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Jennifer A. Zurenda v. Cardiology Associates

May 16, 2012

JENNIFER A. ZURENDA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CARDIOLOGY ASSOCIATES, P.C., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Thomas J. McAVOY, Senior United States District Judge

DECISION & ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff commenced this action pro se, asserting that she was discharged and harassed in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (the ADA) and New York State Human Rights Law ("NYHRL"). See Am. Compl. dkt. # 5. Defendant moves for summary judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56, seeking to dismiss all of Plaintiff's claims. See Motion, dkt. # 39. Plaintiff opposes the motion by filing only an affidavit with exhibits. See Response, dkt. # 41. Defendant filed a reply to Plaintiff's opposition. See Reply, dkt. # 42. The motion is before the Court based on the submissions alone, all of which the Court considers in reaching its decision.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

The Court may grant summary judgment where "there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a). A dispute is genuine if the relevant evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A party seeking summary judgment bears the burden of informing the court of the basis for the motion and of identifying those portions of the record that the moving party believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact as to a dispositive issue. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).

If the movant is able to establish a prima facie basis for summary judgment, the burden of production shifts to the party opposing summary judgment who must produce evidence establishing the existence of a factual dispute that a reasonable jury could resolve in his favor. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). The nonmoving party must show, by affidavits or other evidence, admissible in form, that there are specific factual issues that can only be resolved at trial. Colon v. Coughlin, 58 F.3d 865, 872 (2d Cir. 1995). "[P]roceeding pro se does not otherwise relieve a litigant from the usual requirements of summary judgment." Viscusi v. Proctor & Gamble, 2007 WL 2071546, at * 9 (E.D.N.Y. July 16, 2007).

In determining whether to grant summary judgment, the Court must view all facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, but "only if there is a 'genuine' dispute as to those facts."Scott v. Harris, 127 S. Ct. 1769, 1776 (2007). The nonmoving party cannot defeat summary judgment by "simply show[ing] that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts," Matsushita., 475 U.S. at 586, or by a factual argument based on "conjecture or surmise." Bryant v. Maffucci, 923 F.2d 979, 982 (2d Cir. 1991). In this regard, a party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment may not rest upon "mere allegations or denials" asserted in the pleadings, Rexnord Holdings, Inc. v. Bidermann, 21 F.3d 522, 525-26 (2d Cir. 1994), or on conclusory allegations or unsubstantiated speculation. Scotto v. Almenas, 143 F.3d 105, 114 (2d Cir. 1998). Hearsay is also insufficient to create a question of fact on a summary judgment motion. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(4).

The Local Rules of the Northern District require a party moving for summary judgment to submit a "Statement of Material Facts" which sets forth, with citations to the record, each material fact about which the moving party contends there exists no genuine issue. N.D.N.Y.L.R. 7.1(a)(3). Once a properly supported Local Rule 7.1(a)(3) Statement is submitted, the party opposing the motion must file a response to the [movant's] Statement of Material Facts. The non-movant's response shall mirror the movant's Statement of Material Facts by admitting and/or denying each of the movant's assertions in matching numbered paragraphs. Each denial shall set forth a specific citation to the record where the factual issue arises. The non-movant's response may also set forth any additional material facts that the non-movant contends are in dispute in separately numbered paragraphs. Any facts set forth in the Statement of Material Facts shall be deemed admitted unless specifically controverted by the opposing party.

Id. (underscoring in original).

The responding Statement of Material Facts is not a mere formality, and the courts apply this rule strictly. See N.Y. Teamsters Conference Pension & Ret. Fund v. Express Servs., Inc., 426 F.3d 640, 648-49 (2d Cir. 2005)(upholding grant of summary judgment where "[t]he district court, applying Rule 7.1(a)(3) strictly, reasonably deemed [movant's] statement of facts to be admitted" because the non-movant submitted a responsive Rule 7.1(a)(3) statement that "offered mostly conclusory denials of [movant's] factual assertions and failed to include any record citations."); Gubitosi v. Kapica, 154 F.3d 30, 31 n. 1 (2d Cir. 1998)(per curiam)(accepting as true material facts contained in unopposed local rule statement of material facts); Meaney v. CHS Acquisition Corp., 103 F. Supp.2d 104, 108 (N.D.N.Y. 2000)(deeming movant's Rule 7.1(a)(3) Statement admitted where non-movant's response "set forth no citations -- specific or otherwise -- to the record")(emphasis in original); McKnight v. Dormitory Auth. of State of N.Y., 189 F.R.D. 225, 227 (N.D.N.Y. 1999)(McAvoy, J.)("deem[ing] the portions of Defendants' 7.1(a)(3) statement that are not specifically controverted by Plaintiff to be admitted"); Osier v. Broome County, 47 F. Supp.2d 311, 317 (N.D.N.Y. 1999) (McAvoy, J.)(deeming admitted all facts in defendants' Rule 7.1(a)(3) statement where "plaintiff submitted thirteen pages of purported facts without any indication where those facts can be located in the record").

While the Court must construe a pro se litigant's pleadings and papers liberally and interpret them to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest, Govan v. Campbell, 289 F. Supp.2d 289, 295 (N.D.N.Y. 2003);*fn1 Veloz v. New York, 339 F. Supp.2d 505, 513 (S.D.N.Y. 2004), application of this lenient standard does not relieve a pro se litigant of the requirement to follow the procedural formalities of Local Rule 7.1(a)(3). Govan, 289 F. Supp.2d at 295; see also Faretta v. California, 95 S. Ct. 2525, 2541 n. 46 (1975)("The right of self-representation is not a license . . . not to comply with relevant rules of procedural and substantive law."); Edwards v. INS, 59 F.3d 5, 8 (2nd Cir. 1995)("While a pro se litigant's pleadings must be construed liberally, . . . pro se litigants generally are required to inform themselves regarding procedural rules and to comply with them.").

Plaintiff's opposition to Defendant's motion consists merely of an affidavit accompanied by certain exhibits. See Response in Opposition [dkt. # 41]. She has submitted neither the required memorandum of lawin opposition to Defendant's motion, nor the required response to Defendant's Statement of Material Facts. See N.D.N.Y.L.R. 7.1(a)(3). Because Plaintiff has not submitted an opposing Statement of Material Facts, the properly supported facts set forth in Defendant's STATEMENT OF MATERIAL FACTS NOT

IN DISPUTE are deemed admitted for purposes of this motion. See N.D.N.Y.L.R. 7.1(a)(3).

III. BACKGROUND*fn2

Plaintiff Jennifer A. Zurenda ("Plaintiff" or "Ms. Zurenda") began working for Defendant Cardiology Associates, P.C. ("Defendant" or "Cardiology Associates") on December 17, 2002 as a File Clerk/Receptionist. Cardiology Associates is a New York professional corporation that provides cardiac medical services to patients in the Greater Binghamton area. It is governed by its Board of Directors, which consists of its ten partner physicians. Doctor Afzul Ur Rehman is the current president of the Board and Cathy Comeno is the clinical manager at Cardiology Associates.

As a File Clerk/Receptionist, Plaintiff was required to do filing, retrieve charts and records, and answer the telephone. Her position required her to both stand and sit throughout the day, and her filing responsibilities involved standing and bending regularly. Cathy Comeno reviewed Ms. Zurenda's performance as a File Clerk/Receptionist. Ms. Zurenda received mediocre performance reviews. These repeatedly noted that Plaintiff had the following problems: poor attendance; need for workflow improvement, need for improvement of morale; need for increased dependability; and need for increased written communication. Ms. Zurenda signed each of these reviews, and the reviews occurred before Ms. Zurenda left work for her first knee surgery (discussed infra).

In 2006, Ms. Zurenda took a medical leave of absence from Cardiology Associates for a neck injury. That leave of absence lasted two to three months. Cardiology Associates accommodated Ms. Zurenda's neck injury by allowing her this leave, and she returned to work when it was over.

In 2007, Ms. Zurenda took a six-week medical leave of absence from Cardiology Associates for thyroid surgery. Cardiology Associates accommodated Ms. Zurenda's need for thyroid surgery by granting this leave, and she returned to work when it was over.

On February 1, 2008, after the resignation of another staff member, Ms. Zurenda was assigned to the position of Telephone Operator.*fn3 Ms. Zurenda's job duties as a Telephone Operator were essentially the same as a File Clerk/Receptionist with the additional duties of handling patient check-in and check-outs. During the time Ms. Zurenda was a Telephone Operator, Ellen Smith reviewed her performance. Ms. Zurenda's 2008 annual performance review noted that while she had improved in some areas she still needed to improve her ...


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