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Wanda Dansler-Hill v. Rochester Institute of Technology

February 11, 2011


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



Plaintiff Wanda Dansler-Hill ("plaintiff") brings this action alleging that defendant Rochester Institute of Technology ("RIT"), discriminated and retaliated against her with respect to her employment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. §12101 et seq., and New York Human Rights Law ("NYHRL"), N.Y. Exec. Law §290 et seq., and intentionally and negligently subjected her to the infliction of emotional distress.

Familiarity with the relevant facts, summarized here, is presumed. Plaintiff was employed by RIT for approximately fifteen years. In or about February 2008, plaintiff left work for a disability leave occasioned by a back injury, anxiety and depression. Pursuant to its usual policies, RIT held plaintiff's job open for six months (26 weeks). However, after the allotted period expired, plaintiff remained disabled and unable to return to work. She applied and was approved for long-term disability benefits through RIT, and her employment with RIT was officially terminated on or about August 19, 2008.

On or about March 31, 2009, plaintiff filed a discrimination complaint against RIT with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), alleging that she had been discriminated against on the basis of her race, and alleged disabilities. After investigating plaintiff's claims, on January 27, 2010, the EEOC issued a "no cause" finding and issued plaintiff a Right to Sue letter. Plaintiff timely commenced this action on March 1, 2010.

RIT now moves to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 8(a)(2) and 12(b)(6), on the grounds that plaintiff has failed to allege a plausible claim. For the reasons set forth below, RIT's motion to dismiss (Dkt. #3) is granted, and the complaint is dismissed.


I. Motions to Dismiss Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 12(b)(6)

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). In deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 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." Sheppard v. Beerman, 18 F.3d 147, 150 (2d Cir. 1994). Nonetheless, "a plaintiff's obligation . . . requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do. Factual 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).

Plaintiff appears to confuse the standard by which motions are decided under Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 12(b)(6), and the standard for deciding motions for summary judgment under Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 56: she repeatedly urges that RIT's motion be denied on the ground that RIT has failed to support its arguments with sworn affidavits. Plaintiff is mistaken. Unlike motions for summary judgment, which employ shifting evidentiary burdens and require the parties to produce supporting evidence in admissible form, analysis of the instant motion is guided solely by the pleadings and the documents incorporated therein by reference, wherein the truth of plaintiff's allegations is presumed. See Savino v. Fiorella, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 43284 at *10-*11 (W.D.N.Y. 2007).

II. Plaintiff's Title VII and NYHRL Discrimination and Retaliation Claims

A. Discrimination

Plaintiff generally alleges that the termination of her employment was the result of discrimination. To set forth a prima facie case of employment discrimination, plaintiff must allege:

(1) membership in a protected class; (2) qualification for the job in question; (3) an adverse employment action; and (4) circumstances supporting an inference of discrimination. See McDonnell Douglass Corp. v . Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973).

Plaintiff's discrimination claim is insufficiently stated as a matter of law. Plaintiff does not allege that she was qualified to perform the requirements of her position at the time her employment was terminated, or at any point thereafter. To the contrary, plaintiff left her job to go on disability leave in February 2008, and was still totally disabled six months later, at which point her employment was terminated and she was approved for long-term disability benefits. (Dkt. #1 at 9; Dkr. #3-3, Exh. G at ¶5). See generally Faruq v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 4676 at *15 (W.D.N.Y. 2006) (dismissing discrimination claim as insufficiently stated where plaintiff alleges a lack of training that made her unqualified "by definition" for the position at issue, and otherwise makes no allegation that she was qualified); Pearson-Fraser v. Bell Atl., 2002 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 25216 at *9 (S.D.N.Y. 2002) (dismissing discrimination claim where plaintiff fails to allege that she was qualified for the pertinent position). Because her allegations establish that she was not qualified to perform the requirements of her position -- and in fact, had not been qualified to do so for several months -- at or around the time her employment was terminated, plaintiff has failed to state a claim for discriminatory termination, and that claim must be dismissed.

B. Retaliation

Plaintiff alleges that she attempted to remedy discrimination at her workplace "by contacting senior RIT management, to no avail," for which RIT subjected her to retaliation. (Dkt. #1, ΒΆ17). This contention relies upon a letter plaintiff alleges she asked her attorney to write to RIT management on February 2, 2009 -- six months after ...

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