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Najah Salaam v. Syracuse Model Neighborhood Facility; Jesse Dowdell

March 15, 2012

NAJAH SALAAM, PLAINTIFF,
v.
SYRACUSE MODEL NEIGHBORHOOD FACILITY; JESSE DOWDELL, C.E.O. OF SYRACUSE MODEL NEIGHBORHOOD FACILITY; MARY ANNE CICCARELLI, DIRECTOR OF HUMAN RESOURCES; AND LINDA CAMPBELL, PRESIDENT OF SYRACUSE MODEL NEIGHBORHOOD FACILITY BOARD, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mae A. D'Agostino, U.S. District Judge:

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff initiated this action on August 11, 2011 by filing a complaint and in forma pauperis ("IFP") application. See Dkt. Nos. 1, 2. On September 6, 2011, Magistrate Judge Baxter issued an Order and Report-Recommendation granting Plaintiff's IFP application, but recommending that the Court dismiss Plaintiff's complaint without prejudice because of her failure to comply with Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Dkt. No. 4 at 6.

On October 5, 2011, the Court accepted Magistrate Judge Baxter's recommendation and dismissed Plaintiff's complaint without prejudice.

Currently before the Court is Defendants' unopposed motion to dismiss Plaintiff's amended complaint. See Dkt. No. 14.

II. BACKGROUND

In her amended complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants discriminated and retaliated against her in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and that they violated her rights as secured by the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. See Dkt. No. 6.

Specifically, Plaintiff claims that, on March 17, 2010, Defendant Ciccarelli, Defendant Syracuse Model Neighborhood Facility's ("SMNF") director of human resources, unlawfully retaliated against her because Plaintiff, "on April 18, 2010, filed a grievance . . . challenging her false allegations that [Plaintiff] had stolen a pocketbook, 3 months earlier, in the state of Louisiana, while on a company business trip." See id. at 2.*fn1 Further, Plaintiff claims that, on that same day, Defendant Ciccarelli refused to provide Plaintiff with the copies of the alleged statements made by those who had falsely accused her of stealing the pocketbook. See id. Plaintiff claims that this conduct violated 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and Title VII because Defendant Ciccarelli treated her differently than other "light skinned people" who had complaints brought against them in the past. See id. at 3. Plaintiff claims that her "termination was arbitrary, capricious, predicated on bias, prejudice and discrimination and/or reverse discrimination due to my being black, a female, and a[n] American Muslim with questionable credibility here in America due to the mood of the Country in the last 10 years." See id. Finally, Plaintiff claims that Defendant Ciccarelli's unlawful motives are demonstrated by the fact that "she, after unlawfully terminating [Plaintiff], failed to send . . . a termination letter under N.Y. State Labor Law, Section 195, as she has done for white employees and/or others after they were terminated detailing the precise and/or specific reasons for the terminations." See id. at 4.

III. DISCUSSION

In this motion to dismiss, Defendants claim that Plaintiff's complaint must be dismissed because Plaintiff has failed to allege plausible causes of action for retaliation or discrimination in violation of Title VII and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. See Dkt. No. 14-1 at 4-7. Further, Defendants claim that the Title VII claims against the individual Defendants must be dismissed because Title VII does not provide for individual liability. See id. at 7.

A. Standard of review

A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure tests the legal sufficiency of the party's claim for relief. See Patane v. Clark, 508 F.3d 106, 111-12 (2d Cir. 2007). In considering the legal sufficiency, a court must accept as true all well-pleaded facts in the pleading and draw all reasonable inferences in the pleader's favor. See ATSI Commc'ns, Inc. v. Shaar Fund, Ltd., 493 F.3d 87, 98 (2d Cir. 2007) (citation omitted). This presumption of truth, however, does not extend to legal conclusions. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949-50 (2009) (citation omitted). Although a court's review of a motion to dismiss is generally limited to the facts presented in the pleading, the court may consider documents that are "integral" to that pleading, even if they are neither physically attached to, nor incorporated by reference into, the pleading. See Mangiafico v. Blumenthal, 471 F.3d 391, 398 (2d Cir. 2006) (quoting Chambers v. Time Warner, Inc., 282 F.3d 147, 152-53 (2d Cir. 2002)).

To survive a motion to dismiss, a party need only plead "a short and plain statement of the claim," see Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2), with sufficient factual "heft to 'sho[w] that the pleader is entitled to relief[,]'" Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 557 (2007) (quotation omitted). Under this standard, the pleading's "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right of relief above the speculative level," see id. at 555 (citation omitted), and present claims that are "plausible on [their] face," id. at 570. "The plausibility standard is not akin to a 'probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949 (citation omitted). "Where a complaint pleads facts that are 'merely consistent with' a defendant's liability, it 'stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of "entitlement to relief."'" Id. (quoting [Twombly, 550 U.S.] at 557, 127 S. Ct. 1955). Ultimately, "when the allegations in a complaint, however true, could not raise a claim of entitlement to relief," Twombly, 550 U.S. at 558, or where a plaintiff has "not nudged [its] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible, the[] complaint must be dismissed[,]" id. at 570.

"The Iqbal plausibility standard applies in conjunction with employment discrimination pleading standards." Gillman v. Inner City Broad. Corp., No. 08 Civ. 8909, 2009 WL 3003244, *3 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 18, 2009). Employment discrimination claims need not contain specific facts establishing a prima facie case of discrimination, see Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 514-15 (2002); rather, an employment discrimination complaint "must include only a short and plain statement of the claim . . . [that] give[s] the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it rests," id. at 512 (quotation marks and citations omitted); see also Patane v. Clark, 508 F.3d 106, 113 (2d Cir. 2007) (applying Swierkiewicz to NYSHRL discrimination claims).

Despite this recent tightening of the standard for pleading a claim, complaints by pro se parties continue to be accorded more deference than those filed by attorneys. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 127 (2007). As such, Twombly and Iqbal notwithstanding, this Court must continue to "construe [a complaint] broadly, and interpret [it] to raise the ...


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