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Marsha White v. University of Rochester

August 20, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Charles J. Siragusa United States District Judge


This is an action for employment discrimination brought pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"). Now before the Court is Defendant's motion to dismiss the ERISA cause of action, for failure to state a claim. The application is granted.


Plaintiff is a 57-year-old woman who has been employed as a Registered Nurse by Defendant for approximately thirty-six years. Plaintiff worked for many years as a full-time employee, but more recently as a part-time employee in the hospital's Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit ("NICU"). Currently, Plaintiff is on long-term disability leave for depression, anxiety and stress-related conditions.

Plaintiff indicates that when she was working part-time in the NICU, she took prescribed medicine during her shift for her emotional/mental condition, which drew negative comments from co-workers. Plaintiff also indicates that she was directed to begin using a new computer program, but was not given enough time to learn the program. Plaintiff became "stressed out" by the new program, and asked for assistance, but, in her view, was not given "reasonable accommodation" to complete her training. Complaint [#1] ¶ 17.

On several occasions, supervisors have asked Plaintiff why she does not retire. Plaintiff views such inquiries as being "a form of age discrimination," which is also "in violation of the ERISA laws." Complaint [#1] ¶ 19. Plaintiff indicates that human resources employees have given her unspecified "conflicting and erroneous information" about whether she is qualified to retire as a full-time employee. Id. at ¶ 20. Plaintiff has expressed an interest in retiring, provided that she can retire "as a full-time employee," even though she is currently a part-time employee. Id. at ¶ 23. Plaintiff indicates, though, that she was informed that while there was "no formal written personnel policy preventing [her] from retiring as a full-time employee, as a result of having worked for numerous years as a full-time employee, that [she] was not going to be permitted to retire as a full-time emmployee because at that particular time [she] was working as a part-time employee and no credit was going to be given to [her] for all of [her] years of previous full-time employment." Id. at ¶ 24. After being told that, Plaintiff informed Defendant that she did not want to retire as a part-time employee. Id. at ¶ 25. Subsequently, Defendant told Plaintiff that she would be permitted to retire as a full-time employee, provided that she first worked in a full-time position for at least four months. Id. at ¶ 35.

On the same day that Plaintiff informed her supervisor that she did not want to retire, her Nurse Leader Supervisor told her that she was "no longer a 'good fit' for the [NICU], for 'safety reasons.'" Complaint [#1] ¶ 26. Plaintiff also states that a Head Nurse/Nurse Leader told her to "retire, quit or be fired" because she had received two unfavorable patient survey responses. Id. at ¶ ¶ 21-22. Plaintiff does not specifically allege that she was fired from her position in the NICU, but does indicate that she was removed from certain assignments. Id. at ¶ 33.

Plaintiff states that she met with Defendant's Office of Nursing Recruitment to find another job within the hospital. At the same time, Plaintiff indicates that she requested some type of accommodation for her mental/emotional disabilities, but was told that Defendant only made accommodations for employees with physical disabilities. Id. at ¶ 30. In or about September 2011, Plaintiff went on medical disability leave. Id. at ¶ 34.

On May 29, 2012, Plaintiff commenced this action. Base upon the foregoing factual allegations, the third cause of action in Plaintiff's Complaint purports to state a claim under "the ERISA laws," without specifying a particular section of that statute. Complaint [#1] ¶ 46.

On July 12, 2012, Defendant filed the subject motion [#3] to dismiss the third cause of action, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure ("FRCP") 12(b)(6). Defendant maintains that the Complaint could only potentially state a claim under two sections of ERISA: Section 502(A)(1)(B) (29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B)), or Section 510 (29 U.S.C. § 1140). However, Defendant contends that the Complaint does not plead a plausible claim under either section. Defendant states that, as to Section 502(A)(1)(B), Plaintiff has not pleaded that she exhausted her administrative remedies as required, and that as to Section 510, she has not pleaded sufficient facts to state a plausible claim.

In response, Plaintiff maintains that she has stated a plausible claim under ERISA, though she again fails to specify which section or sections she is proceeding under. See, Pl. Memo of Law [#4] at p. 2 ("Plaintiff's Third Cause of Action seeks to state a claim under ERISA, 29 U.S.C. § 1001, et seq."). Plaintiff does not specifically claim to state a claim under Section 502(A)(1)(B), but, at most, seems to indirectly address Defendant's argument on that point by stating: "It is not correct that every alleged violation of ERISA requires that a plaintiff commence administrative procedures prior to commencing a lawsuit in federal court." Pl. Memo of Law [#4] at p. 5 (emphasis added). Of course, Defendant never indicated that. Rather, Defendant indicated that Plaintiff was required to exhaust administrative remedies before pursuing a claim under Section 502(A)(1)(B), and Plaintiff does not refute that contention.

On the other hand, Plaintiff's response at least implies that she is pursuing a claim under ERISA Section 510. On this point, Plaintiff refers to that section, and contends that she has alleged sufficient facts suggesting that Defendant engaged in "improper and unlawful behavior under ERISA," "to either deprive or interfere with [her] attainment of her rights to retire with a proper level of paid benefits in accordance with Defendant's 'employee benefit plan,' as defined in 29 U.S.C. [ § § ] 1002, 1140, et seq." Pl. Memo of Law [#4] at p. 6. Plaintiff further contends that she "has sufficiently alleged that the Defendant has wrongfully threatened her attainment of employee benefit plan benefits if she did not accede to the Defendant's unilateral wishes that 'she just retire.'" Id.*fn1

On the basis of Defendant's motion, Plaintiff's response and Defendant's reply, the Court is prepared to make its ...

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