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Ira Davison, Jr v. Goodwill Industries of Greater New York and Northern New Jersey

March 28, 2012

IRA DAVISON, JR.,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
GOODWILL INDUSTRIES OF GREATER NEW YORK AND NORTHERN NEW JERSEY, INC., GALINA SHUB, LINDA TURNER AND ANTHONY NAPOLI,
DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Dora L. Irizarry, U.S. District Judge:

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiff Ira Davison, Jr. ("Plaintiff") commenced this action against his employer, Goodwill Industries of Greater New York and Northern New Jersey, Inc. ("Goodwill") and three of its employees, Galina Shub ("Shub"), Linda Turner ("Turner"), and Anthony Napoli ("Napoli," collectively "Defendants"), asserting claims of defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress ("IIED") and imputing vicarious liability to Goodwill. (Dkt. Entry No. 13, Amended Complaint ("Am. Compl.").) On May 23, 2011, Defendants moved, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), to dismiss the Amended Complaint for failure to state a claim. (Dkt. Entry No. 20, Mot. to Dismiss.) Plaintiff, who is represented by counsel, has failed to oppose the motion in the time since it was filed. Accordingly, the motion is deemed unopposed. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion is granted.

BACKGROUND

I.Plaintiff's Employment History and Suspension

In August 2003, Plaintiff was hired through Goodwill's Back-to-Work Program as a workforce development instructor at Goodwill's offices in Queens, New York. (Am. Compl. ¶ 13.) Plaintiff was continuously employed with Goodwill until January 2010, during which time he maintained a clean disciplinary record. (Id. ¶¶ 14--15.) On January 4, 2010, Shub, Vice President of Goodwill's Back-to-Work Program, informed Plaintiff that he was suspended pending investigation of a complaint that a client had filed against him (the "Client Complaint") for alleged sexually inappropriate behavior. (Id. ¶¶ 9, 15.)

Plaintiff's suspension lasted from January 4, 2010 until February 2, 2010, during which time Plaintiff communicated with Shub and Napoli, Goodwill's Senior Vice President for Human Resources, to deny that he had engaged in any inappropriate behavior and to demand that he be reinstated. (Id. ¶¶ 11, 15, 18--24, 31.) He also requested a copy of the Client Complaint, which Shub and Napoli declined to provide. (Id. ¶¶ 18, 21.) On January 15, 2010, Plaintiff was notified in a letter from Napoli that his employment at Goodwill had been terminated following an investigation of the Client Complaint. (Id. ¶ 20.) On January 26, 2010, Plaintiff initiated a meeting with Napoli to assert his innocence and voice his suspicion that no investigation had actually taken place. (Id. ¶ 21--22.)

On February 1, 2010, Plaintiff received a letter from Napoli. (Id. ¶ 25.) It stated that Plaintiff's termination was being revoked and his employment at Goodwill reinstated, because there was no evidence to corroborate the Client Complaint. (Id. ¶ 26.) The letter also informed Plaintiff that the incident alleged in the Client Complaint and the attending investigation were confidential; Plaintiff was directed not to discuss the matter with co-workers, and his supervisors and managers were likewise directed to keep the matter confidential. (Id. ¶¶ 27--28.) On February 2, 2010, Plaintiff returned to work at Goodwill. (Id. ¶ 31.)

II.The Alleged Defamation

Plaintiff alleges that, during his suspension, at least three co-workers informed him of rumors spreading around the office that he had engaged in inappropriate sexual acts with a client in the office, and had forcibly cornered a client in the office to proposition her for a date. (Am. Compl. ¶ 29.) In a telephone conference with Napoli following his termination, Plaintiff complained about the proliferation of these rumors. (Id. ¶ 24.)

When Plaintiff returned to work, he allegedly encountered the rumors firsthand. He overheard a security officer, as well as an office manager, saying that Plaintiff had requested sexual favors from a client while in the office, and that Plaintiff had a history of sexually harassing female clients. (Id. ¶¶ 32--34.) Dismayed by these rumors, Plaintiff met with Shub, who allegedly told him that no investigation had taken place prior to his termination. (Id. ¶¶ 33-- 34.) Plaintiff, to no avail, again requested that Shub furnish him a copy of the Client Complaint. (Id. ¶¶ 34--35.) He then demanded that Shub explain why rumors were spreading throughout the office. Plaintiff told Shub the rumors could not have started unless Shub divulged to employees confidential details about the Client Complaint or other allegations of sexual misconduct against him. (Id. ¶ 34.) Shub neither confirmed nor denied that she had divulged any such confidential information. (Id. ¶ 36.)

On May 12, 2010, Plaintiff commenced this action against Defendants, asserting three claims: (1) a defamation claim against Shub for maliciously leaking out baseless rumors to office staff that Plaintiff had engaged in various forms of sexually inappropriate behavior towards female clients while at Goodwill (id. ¶¶ 39--53); (2) an IIED claim against Shub, stemming from the same alleged rumors (id. ¶¶ 54--59); and (3) a claim imputing vicarious liability for Shub's actions to Goodwill, both because Shub was acting within the scope of her employment when making the alleged defamatory statements, and because Napoli and Turner ratified Shub's actions. (Id. ¶¶ 60-70.)

DISCUSSION

I.Legal Standard

Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure states that a defendant may move, in lieu of an answer, for dismissal of a complaint for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6). To determine whether dismissal is appropriate, "a court must accept as true all [factual] allegations contained in a complaint" but need not accept "legal conclusions." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). Thus, a court need not accord "[l]egal conclusions, deductions or opinions couched as factual allegations ... a presumption of truthfulness." In re NYSE Specialists Securities Litigation, 503 F. 3d 89, 95 (2d Cir. 2007) (citation omitted). For this reason, "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice" to insulate a claim against dismissal. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949. Moreover, "[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.' " Id. (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. ...


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