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Nina F. Willis v. Verizon New York

June 22, 2012

NINA F. WILLIS,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
VERIZON NEW YORK, INC., PAUL J. MCILRAVY, AND RICHARD M. KALISTA,
DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John Gleeson, United States District Judge:

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Nina F. Willis brings this action for employment discrimination -- on the basis of race, color, and sex -- against Verizon New York, Inc. ("Verizon") and Verizon employees Paul J. McIlravy and Richard M. Kalista. Willis initially filed her suit in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, raising both federal and state law claims. Defendants removed the case to this court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and filed an answer. Defendants now move for judgment on the pleadings on the grounds that all of Willis's claims are preempted under § 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act ("LMRA"), 29 U.S.C. § 141 et seq., and that Willis's breach of contract claim fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. For the reasons provided herein, defendants' motion is denied in part and granted in part.

BACKGROUND

According to the complaint, the well-pleaded factual allegations of which I must assume are true, Willis began her employment with Verizon in January 1994. Compl. ¶ 14. After five years as an Operator and then ten years as an Office Assistant, Willis became a Field Technician in construction in April 2009. Compl. ¶¶ 15-16. Willis alleges that while she was a Field Technician, the defendants subjected her to a hostile work environment on the basis of her race, color, and sex. Specifically, her white male colleagues, who dominated the field, continuously referred to Willis in a derogatory manner; failed to disclose assignment locations to her and left her behind when they went to such locations; assigned her menial cleaning duties; and made numerous comments suggesting that she move to another department. Compl. ¶¶ 19-20, 22, 26. Willis's supervisors, McIlravy and Kalista, failed to take any action to correct these practices, and McIlravy affirmatively contributed to the hostile work environment by interrogating and reprimanding Willis on multiple occasions, without cause to do so. Compl. ¶¶ 21, 23.

Defendants also refused to allow Willis to drive a vehicle called the "Boom Truck," citing the fact that she did not have a commercial driver's license ("CDL"), even though white male employees who lacked a CDL were permitted to drive the Boom Truck. Compl. ¶ 25. Further, defendants failed to provide Willis with the tools she required to be successful in her position, including training and information on how to obtain a CDL, despite the fact that they provided such tools to her white male colleagues. Compl. ¶¶ 26, 41.

Willis made multiple complaints, to approximately fourteen different supervisors, about the discriminatory treatment she faced. Compl. ¶ 38. However, Willis's supervisors took no remedial action and instead retaliated against Willis for her complaints. Defendants moved Willis to an abandoned warehouse location, where she was stripped of mail, delivery, and clerical assignments and denied personal access to computers, telephone, and supplies. Compl. ¶ 44. Then, on October 30, 2009, Willis, who had completed the standard six-month probationary period for Field Technicians ten days earlier, was removed from her position as a Field Technician and placed back in her prior position of Office Assistant. Compl. ¶ 28.

Willis ultimately filed a charge of race, color, and gender discrimination against defendants with the New York State Division of Human Rights ("NYSDHR"). After NYSDHR granted Willis an annulment of her election of remedies, which permitted her to pursue her claims in court rather than continue through the NYSDHR administrative process, Willis filed a complaint in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, alleging federal claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., as well under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and 42 U.S.C. § 1985, and state claims for violations of the New York State Human Rights Law ("NYSHRL"), N.Y. Exec. L. § 296, and for breach of contract. As mentioned above, defendants removed the case to this court, answered it, and then filed the instant motion for judgment on the pleadings.

DISCUSSION

A. Standard of Review

A district court applies the same standard of review to a defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings as it does to a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Bank of N.Y. v. First Millennium, Inc., 607 F.3d 905, 922 (2d Cir. 2010). Thus the Court must accept plaintiff's well-pleaded factual allegations as true and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. DiFolco v. MSNBC Cable L.L.C., 622 F.3d 104, 110-11 (2d Cir. 2010).

B. Analysis

Defendants claim that they are entitled to judgment on the pleadings because all of Willis's claims are preempted by § 301 of the LMRA, 29 U.S.C. § 185. Defendants also contend that Willis's breach of contract claim must be dismissed because it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

1. State Discrimination Claim

Defendants contend that Willis's claim for race, color, and sex discrimination under the NYSHRL is preempted because it requires interpretation of the collective bargaining agreement ("CBA") between Verizon and its employees' union. Defendants assert that Willis held the position of Field Technician as part of her participation in the Telecommunication Technical Associate Next Step ("TTA") program and that the TTA program's terms and conditions were set forth in the CBA. Defendants also maintain that Verizon demoted Willis from Field Technician to her old position as Office Assistant in conformity with the "retreat" (i.e., demotion) provisions in the CBA. Therefore, defendants' argument goes, in order to evaluate Willis's ...


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