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Zavala v. Cornell Univ.

United States District Court, N.D. New York

March 21, 2014

JOSE A. ZAVALA, Plaintiff,
v.
CORNELL UNIVERSITY, Defendant

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 215

Jose A. Zavala, Plaintiff, Pro se, Burdett, NY.

For Cornell University, Defendant: Nelson E. Roth, LEAD ATTORNEY, Office of University Counsel - Cornell, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY; Valerie L. Dorn, Wendy E. Tarlow, Cornell University, Office of Counsel, Ithaca, NY.

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MEMORANDUM-DECISION and ORDER

Lawrence E. Kahn, U.S. District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Before the Court is Defendant Cornell University's (" Defendant" ) second Motion for judgment on the pleadings. Dkt. Nos. 23 (" Motion" ); 23-1 (" Memorandum" ). For the following reasons, the Motion is denied.

II. BACKGROUND[1]

Defendant employed Plaintiff Jose A. Zavala (" Plaintiff" ) as a network technician, specifically as a member of the Backbone team. See Dkt. No. 18 (" Amended Complaint" ) ¶ 11. Plaintiff suffered from type 1 diabetes mellitus with complications during the entirety of the relevant period. Id. ¶ 5. In October 2009, Plaintiff sought treatment for swelling of his right foot and was diagnosed with early-stage kidney failure. See id. at 15. Plaintiff then asked his supervisor Jeremy Butler (" Butler" ) for a reduction in duties requiring walking, to which Butler responded by assigning Plaintiff to tasks that required more walking. Id. ¶ 20(a); Id. at 23-25 (" EEOC Application" ).

At a February 2010 meeting to discuss Plaintiff's yearly performance evaluation, Butler told Plaintiff that he had been downgraded because he had missed time for medical appointments, which slowed the progress of the team. Id. ¶ 20(b). Plaintiff refused to sign his performance evaluation; Director of Operations Sasja Huijts (" Huijts" ) threatened Plaintiff and demanded that he do so. Id. ¶ 20(c)-(d). Plaintiff applied for and took a three-week leave to address his and his wife's respective health conditions. Id. ¶ 20(e).

When Plaintiff returned to work, Huijts placed Plaintiff on restrictive duty, assigned Plaintiff to a customer service position,

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and failed to return Plaintiff's tools and regular company vehicle. Id. ¶ 20(f). Huijts also told Plaintiff to apply for permanent disability. Id. ¶ 20(g). In order to return to his previous position, Plaintiff gave Huijts a fit-for-duty letter from a nurse practitioner, which Huijts rejected. Id. ¶ 20(h). Plaintiff requested and received a meeting with human resources manager Mittman (" Mittman" ), who both ignored Plaintiff's grievances and failed to keep the content of the meeting confidential as required by Defendant's employment policies. Id. ¶ ¶ 20(i), 20(l). After presenting his supervisors with another letter signed by his doctor, Plaintiff returned to work, but broke his foot on June 6, 2010. Id. ¶ ¶ 20(j), 20(m). Plaintiff requested a light-duty accommodation, but Defendant refused. Id. ¶ 20(m).

Plaintiff went on short-term disability until October 2010. Id. ¶ 20(n). When Plaintiff returned to work, Huijts reassigned Plaintiff from the Backbone team to another group, took away his tools and truck, and warned Plaintiff not to challenge the reassignment with human resources. Id. Huijts claimed that she reassigned Plaintiff because he was under a temporary no-ladders restriction, but both the Backbone team and Plaintiff's newly assigned team use ladders. Id. Plaintiff's new position involves substantially less complex, fulfilling, and prestigious work than the Backbone team. Id. Additionally, unlike the Backbone team, which receives substantial overtime, Plaintiff's new team receives " little if any overtime." Id. Plaintiff again met with Mittman, who instructed Plaintiff to speak with another human resources representative if he believed his transfer was discriminatory. Id. ¶ 20(p). Plaintiff did so, and the representative offered to return Plaintiff to his position on the Backbone team under Huijts's and Butler's supervision; Plaintiff refused. Id. ¶ 20(q).

In April 2011, Plaintiff again received a negative job evaluation. Id. ¶ 19(b). The evaluation cited missing tools and poor morning time management. Id. However, the tools were not actually missing, and Plaintiff's poor morning time management was due to Defendant taking away Plaintiff's vehicle, causing him to rely on other technicians for transportation to job sites. Id. On August 19, 2011, Plaintiff filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (" EEOC" ) and New York State Division of Human Rights (" DHR" ). Am. Compl. at pages 23-25.

Plaintiff commenced this action by filing a Complaint bringing claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (" ADA" ), 42 U.S.C. § § 12101 et seq. Dkt. No. 1 (" Complaint" ). Defendant filed an Answer and a Motion for judgment on the pleadings. Dkt. Nos. 9; 14. The Court granted Defendants' first Motion, but in light of Plaintiff's pro se status, allowed ...


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