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Smith v. City of New York

United States District Court, Second Circuit

May 8, 2013

AKILAH SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF NEW YORK, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

JESSE M. FURMAN, District Judge.

Pro se Plaintiff Akilah Smith, a woman of Jamaican origin, sues her former employer, the New York City Department of Education ("DOE"), alleging discrimination on the basis of national origin, wrongful termination, and retaliation in violation of Tile VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et. seq. Defendant has moved to dismiss he Complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, on the ground that Smith has failed to state a claim of discrimination upon which relief can be granted. For the reason discussed below, Defendant's motion to dismiss is granted, and Smith's Complaint is dismissed.

BACKGROUND

On a motion to dismiss, a court may consider facts stated in the complaint, any documents attached to the complaint, and any documents incorporated by reference into the complaint. See, e.g., Nechis v. Oxford Health Plans, Inc., 421 F.3d 96, 100 (2d Cir. 2005). Accordingly, the following facts are taken from the Complaint and from documents attached to and referenced therein, and are assumed to be true for purposes of this motion. See, e.g., LaFaro v. N.Y. Cardiothoracic Grp., PLLC, 570 F.3d 471, 475 (2d Cir. 2009).

Smith, who is of Jamaican origin, began working for the DOE as a probationary teacher at Mott Hall in the Bronx, New York, in August 2010. (SDHR Compl. §§ 1-2). According to the Complaint, on December 20, 2010, an African-American student pushed her in the back while she was attempting to keep order in an unruly class. ( Id. § 3). The student then told the Principal-In-Training at Mott Hall, who is Hispanic, that Smith had struck her - an allegation that Smith denies. ( Id. ). On December 21, 2010, the student and her parent came to the school and once again the student asserted that Smith had hit her on the previous day. ( Id. § 4). Smith then spoke with the school's principal, Dr. Patrick Awosogba, about the student's complaint. ( Id. § 5). Dr. Awosogba, who is African, told Smith that there was nothing to worry about and that at most, a letter describing the incident might be placed in Smith's file. ( Id. ).

On December 23, 2010, Smith received a letter stating that after an investigation, she had been found responsible for the December 20th incident. ( Id. § 6). Believing that the letter was an incident report, Smith signed it. ( Id. ). According to the Complaint, Smith later learned that Dr. Awosogba had questioned only the students who "attacked" her and not the other students in the class. ( Id. § 7).

Smith alleges that since December 23, 2010, she has been "consistently harassed" by Dr. Awosogba. ( Id. § 8). Smith claims that Dr. Awosogba has deliberately given her poor evaluations, despite the fact that her students scored higher than average on performance tests. ( Id. ). Specifically, Smith claims that on May 23, 2011, Dr. Awosogba gave her a poor evaluation on an informal observation report in order to "build a pretext to terminate [her]." ( Id. § 9). Plaintiff claims that she was one of only two West Indians employed at Mott Hall, and that Dr. Awosogba "[took] the side of the African American students that attacked [her], despite the fact that these students are known to have disciplinary problems." ( Id. § 10). In the verified complaint that she filed with the New York State Division of Human Rights on June 13, 2011, which is attached to the Complaint Smith filed in this Court, Smith alleges that Dr. Awosogba harassed her and "is attempting to terminate [her] because [she is] West Indian (Jamaican)." ( Id. § 10). Although Smith indicated in her Complaint that she was terminated from her employment and suffered retaliation (Compl. II(A)), she does not state on what date she was terminated. In her Opposition to Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, Plaintiff also alleges that "Principal Awosogba on several occasions berated me and specifically cited my national origin as a reason for his improper practices towards me." (Pl.'s Opp'n Mot. Dismiss 3).

Plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on June 13, 2011, and received a right to sue letter on January 25, 2012. (Compl. III(A)-(B)). Plaintiff commenced this action on April 23, 2012.[1] On September 17, 2012, Defendant filed a motion to dismiss the Complaint under Rule 12(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Docket No. 11). By Order dated September 19, 2012, the Court granted Plaintiff leave to file any amended complaint, or any opposition to the motion to dismiss, no later than October 29, 2012. (Docket No. 14). On November 5, 2012 - after that deadline - Plaintiff filed an amended complaint, which appeared only to replace Defendant City of New York with the previously terminated defendant New York City Department of Education, and to omit the factual allegations contained in the original Complaint. (Docket No. 15). Because of the obvious deficiencies in Plaintiff's amended complaint, the Court stuck the amended complaint. Plaintiff filed her opposition to Defendant's motion on December 20, 2012. (Docket No. 16).

DISCUSSION

Plaintiff claims that Defendant discriminated against her her national origin, wrongfully terminated her, harassed her, and retaliated against her, all in violation of Title VII. As noted above, Defendant moves to dismiss the Complaint for failure to state a claim. Specifically, Defendant argues that Plaintiff has not pleaded any facts that suggest that a causal connection exists between her Jamaican origin and her termination, or any other alleged adverse action, including harassment or retaliation. (Def.'s Mem. Law Supp. Mot. Dismiss 2).

A. Rule 12(b)(6) Standards

In reviewing a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the Court must accept the factual allegations set forth in the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. See, e.g., Holmes v. Grubman, 568 F.3d 329, 335 (2d Cir. 2009). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, however, the plaintiff must plead sufficient facts "to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). A claim is facially plausible "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). More specifically, the plaintiff must allege sufficient facts to show "more than a sheer possibility that a defendant acted unlawfully." Id. A complaint that offers only "labels and conclusions" or "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Further, if the plaintiff has not "nudged [his or her] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible, [the] complaint must be dismissed." Id. at 570.

Twombly and Iqbal notwithstanding, the Supreme Court has held that, to survive a motion to dismiss, "a complaint in an employment discrimination lawsuit [need] not contain specific facts establishing a prima facie case of discrimination under the framework set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973)." Id. at 569 (quoting Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N. A., 534 U.S. 506, 508 (2002) (alterations in original)).[2] Nevertheless, the elements of a prima facie case "provide an outline of what is necessary to render [a plaintiff's employment discrimination] claims for relief plausible." Sommersett v. City of New York, No. 09 Civ. 5916 (LTS) (KNF), 2011 WL 2565301, at *5 (S.D.N.Y. June 28, 2011). Accordingly, "courts consider these elements in determining whether there is sufficient factual matter in the complaint which, if true, gives Defendant a fair notice of Plaintiff's claim and the grounds on which it rests." Murphy v. Suffolk County Cmty. Coll., 10-CV-0251 (LDW) (AKT), 2011 WL 5976082, at *5 (E.D.N.Y. Nov. 29, 2011).

Even under the heightened pleading standards set by Iqbal and Twombly, a court is "obligated to construe a pro se complaint liberally." Harris v. Mills, 572 F.3d 66, 72 (2d Cir. 2009). Thus, when considering pro se submissions, the Court should interpret them "to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest." Triestman v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 470 F.3d 471, 474 (2d Cir. 2006) (per curiam) (internal quotation marks omitted). Notwithstanding the Court's obligation, "to survive a motion to dismiss, a pro se plaintiff must still plead sufficient facts to state a claim that is plausible on its face." Bodley v. Clark, No. 11 Civ. 8955 (KBF), 2012 WL 3042175, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. July 23, 2012); ...


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