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Jose A. Zavala v. Cornell University

May 6, 2013

JOSE A. ZAVALA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CORNELL UNIVERSITY, DEFENDANT.



DECISION and ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

On November 28, 2011, pro se Plaintiff Jose A. Zavala ("Plaintiff") filed a Complaint against Defendant Cornell University ("Defendant"), asserting a claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. 12101 et. seq. Dkt. No. 1 ("Complaint"). On November 30, 2011, Plaintiff also filed a Motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis, which was subsequently denied by the Honorable David E. Peebles, United States Magistrate Judge. Dkt. Nos. 2, 5.

On September 28, 2012, Defendant filed a Motion to dismiss the Complaint in its entirety and for entry of judgment as a matter of law in favor of Defendant pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Dkt. No. 14 ("Motion") at 1. On October 29, 2012, Plaintiff filed a Response in opposition to Defendant's Motion. Dkt. No. 16 ("Response"). Defendant, in turn, filed a Reply on October 31, 2012. Dkt. No. 15 ("Reply").

For the following reasons, the Court grants Defendant's Motion but also grants Plaintiff leave to amend his Complaint.

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff has been employed by Defendant since May 1993. Dkt. No. 12 ("Plaintiff's Letter") at 1. Plaintiff suffers from a permanent impairment and is a qualified individual with a disability within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 12111(8). Compl. ¶ 4. In February 2010, Plaintiff applied for protection under the Family Medical Leave Act, which was granted and officially approved on March 16, 2010. Resp. at 3; Dkt. No. 16-1 at 12.

Around October 2009, Plaintiff requested from Defendant reasonable accommodations for his disability pursuant to the ADA. Compl. ¶ 12. Plaintiff had chronic swelling in his right foot, and in December 2009, he had to take time off from work because of this ailment. Resp. at 3.

In February 2010, Defendant submitted an annual performance evaluation for Plaintiff in which Plaintiff received a "below average" rating for failing to meet one or more significant requirements of his position. Id. When Plaintiff inquired about this rating, the manager told Plaintiff that his frequent absences had slowed down the progress of the team. Id. Plaintiff submitted a rebuttal to the performance evaluation, requesting that the evaluation process be amended to include regular meetings throughout the year to discuss areas of improvement and provide feedback, so as to facilitate a more complete evaluation at the conclusion of the year. Dkt. No. 16-1 at 3. Plaintiff further alleges that Defendant imposed excessive and unreasonable work restrictions that unnecessarily undermined and limited Plaintiff's work, including "depriving Plaintiff of his tools, depriving him of a company vehicle, limiting his assignments to customer service type assignments rather than more challenging and rewarding technical assignments." Compl. ¶13(b). In March 2010, Plaintiff went to the emergency room for medical care. Resp. at 4. Defendant then told Plaintiff he could not return to his former work until he provided Defendant with a letter from his physician, which Plaintiff attempted to do over the next two months. Id. at 4-5.

In June 2010, the pain in Plaintiff's foot continued to worsen, and he eventually was told that it was broken. Id. at 5-6. Plaintiff requested that Defendant provide him with light-duty work. Defendant declined that request, and Plaintiff subsequently went on short-term disability leave. Id. at 6.

Plaintiff was informed that he would be able to return to work on October 11, 2010. Id. Plaintiff notified Defendant of his return and was informed that he would be reassigned to a new team. Id. Plaintiff maintains that harassment ensued when he returned to work and did not have access to a company vehicle or his tools and was assigned to a new job, rather than the one he had held for over a decade. Compl. at 7. Defendant informed Plaintiff that the job reassignment was a result of his physician's suggestion that he not climb ladders. Id. Plaintiff asserted additional harassment consisting of negative statements on his performance evaluation. Id.

Throughout his employment at Cornell University, Plaintiff worked as a Network Technician, and he claims that despite his disability he would have been able to perform the requirements for that position safely. Id. ¶ 17. Finally, Plaintiff claims that as a result of Defendant's discrimination, Plaintiff has suffered lost past and future income and other employment benefits, severe emotional pain and suffering, mental anguish, humiliation, loss of enjoyment of life, costs associated with obtaining reemployment, embarrassment, and damage to his reputation. Id. ¶ 19.

III. LEGAL STANDARDS

A. Judgment as a Matter of Law

"The standard for granting a Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings is identical to that of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion for failure to state a claim." Patel v. Contemporary Classics of Beverly Hills, 259 F.3d 123, 126 (2d Cir. 2001) (collecting cases). In reviewing a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a court must "accept all [factual] allegations in the amended complaint as true and draw all inferences in the light most favorable to" the non-moving party. In re NYSE Specialists Sec. Litig., 503 F.3d 89, 95 (2d Cir. 2007). The "tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in an amended complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions." Id. "Documents that are attached to the amended complaint or incorporated in it by reference are deemed part of the pleading and may be considered." Roth v. Jennings, 489 F.3d 499, 509 (2d Cir. 2007) (citations omitted). To survive a motion to dismiss, "an amended 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, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). This plausibility standard "is not akin to a ...


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