which [he] outlined Raucci's offensive conduct"; (11) "[a]fter the meeting, [he] was assured that some remedial action would be taken"; (12) "[u]pon information and belief, no action was ever taken"; (13) "[he] did not return to work" after taking medical leave; (14) on October 20, 2006, he "received notice of his termination by the District"*fn2 ; (15) on February 8, 2007, following his termination, he "inquired with Michael Stricos regarding the status of his complaints . . . and was informed that since [he] was terminated, there were 'no issues to resolve'"; and (16) "[a] finding was . . . made by the New York State Worker's Compensation Board that there was a causal connection between [Defendant] Raucci's conduct and [his] injuries."*fn3 (See generally Dkt. No. 1 [Plf.'s Compl.].)

Based on these allegations, Plaintiff asserts the following claims: (1) a claim of hostile work environment under 42 U.S.C. § 2000e ("Title VII") against Defendant SCSD; (2) a claim of disability discrimination under 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") against Defendant SCSD; (3) a claim of retaliation under Title VII against Defendant SCSD; (4) a claim of retaliation under the ADA against Defendant SCSD; (5) a claim of disability discrimination under § 296 of the New York State Human Right's Law ("NYSHRL") against Defendant SCSD; (6) a claim of retaliation under the NYSHRL against Defendant SCSD; (7) a claim of denial of equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment against Defendants; and (8) a claim of retaliation under the First Amendment against Defendant SCSD. (Dkt. No. 1.)

Familiarity with the remaining factual allegations supporting these claims in Plaintiff's original Complaint is assumed in this Decision and Order, which is intended primarily for review by the parties. (Id.)

B. Plaintiff's Proposed Amended Complaint

On August 15, 2008, Plaintiff filed a motion to amend his Complaint pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(2).*fn4 (Dkt. No. 18, Attach. 12.) In seeking to amend his Complaint, Plaintiff argues that amendment is proper under Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(2) for five reasons: (1) there is no dilatory motive behind the request; (2) the request is not being made in bad faith; (3) the request is not being made after undue delay; (4) the request is not futile; and (5) Defendants will not suffer prejudice if he is granted leave to amend.

Filed with his motion to amend is his proposed Amended Complaint, in which he seeks to add three Defendants and two claims. (Dkt. No. 18, Attach. 5.) More specifically, Plaintiff's proposed Amended Complaint seeks to add as Defendants (1) the Schenectady City Board of Education (the "Board"), (2) Eric Ely, individually and in his capacity as Superintendent of the SCSD, and (3) Michael Stricos, individually and in his capacity as Director of Human Resources. (Id.) In addition, Plaintiff's proposed Amended Complaint seeks to add the following claims: (1) a procedural due process claim against Defendants SCSD, the Board, and Ely; (2) a substantive due process claim against Defendants SCSD, Raucci, and Stricos; and (3) a claim of failure to provide proper notice of his right to receive continued benefits under 29 U.S.C. § 1166 against Defendant SCSD.*fn5 (Id.)Plaintiff's proposed Amended Complaint also omits Plaintiff's claim of retaliation under the NYSHRL asserted in his original Complaint. (Id.)

Familiarity with the factual allegations supporting these claims in Plaintiff's proposed Amended Complaint is assumed in this Decision and Order, which is intended primarily for review by the parties. (Id.)

C. Defendants' Motion to Dismiss

Generally, in support of their motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), Defendants argue as follows: (1) Plaintiff is barred from bringing this action against SCSD because he chose Worker's Compensation as a remedy; (2) Plaintiff's hostile work environment claim must be dismissed because he has failed to allege facts plausibly suggesting a claim of hostile work environment; (3) Plaintiff's ADA claims must be dismissed because he failed to notify his employer of any disabilities from which he suffered; (4) Defendant SCSD is protected from liability by the Ellerth/Faragher affirmative defense because SCSD is not in violation of its own nondiscrimination/anti-sexual harassment policy; (5) Plaintiff's equal protection claim must be dismissed because he has failed to allege facts plausibly suggesting that his equal protection rights were violated; (6) because Plaintiff's allegations against SCSD are "extreme and outrageous," they should not be addressed by the Court; (7) Defendant Raucci's criminal history is "a red herring" that should not be considered by the Court; (8) because Plaintiff was provided with all of the procedural process he was due under the New York Civil Service Law, his Fourteenth Amendment procedural due process claim must be dismissed; (9) Plaintiff's claim under 29 U.S.C. § 1166 should be dismissed because, at the time he was terminated, he was not receiving health care benefits from SCSD, and therefore no notice was required; (10) Plaintiff's claims under the ADA and Title VII are barred by the statute of limitations;*fn6 (11) Plaintiff should not be permitted to amend his Complaint to add new Defendants (or claims against these new Defendants) because he has failed to exhaust his administrative remedies; (12) Plaintiff's claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 must be dismissed because he has failed to "establish a prima facie case of discrimination"; and (13) Plaintiff "has a propensity for claiming sexual harassment in his employment settings," (apparently to suggest that Plaintiff's claims are therefore without merit). (See generally Dkt. No. 25, Attach. 6. [Defs.' Memo. of Law].)

Defendants also argue that the Court should impose sanctions against Plaintiff based on his "blatantly false" and "misleading" pleadings. (Dkt. No. 25, Attach. 6.) However, because Defendants have not moved for sanctions pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 11, the Court declines to consider this argument in this Decision and Order.

In Plaintiff's response to Defendants' motion to dismiss, he argues as follows: (1) New York State's Worker's Compensation Law does not bar him from recovery under Title VII, the ADA, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, or the NYSHRL; (2) he has alleged facts plausibly suggesting a claim of hostile work environment; (3) he has alleged facts plausibly suggesting that Defendant SCSD was on notice of his disabilities, and therefore his ADA claims should not be dismissed; (4) because Defendants failed to address Plaintiff's NYSHRL claim, that claim should not be dismissed; (5) Defendant SCSD is not entitled to the Ellerth/Faragher affirmative defense because tangible employment action was taken against him, and, even if the defense is available to Defendant SCSD, it is inapplicable because he has alleged facts plausibly suggesting that Defendant SCSD failed to exercise reasonable care to prevent or correct the sexually harassing behavior that he was experiencing; (6) he has alleged facts plausibly suggesting a claim for violations of his right to free speech and his right to equal protection; (7) his allegations of extreme and outrageous conduct, and criminality, should be given the same weight as any other allegations considered in a 12(b)(6) motion; (8) because Defendants failed to properly address his procedural due process claim, that claim should not be dismissed; (9) he has alleged facts plausibly suggesting that Defendant SCSD violated 29 U.S.C. § 1166, and the evidence introduced by Defendant misleads the Court on the issue; (10) his claims under Title VII and the ADA are not barred by the statute of limitations; (11) because his claims under Title VII, the ADA, and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 are adequately plead, they should not be dismissed; (12) Defendants' argument that Plaintiff has a propensity for claiming sexual harassment is ridiculous and irrelevant; and (13) Defendants' request for sanctions should be denied. (See generally Dkt. No. 30 [Plf.'s Response Memo. of Law].)

In their reply, Defendants argue as follows: (1) the determinations rendered by the Workers' Compensation Board do not have "collateral estoppel affect" on the current action; (2) Plaintiff was not entitled to COBRA notification under 29 U.S.C. § 1166 because (a) Plaintiff's application for health insurance beginning on October 1, 2006, and ending on December 31, 2006, was improper, and (b) Plaintiff failed to pay the requisite premiums for this insurance during this period;*fn7 (3) contrary to Plaintiff's argument, there are no witnesses to corroborate his testimony at his Workers' Compensation Hearing regarding the occurrence of "many grossly inappropriate events"; and (4) "Plaintiff's termination was compliant with New York Civil Service Law § 71 in that he had been out of work for at least one year and indicated that he was incapacitated from the performance of the duties of his job." (See generally Dkt. No. 32 [Defs.' Reply Memo. of Law].)

II. RELEVANT LEGAL STANDARDS

A. Legal Standard Governing Motions to Amend a Complaint

Motions to amend a complaint are governed by Fed. R. Civ. P. 15, which states that leave to amend "shall be freely given when justice so requires." Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a); Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962); Manson v. Stacescu, 11 F.3d 1127, 1133 (2d Cir. 1993). Nevertheless, leave to amend a complaint is not automatic, and a court may deny a motion to amend for good cause, "such as undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive on the part of the movant, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, undue prejudice to the opposing party by virtue of the allowance of the amendment, futility of amendment, etc." Foman, 371 U.S. at 182; S.S. Silberblatt, Inc. v. East Harlem Pilot Block-Bldg. 1 Hous., 608 F.2d 28, 42 (2d Cir. 1979).

B. Legal Standard Governing Motions to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim

"A motion to dismiss on the basis that an action is barred by the statute of limitations is analyzed under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), not 12(b)(1)." Garner v. DII Indus., LLC, 08-CV-6191, 2010 WL 456801, at *1 (W.D.N.Y. Feb. 4, 2010) (citing Ghartey v. St John's Queens Hosp., 869 F.2d 160, 162 [2d Cir. 1989]).

It has long been understood that a defendant may base a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim on either or both of two grounds: (1) a challenge to the "sufficiency of the pleading" under Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2); or (2) a challenge to the legal cognizability of the claim. Jackson v. Onondaga County, 549 F. Supp.2d 204, 211, nn. 15-16 (N.D.N.Y. 2008) (McAvoy, J., adopting Report-Recommendation on de novo review) (citations omitted).

With regard to the first ground, Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2) requires that a pleading contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2) (emphasis added). By requiring this "showing," Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2) requires that the pleading contain a short and plain statement that "give[s] the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Jackson, 549 F. Supp.2d at 212, n.17 (citations omitted). The main purpose of this rule is to "facilitate a proper decision on the merits." Rusyniak v. Gensini, 629 F. Supp.2d 203, 213 & n.32 (N.D.N.Y. 2009) (Suddaby, J.) (citations omitted).

The Supreme Court has long characterized this pleading requirement under Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2) as "simplified" and "liberal," and has repeatedly rejected judicially established pleading requirements that exceed this liberal requirement. Jackson, 549 F. Supp.2d at 212, n.20 (citations omitted). However, even this liberal notice pleading standard "has its limits." Id. at 212, n.21 (citations omitted). As a result, numerous Supreme Court and Second Circuit decisions exist holding that a pleading has failed to meet this liberal notice pleading standard.

Id. at 213, n.22 (citations omitted); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949-52 (2009).

Most notably, in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, the Supreme Court reversed an appellate decision holding that a complaint had stated an actionable antitrust claim under 15 U.S.C. § 1. Bell Atlantic Corporation v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955 (2007). In doing so, the Court "retire[d]" the famous statement by the Court in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957), that "a complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1968-69. Rather than turning on the conceivability of an actionable claim, the Court clarified, the "fair notice" standard turns on the plausibility of an actionable claim. Id. at 1965-74. The Court explained that, while this does not mean that a pleading need "set out in detail the facts upon which [the claim is based]," it does mean that the pleading must contain at least "some factual allegation[s]." Id. at 1965 (citations omitted). More specifically, the "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level [to a plausible level]," assuming (of course) that all the allegations in the complaint are true. Id. (citations omitted).

As have other Circuits, the Second Circuit has recognized that the clarified plausibility standard that was articulated by the Supreme Court in Twombly governs all claims, including claims brought by pro se litigants (although the plausibility ofthose claims is to be assessed generously, in light of the special solicitude normally afforded pro se litigants).*fn8 It should be emphasized that Fed. R. Civ. P. 8's plausibility standard, explained in Twombly, was in no way retracted or diminished by the Supreme Court's decision (two weeks later) in Erickson v. Pardus, in which (when reviewing a pro se pleading) the Court stated, "Specific facts are not necessary" to successfully state a claim under Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). Erickson v. Pardus, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 2200 (2007) [citation omitted; emphasis added]. That statement was merely an abbreviation of the often-repeated point of law--first offered in Conley and repeated in Twombly--that a pleading need not "set out in detail the facts upon which [the claim is based]" in order to successfully state a claim. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1965, n.3 (citing Conley, 355 U.S. at 47) (emphasis added). That statement did not mean that all pleadings may achieve the requirement of "fair notice" without ever alleging any facts whatsoever. Clearly, there must still be enough fact set out (however set out, whether in detail or in a generalized fashion) to raise a right to relief above the speculative level to a plausible level.*fn9

As the Supreme Court explained, "[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). "[D]etermining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief . . . [is] a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense. . . .

[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged--but it has not show[n]--that the pleader is entitled to relief." Ashcroft, 129 S.Ct. at 1950 [internal quotation marks and citations omitted]. Rule 8 "demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Id. at 1949 (citations omitted). Thus, a pleading that only "tenders naked assertions devoid of further factual enhancement" will not suffice. Id. (internal citations and alterations omitted).

C. Legal Standards Governing Plaintiff's Claims

Because the parties to this action have demonstrated, in their memoranda of law, an accurate understanding of the relevant points of law contained in the legal standards governing Plaintiff's claims in this action, the Court will not recite, in their entirety, those legal standards in this Decision and Order, which (again) is intended primarily for review by the parties. (See Dkt. No. 25, Attach. 6 [Defs.' Memo. of Law]; Dkt. No. 30 [Plf.'s Response Memo. of Law]; Dkt. No. 32 [Defs.' Reply Memo. of Law].)

The Court will only pause to clarify the applicability of the burden-shifting framework laid out in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973), on a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The parties appear to agree that claims for age or sex discrimination, or for retaliation, under the ADEA, Title VII, and the HRL, are all analyzed using the burden-shifting framework laid out in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973), and later refined in Texas Dep't of Cmty. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248 (1981). As a result, "a plaintiff alleging claims under these statutes must first establish a prima facie case, and, if the employer succeeds in rebutting the plaintiff's proof by presenting evidence that the plaintiff was terminated for a legitimate, lawful reason, the plaintiff must present evidence from which a factfinder could conclude that unlawful animus was the real reason for the termination." Foster v. Humane Soc'y of Rochester and Monroe County, Inc., 09-CV-6569, 2010 WL 2867325, at *4 (W.D.N.Y. July 21, 2010) (citation omitted).

However, the parties appear to disagree as to whether the referenced burden-shifting framework applies on a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. After carefully reviewing the case law, the Court concludes that, on a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, "it is unnecessary to go through th[e] entire [McDonnell Douglas] analysis . . . ." Foster, 2010 WL 2867325, at *4 (explaining that "[i]n Swierkiewicz v. Sorema, N.A., 534 U.S. 506 (2002), the Supreme Court held that there is no heightened pleading requirement for Title VII cases, and that an employment discrimination complaint need not allege specific facts that establish a prima facie case of discrimination" (emphasis added).*fn10 Rather, to overcome a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, a complaint in a Title VII case need only do what all complaints need do--allege facts plausibly suggesting a claim upon which relief can be granted. Morales v. Long Island R.R. Co., 09-CV-8714, 2010 WL 1948606, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. May 14, 2010).

III. ANALYSIS OF PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO AMEND

Under the circumstances, the Court finds that Plaintiff has shown cause for the granting of his motion to amend his Complaint. Among other things, the motion was filed less than six months after the Complaint was filed, the request to amend is Plaintiff's first; discovery has yet to commence; the Court is unable to conceive of (nor have Defendants made the Court aware of) any reason why Defendants would be prejudiced if Plaintiff's motion to amend his Complaint were granted; and granting leave to amend would not be entirely futile for the reasons discussed below in Part IV of this Decision and Order. (For example, the Court notes that one of Plaintiff's proposed new claims survives the futility argument contained in Defendants' motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim.)

With regard to Defendants' argument that Plaintiff should not be permitted to amend his Complaint to add new Defendants (or claims against these new Defendants) because Plaintiff has failed to exhaust his administrative remedies, the Court rejects this argument. As noted by Plaintiff in his memorandum of law in opposition to Defendants' motion to dismiss, under the facts and circumstances of this case, there is no administrative prerequisite to a claim brought under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) or 42 U.S.C. ¶ 1983.

As a result, Plaintiff's motion to amend his Complaint is granted. Plaintiff is directed to file a signed copy of his proposed Amended Complaint in accordance with this Decision and Order, and in accordance with Rule 7.1(a)(4) of the Local Rules of Practice of this Court. To the extent that Plaintiff wishes to cure any of the pleading deficiencies in his proposed Amended Complaint, Plaintiff is directed to move to amend his Amended Complaint after it is properly filed.

IV. ANALYSIS OF DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS

A. Plaintiff's Claims Under Title VII Against ...


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