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Clark v. Gotham Lasik, PLLC

United States District Court, Second Circuit

August 2, 2013

KALI CLARK, Plaintiff,
v.
GOTHAM LASIK, PLLC, BRIAN BONANNI, M.D. and CHRISTOPHER COFFEE, Defendants.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

JAMES C. FRANCIS, IV, Magistrate Judge.

This is an action brought pursuant to the New York City Human Rights Law ("NYCHRL"), N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-101 et seq. The plaintiff, Kali Clark, alleges that the defendant, Gotham Lasik, PLLC ("Gotham"), failed to accommodate her disability and wrongfully terminated her on account of that disability.[1] Ms. Clark seeks back pay, front pay, attorneys' fees, and punitive damages.

Because Gotham failed to appear by counsel, as is required of every corporate party, the Honorable Lorna G. Schofield, U.S.D.J., entered a default judgement and referred the case to me to conduct an inquest on damages. Although notice was sent to Gotham, the defendant did not appear at the hearing on June 12, 2013. Accordingly, the following findings are based on the allegations of the Complaint and the evidence presented by the plaintiff.

Background

Gotham is a New York professional limited liability corporation, with offices in Manhattan. (Complaint ("Compl."), ¶ 8). Gotham specializes in LASIK and other laser procedures designed to correct a person's vision. (Compl., ¶ 9). Dr. Brian Bonnani is a part-owner of Gotham, serves as its ophthalmologist and surgeon, and manages its operations. (Compl., ¶ 10). Christopher Coffee is also an owner of Gotham and co-manages Gotham's operations and employees. (Compl., ¶¶ 11-12).

The plaintiff began her employment at Gotham in September 2007 as a full-time technician. She earned $55, 000 per year, receiving a raise approximately six to eight months after she started her job. (Compl., ¶ 13). In September 2009, her hours were reduced due to financial difficulties that Gotham was experiencing, and her salary was reduced commensurately. (Tr. at 6).[2] In March 2010, Ms. Clark was restored to a full-time position at approximately $55, 000 per year. (Compl., ¶ 15).

In July 2010, the plaintiff began seeing a psychiatrist and was diagnosed with manic-depressive disorder. (Compl., ¶ 16). She was also found to suffer from anxiety, attention deficit disorder, depression, and obsessive compulsive disorder. (Tr. at 9). As a result, she was prescribed Wellbutrin, Adderall, and Valium. (Tr. at 9). Shortly after she received her diagnosis and was hospitalized for anxiety in August 2010, Ms. Clark discussed her mental illness and medications with Dr. Bonnani. (Tr. at 9). Because stress aggravated her condition, Ms. Clark requested that Dr. Bonnani and Mr. Coffee refrain from raising their voices or being excessively aggressive when speaking to her. (Tr. at 10-11). Nevertheless, Mr. Coffee continued to lose his temper and shout at the plaintiff. (Tr. at 12).

On December 1, 2010, Ms. Clark met with a pharmaceutical representative who had come to meet Gotham's skin care technician. (Tr. at 12). Mr. Coffee became extremely upset at what he perceived to be Ms. Clark's overstepping of her job duties. (Tr. at 12). Due to Mr. Coffee's aggressive reaction, Ms. Clark became upset and asked to take a break to call her doctor, but Mr. Coffee refused. (Tr. at 12-13). Instead, he called Ms. Clark "insane" and "crazy, " stated, "I'm not going to walk on eggshells... like everyone else around here, " and fired her. (Compl., ¶ 20). The next day, Ms. Clark spoke with Dr. Bonanni, who confirmed that she had been terminated. (Tr. at 13). He gave her severance and COBRA documents, which she refused to sign. (Tr. at 14; Pl. Exhs. 3-4).[3]

Despite Ms. Clark's efforts to secure work after her termination, she remained unemployed until August 2011. (Tr. at 15-16; Pl. Exh. 5)). At that time, she was hired as an ophthalmic technician by OptiCare, an eye care service provider in Waterbury, Connecticut, at a salary of $37, 000.00 per year. (Tr. at 15; Pl. Exh. 6)). She left OptiCare in January 2013 to care for her newborn baby and did not return to work there, purportedly because her salary would have been offset by childcare expenses. (Tr. at 18). She alleges that she would have returned to work for the salary she had received at Gotham. (Tr. at 18).

Discussion

A. Jurisdiction

This court has subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to 28

U.S.C. § 1332(a), which confers jurisdiction over actions between citizens of different states where the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000. The plaintiff is a Connecticut resident and the defendant is a New York corporation. (Compl., ¶¶ 1, 4). Here, the amount in controversy exceeds the statutory threshold, as the plaintiff seeks to recover $69, 667.00 in back pay, $56, 172.00 in fees, and $873.97 in costs. The plaintiff also seeks front pay and punitive damages, in an amount to be determined by the Court. The Court has personal jurisdiction over the defaulting defendant, Gotham, because it is a New York professional limited liability corporation doing business in New York. N.Y. Civ. Prac. L. & Rules § 302; Recurrent Capital Bridge Fund I, LLC v. ISR Systems and Sensors Corp. , 875 F.Supp.2d 297, 303-04 (S.D.N.Y. 2012) ("When a federal district court sits in diversity, personal jurisdiction is determined by the law of the state in which the district court sits." (internal quotation marks omitted)).

B. Liability

Following a default, all factual allegations in the plaintiff's complaint, except those relating to damages, must be accepted as true. Finkel v. Romanowicz , 577 F.3d 79, 83 n.6 (2d Cir. 2009) (citing Greyhound Exhibitgroup, Inc. v. E.L.U.L Realty Corp. , 973 F.2d 155, 158 (2d Cir. 1992)); Au Bon Pain Corp. v. Artect, Inc. , 653 F.2d 61, 65 (2d Cir. 1981) (holding that the court must "accept[] as true all of the factual allegations of the complaint."). At an inquest, the plaintiff is also "entitled to all reasonable inferences from the evidence offered." Au Bon Pain Corp. , 653 F.2d at 65. However, "a district court has discretion under Rule 55(b)(2) once a default is determined to require proof of necessary facts and need not agree that the alleged facts constitute a valid cause of action." Id.

Here, the allegations and the plaintiff's testimony establish violations of the NYCHRL. The law provides that it is an unlawful discriminatory practice

[f]or an employer or an employee or an agent thereof, because of the actual or perceived age, race, creed, color, national origin, gender, disability, marital status, partnership status, sexual orientation or alienage or citizenship status of any person, to refuse to hire or employ or discharge from employment such person or to discriminate ...

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