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B. Douglas Wright and Melissa Wright v. City of Ithaca

May 15, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gary L. Sharpe Chief Judge


I. Introduction

Plaintiffs B. Douglas Wright and Melissa Wright*fn1 commenced this race-based employment discrimination action against the City of Ithaca, former Mayor Carolyn Peterson, Director of Human Resources Schelley Michell-Nunn, Chief of Police Edward Vallely, former Chief of Police Lauren Signer,*fn2 and John and Jane Doe defendants under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983, New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL),*fn3 City of Ithaca Municipal Code (IMC), and common law. (See Compl., Dkt. No. 1 ¶¶ 4-12, 31-59.) Pending is defendants' motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). (See Dkt. No. 9.) For the reasons that follow, the motion is granted in part and denied in part.

II. Background*fn4

Wright, a Caucasian male who joined the Ithaca Police Department in 1992 as an Officer and attained his current position of Sergeant in 1999, was denied promotion to Lieutenant in 2007 and 2009. (See Compl. ¶¶ 14-16, 21.) In 2007, during Signer's term as Chief of Police, Wright was passed over for promotion in favor of Pete Tyler, an African-American Sergeant. (See id. ¶ 16.) Wright was denied promotion despite the fact that he was a Senior Sergeant over Tyler and another Sergeant, displayed above average performance, had a longer tenure as Sergeant than did Tyler, and had filled the role of shift Lieutenant for approximately one year. (See id. ¶¶ 16-17.) On the topic of being passed over, Signer told Wright, "It's not your time yet." (Id. ¶ 18.)

Wright was again eligible for promotion to Lieutenant in 2009. (See id. ¶ 20.) In the closing weeks of February 2009, Wright was summoned by Chief of Police Vallely, who stated that unless he could show "clear and convincing evidence" why Wright was the better candidate, he would "have to promote" Marlon Byrd, who is African-American. (Id. ¶ 21.) On March 5,2009, Byrd was promoted to Lieutenant despite the fact that Vallely and Deputy Chief Barber were privy to serious criminal allegations against him, which they failed to investigate. (See id. ¶¶ 21, 23.) Around the same time, Barber offered condolences to Wright on the promotion, stating-while nodding his head toward City Hall-that "the decision was made across the street." (Id. ¶ 22.)

In late 2010 or early 2011, Wright accompanied Barber to Syracuse for a meeting. (See id. ¶ 25.) During that trip, Barber, who is Caucasian, told Wright that, although he had been Deputy Chief longer, he would never be Chief of Police as long as Tyler wanted the job. (See id.) Wright alleges that his personal denials of promotion constitute just one part of the Ithaca Police Department's larger policy and practice of discrimination under which minority Officers are subject to less scrutiny for their behavior, receive favorable disciplinary treatment and are promoted over more qualified Caucasian candidates. (See id. ¶ 24.)

III. Standard of Review

The standard of review under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) is well settled and will not be repeated here. For a full discussion of the standard, the court refers the parties to its prior decision in Ellis v. Cohen & Slamowitz, LLP, 701 F. Supp. 2d 215, 218 (N.D.N.Y. 2010).

IV. Discussion

A. Sufficiency of the Pleadings

Defendants move for dismissal initially on the general contention that Wright's allegations, even if taken as true, fail to state a claim of race discrimination. (See Dkt. No. 9, Attach. 1 at 2-6.) Wright counters, and the court agrees, that the Complaint contains facts sufficient to state a plausible race discrimination claim. (See Dkt. No. 10 at 5-7.)

"[A] complaint need not establish a prima facie case of employment discrimination to survive a motion to dismiss; however, the claim must be facially plausible and must give fair notice to the defendants of the basis for the claim." Barbosa v. Continuum Health Partners, Inc., 716 F. Supp. 2d 210, 215 (S.D.N.Y. 2010) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted) (reconciling Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662(2009), Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), and Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506 (2002)).

Wright alleges that he was twice passed over for promotion in favor of less qualified African-American candidates because of his race, that he was told the decision not to promote him was made in City Hall, and that preference is given to minority employees of the Ithaca Police Department in relation to hiring, promotional and disciplinary decisions. (See Compl.) Accepting Wright's factual allegations as true, and drawing all reasonable inferences in his favor, he has pled a plausible discrimination claim. See Ruiz v. Cnty. of Rockland, 609 F.3d 486, 491-92 (2d Cir. 2010) (articulating the requirements of a prima facie discrimination claim under sections 1981 and 1983); see also ...

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