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Michelle Cummings v. Brookhaven Science Associates

December 20, 2011

MICHELLE CUMMINGS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
BROOKHAVEN SCIENCE ASSOCIATES, LLC A/K/A BROOKHAVEN NATIONAL LABORATORY DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hurley, Senior District Judge:

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

Plaintiff Michelle Cummings commenced this action alleging that her former employer, defendant Brookhaven Science Associates, LLC, also known as Brookhaven National Laboratory, discriminated and retaliated against her based upon her race, national origin, gender, and disability in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. ("Title VII"), the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C. § 12112 et seq. ("ADA"), and the New York State Human Rights Law, N.Y. Exec. Law § 290 et seq. ("NYHRL"). Plaintiff also alleged that defendant violated the Equal Pay Act of 1963, 29 U.S.C. § 206(d).

Presently before the Court is defendant's motion to dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c).*fn1 For the reasons set forth below, defendant's motion is granted in part and denied in part.

BACKGROUND

The following factual recitation is taken from the pleadings and exhibits attached thereto, as well as from certain administrative agency filings, of which the Court may take judicial notice. Plaintiff's Employment

Plaintiff is "a Black female of African-American ethnicity" who was employed by defendant between 1985 and 1998. (Compl. ¶¶ 7, 11, 49.) Plaintiff originally worked as a student intern and was hired as a full-time employee on May 20, 1985 into the position of Senior Data Services Assistant. (Id. ¶¶ 11, 12.) Throughout her employment, plaintiff worked in a "variety of positions," received "excellent" performance evaluations, and was "promoted several times." (Id. ¶¶ 13, 14, 15.) Her final promotion occurred on August 1, 1995, when she was promoted to the position of "Supervisor, Applications Support, Q.A. Coordinator and Training Coordinator." (Id. ¶ 16.)

Plaintiff's Complaints Regarding Unequal Pay

Of the four supervisors who worked in plaintiff's department, plaintiff was the only black person and the only female. (Id. ¶ 17.) Plaintiff also held a Master of Business Administration. (Id. ¶ 19.) Ever since plaintiff was promoted to a supervisory position in August 1995, she received less pay than the three other supervisors in her department; all three were white men and two did not have a college degree. (Id. ¶¶ 18, 20.)

Plaintiff "complained to management" regarding her unequal pay "and subsequently was placed in a lower position." (Id. ¶ 21.) Specifically, defendant "reorganized" plaintiff's department, which "resulted in Plaintiff's supervisory role being diminished." (Id. ¶¶ 22, 23.) Plaintiff was placed under the supervision of a white female named Lisa Kelly. (Id. ¶23.) According to plaintiff, Kelly had been hired by defendant in February 1996 and held a supervisory position despite having "no system[s] experience." (Id. ¶¶ 23-25.) Thus, Kelly received a higher pay than plaintiff because Kelly held "a supervisory position for which she was unqualified." (Id. ¶ 26.) Plaintiff asserts that "the restructuring was discriminatorily applied to her position and her chain of command." (Id.)

Plaintiff complained about the reorganization, as well as her resulting "demotion," to Kelly and to "other employees" of defendant. (Id. ¶ 27.) Plaintiff "was assured that a review would be conducted of all salary levels paid to employees within her division." (Id. ¶ 28.) After that salary review, however, plaintiff's salary "remained unaffected . . . [and] lower than other supervisors in her Division." (Id. ¶ 29.) Plaintiff was the only supervisor who complained about a pay disparity. (Id. ¶ 30.)

Plaintiff's Medical Leave

In April 1997, plaintiff was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and took a seven-week leave from her employment. (Id. ¶¶ 31, 32.) According to the Complaint, "[o]n another occasion, Plaintiff took another extended sick leave presumably for the same reason." (Id. ¶ 33.) Plaintiff alleges that, as a result of her taking these medical leaves, defendant was aware that plaintiff "was suffering from a serious medical condition." (Id. ¶ 34.) Upon plaintiff's return from her second sick leave,*fn2 Kelly "complained to Plaintiff that she was 'not dependable.'" (Id. ¶ 35.)

When plaintiff resumed work following her sick leaves, she remained concerned about the disparate "salary grades" assigned to her and Kelly, respectively, and maintained her belief that Kelly did not have sufficient experience to be placed in a supervisory position over plaintiff. (See id. ¶ 36.) Plaintiff alleges that, at some point after she took her sick leaves, she discovered that she "was no longer listed as a supervisor." (Id. ¶ 37.) Plaintiff complained to Kelly about these events, and Kelly responded: "'It doesn't make sense for you to be supervising if I'm supervising.'" (Id. ¶¶ 38, 39.) Plaintiff then complained to her manager, William J. Foyt, a white male, about "the propriety of her subordination to KELLY and the respective pay grades for supervisors in the Department in general and her salary grade in comparison to KELLY." (Id. ¶ 40.) Foyt responded that plaintiff's "reassignment would last for only one year." (Id. ¶ 41.) Plaintiff's Complaints in November 1997.

In November 1997, plaintiff complained that "the steady elimination of her supervisory duties and responsibilities," along with the pay disparity between her and other supervisors in her division, were discriminatory. (Id. ¶ 42.) Plaintiff further complained that "the demotion in her job responsibilities had caused her great stress, which, in turn, exacerbated her medical condition and disability." (Id. ¶ 43.) The Complaint does not specify to whom plaintiff lodged these complaints.

Also in November 1997, plaintiff informed Robert D'Angio, a Human Resources Manager, "that she attributed the pay discrepancies and diminished job duties to her race and gender, her prior complaints about discrimination, and her disability." (Id. ¶ 44.) Plaintiff advised D'Angio that "she believed her advancement opportunities . . . were restricted and nonexistent as a result." (Id. ¶ 45.) At some point after plaintiff lodged this complaint with D'Angio, he "warned" plaintiff: "'You can't challenge the Manager. You should resign. Go home, and make an appointment to see your shrink.'" (Id. ¶ 46.)

Plaintiff's Demotion and Termination

Plaintiff alleges that at some point, although she does not specify when, she was "demoted to a mere training role" by Foyt. (Id. ¶ 47.) This demotion further "humiliated and upset" plaintiff and had "a negative impact on her illness." (Id. ¶ 48.) On February 19, 1998, plaintiff advised Foyt that "she no longer could handle the pressure and humiliation of the continued and increased diminution of her role within the Division and that she was quitting due to the fact that they were not addressing her complaint which was exacerbating her illness." (Id. ¶ 49.) Initially, Foyt responded that plaintiff "'couldn't be replaced' because she 'was critical.'" (Id. ¶ 50.) Plaintiff "indicated that the constant humiliation was making her medical condition worse" and stated: "'I'm not well. I'm on antidepressants, and my medical condition comes under the ADA. I don't think I can stay here any longer.'" (Id.) At that point, "Foyt immediately told Plaintiff that she was being laid off." (Id.)

Plaintiff's Administrative Charge of Discrimination

On July 22, 1998, plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination (the "Charge") with the New York State Division of Human Rights ("SDHR"). (Decl. of Nadira S. Stewart, Esq., dated Aug. 8, 2011 ("Stewart Decl."), Ex. C.) On July 6, 2009, almost eleven years later,*fn3 the SDHR issued a Determination and Order of Dismissal for Administrative Convenience (the "SDHR Order"). (Stewart Decl., Ex. E.) The SDHR dismissed the Charge on the grounds of "administrative convenience" based on its determination that its processing of the Charge would "not advance the State's human rights goals." (Id. at 1.) Specifically, the SDHR Order noted as follows:

The United States District Court, Southern District of New York has declared that the [SDHR] lacks jurisdiction to enforce the State Human Rights Law against the Respondent Brookhaven National Laboratory to the extent that it is a federal enclave. Brookhaven Science Associates, LLC v. Michelle Cheney Donaldson, Commissioner of the New York State Division of Human Rights, 2007 WL 2319141 (S.D.N.Y.). (Id.) The SDHR Order informed plaintiff that the Charge had also been filed under Title VII and the ADA, which statutes are enforced by the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), and that plaintiff had a right to request review of the action by the EEOC. (Id. at 2.) Plaintiff did so (Compl. ¶ 51) and, on December 15, 2010, the EEOC issued a Dismissal and Notice of Rights (the "Right to Sue Letter").*fn4 (Stewart Decl., Ex. F.) This action was commenced thereafter.

The Complaint

The Complaint sets forth four claims for relief. First, plaintiff asserts that defendant violated Title VII by discriminating against her and creating a hostile work environment based upon plaintiff's gender, race, and national origin. Plaintiff also alleges that defendant retaliated against her because she complained about defendant's discrimination and harassment. (Compl. ¶¶ 54-56.) According to plaintiff, defendant "creat[ed] such a hostile work environment that [she] was compelled to resign." (Id. ¶ 56.) Plaintiff's second cause of action contains discrimination, hostile work environment, and retaliation claims under the ADA. The third cause of action asserts a claim under the Equal Pay Act,*fn5 and the fourth cause of action alleges that defendant violated the NYHRL.

In her opposition papers, plaintiff has conceded the non-viability of her claims under the NYHRL (see Pl.'s Opp'n at 9 n.3, 13 n.6), and so the fourth cause of action is hereby dismissed. Plaintiff has also withdrawn her Title VII claims to the extent they are based upon her national origin (see id. at 11 n.5), and so any such claims are dismissed from the first cause of action. Defendant moves to dismiss each of the remaining claims, and the Court shall address each in turn.

DISCUSSION

I. Legal Standard

"'In deciding a Rule 12(c) motion, [a court] appl[ies] the same standard [regarding the sufficiency of a pleading] as that applicable to a motion under Rule 12(b)(6), accepting the allegations contained in the complaint as true and drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party.'" Desiano v. Warner-Lambert & Co., 467 F.3d 85, 89 (2d Cir. 2006) (quoting Burnette v. Carothers, 192 F.3d 52, 56 (2d Cir. 1999)). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) provides that a pleading shall contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." The Supreme Court has recently clarified the pleading standard applicable in evaluating a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6).

First, in Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), the Court disavowed the well-known statement 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." See Twombly, 550 U.S. at 561 (quoting Conley, 355 U.S. at 45-46). Instead, to survive a motion to dismiss ...


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