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Doyle v. United Airlines, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. New York

December 20, 2012

Doreen Del Monaco DOYLE, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED AIRLINES, INC., Defendant.

Page 326

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 327

Stuart A. Jackson, The S.A. Jackson Law Firm, P.C., New York, NY, for Plaintiff.

Paul Hugo Galligan, Seyfarth Shaw, LLP, New York, NY, for Defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

MATSUMOTO, District Judge.

On March 13, 2012, plaintiff Doreen Del Monaco Doyle (" plaintiff" ) filed the instant Second Amended Complaint against United Airlines, Inc. (" defendant" ) alleging that (1) defendant discriminated against her in violation of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 701 et seq., by denying her light duty or a reduced work schedule that would accommodate her disability of short-term memory and coordination issues after brain surgery for a tumor, and (2) defendant breached its employment agreement with plaintiff by failing to provide plaintiff with light duty work after extended medical leave to facilitate her transition to her pre-leave duties. On both claims, plaintiff seeks damages for lost wages, emotional distress, mental anguish, and physical harm. On April 12, 2012, defendant served a motion to dismiss the Second Amended Complaint for failure to state a cause of action. Plaintiff opposed the motion on May 3, 2012, and defendant submitted a reply in support of its motion on May 10, 2012. For the reasons that follow, defendant's motion to dismiss the Second Amended Complaint is granted with prejudice, because any amendments by plaintiff would be futile.

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BACKGROUND

A. Factual Allegations in the Second Amended Complaint

According to the Second Amended Complaint, plaintiff was a customer service representative employed by defendant from November 1985 until April 2008. (ECF No. 9, Second Amended Complaint, filed March 13, 2012 (" S. Am. Compl." ) ¶¶ 3, 7.) In 2005, plaintiff was diagnosed with a brain tumor while hospitalized for severe headaches and confusion. ( Id. ¶ 4.) Plaintiff underwent surgery to remove the brain tumor and began rehabilitation. ( Id. ) During this time, plaintiff commenced an unpaid medical leave of absence in accordance with her employment agreement, which provided for up to three years of unpaid leave when medically necessary. ( Id. ¶ 6.)

In February 2008, within three years of taking medical leave, plaintiff advised her supervisor, Rande Reed, that she planned to return to work. ( Id. ) Specifically, Plaintiff asked for a period of light duty or reduced schedule work before returning to her former position to accommodate her disability, which included short-term memory and motor coordination issues. ( Id. ) Reed told plaintiff that, because defendant did not offer light duty accommodations, plaintiff must either return directly to her former position prior to the expiration of her extended leave or resign. ( Id. ) Plaintiff then requested a brief period of clerical work prior to returning to her former position, but Reed again denied her request. ( Id. ) In April 2008, defendant sent plaintiff a separation letter stating that plaintiff was deemed to have resigned for failure to return to work within three years after taking medical leave. ( Id. ¶ 7.)

According to her Second Amended Complaint, in late 2010, plaintiff learned from both current and former employees of defendant that defendant did indeed have a policy of accommodating employees returning from extended medical leave with light duty work. ( Id. ¶ 8.) Moreover, this policy was in place at the time plaintiff sought to return to work on a light duty basis. ( Id. ) Plaintiff alleges that defendant discriminated against her on the basis of her disability by refusing to accommodate her need for light duty work upon her return to employment. ( Id. ¶ 9.)

B. Factual Allegations from Plaintiff's Affidavit in Opposition to Defendant's Motion to Dismiss[1]

Plaintiff also alleges that a union agreement,

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or Collective Bargaining Agreement (" CBA" ),[2] was in place between plaintiff's union and defendant before plaintiff took a leave of absence and at the time of her termination. ( See Pl. Aff. at ¶¶ 7-8.) Specifically, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (the " union" ) became the sole and exclusive bargaining agent for defendant's customer service representatives, including plaintiff, on July 12, 1998 ( see CBA, at Preamble & Article II.A), and a CBA covered plaintiff's employment in 2008, when she was terminated ( see Pl. Aff. ¶ 8). Plaintiff was aware that there was a union in place when she began her extended medical leave, " although there was no union at the time [she] began [her] employment" with defendant. (Pl. Aff. ¶ 7.)

Plaintiff further alleges that she did not know whether the CBA provided her with any recourse at the time of her termination in April 2008, or " what impact the presence of the union would have on [her] situation." ( Id. ¶ 7.) Plaintiff did, however, contact at least two union representatives, Bill Imbember and Rose Cohen, seeking their assistance in resolving her employment dispute around the time she was terminated in April 2008. ( Id. ) According to plaintiff, these union representatives advised plaintiff " that the union could not and would not help [her]; that [she] had no rights to what [she] wanted, [she] had no rights under the union agreement; and [she] could not utilize the union's grievance procedure to make any claim." ( Id. ) As a result, plaintiff believed in 2008 that she " had no claim that could be pursued in any forum, including any procedure under the 2005-2009 Collective Bargaining Agreement between" defendant and the union. ( Id. ¶ 8.) In fact, plaintiff alleges that never before this lawsuit has anyone " suggested" that she should have utilized the union's claim and appeal procedures. ( Id. ) To plaintiff, " the union and its agreement with [defendant] never existed and were never a factor." ( Id. ) Thus, having relied to her detriment on the union representatives' statements to her that she had no recourse, plaintiff alleges that she should not now be penalized for having accepted the union's false representations. ( Id. )

Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint and the allegations in her Affidavit allege two claims arising from defendant's conduct. (S. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 10-18; see generally Pl. Aff.) First, plaintiff claims that defendant violated the Rehabilitation Act by discriminating against her on the basis of her disability. (S. Am. Compl. ¶ 11.) Second, plaintiff claims that defendant breached its employment agreement by

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failing to provide plaintiff with light duty work after medical leave to facilitate her transition to her original position. (S. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 13-15.) On plaintiff's claims against defendant, plaintiff seeks damages in excess of $100,000 for lost wages, emotional distress, mental anguish, and physical harm. (S. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 11, 18.)

C. Procedural Background

On April 12, 2012, defendant moved to dismiss the Second Amended Complaint for failure to state a cause of action, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), and filed a memorandum of law in support of its motion and a Declaration with supporting documents including the Second Amended Complaint and excerpts from the 2005-2009 CBA. (ECF No. 13, Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint (" Mot." ); ECF No. 14, Defendant's Memorandum of Law in Support of its Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint (" Mem." ); ECF No. 15, Declaration of Paul Galligan (" Galligan Decl." ).) On May 3, 2012, plaintiff submitted a memorandum in opposition (Opp.) and an Affidavit in Opposition to defendant's motion to dismiss (Pl. Aff.). In her opposition memorandum, plaintiff asks for leave to file an amended complaint if the court grants defendant's motion in order to include the allegations set forth in plaintiff's Affidavit in opposition to defendant's motion. (Opp. at 7-8.) Defendant submitted a reply in support of its motion on May 10, 2012, arguing both that the court should not grant plaintiff leave to amend but, if it does, that plaintiff's amended claims would still fail to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6). (Reply.)

1. Rehabilitation Act Claim

With respect to plaintiff's first cause of action, the Rehabilitation Act claim pursuant to Section 504, 29 U.S.C. § 794(a), defendant argues in its motion that plaintiff's first claim is time-barred in the Second Circuit, where a three-year statute of limitations is applied to Rehabilitation Act claims. (Mem. at 5-6 (citing Solomon v. N.Y. City Bd. of Educ., No. 95-CV-1878, 1996 WL 118541, at *4 (E.D.N.Y. Mar. 6, 1996); Bates v. L.I.R.R., 997 F.2d 1028, 1037 (2d Cir.1993)).) Thus, according to defendant, plaintiff's Rehabilitation Act claim is time-barred because she filed it on or about December 9, 2011, more than three years after she was terminated by defendant in or around April 2008. ( Id. at 5-6.)

Plaintiff responds to defendant's statute of limitations argument by suggesting that the court apply New York State's six-year statute of limitations for a breach of contract action to plaintiff's Rehabilitation Act claims, instead of the three-year limitation defendant contends is appropriate. (Opp. at 3-4.) Plaintiff argues that the Rehabilitation Act itself does not specify a statute of limitations period, and because the heart of her claim is that defendant violated the Rehabilitation Act by breaching its " express contractual obligation" to plaintiff by refusing to allow her to return to work on light duty, the six-year limitations period applicable to general contract actions should apply here. ( Id. at 4.) Plaintiff further argues that if the court does apply the three-year limitations period to her Rehabilitation Act claim, the court should deem the limitations period equitably tolled ...


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