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Thorpe v. Piedmont Airlines, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. New York

February 22, 2013

Terri L. THORPE, Plaintiff,
PIEDMONT AIRLINES, INC.; Ronald Hynes; William Rocco and Michelle Foose, Defendants.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Terri L. Thorpe, Nichols, NY, pro se.

Philip K. Davidoff, Ford, Harrison Law Firm, New York, NY, for Defendant.


LAWRENCE E. KAHN, District Judge.


On January 12, 2012, Plaintiff Terri L. Thorpe (" Plaintiff" ), a resident of Tioga County, New York commenced this action pro se. Dkt. No. 1 (" Complaint" ). Plaintiff names Piedmont Airlines, Inc. (" Piedmont" ), Ronald Hynes (" Hynes" ), William Rocco (" Rocco" ), and Michelle Foose (" Foose" ) as Defendants in this case. Id. at 2. Defendant Hynes is a resident of Chitenden County in Vermont; Defendant Rocco is a resident of Tompkins County in New York; and Defendant Foose is a resident of Dauphin County in Pennsylvania. Id. Defendant Piedmont is a corporation incorporated in Pennsylvania with a place of business in Binghamton, New York. Id. Plaintiff brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1981, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2, and N.Y. EXEC. L. § 290 et seq. alleging discrimination and harassment on the basis of age. Id. at 1.

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Presently before the Court is a Motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, filed by Defendants on May 1, 2012. Dkt. No. 12 (" Motion" ). In asking the Court to dismiss Plaintiff's claims, Defendants argue that: (1) Plaintiff's claims against all Defendants for violation of the New York State Humans Rights Law (" NYSHRL" ) are barred by the remedies provision in N.Y. EXEC. L. § 297(9); (2) Plaintiff's claims of sex and age discrimination are not cognizable under 42 U.S.C. § 1981; (3) Plaintiff's claims of age discrimination are not cognizable under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (" Title VII" ); (4) Plaintiff cannot bring a suit under Title VII or under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (" ADEA" ) against individual Defendants as these statutes do not allow for individual liability; (5) Plaintiff's claims under Title VII and the ADEA are time-barred by the applicable statute of limitations; and (6) Plaintiff fails to state a cause of action under Title VII or the ADEA. Mot. 1-2.

For the reasons stated below, Defendants' Motion to dismiss is granted in part and denied in part.


A. Factual Background

Plaintiff is a fifty-one year old female.[1] Compl. 3. Plaintiff was hired by U.S. Airways Express on August 9, 2001 and employed as a Customer Service Agent at Elmira Corning Regional Airport. Id. at 3. In September 2005, Plaintiff accepted a supervisory position at Newport News International Airport in Newport News, Virginia, with Piedmont Airlines (an affiliate of U.S. Airways Express). Id. Subsequently, in January of 2008, Plaintiff accepted a position with Piedmont Airlines at the Binghamton Regional Airport in New York. Id.

Upon joining the Binghamton Regional Airport office, Plaintiff worked with Defendant Hynes.[2] Id. Plaintiff indicates that her professional relationship with Defendant Hynes seemed to be fairly amicable, with Defendant Hynes consistently praising Plaintiff's work. Id. Their relationship soured, however, when Defendant Hynes borrowed a sum of money from Plaintiff. [3] Id. As a result of this loan, Defendant Hynes created a hostile working environment that involved denial of training opportunities, demotions, age discrimination, and derogatory comments. Id. Plaintiff points to specific events to demonstrate the treatment she alleges. For example, in May 2010, specific training necessary to maintain her position with Defendant Piedmont was held. Id. at 4. Plaintiff, however, was not included in the original schedule to attend this training with the other supervisors and agents and was added to the training schedule only after numerous requests to Defendant Hynes. Id. at 4. Plaintiff was the only supervisor not included in subsequent training sessions. Id. Further, in January 2008, Defendant Hynes without reason or cause revoked Plaintiff's access to the Mainline DECS, a system allowing supervisors to monitor and track flight information. Id. This in turn affected Plaintiff's ability to perform

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her job as a senior supervisor effectively. Id. at 4-5.

Subsequently, in February 2009, Defendant Hynes promoted Austin Johnson to a supervisory position. Id. at 3. Johnson was a young male, approximately twenty-five years old and a close friend of Defendant Hynes. Id. Plaintiff alleges that at the time Johnson was promoted, he lacked the qualifications and training requirements necessary to be appointed to a supervisory position. Id. Nonetheless, Johnson was given the opportunity to work alongside Defendant Hynes in training new recruits. Id. at 5. As a result of the promotion, Johnson was scheduled and permitted to attend the same training sessions as Plaintiff. Id. at 4-5.

In addition to denying Plaintiff training opportunities, Defendant Hynes revoked certain responsibilities from her without explanation, gave Johnson priority, and made several remarks to and about Plaintiff regarding her age. Id. at 5. For example, Defendant Hynes regularly called Plaintiff the " golden girl" in a derogatory fashion to imply that she was the " oldest supervisor, the oldest female," and the eldest among all the other agents. Id. at 6. Further, Defendant Hynes would encourage and instigate other derogatory remarks. Id. On July 7, 2010, Plaintiff was informed that Defendant Hynes told another supervisor, " Terri is such a fucking bitch and I cannot stand her." Id. at 6. The supervisor speaking with Defendant Hynes replied, " [Y]es she is a fucking bitch." Id. Plaintiff contends that she endured constant verbal and emotional abuse throughout her employment relationship with Defendants Hynes and Piedmont. Id. Plaintiff further claims that she raised her concerns with Defendant Hynes; however, the harassment and insults continued. Id. at 7. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Hynes took those actions to prevent her from advancing in her career and to force her into terminating her employment with Defendant Piedmont. Id. at 3.

Plaintiff further contends that she raised her concerns with Defendant Hynes's superior, Defendant Rocco. Id. at 7. Plaintiff and Defendant Rocco exchanged several emails and telephone calls regarding Plaintiff's complaints. Id. Defendant Rocco was aware of the problems between Plaintiff and Defendant Hynes, but took no action to correct the situation. Id. Plaintiff also brought her concerns to Defendant Foose, who worked in the Human Resources Department for Defendant Piedmont. Id. at 8. Defendant Foose dismissed Plaintiff's complaints by saying that Plaintiff had a " personality conflict" with Defendant Hynes and that there was nothing Defendant Foose could do for Plaintiff. Id. at 8.

On January 7, 2011, Plaintiff was terminated in a written communication citing her past history with the company. Id. at 7. Plaintiff claims that she never received any evaluation forms or discussion regarding her performance throughout the length of her employment with Defendant Piedmont. Id. at 8. In addition, Plaintiff claims that Defendant Piedmont's Human Resources Department did not make any effort to assist Plaintiff in addressing her concerns regarding the treatment by Defendant Hynes and the hostile working environment. Id. at 8.

B. Procedural Background

On February 17, 2011, Plaintiff filed a Verified Complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights (" NYSDHR" ) alleging unlawful discriminatory practice relating to her employment with Defendant Piedmont. Dkt. No. 16-1 (" Verified Complaint" ) at 2. In her Verified Complaint, Plaintiff alleged acts of employment discrimination against Piedmont Airlines and the individual Defendants, based on age and sex that created a hostile work

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environment and led to her wrongful termination from employment. Id. at 4. On July 29, 2011, the NYSDHR issued Plaintiff a Determination and Order After Investigation. Dkt. No. 12-4 (" Determination" ). The Determination stated that " [a]fter investigation, and following opportunity for review of related information and evidence by the named parties, the Division has determined that there is NO PROBABLE CAUSE to believe that the respondents have engaged in or are engaging in the unlawful discriminatory practice complained of." Id. at 2. The NYSDHR advised Plaintiff that she had sixty days to appeal the Determination to a New York State Supreme Court in the county in which the alleged discrimination took place. Id. In addition, the Determination stated that the NYSDHR had forwarded Plaintiff's Verified Complaint to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (" EEOC" ) for enforcement of the federal claims brought by Plaintiff. Id. at 3. Lastly, the Determination stated that Plaintiff had the right to request in writing that the EEOC review this action within fifteen days of the Determination. Id.

Because Plaintiff did not request that the EEOC review her Verified Complaint, the EEOC issued a Dismissal and Notice of Rights adopting the findings of the NYSDHR. Dkt. 12-5 (" Notice" ). The Notice stated that Plaintiff could " file a lawsuit against the respondent(s) under federal law based on [the] charge in federal or state court" within ninety days of the notice. Id. at 2. Subsequently, on January 13, 2012, Plaintiff filed the instant Complaint alleging discrimination and harassment by Defendants through her employment with Piedmont Airlines. Compl. 1.


A. Motion To Dismiss

To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a " complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘ state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’ " Ashcroft v. Iqbal,556 U.S. 662, 663, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)); see also FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6). Such a determination " requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (citation omitted). A court must accept as true the factual allegations contained in the complaint and draw all inferences in favor of the Plaintiff. See Allaire Corp. v. Okumus, 433 F.3d 248, 249-50 (2d Cir.2006). Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the pleading requirement is satisfied by " a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a)(2). A complaint may be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) only where it appears that there are not " enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955. Plausibility requires " enough fact[s] to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of [the alleged misconduct]." Id. at 556, 127 S.Ct. 1955. The plausibility standard " asks for more than a sheer possibility that a Defendant has acted unlawfully." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937. " [T]he pleading standard Rule 8 announces does not require ‘ detailed factual ...

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