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Dylan G. Johnston v. Carnegie Corporation of New York

March 23, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Paul A. Crotty, United States District Judge:



Pro se Plaintiff Dylan G. Johnston ("Johnston" or "Plaintiff") brings this action against his former employer, defendant Carnegie Corporation of New York ("Carnegie"), as well as certain members of its management - specifically, President Vartan Gregorian ("Gregorian"), Chief of Staff and Operations Jeannie D'Onofrio ("D'Onofrio"), and Vice President of Human Relations Ellen Bloom ("Bloom") (collectively, the "Individual Defendants") (all, collectively, "Defendants"). Johnston claims that Defendants discriminated against him based on his mental disability in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C. § 12112, et seq. ("ADA"), the New York State Human Rights Law, N.Y. Exec. Law § 290, et seq. ("NYSHRL"), and the New York City Human Rights Law, N.Y. City Admin Code § 8-101, et seq. ("NYCHRL"). The case was referred to Magistrate Judge Freeman on March 15, 2010 for general pretrial supervision.

Defendants move to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) on two grounds. First, Defendants argue that Johnston's claims are barred by a release Johnston signed in exchange for his severance package. Second, Defendants argue that Johnston fails to allege facts sufficient to support his claims. Magistrate Judge Freeman issued her Report and Recommendation ("R&R") on February 24, 2011, recommending that the Court grant Defendants' motion to the extent it seeks dismissal of the ADA claims asserted against the Individual Defendants in their individual capacities. Magistrate Judge Freeman further recommended that the Court afford Plaintiff 30 days to replead his failure-to-promote claim. Finally, Magistrate Judge Freeman recommended that the Court deny Defendants' motion to dismiss in all other respects. Johnston timely filed objections on March 9, 2011. Defendants filed no objections.

Having reviewed the R&R as well as Johnston's objections, the Court adopts Magistrate Judge Freeman's Report and Recommendation. The Defendants' motion to dismiss is, therefore, GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.


I. Facts

Johnston was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 17 and began working at Carnegie as a paid intern in November 2006. At the outset, he worked 20 hours per week. In June 2007, he was asked to take on additional responsibilities and work more hours and, eventually his average hours worked per week grew from 20 to roughly 32. In January 2008, Johnston applied for a full-time "Investment Associate" position, but he later withdrew his application after he was discouraged from pursuing the position and was informed that there was a large volume of applicants.

On August 11, 2008, D'Onofrio told Johnston that his internship would conclude in December 2008, and suggested that Johnston seek employment elsewhere. Johnston continued working an average of 32 hours per week until November 2008. At that time, his hours were reduced back to 20 hours per week, and Johnston alleges that D'Onofrio reprimanded him for working additional time. In addition, Bloom allegedly told Johnston that he would not be given a full-time job "because of benefits."

In a January 8, 2009 email to Bloom, Johnston requested a raise in his hourly pay. He also asked Bloom if his reduction in hours was "an issue of benefits." Bloom denied Johnston's request for a raise, and encouraged him to seek employment elsewhere. In response, Johnston pressed Bloom for a reason for his reduction in hours, stating that "[i]f it is because you did a background check and found that I was disabled and think your healthcare co-pay will go up - very low indeed." (EEOC Charge 25.) During a meeting with Bloom and D'Onofrio the following day, Johnston's employment was terminated.

Upon termination, Johnston was offered a severance package in exchange for signing a release of liability. The details of the agreement were set out in a letter dated January 12, 2009. (See Gilbride Decl., Ex. B ("Agreement")). According to the Agreement, Johnston would continue to be paid through March 13, 2009, but he would cease working on January 12, 2009. As a result, he would receive a lump-sum payment of $4,050.*fn2 Johnston had 21 days to review, sign and return the document, and he could unilaterally revoke the release for seven days after signing it. On January 15, 2009, Johnston signed the release and submitted it to Carnegie. Johnston claims that he continued to work without compensation until February 27, 2009 in exchange for positive recommendations and referrals for future employment. Johnston claims the recommendations and referrals he received were inadequate, and that further recommendations were withheld once Carnegie learned that Johnston had filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC").

Johnston claims that he disclosed his medical condition to Defendants anecdotally over the course of his employment, and that, as a result, Defendants unlawfully discriminated against him.

Specifically, Johnston claims that Carnegie actions were designed to prevent him from obtaining medical benefits, that he was terminated in retaliation for his allegations of discrimination in his January 8, 2009 email exchange with Bloom, that he was not adequately compensated for his work between January 12, 2009 and February 27, 2009, and that Carnegie withheld recommendations and referrals after learning that Johnston had filed an EEOC claim. Moreover, Johnston claims that the release he signed is unenforceable because he ...

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