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Dessources v. American Conference Institute

May 15, 2013


The opinion of the court was delivered by: P. Kevin Castel, District Judge


This is an employment discrimination action by plaintiff against her former employer. Plaintiff, who alleges that she was terminated because her mother had terminal cancer, asserts claims against her former employer and her former supervisor, as well as unnamed defendants, under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., and the New York City Human Rights Law, N.Y. City Admin. Code § 8-101 et seq. Defendants move to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Rule 12(b)(6), Fed. R. Civ. P. Because plaintiff fails to allege plausibly that she was terminated because of her mother's illness, defendants' motion is granted.


The following facts are taken from the complaint and are assumed to be true for the purpose deciding defendants' motion to dismiss. All reasonable inferences are drawn in favor of plaintiff, the non-movant.

Defendant American Conference Institute ("ACI") is in the business of producing educational programs and seminars, including Continuing Legal Education programs for attorneys. (Compl. ¶ 5.) ACI hired plaintiff on or about March 16, 2011, as a Conference Producer. (Id. ¶ 15.) During plaintiff's employment at ACI, she was supervised by defendant Kenneth Horton, an ACI Division Manager. (Id. ¶¶ 6, 7.)

Plaintiff timely completed the first two conferences of three assigned to her at ACI; the complaint states that she "produced great conferences." (Id. ¶ 23.) Specifically, the first conference had more in-house attorneys as speakers than ever before, allegedly an indication of its successes because in-house attorneys tend to attract other attorneys to conferences. (Id. ¶¶ 24, 25.) Plaintiff's co-workers praised the first conference, stating that it was "likely to be the best of its kind," and ACI Managing Director Benjamin Greenzweig "individually spoke to Ms. Dessources to single her out for praise." (Id. ¶¶ 28, 29.) At the time of her termination, plaintiff was in the process of organizing the third conference and had booked in-house counsel from one of the country's most recognized business entities to be a speaker. (Id. ¶ 26.)

During plaintiff's employment at ACI, her mother suffered from cancer. (Id. ¶ 31.) This fact was known to ACI and specifically to plaintiff's supervisor, Horton, who authorized certain days off for plaintiff to visit and care for her mother. (Id. ¶ 32.) Horton "repeatedly asked Ms. Dessources about the condition of her mother." (Id. ¶ 33.) The complaint alleges that "[t]he reason for this repeated questioning . . . was not out of a genuine concern for her health, but rather, stemmed from irritation that Ms. Dessources was spending time with her ailing mother." (Id. ¶ 34.) Plaintiff alleges that her work performance was not hampered by her occasional absences and that, even when out of the office, she remained in contact via phone and e-mail. (Id. ¶¶ 35, 36.)

On or about August 1, 2011, ACI terminated plaintiff, citing "poor performance." (Id. ¶¶ 17, 18.)


I. Pleading Standards

Following the Supreme Court's decisions in Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N. A., 534 U.S. 506 (2002), Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), the Second Circuit has noted "[t]he pleading standard for employment discrimination complaints is somewhat of an open question in our circuit." Hedges v. Town of Madison, 456 Fed. App'x 22, 23 (2d Cir. 2012) (summary order); see also Schwab v. Smalls, 435 Fed. App'x 37, 40 (2d Cir. 2011) (summary order) (noting that "[q]uestions have been raised . . . as to Swierkiewicz's continued viability in light of Twombly and Iqbal," but not deciding the issue). Nonetheless, certain principles can be discerned.

To survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). In assessing a complaint, courts draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-movant. See In re Elevator Antitrust Litig., 502 F.3d 47, 50 (2d Cir. 2007) (per curiam). Legal conclusions, however, are not entitled to any presumption of truth. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Instead, the court must examine the well-pleaded factual allegations, if any, "and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Id. at 679.

Although "an employment discrimination plaintiff need not plead a prima facie case of discrimination," Swierkiewicz, 534 U.S. at 515, she must satisfy the standards set out in Twombly and Iqbal. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 684 ("Our decision in Twombly expounded the pleading standard for all civil actions and it applies to antitrust and discrimination suits alike." (citation and quotation marks omitted)); Twombly, 550 U.S. at 569 (noting that plausibility analysis does not require pleading a prima facie case and therefore does not run counter to Swierkiewicz); cf. Hedges, 456 Fed. App'x at 23 (noting, without deciding, that "Swierkiewicz's reliance on Conley suggests that, at a minimum, employment discrimination claims must meet the standard of pleading set forth in Twombly and Iqbal, even if pleading a prima facie case is not required").

II. The Complaint Does Not Plausibly Allege A Claim Against Any Defendant Under The ADA The ADA establishes a general rule that "[n]o covered entity shall discriminate against a qualified individual on the basis of disability in regard to job application procedures, the hiring, advancement, or discharge of employees, employee compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment." 42 U.S.C. ยง 12112(a). Prohibited discrimination under the ADA includes so-called associational discrimination: "excluding or otherwise denying equal jobs or benefits to a qualified individual because of ...

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