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Lewis v. Health & Hospitals Corp.

United States District Court, Second Circuit

May 31, 2013

STEPHANIE LEWIS, Plaintiff,
v.
HEALTH AND HOSPITALS CORPORATION and METROPOLITAN HOSPITAL CENTER, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

JOHN G. KOELTL, District Judge.

The plaintiff, Stephanie Lewis, brings this action against the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation ("HHC") and the Metropolitan Hospital Center ("Metropolitan") pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ("ADA"), as codified, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12112-12117.[1] The plaintiff was employed by HHC and was formerly assigned to Metropolitan, an operating division of HHC. The plaintiff alleges that the defendants discriminated and retaliated against her, and that the defendants failed to accommodate her disability-diabetes. The defendants now move for judgment on the pleadings, pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, on the ground of collateral estoppel.

I.

The standards to be applied to a motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) are the same as those applied to a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). See Cleveland v. Caplaw Enters. , 448 F.3d 518, 521 (2d Cir. 2006). "Thus, [a court] will accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in [the plaintiff's] favor. To survive a Rule 12(c) motion, [the] complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Hayden v. Paterson , 594 F.3d 150, 160 (2d Cir. 2010) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). In deciding such a motion, the Court may consider documents that are referenced in the complaint, documents that the plaintiff relied on in bringing suit and that either are in the plaintiff's possession or were known to the plaintiff when she brought suit, or matters of which judicial notice may be taken. Chambers v. Time Warner, Inc. , 282 F.3d 147, 153 (2d Cir. 2002); see also Brass v. Am. Film Techs., Inc. , 987 F.2d 142, 150 (2d Cir. 1993); Woodhams v. Allstate Fire & Cas. Co. , 748 F.Supp.2d 211, 215 (S.D.N.Y. 2010).

II.

The following facts are accepted as true for the purposes of this motion, unless otherwise indicated.[2]

On November 17, 2008, the plaintiff filed a verified complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights ("SDHR") against these same defendants, alleging facts identical to those of the present action. (SDHR Determination and Order After Investigation dated August 26, 2010 (hereinafter "SDHR Determination").) In the SDHR complaint, the plaintiff alleged that the defendants had engaged in disability discrimination and retaliation in violation of the ADA and the New York State Human Rights Law ("NYSHRL"), N.Y. Exec. Law §§ 290-297. (SDHR Determination at 1, 4.) Specifically, the plaintiff alleged that HHC and Metropolitan discriminated against her because Kimberly Moore-Rolle, the plaintiff's supervisor while she was an employee in the Metropolitan's Women's Health Department, "had a problem with how often [the plaintiff] used the restroom" and that Moore-Rolle "made things very difficult for [the plaintiff]." (SDHR Determination at 1.)

The plaintiff also alleged that once she was transferred from the Women's Health Department to another department in Metropolitan, her new supervisor was Preston Kendall, one of Moore-Rolle's close friends. (SDHR Determination at 2.) The plaintiff alleged that Kendall "made [the plaintiff] feel as though under his supervision, she would pay for bothering [Moore-Rolle]'" and that Kendall "made remarks in front of the other staff members" every time the plaintiff went to use the restroom. (SDHR Determination at 2.) The plaintiff alleged that Kendall would have the plaintiff paged over the hospital's public address system frequently, and that Kendall falsely accused her of numerous incidents of misconduct, including ignoring the dress code, deliberately logging herself off Metropolitan's computer system, exposing her stomach in front of her co-workers, putting mucus on paperwork, and sexually harassing him. (SDHR Determination at 2-3.)

The SDHR conducted a lengthy investigation into the plaintiff's allegations. (SDHR Determination at 1.) The investigator received statements from both the plaintiff and the defendants, and interviewed a few of the plaintiff's former coworkers from the Women's Health Department at Metropolitan. (SDHR Determination at 1-2.) The investigator interviewed two of the plaintiff's co-workers in Kendall's department, and spoke with an operator at Metropolitan who confirmed that the plaintiff was paged often. (SDHR Determination at 2.) The investigator also spoke to five of the plaintiff's former coworkers-employees from different departments of Metropolitan- who were identified by the plaintiff as witnesses. (SDHR Determination at 3.)

In addition, the SDHR investigated the plaintiff's allegation that she had been suspended in November 2008 because of her disability. (SDHR Determination at 3.) The investigation revealed that the plaintiff's November 2008 suspension was pending an investigation of a sexual harassment complaint against her, for which the plaintiff alleged she had been wrongfully accused. (SDHR Determination at 3.) The investigator interviewed two of the plaintiff's co-workers, who both stated that they had witnessed the "inappropriate touches" that were the basis of the sexual harassment complaint against the plaintiff. (SDHR Determination at 3.) Both of the witnesses had given similar statements to Lois Penn, the person who had conducted the defendants' investigation of the sexual harassment complaint. (SDHR Determination at 3.)

On August 26, 2010, the SDHR issued a four-page Determination and Order, finding that "there is no probable cause to believe that [the defendants] ha[ve] engaged in or [are] engaging in the unlawful discriminatory practice complained of." (SDHR Determination at 1.) According to the SDHR, the investigation revealed that the plaintiff had always been accommodated with regard to her need to use the bathroom often, and that she was accommodated with regard to this medical necessity even when she did not provide the defendants with the necessary medical documentation. (SDHR Determination at 3.) The investigation did not reveal any evidence to support the plaintiff's allegation that she had been subjected to a hostile work environment due to her disability. (SDHR Determination at 3.) Because "[t]he investigation did not reveal sufficient evidence to establish an inference of discrimination based on disability, " the SDHR ultimately dismissed the plaintiff's complaint. (SDHR Determination at 4.)

The SDHR Determination also noted that because the plaintiff's complaint included an ADA claim, the plaintiff could request a review by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) of the SDHR's action, or otherwise the EEOC would generally adopt the SDHR's action in her case. (SDHR Determination at 4.) On October 1, 2010, the EEOC sent the plaintiff a notice of dismissal and of her right to sue, informing the plaintiff that the EEOC was closing its file on her charge because it had adopted the SDHR's findings. (EEOC Dismissal and Notice of Rights dated October 1, 2010.)

On October 25, 2010, the plaintiff commenced a special proceeding pursuant to Article 78 of the New York Civil Practice Law and Rules, N.Y. C.P.L.R. § 7801 et seq., seeking a judgment annulling the SDHR's Determination. See Lewis v. N.Y.C. Health and Hosps. Corp., Index No. 403013/10 (N.Y. Sup.Ct. Sept. 9, 2011) (hereinafter "Article 78 Judgment"). By a Judgment dated September 9, 2011, the New York State Supreme Court for New York County dismissed the plaintiff's Article 78 petition and held that "[the SDHR's] investigation of [the plaintiff's] complaint was neither abbreviated or one-sided, " and that "[the SDHR's] no probable cause determination is neither arbitrary or capricious and has a rational basis." (Article 78 Judgment at 2-3.) The plaintiff's Article 78 petition as against HHC was dismissed without prejudice because the plaintiff had failed to serve HHC within the statute of limitations and thereby failed to obtain personal jurisdiction over HHC. (Article 78 Judgment at 3-4.)

The plaintiff commenced the present action by filing a Complaint on December 30, 2010. The defendants now move for judgment on the pleadings, pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of ...


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