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Wilcox v. Cornell University

United States District Court, S.D. New York

November 14, 2013

JENNIFER WILCOX, Plaintiff,
v.
CORNELL UNIVERSITY, WEILL CORNELL MEDICAL COLLEGE, JOAN AND SANFORD I. WEILL MEDICAL COLLEGE AND GRADUATE SCHOOL OF MEDICAL SCIENCES OF CORNELL UNIVERSITY, JENNIFER L. PICKARD, individually, and ANGELA CHARTER, individually, Defendants

Page 282

For Jennifer Wilcox, Plaintiff: Edward Joseph Kennedy, Phillips & Associates, Attorney at law, PLLC, New York, NY; Jesse Curtis Rose, The Rose Law Group PLLC, New York, NY; Kosta Kollef, Michael G. O'Neill, New York, NY; William Kerry Phillips, Phillips & Phillips PLLC, New York, NY.

For Cornell University, Weill Cornell Medical College, Joan and Sanford I. Weill Medical College and Graduate Scchool of Medical Sciences of Cornell University, Jennifer L. Pickard, Individually, Angela Charter, Individually, Defendants: Wendy E. Tarlow, LEAD ATTORNEY, Office of University Counsel, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.

OPINION

Page 283

OPINION & ORDER

Hon. HAROLD BAER JR., United States District Judge.

Plaintiff Jennifer Wilcox brings this action for gender-based discrimination and retaliation under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., the New York State Human Rights Law (" NYSHRL" ), N.Y. Exec. Law § 296 et seq., and the New York City Human Rights Law (" NYCHRL" ), N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-107 et seq . Defendants move for summary judgment. For the

Page 284

reasons stated below, Defendants' motion is GRANTED.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff was an accounts receivable specialist at Defendant Cornell University's Weill Cornell Medical College (hereinafter " WCMC" ). She began her employment on February 28, 2011. But due to an illness related to her pregnancy, her last day at work was just a tad more than three weeks later on March 22, 2011. On March 28, Plaintiff's supervisor told her that she would qualify for short-term disability benefits if her absence continued through March 29. Plaintiff then formally requested benefits and advised WCMC that she would be unable to return to work until April 27, 2011. (Defs.' 56.1 Ex. 6, at 000009.)

Unfortunately, after receiving Plaintiff's paperwork, Defendant Angela Charter Lent, WCMC's Director of Recruitment and Employee Development, advised Plaintiff that she was ineligible for short-term disability benefits. Since according to WCMC's benefits policy, only employees with " at least four weeks of service are eligible" for short-term disability benefits, Lent wrote to Plaintiff on April 3 to inform her that her employment " [would] be terminated effective March 23, 2011" --the first day of Plaintiff's absence. (Defs.' 56.1 Ex. 7; id. Ex. 8, at 000017.) This termination date was based upon WCMC's definition of " service" as " being at work." (Lent Dep. 12:6-9.) While WCMC's written policy did not expressly define the term " service," Lent maintains that calculating service time from the date an employee becomes disabled is standard policy. ( Id. 11:16-13:8.) WCMC then offers such individuals reemployment upon their ability to return to work. (Lent Aff. ¶ 6.)

In support of that policy, Lent also wrote to Plaintiff in the same April 3 email that " in order to accommodate [her] disability," WCMC would " refrain from immediately filling [Plaintiff's] job." (Defs.' 56.1 Ex. 7.) Reinstatement was contingent upon Plaintiff's ability " to begin working on or before April 27, 2011, as designated by [her] physician." ( Id.) According to Lent, WCMC policy requires that " once a doctor puts someone out, the doctor needs to clear them" before they may return to work. (Lent Dep. 64:10-14.) Immediately after learning that WCMC would not provide short-term disability benefits and that her position had been terminated, Plaintiff concluded that WCMC was discriminating against her because of her pregnancy, and on April 5, 2011, she filed an EEOC charge alleging gender discrimination. Soon after her termination, Plaintiff relocated to Georgia to be with her family and save money.

On April 14, Lent again wrote to Plaintiff that " [b]ased on the medical documentation [she] ha[d] provided," Plaintiff would " be cleared to work on April 28th." ( Id. Ex. 10.) Lent then asked Plaintiff to confirm her intent to return. But Plaintiff admits that she never responded directly to this inquiry. (Pl.'s 56.1 ΒΆ 27.) Instead, Plaintiff spoke with WCMC human resources personnel that day and informed them that " she [did] not have the money to see the doctor to get the return to work clearance she need[ed]." (Rose ...


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