Submitted: Aug. 19, 2013.
Christina S. Agola, Christina A. Agola, PLLC, Rochester, NY, for Appellant.
Michael S. Hanan, Gordon & Rees LLP, Florham Park, NJ for Appellee.
Before: LEVAL, WESLEY, and HALL, Circuit Judges.
Christina Agola is an attorney practicing primarily employment law in the Western District of New York. She has a long disciplinary history in the courts of this Circuit. See, e.g., In re Agola, 484 Fed.Appx. 594 (2d Cir.2012) (summary order) (failing to comply with scheduling orders); Rankin v. City of Niagara Falls, No. 09-cv-974-A,
__ F.R.D. __, 2013 WL 1501682 (W.D.N.Y. Apr. 11, 2013) (misrepresenting facts to the court); Johnson v. The Univ. of Rochester Med. Ctr., 715 F.Supp.2d 427 (W.D.N.Y.2010) (same); Geiger v. Town of Greece, No. 07-cv-6066(CJS), 2008 WL 728471 (W.D.N.Y. Mar. 18, 2008) (pursuing a frivolous claim);
Colombo v. E. Irondequoit Cent. Sch., No. 07-cv-6270(CJS), 2010 WL 6004378, at *10 n. 8 (W.D.N.Y. Dec. 17, 2010) (collecting more cases). Acting pro se, plaintiff Abidan Muhammad initiated the present employment discrimination action in the United States District Court for the Western District of New York. Shortly thereafter, Agola began representing Muhammad. At summary judgment, Agola represented to the court that Muhammad had clearly pled a gender discrimination claim which he had not. Sua sponte, the court ordered Agola to show cause why she should not be sanctioned under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11. Agola insisted that the liberal pleading standard afforded pro se complaints meant that Muhammad's complaint should be read to include a gender discrimination claim. The court rejected this argument as frivolous, reprimanded Agola, and imposed a $7,500 sanction. Agola appeals the imposition of sanctions. Because the district court misapplied the relevant legal standard, we vacate the sanction order and reverse.
In February 2008, Walmart hired Abidan Muhammad as an overnight deli stocker at its Chili Avenue store in Rochester, New York. Five months later, Muhammad requested and obtained a leave of absence for a hand injury. As requested, Muhammad was granted leave until September 10, 2008. When Muhammad returned to work on that day, consistent with his doctor's orders, Walmart reassigned him to the light-duty position of Greeter during his normal, overnight shift.
Three weeks later while working Muhammad heard a rumor that he had been fired. Shortly thereafter, Muhammad saw a group of managers and approached them to inquire further. They denied any knowledge of the rumors. Muhammad then returned to his work, but almost immediately approached the managers again. Unprovoked, Mohammad yelled at them, threw his employee identification on the ground, and left. The incident was captured on video tape. Following an internal investigation, Muhammad was fired.
On the same night, a female Walmart associate was involved in another disturbance. The associate's boyfriend argued with her outside and then threw her through the Walmart entrance. The boyfriend was bleeding and had a welt on his forehead. Each screamed profanities at the other and called the police. Walmart determined that the employee was the victim of domestic violence and did not fire her.
On October 27, 2008, following his own termination, Muhammad, acting pro se, filed a complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights (DHR), and cross-filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), alleging that Walmart terminated his employment because of his race and disability. Muhammad left the " sex" discrimination portion of the complaint form blank. In the portion of the form asking for information about similarly situated persons, however, Muhammad described the domestic violence incident from the night ...