AARON S. LUCKETTE, Plaintiff,
F.M. HOWELL & COMPANY, INC., Defendants.
DECISION AND ORDER
DAVID G. LARIMER, District Judge.
Plaintiff Aaron Luckette ("Luckette") brings this action against his former employer, F.M. Howell & Co., Inc. and Howell, Liberatore & Associates, Inc. ("HLA"), formerly known as Howell, Liberatore & Wickham, alleging discrimination in employment on the basis of disability and the taking of FMLA leave, pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. §12101 et seq. ("ADA"), the New York Human Rights Law, N.Y. Exec. Law §§290 et seq. ("NYHRL"), and the Family and Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. §2601 et seq. ("FMLA"). HLA has asserted counterclaims against Luckette for breach of contract, breach of the duty of loyalty, trespass to chattels and tortious interference with contract. HLA now moves for summary judgment dismissing Luckette's claims (Dkt. #17), and Luckette cross moves for summary judgment on HLA's counterclaims (Dkt. #38). For the reasons that follow, HLA's motion is granted, Luckette's motion is denied, the complaint is dismissed, and the Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over HLA's counterclaims.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
In or about February 2005, Luckette, the owner of a computer programming and website hosting company, Hostbrothers, Inc. ("Hostbrothers"), was hired by HLA as an employee in its marketing services business. When his employment with HLA commenced, Luckette executed two non-compete agreements, and also sold certain intellectual property rights and client accounts from Hostbrothers to HLA pursuant to a letter agreement ("intellectual property purchase agreement").
On or about December 28, 2008, HLA learned that Luckette had been injured. Luckette describes his injuries as a back fracture and states that he was diagnosed with a heart condition, following an epileptic seizure. Luckette requested immediate FMLA leave, which was granted, and continued for several months until March 2009.
While Luckette was absent on FMLA leave, HLA contacted one of its clients for whom Luckette had been the primary contact, Cornell University Hospital for Animals ("Cornell"), to inquire about an outstanding invoice. Cornell responded that it no longer owed the money, because it had made a $1, 000.00 payment directly to Luckette. The existence of the payment was confirmed, and HLA's President Fred Wickham ("Wickham") was apprised of the situation.
After reviewing Luckette's non-compete agreements, which contained prohibitions against maintaining financial interests that were competitive with HLA or its successors or assignees, Wickham concluded that Luckette's acceptance of the payment from Cornell violated his noncompete obligations and the intellectual property purchase agreement, and decided to terminate Luckette's employment. As a result of Luckette's acceptance of the $1, 000.00 payment from Corning - a payment which Corning evidently believed was in full satisfaction of an invoice from HLA in the amount of $2, 988.89 - HLA was compelled to write off the entire amount of the invoice. Luckette, however, claims that Cornell's characterization of the payment was mistaken, and that he accepted the payment solely for the transfer of ownership of certain source code and programming rights that he had personally developed as part of Hostbrothers prior to his employment with HLA - rights that he claimed had never been transferred to HLA.
Luckette was called in to meet with Wickham on March 23, 2009, at which time his employment was terminated. Within hours, HLA became aware that technical problems were plaguing its internet hosting services. Wickham contacted Luckette, who informed Wickham that he had contacted the domain name hosting company responsible for the identification of HLA's resources on the internet and had changed the identification of various HLA services so that they were no longer accessible online. Luckette had also tried to remotely access HLA servers, which had responded by shutting down spontaneously. Luckette contends that he was not attempting to damage HLA property, and that the service problems were the result of his good-faith attempt to separate his intellectual property from HLA's. HLA contends that Luckette's alleged post-termination interference with its equipment caused it to incur $8, 068.95 in repair costs.
On May 19, 2011, over two years after his termination, Luckette filed the instant action against HLA, alleging: (1) discriminatory termination in violation of the ADA; and/or (2) retaliatory termination for taking FMLA leave. HLA filed counterclaims against Luckette for breach of contract, breach of the duty of loyalty, trespass to chattels and tortious interference with contract.
I. Summary Judgment in Discrimination Cases
Summary judgment will be granted if the record demonstrates that "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986). Although courts should be cautious about granting summary judgment in cases where motive, intent or state of mind are at issue, a common component of discrimination actions, see Dister v. Cont'l Group, Inc., 859 F.2d 1108, 1114 (2d Cir. 1988); Montana v. First Federal Savings and Loan Ass'n of Rochester, 869 F.2d 100, 103 (2d Cir. 1989), "the salutary purposes of summary judgment - avoiding protracted, expensive and harassing trials - apply no less to discrimination cases than to... other areas of litigation." Meiri v. Dacon, 759 F.2d 989, 998 (2d Cir.1985) (summary judgment rule would be rendered sterile if mere incantation of intent or state of mind would act as a talisman to defeat an otherwise valid motion). See also Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 148 (2000), quoting St. Mary's Honor Ctr. v. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502, 524 (1993) (trial courts should not "treat discrimination differently from other ultimate questions of fact").
Luckette's s claims of discriminatory termination under both the ADA and FMLA are subject to the burden-shifting analysis articulated in McDonnell-Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). See generally Thomsen v. Stantec, Inc., 2012 U.S.App. LEXIS 10351 at *7-*9 (2d Cir. 2012) (retaliation claims under the FMLA are decided under the McDonnell Douglas burdenshifting test). First, plaintiff must establish a prima facie case of discrimination by demonstrating:
(1) membership in a protected class; (2) satisfactory job performance; and (3) an adverse employment action, occurring under (4) circumstances giving rise to an inference of discrimination. See Collins v. New York City Transit Authority, 305 F.3d 113, 118 (2d Cir. 2002). Once plaintiff has established a prima facie case, the burden shifts to defendant to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse employment action. See James v. New York Racing Ass'n, 233 F.3d 149, 154 (2d Cir. 2000). The burden then returns to plaintiff, to supply evidence ...