United States District Court, E.D. New York
OMOWALE ST. JUSTE, Plaintiff,
METRO PLUS HEALTH PLAN, CITY OF NEW YORK HEALTH AND HOSPITALS CORPORATION, CITY OF NEW YORK, ILEANA FLORENTINO, RICARDO ALANIZ and MICHAEL STOCKER, Defendants
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For Omowale St. Juste, Plaintiff: Mustapha Lakpene Ndanusa, LEAD ATTORNEY, Brooklyn, NY.
For Metro Plus Health Plan, City of New York Health and Hospitals Corporation, City of New York, Ileana Florentino, Ricardo Alaniz, Michael Stocker, Defendants: William H Ng, LEAD ATTORNEY, Jane E. Andersen, New York City Law Department, New York, NY; Zev Samuel Singer, Corporation Counsel of New York, New York, NY.
MEMORANDUM & ORDER
MARGO K. BRODIE, United States District Judge.
Plaintiff Omowale St. Juste brings the above-captioned action against Defendants Metro Plus Health Plan (" Metro Plus" ), City of New York Health and Hospitals Corporation (" HHC" ), the City of New York, Ileana Florentino, Ricardo Alaniz and Michael Stocker, alleging claims of religious discrimination, retaliation and hostile work environment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. (" Title VII" ), 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the New York State Human Rights Law, N.Y. Exec. Law § 290, et seq. (" NYSHRL" ) and the New York City Human Rights Law, N.Y.C. Admin. Code, § 8-101 et seq., (" NYCHRL" ). Defendants moved for summary judgment as to all claims. The Court heard oral argument on March 4, 2014. For the reasons discussed below, the Court grants Defendants' motion for summary judgment as to Plaintiff's claims brought pursuant to Title VII, NYSHRL and § 1983. The Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's claims brought pursuant to the NYCHRL and dismisses those claims without prejudice.
a. Plaintiff's hiring and initial employment
Plaintiff Omowale St. Juste is an African-American male who converted to Islam at the age of twenty-three. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 5; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 5.) Defendant Metro Plus provides inexpensive health insurance options for New York City residents and is a subsidiary of HHC. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 1; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 1.) Plaintiff began working with Metro Plus on June 23, 2008, as a Medicaid Enrollment Sales Representative (" ESR" ), where he was responsible for educating New York residents about Medicaid and enrolling them in Medicaid plans. (Def. 56.1 ¶ ¶ 8, 13; Pl. 56.1 ¶ ¶ 8, 13.) Plaintiff was a member of the team located at Woodhull Hospital in Brooklyn, and worked at different sites in Brooklyn including the Federal Courthouse. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 39; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 38.)
Plaintiff was obligated by his religious observance to attend congregational prayer, otherwise known as Jumu'ah prayer, (Def. 56.1 ¶ 21; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 20), and while assigned to the Woodhull Hosptial team, Plaitniff attended Friday prayer during the lunch hour, typically at the Masjid-At-Taqwa, a mosque in Brooklyn, (Def. 56.1 ¶ ¶ 54-55; Pl. 56.1 ¶ ¶ 53-54). It took Plaintiff an hour and a half to attend Jumu'ah prayer, including travel time between the mosque and Woodhull Hospital. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 56; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 55.) Plaintiff therefore required an additional thirty minutes for lunch on Fridays. Plaintiff had a verbal agreement with his supervisor, Florentino, that Plaintiff did not need to include this additional time in his time sheets. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 59; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 58.) Instead, he could offset the additional thirty minutes with after-hours work at either an event or a home visit. ( Id.) Plaintiff's
first supervisor, Telvis Austin, appointed Masjid-At-Taqwa, a mosque in Brooklyn, as a recruiting site, (Def. Ex. B, Deposition of Omowale St. Juste (" St. Juste Dep." ) 69:12-69:17; St. Juste Aff. ¶ 39), where Plaintiff was scheduled to work on Wednesdays, (Def. 56.1 ¶ 41; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 40).
Plaintiff asked his instructors if it was acceptable for him to wear his thawb to work and they informed him that wearing his thawb fell within Metro Plus's dress code. (St. Juste Aff. ¶ ¶ 8, 9; St. Juste Dep. 4:17-74:25.) A thawb is a religious garment which resembles a priest's robe and covers the wearer from his shoulders to his shins. (St. Juste Aff. ¶ 2; St. Juste Dep. 61:17-61:23.) Plaintiff wore a thawb to work and would typically pair it with a blazer, vest, and dress pants. (St. Juste Dep. 61:17-23; St. Juste Aff. ¶ 10.) Plaintiff admits that wearing the thawb is not a mandatory requirement for Muslims, and wearing a suit would comply with his religious beliefs as it comports with the religious obligation of dressing modestly. (Def. 56.1 ¶ ¶ 18, 19; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 19; St. Juste Dep. 62:14-64:9.)
b. Plaintiff's supervision by Alaniz
On April 1, 2009, Alaniz, the Associate Marketing Director at Metro Plus, became Plaintiff's manager while Florentino was on personal leave. (St. Juste Dep. 150:3-150:6; Def. Ex. C, Deposition of Ricardo Alaniz (" Alaniz Dep." ) 24:2-24:7.) Alaniz supervised Plaintiff directly for two weeks, and indirectly from mid-April until October 2009. (Def. 56.1 ¶ ¶ 43, 71; Pl. 56.1 ¶ ¶ 42, 70; Alaniz Dep. 24:1-25:3.) On Thursday, April 2, 2009, Alaniz sent an email scheduling a 3:00 p.m. meeting at Elmhurst Hospital for Friday, April 3, 2009. (St. Juste Aff. ¶ 46; Pl. Ex. 6.) Plaintiff replied to Alaniz's email stating, " I will be late for the meeting due to Friday religious services which end at about 2:20 pm." (Def. 56.1 ¶ 75; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 74; Pl. Ex. 6.) Alaniz responded by saying " this is unacceptable and your timely attendance is required. This meeting is paramount . . . and attendance is mandated." (Def. 56.1 ¶ 76; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 75.) Plaintiff attended Friday prayers and arrived five minutes late to the meeting which had not yet begun. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 79; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 78; St. Juste Aff. ¶ 48.) Plaintiff was not disciplined for being late to the meeting. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 78; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 78.)
A week later, Alaniz noticed that Plaintiff had not returned to Woodhull Hospital within the normal timeframe for lunch, did not see Plaintiff at his station, and did not have documentation on file from Plaintiff requesting time off. (Def. 56.1 ¶ ¶ 84, 86; Pl. 56.1 ¶ ¶ 83, 85; Alaniz Dep. 120:4-18.) Alaniz left a message with co-workers requesting that Plaintiff visit Alaniz when Plaintiff returned. (St. Juste Aff. ¶ 96; Alaniz Dep. 120:21-25.) Plaintiff claims that when he met with Alaniz, Alaniz made derogatory comments about the thawb calling it " unprofessional according to American culture." (St. Juste Aff. ¶ 51.) Alaniz also informed Plaintiff that he was " stealing company time" by attending Friday prayers and that Plaintiff's attendance at these prayers was subject to Alaniz's discretion. ( Id.) Plaintiff informed Alaniz that he attended Jumu'ah prayers on Fridays and therefore required additional time for lunch, (Def. 56.1 ¶ 87; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 86), and Alaniz responded by stating that such behavior was inappropriate and " not conducive for the marketing operations," (Alaniz Dep. 125:3-5).
Subsequent to this meeting, Joseph Chasse, Associate Executive Director of Marketing, requested that Plaintiff wear a suit and not a thawb when working at the Federal Courthouse. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 81; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 80; St. Juste Dep. 83:9-20.) Alaniz subsequently discontinued the use of Masjid-At-Taqwa as a Metro Plus work site,
(Alaniz Dep. 133:4-134:25; St. Juste Aff. ¶ 97), according to Defendants, because of low enrollment numbers, (Def. 56.1 ¶ 40; Alaniz Dep. 133:4-15, 134:14-23).
Plaintiff claims that, at an unspecified time, Alaniz told him that his attendance at Friday prayers was a " privilege" that would only continue so long as he kept meeting his weekly enrollment goal. (St. Juste Dep. 181:16-23.) On May 21, 2009, Alaniz emailed Plaintiff a copy of Metro Plus's policy with respect to ethnic and religious holidays. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 89; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 88; Def. Ex. S.) Alaniz explained in the email that he " will genuine[ly] make every effort to accommodate your needs but at the same time I also have an obligation to the corporation to abide by all rules and regulations as previously explained," and directed Plaintiff to reach out to Belinda Barneys, the Director of Labor Relations in the human resources department, to obtain clarification on the policy. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 90; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 89; Def. Ex. S.) Plaintiff reached out to Ryan Harris, Chief Human Resources Officer, who told Plaintiff that Metro Plus would accommodate his request to attend Friday prayers except where it affected the company's operations. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 91; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 90.)
HHC's Operating Procedure on Ethnic and Religious Holidays provides that approved leave for observance of ethnic or religious holidays could be charged to annual leave or compensatory time credits, and, if the request for leave is otherwise appropriate, could be granted and charged against future accumulation of either annual or compensatory time if an employee had insufficient vacation days or accumulated compensatory time. (Pl. Ex. 4 (" HHC Operating Procedure No. 20-18" ) at 2.) The policy also provides that each major operating unit " must establish the amount of advance notice required for submission of leave requests, and a procedure to ensure that employees are informed of the requirement well in advance of the time requests must be provided." ( Id. at 2.) A request for leave, whether annual leave or compensatory time, for a religious or other holiday must be made through submission of an " SR-70" form at least two weeks in advance. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 57; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 56.)
Alaniz met with Harris from the human resources department on or about May 24, 2009, and subsequently concluded that the hospital " could not reasonably accommodate [Plaintiff's] request for more than a one-hour lunch" on Fridays. (Alaniz Dep. 114:12-17.) According to Defendants, Metro Plus operates in " a very regulated monitored industry," and the New York City Department of Health and other city and federal government agencies require a schedule to be sent to them " two months in advance on where [Facilitated Enrollers (" FE" s)] are going to be located, including their working hours. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 50; Alaniz Dep. 68:3-24.) The city and federal agencies send monitors out and if they do not see a particular employee at a scheduled site, Metro Plus could be fined and cited. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 50; Alaniz Dep. 68:3-24; Def. Ex, D and Pl. Ex. 2, Deposition of Ileana Florentino (" Florentino Dep." ) 53:8-12.) Alaniz testified that it was understood that the hours between 12 noon and 2 p.m. were allocated for employee
lunch, " in which none of the regulatory agencies will come to monitor us." (Alaniz Dep. at 68:13-16.) Alaniz informed Plaintiff that Plaintiff should either use his annual leave, or take unpaid leave to offset any additional time used to attend religious services. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 88.) In his deposition, Plaintiff acknowledged that Alaniz told him he needed to take either unpaid leave or " vacation days." (St. Juste Dep. 146:13-16.) In his affidavit in opposition to Defendants' motion for summary judgment, Plaintiff states that Alaniz " insisted" that Plaintiff had to take this time off as unpaid leave only. (St. Juste Aff. ¶ ¶ 62, 100.) Alaniz never prevented Plaintiff from attending Friday prayers, and Plaintiff ultimately took unpaid leave to attend religious services on Friday afternoons. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 95; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 94; St. Juste Dep. 182:2-7.)
c. Plaintiff's Complaints
On May 19, 2009, Plaintiff emailed Harris, stating: " I really need to meet with you in regards to a meeting I had with [R]icardo [Alaniz], he advised me to speak to you. . . . It's in reference to my religion." (Pl. Ex. 8.) On June 17, 2009, Plaintiff sent an email to Florentino expressing concerns about his interactions with Alaniz. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 96; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 95; Pl. Ex. 13.) Plaintiff stated in part, " it appeared to me that [Alaniz] was trying to make me choose between my job and my religion. [I] even mentioned to him about federal laws to prevent such incidents from [o]ccurring . . . ." (Pl. Ex. 13.) Two days later Plaintiff forwarded a copy of that email to Barneys and Harris. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 101; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 100.)
Alaniz met with Harris to discuss Plaintiff's use of additional lunch time to attend religious services. (Alaniz Dep. 125:14-125:22.) Harris recalls giving Alaniz a copy of Metro Plus's operating procedure manual and explaining to him that he should attempt to accommodate an employee's needs unless Alaniz believed that such an accommodation would negatively affect operations. (Def. Ex. E and Pl. Ex. 7, Deposition of Ryan Harris (" Harris Dep." ) 150:3-151:6.) Harris also warned Alaniz against " singling anybody out." ( Id. at 151:5-6.) Harris also had a conversation with Plaintiff where he presented him with a copy of the operating procedure manual and explained that they would attempt to accommodate his needs but it would depend on the " operational needs of the department." (Def. 56.1 ¶ 91; Harris Dep. 151:13-151:25.) Alaniz confirms that Harris provided him with a copy of the operating procedure but stated that they mutually concluded that they " could not reasonably accommodate [Plaintiff's] request" for a longer lunch hour. (Alaniz Dep. 114:12-17.)
d. Plaintiff's disciplinary history
On April 13, 2009, Plaintiff attended a counseling session to discuss his failure to meet his monthly productivity goals from November 2008 through March 2009. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 66; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 65; Def. Ex. Q
Record of Employee Counseling Session (" April 2009 Counseling Memorandum" ) 1-2, 4)
On August 17, 2009, a counseling memorandum was generated for Plaintiff to discuss excessive unscheduled absences. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 66; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 65; Pl. Ex. 9, Memorandum Dated Aug. 17, 2009; April 2009 Counseling Memorandum at 3, Undated Record of Employee Counseling Session.) The memorandum stated that " during the last 3 months [Plaintiff has] . . . exceeded the amount of unscheduled days off allowed by the corporation." (Memorandum Dated Aug. 17, 2009 at 331.) Plaintiff wrote on the counseling memorandum, " I was at work. Only one of these days was unscheduled." ( Id.) According to Florentino, the counseling memorandum never became a genuine disciplinary issue because she met with Plaintiff's union representative on an unspecified date and the representative encouraged Plaintiff to produce doctor's notes for all his unscheduled absences, which he did, and " that was the end of it." (Florentino Dep. 62:17-21.) A counseling session to discuss these unexcused absences was scheduled for October 17, 2009, (Pl. Ex. 11 & Def. Ex. Q,), but this counseling session never took place, (Florentino Dep. 61:12-61:14).
e. Fraud investigation
In or around September 2009, while Florentino was conducting Quality Assurance of Medicaid enrollment documents, she became suspicious of certain Medicaid enrollment documents submitted by Plaintiff. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 103; Florentino Dep. 85-87.) Several of Plaintiff's field applications for Medicaid were " in perfect shape," with no wrinkles or folds, which was atypical of applications from this population. (Florentino Dep. 87:9-23; Def. 56.1 ¶ 104.) Generally, enrollment forms were not " in perfect shape" and tend to have " wrinkles." (Florentino Dep. 87:15-23.) On October 8, 2009, Florentino sent a memorandum to a manager in the Compliance Department, copying, among others, Chasse, Harris and Alaniz, documenting her investigation into the enrollment forms and requesting an investigation into possible fraud by Plaintiff. (Pl. Ex. 12 and Def. Ex. U at 68-70, (" Florentino Mem." ) at 68-70.)
In the memorandum Florentino described three enrollment forms from three different clients, produced by Plaintiff, which she believed to be counterfeit. ( Id.) Florentino described contacting Plaintiff's clients and confirming that they had not provided the letters that Plaintiff had submitted with their enrollment forms. ( Id.) Florentino concluded that Plaintiff " violated
[Facilitated Enroller] provisions by altering eligibility documents and did not adhere to our Marketing Department operating procedures . . . ." ( Id.; Florentino Dep. 90:11-90:25.) Alaniz approved Florentino's memorandum and recommended that she send the matter to the Compliance Department. (Alaniz Dep. 87:15-88:8.) On October 13, 2009, Florentino submitted a Suspected Fraud and Abuse Form to the Compliance Department. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 107; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 106; Def. Ex. U at 373-376 (" Suspected Fraud and Abuse Form" ).)
f. Plaintiff's pre-hearing suspension and disciplinary hearing
On October 16, 2009, a pre-hearing suspension letter was sent to Plaintiff informing him that he was suspended without pay " effective immediately" until a disciplinary hearing was scheduled. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 108; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 107; Def. Ex. V.) On October 22, 2009, a Notice of Statement and Charges was filed and Plaintiff's disciplinary hearing was scheduled for October 29, 2009 and included a formal list of charges. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 109; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 108; Def. Ex. W.) Plaintiff was accused of three counts of " gross misconduct" for " altering original eligibility documents." (Def. Ex. W.)
Plaintiff attended the October 29, 2009 Disciplinary Hearing with his union representative, Sheila Lewis; Diana Almanzar, a Compliance Analyst, Barneys, Alaniz and Florentino were also present. (Def. 56.1 ¶ ¶ 110-14; Pl. 56.1 ¶ ¶ 109-13.) The hearing was presided over by Barneys. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 111; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 110.) Almanzar presented evidence of the fraud charges against Plaintiff. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 114; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 113.) On December 9, 2009, Barneys issued a determination letter with her findings. (Def. Ex. Y, " Letter of Determination." ) Barneys concluded that one of the three charges of fraud could be substantiated, one could not be substantiated, and that the letter comprising the third charge was authentic and that charge was therefore unfounded. ( Id. at 2-3.) Barneys recommended that Plaintiff be suspended for sixty days without pay, but since Plaintiff had already " served a 30 calendar day suspension without pay," Plaintiff would receive credit for those 30 days. ( Id.)
According to Defendants, the substantiation of the fraud charge was grounds for terminating Plaintiff, but because Plaintiff's union representative had spoken with Barneys after the October 22, 2009 disciplinary hearing and recommended leniency, Barneys recommended a 60-day suspension rather than termination of Plaintiff's employment. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 116; Def. Ex. H, Deposition of Belinda Barneys at 64:17-65:22.) Plaintiff's union representative Sheila Lewis informed him that, as a condition of his suspension and reinstatement, rather than termination, he would have to plead guilty to the one charge of fraud that had been substantiated by Barneys. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 118; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 117.) Plaintiff told Lewis that he would do so only under " duress." (St. Juste Dep. 112.) Plaintiff maintains that he never admitted guilt or conceded that the substance of the fraud charge was accurate. (St. Juste Aff. ¶ 79.) Plaintiff alleges that the fraud charges against him were fabricated by Florentino and Alaniz. (St. Juste Aff. ¶ 80.) He asserts that " it was Florentino who had at one time asked me to forge certain documents and that I refused to do so." (St. Juste Aff. ¶ 80; see also Am. Compl. ¶ 38.)
A Stipulation of Settlement (" Stipulation" ), dated January 11, 2010, stated the terms of Plaintiff's reinstatement. (Def. Ex. Z.) The terms of the Stipulation included an acknowledgment that the Plaintiff " pleads no contest and accepts the disciplinary penalty of a suspension without
pay of thirty (30) days."  (Stipulation at 2.) Plaintiff's union representative signed the Stipulation on April 21, 2010, ( id. at 4), but Plaintiff never signed it because he was never provided with a copy, (St. Juste Aff. ¶ ¶ 86, 87; St. Juste Dep. 112:21-22; Stipulation at 4). Although Plaintiff never signed the Stipulation, he was aware of the conditions of his reinstatement and that he was accepting the terms of the Stipulation. (Pl. Dep. 118:12-19.)
g. Plaintiff's reinstatement
Plaintiff was reinstated in December 2009 and transferred to a team in the Bronx, where he worked under the supervision of Regina Joseph. (Def. 56.1 ¶ ¶ 130-31; Pl. 56.1 ¶ ¶ 129-30.) Plaintiff was happy to be out from under the supervision of Alaniz and Florentino but wanted to continue working in Brooklyn, where he lived. (St. Juste Dep. 196:2-8.) Metro Plus informed Plaintiff that there was no availability on any of the Brooklyn teams. ( Id. at 196:16-22.) Plaintiff was unaware if there was any available space on any of the Brooklyn teams. ( Id. at 196:7-9.) Chasse directed Plaintiff to speak with the supervisors of various Brooklyn teams to determine if they had space. (Def. Ex. F, Deposition of Joseph Chasse (" Chasse Dep." ) 60:25-61:8.) Chasse states that Plaintiff was not transferred to one particular team in Brooklyn because that team required special language skills that Plaintiff did not have, and that another team at Kings County Hospital was full. (Chasse Dep. 60:3-18; Def. 56.1 ¶ 137.) While at the Bronx site, Plaintiff received a counseling memorandum from Joseph for his low enrollment numbers. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 138; Pl. 56.1 ¶ 137.)
h. Plaintiff's security incident
Plaintiff believes that he was blacklisted from all North Brooklyn Metro Plus work sites. On February 9, 2010, Joseph sent an email to her employees informing the employees that due to an upcoming snow storm, they could work from any Metro Plus work site in close proximity to their home. (Pl. Ex. 18 at 322.) Plaintiff went to Woodhull Hospital, the closest work site to his home, but he was denied entrance and forced to travel to the Bronx. (St. Juste Aff. ¶ 16.) A few days later on February 11, 2010, Alaniz sent an email to Joseph, Chasse, Florentino and Plaintiff stating that it was " not acceptable" for Plaintiff to work at Woodhull Hospital because he represented a " security concern." (Pl. Exs. 19, 22.) Florentino also sent an email on February 11, 2010, stating that Plaintiff " cannot report to Woodhull or any other site in the North Brooklyn network. Hospital police will not allow him on the premises." (Pl. Ex. 22.) Alaniz was not aware of any policy that prohibited Plaintiff from working from any other North Brooklyn hospital other than Woodhull Hospital. (Alaniz Dep. 171:13-17.) Alaniz's supervisor, Chasse, stated that there was no policy that prohibited Plaintiff from working anywhere in Brooklyn. (Chasse Dep. 113:8-10, 114:8-23.) Florentino agreed that " after [Plaintiff] was reinstated, he had access to all sites because he was an employee." (Florentino Dep. 193:13-24.)
a. Standard of Review
Summary judgment is proper only when, construing the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant, " there is no
genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Bronzini v. Classic Sec., L.L.C., 558 F.Appx. 89, 89, *2, 2014 WL 943933 (2d Cir. 2014); Kwan v. Andalex Grp. LLC, 737 F.3d 834, 843 (2d Cir. 2013); Kwong v. Bloomberg, 723 F.3d 160, 164-65 (2d Cir. 2013). The role of the court is not " to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Cioffi v. Averill Park Cent. Sch. Dist. Bd. of Educ., 444 F.3d 158, 162 (2d Cir. 2006) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986)). A genuine issue of fact exists when there is sufficient " evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. The " mere existence of a scintilla of evidence" is not sufficient to defeat summary judgment; " there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff." Id. The court's function is to decide " whether, after resolving all ambiguities and drawing all inferences in favor of the non-moving party, a rational juror could find in favor of that party." Pinto v. Allstate Ins. Co., 221 F.3d 394, 398 (2d Cir. 2000). The Second Circuit has " cautioned that [w]here an employer acted with discriminatory intent, direct evidence of that intent will only rarely be available, so affidavits and depositions must be carefully scrutinized for circumstantial proof which, if believed, would show discrimination." Taddeo v. L.M. Berry & Co., 526 F.Appx. 121, 122 (2d Cir. 2013) (quoting Gorzynski v. JetBlue Airways Corp., 596 F.3d 93, 101 (2d Cir. 2010)).
b. City of New York
Plaintiff names the City of New York as a separate Defendant. However, Plaintiff has not made any allegations against the City of New York or its agencies. Instead, Plaintiff has made allegations against Metro Plus, a subsidiary of HHC. It is well-established that for the purposes of Title VII litigation, HHC and the City of New York are considered two distinct entities. Where, as here, there are no allegations against the City of New York or any of its agencies but rather against HHC, a separate entity, the City of New York has improperly been named as a Defendant to this suit. See Samuel v. Bellevue Hosp. Ctr., 366 F.Appx. 206, 206 n.** (2d Cir. 2010) (" New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation is separate and distinct from the City of New York." (citing Brennan v. City of New York, 59 N.Y.2d 791, 792, 451 N.E.2d 478, 464 N.Y.S.2d 731 (1983)); Woodard v. New York Health & Hospitals Corp., No. 04-CV-5297, 2010 WL 2735757, at *7 (E.D.N.Y. July 9, 2010) (" most Title VII cases have reached the conclusion that despite the fact that HHC employees are entitled to indemnification and representation by the City, HHC and the City are separate entities with separate employees" ); Springer v. City of New York, No. 01-CV-4392, 2006 WL 526028, at *9 (E.D.N.Y. March 3, 2006) (finding no identity of interests between HHC and the City in a Title VII case); Centeno v. New York City, No. 02-CV-2745, 2005 WL 1126811, at *4 n.5 (E.D.N.Y. May 12, 2005) (explaining, in dicta, that " the City of New York is not plaintiff's employer and cannot be held liable in this Title VII action [because] [t]he City of New York and the Health and Hospitals Corporation are separate legal entities" ). The City of New York is not a proper party, and the Court therefore dismisses the City of New York from this action.
c. Florentino, Alaniz and Stocker
Plaintiff asserts a Title VII claim against Florentino, Alaniz and Michael
Stocker, the Chairman of the Board of HHC. Under Title VII, a Plaintiff cannot name individuals as defendants because Title VII liability can only be imputed to an employer and not to an individual employee. See Sassaman v. Gamache, 566 F.3d 307, 315-16 (2d Cir. 2009) (" individuals are not subject to liability under Title VII" (quoting Patterson v. Cnty of Oneida, 375 F.3d 206, 221 (2d Cir. 2004))); Tomka v. Seiler Corp., 66 F.3d 1295, 1313 (2d Cir. 1995) (" individual defendants with supervisory control over a plaintiff may not be held personally liable under Title VII" ). Thus Florentino, Alaniz and Stocker are improperly named Defendants to Plaintiff's Title VII suit and Plaintiff's Title VII claims against Florentino, Alaniz and Stocker are dismissed.
Although " Title VII claims are not cognizable against individuals, individuals may be held liable under . . . [§ ] 1983 for certain types of discriminatory acts, including those giving rise to a hostile work environment." Patterson, 375 F.3d at 226 (citing Hayut v. State Univ. of New York, 352 F.3d 733, 753-54 (2d Cir. 2003)) (additional citation omitted); see also Patterson, 375 F.3d at 230 (" [G]enerally, a public employee acts under color of state law while acting in his official capacity or while exercising his responsibilities pursuant to state law." (quoting West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 49-50, 108 S.Ct. 2250, 101 L.Ed.2d 40 (1988)). A plaintiff however, " must establish a given defendant's personal involvement in the claimed violation in order to hold that defendant liable in his individual capacity under § 1983." Id. at 229. In this case, as discussed below, Plaintiff's allegations of discrimination, retaliation, and a hostile work environment revolve almost entirely around the actions of Alaniz. Therefore Plaintiff has sufficiently alleged Alaniz's personal involvement. Similarly, the disciplinary charges which led to Plaintiff's suspension were initiated by Florentino. Plaintiff has therefore sufficiently alleged Florentino's personal involvement. See Back v. Hastings On Hudson Union Free Sch. Dist., 365 F.3d 107, 123 (2d Cir. 2004) (" There is little doubt that [school district employee defendants] were 'personally involved' in the purported deprivation, or that they acted under the color of state law when they recommended against Back's tenure and evaluated her negatively." ). Plaintiff alleges that Stocker, as Chairman of the Board of HHC, " knew or should have known of the discriminatory customs, practices and wrongful acts of the defendants described in this complaint and condoned, ratified and/or authorized." (Am. Compl ¶ 9.) However, Plaintiff did not argue and the record does not establish that Stocker had any personal involvement in any of the alleged violations. Accordingly, Stocker is improperly named as a defendant as to Plaintiff's § 1983 claims and all § 1983 claims against him are dismissed.
d. Religious Discrimination Claims -- Title VII, Section 1983 and NYSHRL
Plaintiff alleges that Defendants discriminated against him on the basis of his religion in violation of Title VII, § 1983 and NYSHRL. Title VII makes it unlawful for an employer " to fail or refuse to hire or discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual . . . because of such individual's . . . religion[.]" 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). An individual's " religion" includes not just religious beliefs, but " all aspects of religious observance and practice," unless the employer demonstrates that it is unable to reasonably accommodate that observance or practice " without undue hardship on the conduct of the employer's business." § 2000e(j); see also Cosme v. Henderson, 287 F.3d 152 (2d Cir. 2002) (stating that
" Congress delineated the scope of an employer's duties . . . by defining 'religion' in a substantively significant way" ); Siddiqi v. New York City Health & Hosps. Corp., 572 F.Supp.2d 353, 369 (S.D.N.Y. 2008) (" Courts interpret [42 U.S.C. § 2000e(j)] to mean that an employer cannot discriminate against any employee on the basis of the employee's religious beliefs unless the employer shows that he cannot reasonably accommodate the employee's religious needs without undue hardship on the conduct of the employer's business." (citations and internal quotation marks omitted)). Thus, " [a] plaintiff may claim a violation of religious discrimination under Title VII under theories of either disparate treatment or denial of reasonable accommodation." Bind v. City of New York, No. 08-CV-11105, 2011 WL 4542897, at *9 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 30, 2011) (citing Feingold v. New York, 366 F.3d 138, 149 (2d Cir. 2004) (disparate treatment) and Cosme, 287 F.3d at 158 (denial of reasonable accommodation)). Plaintiff has alleged religious discrimination under both disparate treatment and failure to accommodate.
i. Disparate Treatment Religious Discrimination Claim
Under Title VII, § 1983 and the NYSHRL, disparate treatment religious discrimination claims are assessed using the burden-shifting framework established by McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668, (1973).See e.g., Marmulszteyn v. Napolitano, 523 F.Appx. 13, 15 (2d Cir. 2013) (explaining that a " disparate-treatment claim" based on religion " is governed by the familiar burden-shifting framework set forth in McDonnell Douglas " ). Under the framework, a plaintiff must first establish a prima facie case of discrimination. St. Mary's Honor Ctr. v. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502, 506, 113 S.Ct. 2742, 125 L.Ed.2d 407 (1993); see also Dowrich-Weeks v. Cooper Square ...