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Dionne K. Thompson v. Morris Heights Health Center

April 6, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Paul A. Engelmayer, District Judge:


Defendant Morris Heights Health Center ("MHHC") moves for summary judgment with respect to the Complaint of pro se plaintiff Dionne Thompson ("Thompson"), in which Thompson alleges that MHHC subjected her to post-employment retaliation for filing an administrative complaint of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") and the New York State Division of Human Rights ("NYSDHR"). For the following reasons, the motion is granted and judgment will be entered in MHHC's favor.

I.Procedural History and Undisputed Facts*fn1

On December 21, 2007, Thompson's employment with MHHC ended. 56.1 ¶ 1. On or about January 7, 2008, Thompson "dual-filed" a Verified Complaint with both the NYSDHR and EEOC (the "NYSDHR/EEOC complaint"), alleging that MHHC had discriminated against her on the basis of her creed/religion (Sabbatarian) and disability (spinal injury), in violation of the New York State Human Rights Law ("NYSHRL"), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and the Americans with Disabilities Act, 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. Id. ¶¶ 3--4. On April 29, 2008, the NYSDHR dismissed Thompson's complaint, finding no probable cause to believe that MHHC had engaged in unlawful discrimination. Silverberg Decl. Ex. B. Thompson did not appeal that determination. Id. On June 24, 2008, the EEOC adopted the NYSDHR's findings, dismissed Thompson's charge, and issued Thompson a notice of right to sue letter, stating that Thompson had 90 days to sue MHHC. Id. at Ex. C. Thompson did not do so. Id. ¶ 7.

On or about August 18, 2008, Thompson filed another charge with the EEOC, claiming retaliation in violation of Title VII, but not under the NYSHRL. Id. at Ex. D. That complaint alleged that MHHC had retaliated against Thompson for filing the January 2008 NYSDHR/ EEOC complaint. Id. Such retaliation, Thompson alleged, consisted of MHHC's failure to (1) timely provide her with Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act ("COBRA") notifications and enrollment information; (2) timely provide her with Employee Share Benefit Plan ("Pension Plan") information; and (3) cooperate with her in the return of her belongings from MHHC's offices. Id. On April 27, 2009 the EEOC dismissed Thompson's complaint, concluding that Thompson had not alleged a violation of Title VII. Id. at Ex. E. The EEOC's notice advised Thompson that she had 90 days in which to sue MHHC based on the actions alleged. Id.

On July 22, 2009, Thompson filed this Complaint, which brings claims based on the conduct described in both the initial NYSDHR/EEOC complaint and the later complaint made to the EEOC only. See Dkt. 2. Thompson sued approximately 10 months after the 90-day window period in which to sue had expired as to the NYSDHR/EEOC complaint, but within 90 days of the dismissal of the second EEOC complaint. On February 16, 2010, MHHC moved to dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) on various grounds, including that to the extent that the Complaint asserted claims made in Thompson's first administrative action, against NYSDHR and EEOC, it was time-barred. See Dkt. 8--9. By Order dated May 18, 2010, the Honorable Barbara S. Jones, to whom this case was then assigned, granted MHHC's motion to dismiss Thompson's claims based on that ground; however, she denied MHHC's motion to the extent it sought dismissal (on grounds of implausibility, under Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009)) of Thompson's other, timely claims of retaliation. See Dkt. 12.

Thompson's Complaint, as narrowed by Judge Jones, thus today consists solely of challenges to the dismissal of her second complaint, filed with the EEOC only. Thompson asserts that, as a result of her filing of the earlier complaint with the NYSDHR and the EEOC, MHHC retaliated against her in various ways after her employment with MHHC ended. Specifically, she contends that MHHC (1) did not timely issue her information regarding benefits under COBRA; (2) failed to expeditiously provide her with a statement of benefits and a disbursement under the Pension Plan; and (3) did not cooperate in Thompson's efforts to retrieve her belongings from MHHC's offices. The undisputed facts as to these allegations are set out in turn.

A.COBRA Benefits

In late December 2007-before Thompson filed the NYSDHR/EEOC complaint- Thompson communicated with Cheryl Merritt ("Merritt"), MHHC's Vice President of Human Resources, regarding Thompson's COBRA health care benefits. 56.1 ¶ 2. On December 26, 2007, Thompson e-mailed Merritt, stating that she had attempted to call Merritt a number of times but had received no answer. Silverberg Decl. Ex. M. Merritt replied that day, stating that she had not received any voicemails from Thompson. Id. The next day, December 27, 2007, Thompson again e-mailed Merritt requesting clarification on COBRA benefits. Id. Merritt replied, approximately three and a half hours later, stating that she had just called Thompson at both of the phone numbers Thompson had provided, and that she had not received any messages from Thompson, but that MHHC's COBRA administrator would soon send written materials to Thompson. Id. On March 18, 2008, March 24, 2008, and March 25, 2008, Thompson sent additional e-mails to Merritt and employees of AmeriFlex, LLC (MHHC's COBRA administrator), inquiring about the status of her COBRA documents. See Dkt. 53-3 at ECF pp. 64--69.*fn2 On March 25, 2008, Ameriflex, LLC sent Thompson COBRA enrollment forms. 56.1 ¶ 5, Silverberg Decl. Ex. J. Thompson was eligible to receive COBRA benefits retroactive to the date her insurance coverage ended (i.e., such that she would have suffered no gap in coverage). However, she did not elect to enroll in COBRA, choosing instead to apply for Social Security Disability benefits. 56.1 ¶¶ 6--8.

B.Pension Plan

As for the Pension Plan, Thompson contacted Merritt regarding the Pension Plan on December 27, 2007-before the January 2008 filing of the NYSDHR/EEOC complaint. Silverberg Decl., Ex. I. On December 31, 2007, Thompson followed up with Merritt, requesting contact information for the benefit plan administrator. Id. at Ex. M. Less than an hour later, Merritt replied, providing Thompson with the contact information of the Long Island Benefits Group (LIBC), MHHC's Pension Plan administrator, and a non-party here. Id. On February 7, 2008, Thompson e-mailed Merritt and employees of LIBC, requesting an update on her request for Plan account information. Dkt. 53-2 at ECF p. 3. On May 6, 2008, Thompson e-mailed an MHHC employee, stating that she had been told certain information regarding her Plan account could not be provided until June 2008, the end of the fiscal year, but seeking another update on her request nonetheless. Id. at ECF p. 6. Through August 2008, Thompson continued to discuss the progress of her Plan information request with employees of LIBC. Id. at ECF pp. 8--9.

It was not until more than a year later, in 2009, that Thompson received a statement of her Plan account and attendant disbursement. 56.1 ¶ 14. However, as Thompson had been informed by employees of both MHHC and Long Island Benefits Group, see Dkt. 53-2 at ECF pp. 6--9, the pension benefit plan operates on a July 1 through June 30 fiscal year. 56.1 ¶ 10. Plan statements and beneficiary payments can be issued only after a fiscal year has closed and that year's results are audited, a process which can take six months to a year. As a result, in the ordinary course, Plan statements and disbursements are not distributed until 12 to 18 months after the close of the fiscal year in question. Id. ¶¶ 12--13.

C.Thompson's Belongings

On January 3, 2008, Thompson e-mailed three employees of MHHC asking how she could retrieve her belongings from MHHC's offices. Silverberg Decl. Ex. M. On January 18, 2008, MHHC employee Lauren Machin ("Machin") replied to Thompson, asking if Thompson would consent to having her belongings packed in a box and picked up by a designee, because Thompson could not climb stairs and there was no elevator to the floor her belongings were on. Id. During the ensuing months, Machin and Thompson exchanged several phone calls and e-mails, sometimes copying other MHHC employees, attempting to coordinate the return of Thompson's belongings. 56.1 ¶ 18; Silverberg Decl. Ex. M; Dkt. 53-1 at ECF pp. 40--53.

Eventually, unable to successfully coordinate with Thompson, MHHC employee Verona Greenland ("Greenland") packed Thompson's belongings into a box and sent the box to Thompson's home. Silverberg Supp. Decl., Ex. 1. However, Thompson refused to accept the package, and ...

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