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Friedman v. Columbia University

United States District Court, S.D. New York

March 13, 2014

MOSHE FRIEDMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY et al., Defendant.

OPINION

THOMAS P. GRIESA, District Judge.

Moshe Friedman, proceeding pro se , alleges that Columbia University and several supervisors wrongfully terminated him from his position as an office administrator. He claims that the defendants terminated him because of his religion, national origin, age, and gender in violation of federal, state, and local law.

Defendants move to dismiss the case. The motion is granted.

The Complaint

Friedman was employed as an office administrator at Columbia University Medical Center's Radiation Safety Office. On January 7, 2010, defendant Lisa Hogarty, Chief Operating Officer of Columbia University Medical Center, informed Friedman that he would be terminated on February 1, 2010, as part of a reorganization of the Radiation Safety Office. Hogarty told Friedman that the Radiation Safety Office would become part of the Office of Environmental Health and Safety and that his position would be eliminated. Salmen Loksen, a radiation safety officer, and Bruce Emmer, a physicist, were also terminated as a result of the restructuring.

Friedman alleges that the reorganization was merely a pretext; he alleges that he, Loksen, and Emmer were terminated because they are practicing Orthodox Jews and because of their age. He contends that they were easily identifiable as Orthodox Jews because of their yarmulkas and gray beards. No other employees were terminated as a result of the reorganization, including four "casual employees." Friedman asserts that the reorganization was unnecessary and will have a negative impact on the Medical Center.

At this point, defendants assert that Friedman signed a severance agreement and released all his claims against them. The court mentions this allegation for context, but the release is not properly before this court at this stage in the proceedings.

Friedman also alleges a claim of retaliation. On the form complaint that Friedman filed, he checked the box next to retaliation, but he alleges no facts to support or explain the basis of this claim. Construing the complaint liberally and considering the documents attached to the complaint, it appears that Friedman alleges that the defendants retaliated against him by refusing to return his personal property after he filed employment-discrimination complaints against them. Friedman alleges that Columbia promised to return his personal computer files which were left on Columbia's computers after he was terminated.

In addition to Columbia University, Friedman also names David J. Brenner, Lisa Hogarty, and Lucinda During as defendants. He alleges that defendants' actions violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the New York State Human Rights Law, and the New York City Human Rights Law.

Procedural History

On January 5, 2011, Friedman filed a complaint with the New York City Commission on Human Rights, alleging discrimination on the basis of race, age, sex, and religion based on his termination. The Commission rejected Friedman's complaint for failure to state a claim because Friedman had knowingly and voluntarily executed a release of claims in exchange for a severance payment. Moreover, Friedman was represented by counsel when he executed the release. Friedman twice objected to this determination, but in response the Commission twice determined that Friedman had "knowingly and voluntarily entered into a valid severance agreement, thereby waiving the right to sue [his] former employer for the termination of [his] employment."

On January 11, 2011, Friedman filed a complaint with the New York State Division on Human Rights, alleging that his termination was the result of Columbia's unlawful discrimination on the basis of his age, creed, and gender. But in a decision dated February 17, 2011, the Division dismissed this complaint as untimely, and the New York State Supreme Court, New York County, affirmed that decision.

On July 29, 2011, Friedman filed a second complaint with the Division on Human Rights, alleging that Columbia retaliated against him for filing the prior complaints. He alleged that Columbia failed to abide by the terms of his severance agreement by not returning his personal property. On December 1, 2011, following an investigation, the Division found that there was no probable cause to show that Columbia had failed to make a good faith effort to return Friedman's personal computer files. The Supreme Court, New York County, affirmed the Division's determination.

On September 13, 2012, Friedman filed a charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging that Columbia's actions violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. On September 20, 2012, the ...


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