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Vangas v. Montefiore Medical Center

United States District Court, S.D. New York

March 20, 2014


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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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For Mirelle Vangas, Alfredo Vangas, Jr., Plaintiffs: Orit Goldring, LEAD ATTORNEY, The Goldring Firm, New York, NY.

For Montefiore Medical Center, Elizabeth Burns, Patricia Quinn, Defendants: Andrez Shumree Carberry, Fox Rothschild, LLP (NYC), New York, NY; Donia Sawwan, Fox Rothschild, Attorneys at Law (NYC), New York, NY; Jennifer Lynn DaCosta, Fox Rothschild LLP (NJ Roseland), Roseland, NJ; Richard Malcom Reice, Hoguet Newman Regal & Kenney, LLP, New York, NY.


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Ramos, D.J.

Plaintiffs Mirelle Vangas (" Plaintiff" or " Mrs. Vangas" ) and Alfredo Vangas, Jr. (" Mr. Vangas" ) (collectively, " Plaintiffs" ) bring this action against Defendants Montefiore Medical Center (" MMC" ), Elizabeth Burns (" Ms. Burns" ) and Patricia Quinn (" Ms. Quinn" ) (collectively, " Defendants" ).[1] Plaintiffs allege that Defendant MMC violated the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (" COBRA" ) by failing to send the required COBRA notification to Plaintiffs' correct address. Additionally, Mrs. Vangas alleges that Defendants

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failed to accommodate her disability in violation of the New York State Human Rights Law (" NYSHRL" ) and the New York City Human Rights Law (" NYCHRL" ), as well as failed to notify her of the cancellation of her employee benefits within five days of her termination from MMC in violation of the New York Labor Law (" NYLL" ).[2] Pending before the Court is Defendants' motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. Doc. 54. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion for summary judgment is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

I. Statement of Facts

The following facts are undisputed except where otherwise noted.

MMC is a large, multi-campus health care provider. Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 1.[3] Mrs. Vangas became an employee of MMC after her graduation from high school in 1989. Id. ¶ 2. She worked in a number of receptionist positions until she joined MMC's Care Management Organization (" CMO" ) as a Utilization Management Analyst (" Analyst" ). Declaration of Mirelle Vangas (" Vangas Decl." ) (Doc. 64) ¶ 3. The CMO is a division of MMC that, among other things, provides patients with post-discharge care. Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 4. Mrs. Vangas' initial job within the CMO was to review and authorize or deny requests for treatment. Id. ¶ 6. Thereafter, she was assigned to the " outbound team," in which capacity she made phone calls to patients who had visited the MMC emergency room or who had been discharged from a hospital to monitor and assist in their post-discharge care. Id.

Defendant Quinn became Mrs. Vangas' direct supervisor at the CMO in 2008. Id. ¶ 7. Ms. Quinn reported directly to Kathleen Byrne (" Ms. Byrne" ), who was employed by MMC as the Director of Medical Management. Declaration of Richard M. Reice (" Reice Decl." ) (Doc. 58), Ex. D (Byrne Dep. Tr.) at 7:21-9:23.

a. Mrs. Vangas' Medical Leave

Mrs. Vangas was diagnosed with anal cancer on March 25, 2010. Vangas Decl. ¶ 7. Immediately after receiving her diagnosis, Mrs. Vangas informed Ms. Quinn and Ms. Byrne, and took medical leave right away " without the formality of paperwork." Id. ¶ ¶ 8-9; Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ ¶ 15-16. Thereafter, Defendant Burns, who is in charge of all the Human Resources functions in the CMO, sent FMLA leave forms to Mrs. Vangas. Reice Decl., Ex. E (Burns Dep. Tr.) at 13:18-20, 22:15-23:11. Ms. Burns also notified the Human Resource Information Center (" HRIC" ), MMC's centralized human resources processing center, of Mrs. Vangas' medical leave. Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 19. Mrs. Vangas completed the FMLA forms and faxed them to the HRIC. Id. ¶ 20. Those forms indicated that Mrs. Vangas would be out on leave for a period of three months, concluding at the end of June 2010. Reice Decl., Ex. H.

On June 14, 2010, Mrs. Vangas saw her oncologist, who filled out a supplementary report to update Zurich--MMC's short-term disability provider--about her medical status, and indicated that her new return to work date would be July 19, 2010. Vangas Decl. ¶ 21; see also id. at Ex. B.

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The receptionist at the oncologist's office faxed the paperwork directly to Zurich for Mrs. Vangas. Vangas Decl. ¶ 21. Plaintiffs do not assert that the paperwork was also faxed or otherwise delivered to MMC, nor do they submit any documentation evidencing MMC's receipt of the supplementary report.

When Mrs. Vangas was unable to return to work at the scheduled end of her FMLA leave in June 2010, Defendants unilaterally extended her leave. Reice Decl., Exs. A (Vangas Dep. Tr.) at 109:24-110:13, 112:4-17; C (Quinn Dep. Tr.) at 67:4-6. Thereafter, on July 22, 2010, Ms. Quinn sent Mrs. Vangas a certified letter: (i) reminding her of her responsibility to provide certain information to MMC in order to assist it in covering Mrs. Vangas' duties; (ii) directing Mrs. Vangas to contact Ms. Quinn to advise her of Mrs. Vangas' anticipated return to work date; and (iii) directing Mrs. Vangas to update Ms. Quinn on her status on a weekly basis. Reice Decl., Ex. J (July 22, 2010 Letter); see also Declaration of Orit Goldring (" Goldring Decl." ) (Doc. 65), Ex. B (Quinn Dep. Tr.) at 63:9-25. The letter also enclosed copies of MMC's Human Resources Policy regarding medical leave. Goldring Decl., Ex. B at 65:15-66:5. However, Mrs. Vangas never received the letter, as the Post Office subsequently returned it to MMC as unclaimed. Id. at 64:7-65:3, 69:17-22.

Mrs. Vangas states that on July 26, 2010, after realizing that some time had passed since her anticipated return-to-work date, she called Human Resources and left a message for Ms. Burns. Vangas Decl. ¶ 24. Jackie Colon (" Ms. Colon" )--Ms. Burns' secretary--sent Ms. Burns a message stating that Mrs. Vangas had called, that " she has a medical condition and has been out since March," and that she is " very confused as to what she needs to do." Goldring Decl., Ex. G. Ms. Burns responded to Ms. Colon by asking her to " call [Mrs. Vangas] and let her know that there is paperwork she needs to fill out for FMLA and Disability and that we need an address to send it to. She also has to call her manager once per week since there is no return date for her." Goldring Decl., Ex. H. Mrs. Vangas states that Ms. Colon left her a message and that the two played phone tag for " the next few days." Vangas Decl. ¶ 25. When Ms. Colon and Mrs. Vangas finally spoke on August 3, 2010, Ms. Colon told Mrs. Vangas that she was mailing her a second set of FMLA papers. Id. ¶ ¶ 25-26. Mrs. Vangas then informed Ms. Colon that her next appointment with the oncologist was not until August 23 and that she would have the papers filled out then, to which Ms. Colon " did not protest." Id.

On August 20, 2010, Ms. Quinn sent Mrs. Vangas a text message informing her that Ms. Quinn had " just received the certified letter [she] sent [Mrs. Vangas] as unclaimed" and directing Mrs. Vangas to call Ms. Colon, as Mrs. Vangas had " not returned any of the forms that [Ms. Colon had] sent." Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 37. Mrs. Vangas called Ms. Quinn after receiving her text message and asked her whether she was losing her job. Vangas Decl. ¶ 34. Ms. Quinn replied, " no, no, no," and explained that the letter was " just to let [Mrs. Vangas] know that [her] FMLA had been extended." Id. Mrs. Vangas contends that during this conversation, she asked Ms. Quinn if she could work from home, as she knew that in the past, CMO employees were allowed to work from home with remote access to the databases that were needed to perform their job. Id. ¶ 35. Ms. Quinn responded by saying that if it were up to her, she would be " ok with it," but that Ms. Byrne would not allow it. Id. ¶ 36. According to Ms. Quinn, however, she does not recall Mrs. Vangas making any such request to work from home. Goldring Decl., Ex. B at 92:8-10. Additionally,

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both Ms. Burns and Ms. Byrne testified that Ms. Quinn did not tell them that Mrs. Vangas had requested to work from home. Goldring Decl., Exs. C (Burns Dep. Tr.) at 45:3-5; D (Byrne Dep. Tr.) at 104:9-12.

Mrs. Vangas contends that she then told Ms. Quinn that she had several follow-up doctors' appointments, but that she would be returning to work on August 30, 2010, to which Mrs. Quinn responded, " Ok." Vangas Decl. ¶ 36; see also Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 42. When asked at her deposition what the basis was for her saying that she could return to work on August 30, Mrs. Vangas testified that she " [didn't] know if there was any basis." Reice Decl., Ex. A at 133:12-15. In her declaration in opposition to Defendants' motion for summary judgment, however, she states that during an August 3, 2010 visit with her radiation oncologist, he told her that she could return to work on August 30. Vangas Decl. ¶ 30. At that time, Mrs. Vangas' doctor filled out another supplementary disability report for Zurich, indicating that Mrs. Vangas' new return-to-work date was August 30, 2010. Id.; see also id. at Ex. C.

Mrs. Vangas states that several days after her August 20 conversation with Ms. Quinn, on August 26, 2010, she called Ms. Quinn and told her that she was experiencing newly-developed symptoms, including blurred vision and facial swelling, that she was scheduled to undergo an MRI, and that she was not sure that she would be able to return to work on August 30, but that she would keep Ms. Quinn updated. Vangas Decl. ¶ 38. According to Mrs. Vangas, Ms. Quinn " did not protest and said, ok." Id. Ms. Quinn testified that she recalled having a conversation with Mrs. Vangas on August 26, during which Mrs. Vangas stated that she was experiencing dizziness and other newly-developed symptoms. Goldring Decl., Ex. B at 117:12-119:17. However, she testified that she did not recall Mrs. Vangas ever stating that she would not be able to return to work on August 30. Id.; see also id. at 106:11-107:10.

Thereafter, on August 27, 2010, after an appointment with Dr. William Bodner, her radiation oncologist, Mrs. Vangas faxed another set of completed FMLA forms, which she had received earlier in August from Ms. Colon, to Christina Delavega in the MMC benefits department. Reice Decl., Ex. P; Vangas Decl. ¶ ¶ 25-26, 37. One of the forms was completed by Dr. Bodner, who indicated that Mrs. Vangas would be " incapacitated for a single continuous period of time due to her medical condition" and that she would need to " work part-time or on a reduced schedule" because of her medical condition; however, Dr. Bodner did not indicate the end date for such period of incapacity. Reice Decl., Ex. P; see also Vangas Decl. ¶ 37. Mrs. Vangas states that " [a]t this point, we did not know what was causing the blurry vision and facial swelling which is why the second set of FMLA papers says that the duration is unknown." Vangas Decl. ¶ 37.

b. Mrs. Vangas is Terminated After she is Unable to Return to Work on August 30

On August 29, 2010, Mrs. Vangas sent Ms. Quinn the following text message:

Good morning . . . im [sic] still not feeling well . . . having problems with my vision . . . will follow up with [D]r. Hopkins or other specialist . . . my paper work ...

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