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Michelle Albertelli v. Monroe County

May 22, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Michael A. Telesca United States District Judge


I. Introduction

Plaintiff Michelle Albertelli ("Albertelli" or "Plaintiff"), represented by counsel, has filed the instant proceeding against the named Defendants charging them with, inter alia, violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), the New York State Human Rights Law ("NYHRL"); and her rights to equal protection, substantive due process, and procedural due process under the United States Constitution. Defendants have filed their First Motion to Dismiss the Complaint (Dkt. #14) to which Plaintiff has filed opposition papers (Dkt. #15). For the reasons that follow, the Motion to Dismiss is granted in part and denied in part.

II. Factual Background

In the following factual recitation, the Court accepts as true all facts alleged in the complaint and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. E.g., Faulkner v. Beer, 463 F.3d 130, 134 (2d Cir. 2006) (citation omitted).

On July 15, 2004, Plaintiff was employed as a Deputy Sheriff at the Monroe County Jail (the Jail), responsible for, inter alia, guarding inmates and ensuring that order, discipline, safety, and security were maintained in the Jail. On that date, inmate Louis Delvalle ("Delvalle") and another inmate were involved in verbal altercation at the Jail. Delvalle was outside of his own cell, and the other inmate was inside a locked cell. Plaintiff asked Delvalle to go into his own cell and "lock in". When Delvalle did not immediately comply, Plaintiff took hold of his right arm, and another deputy took hold of Delvalle's left arm so as to escort him out of the cell block and into his own cell. Delvalle swung around suddenly, causing Plaintiff to lose her balance and fall to the floor, dislocating her left shoulder. Plaintiff characterizes the incident as a "violent attack", which Defendants dispute.

Beginning in July 2004, Plaintiff was paid benefits pursuant to New York State General Municipal Law § 207-c. She received these benefits for a period of over three years.

Plaintiff remained out of work until September 2008. During that time, she submitted to three independent medical examinations by Dr. Totero (September 2008), Dr. Auerbach (September 21, 2007), and Dr. Durning (May 8, 2008).

Plaintiff filed for disability retirement on October 31, 2008, as her private physician, Dr. Maloney, deemed her "totally disabled to work . . . in large part because she only had use of one arm." Amended Complaint ("Am. Compl."), ¶18 (Dkt. #2). She states that she "has been rendered lame to protect herself or others in the jail-house setting" because she "cannot carry a gun, pepper spray, or even handcuffs" and cannot "assist in the use of force continuum[.]" Id., ¶¶20, 21. Due to what she describes as the "violent nature" of the July 15, 2004 "attack in the line of duty that rendered her disabled", Plaintiff "suffers from emotional issues, in particular, depression and anxiety." Id., ¶22. She states she is limited to the use of only her right arm. To this day, Plaintiff says, she remains under the care of a rehabilitation specialist and undergoes treatment for the condition in her left upper arm and shoulder.

On October 31, 2008, the date she claims she filed for disability retirement, Defendants ordered her to return to duty on November 3, 2008, at 8 a.m., per in-house physician Dr. Shmigel's orders. Am. Compl., ¶26. Plaintiff alleges that the decision to return her to work was made by Undersheriff Gary Caiola ("Undersheriff Caiola"), who "has a pattern and practice of returning disabled [employees in the] Sheriff's Department back to work despite their inability to do so, and without conducting a hearing in violation of Plaintiff's due process rights to her section 207-c benefits." Id., ¶27. Plaintiff alleges that Dr. Shmigel and Undersheriff Caiola acted under the directive of Risk Manager Robert J. Bilsky ("Bilsky") pursuant to a policy of cutting costs by returning disabled employees to work. Id., ¶28.

"Mysteriously", on the same day that Plaintiff filed for disability retirement and was ordered to return to work, her physician, Dr. Maloney, "was compelled to change Plaintiff's diagnosis to read that Plaintiff '[m]ay return to work on 10/31/08' by Dr. Schmigel [sic]." Am. Compl., ¶29 (emphasis in original). Plaintiff's Section 207-c disability benefits were terminated on an unspecified date in November 2008, and she was not afforded a hearing prior to the termination.

On November 24, 2008, Plaintiff sought an accommodation from Defendants to allow her to return to a position which, "at the bare minimum[,] would not require her to pass into the secured portion of the jail and there would be no inmate contact, that she would not utilize her left arm, and that these restrictions would be adhered to, and that she would not be involved in any situation that would place herself or others in danger." Id., ¶33.

Plaintiff states that despite the fact she was deemed "unqualified" pursuant to New York law to assist in the use of force continuum, Defendants compelled Plaintiff to report to the Jail in uniform at the "Visits Lobby" front counter. Id., ¶34. Plaintiff alleges that a position was available in "Staff Services" which would have removed Plaintiff from the inmate population, but it was never offered to her. Id., ¶35.

Plaintiff returned to work at the "Visits Lobby" for a two-week period during which time she was subjected to three incidents in which the use of force was necessary. Id., ¶36. Plaintiff describes only two incidents in her Amended Complaint. On December 6, 2008, an inmate entered the "Visits Lobby" front counter and became disruptive, knocking over jail property. Id., ¶37. Plaintiff contacted 911 in vain while the inmate stood in close proximity to her, placing her in fear for her safety because she could not defend herself. On December 23, 2008, Plaintiff was confronted, while at work, with a situation in which a male was pointing a gun at a female. Plaintiff could not protect herself or the victim due to her disability which precluded her from carrying a service weapon.

Plaintiff complained to her supervisors that she could not perform the essential functions of her job, and that she felt she was being placed in the untenable position of being forced to quit her job and forego her benefits. Plaintiff's supervisor allegedly took no actions to accommodate her known disabilities and responded, "[W]here do we draw the line?" Am. Compl., ¶42.

On December 31, 2008, Plaintiff met with Sheriff's Department Physician Dr. Shmigel who "informed Plaintiff that it was 'out of his hands,' and returned the Plaintiff to work." Id., ¶43.

Plaintiff's private physician contradicted Dr. Shmigel's finding that Plaintiff was able to return to work, and removed Plaintiff from work due to the failure of the County to accommodate her known disabilities or to comply with the job restrictions she had demanded (i.e., no use-of-force continuum).

On January 3, 2009, Plaintiff was served by Sheriff's Department deputies with a "Return to Work Order" threatening disciplinary action if she did not return to work. On January 5, 2009, Plaintiff's private physician rendered her "totally disabled" due to the Sheriff's Department's lack of adherence to her job restrictions. Dr. Shmigel allegedly continued to contact Plaintiff's doctor to persuade him to alter his medical opinion. Plaintiff's physician refused to take his calls.

Although Plaintiff's Section 207-c benefits were terminated in November 2008, Defendants served her with a notice on January 15, 2009, stating that the County "is seeking to terminate your GML-207-c benefits based upon your refusal to work a light duty assignment for which you have been deemed capable of working" and threatening further disciplinary action "as a result of [her] continued insubordination." Am. Comp., ¶49. Plaintiff's counsel advised the County that Plaintiff's Section 207-c benefits had already been terminated.

After being served with the original Complaint in this action, Undersheriff Caiola threatened Plaintiff on February 3, 2009, with insubordination if she did not return to work in her uniform. On February 5, 2009, Plaintiff's treating physician deemed Plaintiff totally disabled until reevaluation on March 12, 2009. The narrative in Plaintiff's Amended Complaint ends at that point.

Plaintiff filed three complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). The first, EEOC #585-2009-00265, was filed on January 6, 2009, and named Undersheriff Caiola as an Aider and Abettor of violations of the ADA. The EEOC informed Plaintiff that it lacked jurisdiction to investigate her ADA charge because she was not a "qualified individual with a disability" based upon her statements that she "can no longer perform the essential functions of [her] position and that there is no accommodation that will enable [her] to perform the essential functions of a Deputy Sheriff." Def. Ex. A, Dkt. #14-2. The EEOC issued a dismissal notice and right to sue letter. Id.

In the second complaint, EEOC #525-2009-00326, Plaintiff states that she previously filed an EEOC complaint on January 6, 2009, after which she was served on January 14, 2009 with papers ordering her to report to an Internal Affairs hearing, "in retaliation for having engaged in protected activity under the ADA." Def. Ex. B, Dkt. #14-3. The EEOC forwarded Plaintiff's request for a right to sue letter to the Unites States Department of Justice. Id.

On April 1, 2009, Robert Bilsky, the Monroe County Risk Manager, stated that he was pleased to offer Plaintiff a temporary modified-duty assignment which would accommodate the restrictions her doctors deemed appropriate for her present medical condition. The position would include clerical work, answering phones, data entry, recordkeeping. Plaintiff stated that these "make-work" tasks led to feelings of "incompetency" and "worthlessness"--which were the basis for her third EEOC complaint, discussed below. The modified duty assignment was to continue until July 3, 2009, at which time she would be required to provide an update on her medical condition so that the Sheriff's Department could determine whether her work restrictions should be removed. Plaintiff admitted that she did not work from February 4, 2009, until March 2, 2009, because the Sheriff's Department did not meet her restrictions.

On April 8, 2009, Plaintiff was charged with two insubordination disciplinary actions--one being a violation of rules set forth in Undersheriff Caiola's letter dated February 3, 2009; and the second being her refusal to work in the position she was offered as an accommodation.

On May 13, 2009, Plaintiff alleges, Undersheriff Caiola gave her "an evil eye" until she looked away. On May 12, 2009, Investigator Pat Crow stared her down and gave her "an evil eye".

Plaintiff then filed her third complaint, EEOC #525-2009-00729, against the Monroe County Sheriff's Department on May 13, 2009. She alleged that she was given the "evil eye" by Undersheriff Caiola and Investigator Crow, was assigned menial work that made her feel worthless, and was issued a memorandum stating she was insubordinate for not reporting to work because of her disability and in retaliation for filing a previous EEOC charge, #525-2009-00265. The EEOC found that Plaintiff failed to report to work despite her employer's agreement to accommodate her restrictions, which was a non-discriminatory reason for disciplinary action. With regard to her complaints of feeling "worthless", the EEOC stated that her employer was not required to provide her preferred accommodation as long as it provided a reasonable accommodation that met her restrictions. With regard to the "evil eye" allegation, the EEOC found that it was not severe or pervasive, and it did not rise to the level of a hostile work environment. In sum, the EEOC was unable to conclude that the information established a violation of federal law by the Sheriff's Department. The EEOC issued a Notice of Dismissal and a Right to Sue on April 20, 2010.

Defendants state that Plaintiff is currently employed three days a week at Jail Administration and two days a week at Jail Fleet. Prior to that she was assigned to Jail Visitation, which she did not like. She was given a transfer to Booking, which she also did not like. She was transferred to Jail Monitor, which she did not like. ...

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