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Medcalf v. Walsh

United States District Court, S.D. New York

April 9, 2013


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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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For Valerie Medcalf, an individual, Plaintiff: Robert Paul Gammel, Steven E. Savage, Law Office of Steven E. Savage, Newark, NJ.

For Evelyn Walsh, an individual, George J. Walsh, III, an individual, Defendants: Peter N. Moore, LEAD ATTORNEY, PRO HAC VICE, Edwards Wildman Palmer, LLP, Chicago, IL; Zachary Winthrop Silverman, LEAD ATTORNEY, Edwards Wildman Palmer LLP (NYC), New York, NY.

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Paul A. Engelmayer, United States District Judge.

This case involves a lawsuit by a legal secretary, Valerie Medcalf, against the law firm partner for whom she worked, George J. Walsh III, and the partner's wife, Evelyn Walsh. Medcalf's claims arise out of her discovery of emails between the Walshes commenting upon her, which in turn touched off a series of events that led the law firm, Thomson Hine LLP (" TH" ), to terminate her. Medcalf brings claims for: (1) conspiracy to commit tortious interference with business relations, (2) tortious

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interference with business relations, (3) intentional infliction of emotional distress, and (4) defamation. Defendants move to dismiss Medcalf's Amended Complaint. For the reasons that follow, that motion is granted.

I. Background

A. Factual Background[1]

Between May 4, 2005, and February 28, 2012, Medcalf worked as a legal secretary in the New York City office of TH. Am. Compl. ¶ ¶ 10, 37. On June 17, 2005, she was permanently assigned to support defendant George J. Walsh, III (" George" ), a partner in the firm. Id. ¶ 11. Among Medcalf's duties were answering George's phone and placing calls for him. Id. ¶ 12. Through those duties, Medcalf first met defendant Evelyn Walsh (" Evelyn" ), who married George on June 24, 2006, and whose wedding Medcalf attended as an invited guest. Id. ¶ ¶ 9, 12.

As part of her job responsibilities, Medcalf was given, in writing, full access to George's Outlook email account. Id. ¶ 13. She was required often to access George's email account to locate materials that George needed to do his job. Id. ¶ 14. Medcalf had authorized access to George's account until February 21, 2012, a week before her termination. Id. ¶ 35.

In fall 2010, Medcalf became pregnant. Id. ¶ 15. Medcalf believed that George had a " negative attitude" toward Medcalf because of her regular prenatal appointments. Id. ¶ 16. Following the birth of her baby in May 2011, Medcalf began experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression and associated mental health issues, including severe anxiety and panic attacks. Id. ¶ 18. On or about August 5, 2011, Medcalf began her leave from TH to tend to these issues. Id. ¶ 21. On or about August 8, 2011, Dr. Wei Wang, a psychiatrist, advised Medcalf that the severity of her postpartum-related mental issues would likely require her to take up to five months of leave from TH. Id. ¶ 22.

On Friday August 12, 2011, Medcalf told George and her TH supervisors, by email, of the need for a five-month leave based on that diagnosis. Id. ¶ 23, Ex. A. In the email, Medcalf asked that the email's contents be kept confidential. Id. Ex. A. On or about October 4, 2011, Medcalf began regular psychiatric treatment with Dr. Paul Schneck, who, as of the date of the Amended Complaint, continued to treat Medcalf. Id. ¶ 24.

On November 21, 2011, Medcalf returned to TH. She learned that a different legal secretary had been assigned to George. Id. ¶ ¶ 25-26. However, Medcalf remained George's back-up secretary and George continued to ask Medcalf to locate emails that George needed to perform his work duties. Id. ¶ 27.

On or about December 15, 2011, Evelyn and Medcalf saw each other at TH's offices, and Evelyn asked about Medcalf's well-being. Id. ¶ 28. Medcalf told Evelyn that she was seeing a psychologist and on medication. Medcalf states that she felt " intimated [ sic ] because of [Evelyn]'s status as a partner's wife." Id.

On February 20, 2012, while performing her regular duties, Medcalf discovered an email exchange between George and Evelyn dated August 12, 2011. In the first email in the exchange, George forwarded to Evelyn the email that he had received from Medcalf the same day, announcing her five-month leave. He wrote: " Note this." Id. Ex. A. In response, Evelyn wrote:

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I thought she said she had an emergency doctors [ sic ] appointment, why the ER? . . . But generally true post partum depression appears after a few months and I'd ask why they're asking for five months so early in the process. . . . Is it coincidence that that this gives her the rest of the year off and eligible for disability benefits? Sorry, I hope she ok but it just all seems suspect to me.

Id. Evelyn concluded her email to her husband: " All the Monday's and Friday's off, and other stuff which has been ongoing. You don't need this. You've been very good to her. You deserve someone you can rely on." Id.

After finding the August 12, 2011 email exchange between George and Evelyn, Medcalf discovered other email exchanges between George and Evelyn, many including emails from Medcalf that George had forwarded to Evelyn. Id. ¶ ¶ 31-32. In one, dated August 31, 2011, George told Evelyn that he had emailed Medcalf to ask about her well-being following Hurricane Irene, and attached his email exchange with Medcalf. Id. Ex. B. Responding to George, Evelyn reiterated her skepticism of Medcalf's difficulties: " Once again I have to say that [Medcalf] doesn't act like a person who has such severe post partum that she can't work. The email is not indicative of any mood disorder and she talks right along." Id.

Medcalf also discovered a June 30, 2011 email exchange between George and Evelyn, in which George forwarded a picture of Medcalf's infant, which Medcalf had sent to several people at TH. George wrote to Evelyn: " The first picture of Valerie's baby. Very cute!!" Id. Ex. C. In response to George, Evelyn wrote, " [The baby] is adorable but if [Medcalf] had had a decent shower she would have some nice cotton, clean and non fuzzy blankets to safely sleep [the baby] on. Ugh. It's good that [Medcalf] seems to have bonded with her though and is exited [sic] enough to share pictures, that's a good sign." Id.

Ultimately, Medcalf discovered seven additional email exchanges between George and Evelyn, spanning August 3, 2009, to August 5, 2011. Id. Ex. E. The email exchanges generally take the form of (1) emails from Medcalf to George reporting that she would not be at work that day, which George then forwarded to Evelyn with such comments as: " UGH!!!!" ; " No Valerie today" ; " Not a good way to start the week" ; " This is not good. I'll email Carol for coverage," id.; and (2) replies by Evelyn, including commentary such as: " And you are so busy today and need her. This sounds fishy. It's a nice day and a Monday. I'm sorry" ; " I hope this is not the shape of things to come. Isn't it suspect that these little emergencies are always on Friday or Monday? It's so not fair to you. You need her to be there" ; and, " She doesn't say she's sick. You should ask her what's wrong with her." Id.

On February 21, 2012, one day after discovering these email exchanges, Medcalf emailed Evelyn to confront her. Medcalf carbon copied George and blind carbon copied her TH supervisors. Id. ¶ 33. Medcalf accused Evelyn of making " despicable and disgusting remarks" about Medcalf's daughter and requested that Evelyn " stop disrespecting [Medcalf]" and " stop disrespecting [Medcalf's] daughter." Id. Ex. F. Evelyn responded to Medcalf's email within an hour, carbon copying George. Id. In her response, Evelyn apologized if she was " unfairly judgemental" regarding Medcalf's absences and explained that her concern had been for the effect that Medcalf's absences had ...

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