United States District Court, E.D. New York
Decided June 3, 2014
For Steven Castro, Plaintiff: Linda Cronin, LEAD ATTORNEY, Linda Cronin, Susan P Bernstein, Cronin & Byczek LLP, New Hyde Park, NY; Dominick Peter Revellino, Cronin & Byczek, LLP, Lake Success, NY.
For City of New York, Council of the City of New York, Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, sued in her official and individual capacity, Council Member Julissa Ferreras, sued in her official and individual capacity, Yoselin Genao, Deputy Chief of Staff, sued in her official and individual capacity, Defendants: Eric Jay Eichenholtz, LEAD ATTORNEY, NYC Law Department, Office of the Corporation Counsel, New York, NY.
OPINION & ORDER
NINA GERSHON, United States District Judge.
Plaintiff Steven Castro brings this action seeking damages and equitable relief pursuant to Titles I and V of the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 (the " ADA" ); the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (29 U.S.C. § 794); 42 U.S.C. § 1983; and the New York State and City Human Rights Laws (New York State Executive Law § 296 and N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-107, respectively). Plaintiff asserts these claims against the City of New York, the Council of the City of New York, Council Member Julissa Ferreras, and Yoselin Genao, the Council Member's Deputy Chief of Staff.
Plaintiff's complaint, filed October 25, 2010, initially included as a defendant
then-City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and claims asserted under the Fair Labor Standards Act and the New York Labor Law. ( See Compl. ¶ ¶ 20, 42-55.) At the March 15, 2011 pre-motion conference, plaintiff agreed to withdraw his state Labor Law claim, as well as all claims against former Council Speaker Quinn. ( See ECF Document #15; see also Plf. R56.1 Response ¶ 2.) During the pre-motion conference held January 24, 2012, plaintiff withdrew his Fair Labor Standards Act and Due Process claims. ( See ECF Document #36; see also Plaintiff's Rule 56.1 Response ¶ 2.) The claims that remain, therefore, are: those made pursuant to the ADA; the § 1983 equal protection claim against the individual defendants only;  and all claims under the Rehabilitation Act and the State and City Human Rights Laws. The defendants now move, pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, for summary judgment on all of these remaining claims.
The following recitation of the events giving rise to this lawsuit is based on factual assertions which are, unless otherwise noted, undisputed.
Plaintiff Steven Castro (" Castro" ) is a resident of Queens County, New York and was at the time of these events approximately 23 years old. Castro suffers from cerebral palsy, a medical condition resulting from an injury he sustained at birth. Notwithstanding his condition, plaintiff " is high functioning, can ambulate on his own, drive a motor vehicle and is capable of full time work." (Compl. ¶ 25.)
Defendant Julissa Ferreras (" Ferreras" or the " Council Member" ) was elected to membership in the New York City Council in 2009 and represents District 21, which includes the Elmhurst, East Elmhurst, Corona and Jackson Heights neighborhoods of Queens. Ferreras had a friendly relationship with Castro's uncle, Charles A. Castro (" Charles Castro" or " Charlie" ), which dated back to around 1999 or 2000. (C. Castro Dep. 12.) Charles Castro also had a longstanding friendly and professional relationship with then-New York State Senator Hiram Monserrate, including a stint as his chief of staff from January to July of 2001. (Plf. R56.1 Response ¶ 5; see also C. Castro Dep. 11.)
Sometime in 2009, Charles Castro began to seek out employment opportunities for plaintiff, as plaintiff had not, prior to that time, had any experience with office or clerical work. When Charles Castro asked Senator Monserrate about the possibility of his employing plaintiff, the senator suggested
that he approach Ferreras, " because you really helped her out a lot. Maybe she can help him out."  (Plf. R56.1 Response ¶ 6.) Charles Castro subsequently spoke with Ferreras about his desire to find a job for his nephew, to which Ferreras responded, " Bring him in." (C. Castro Dep. 12.) There is no dispute that there was, at this time, no discussion as to the rate at which Steven Castro would be paid. While it was not uncommon for the Council Member to hire staff members on a volunteer basis and to subsequently take them on as paid employees, there was never an express discussion of such an arrangement in plaintiff's case. Ferreras was aware of Castro's disability at the time that she agreed to hire him, as she had met and interacted with him previously.
Castro began working in Ferreras's district office, in Queens, on September 7, 2009. His supervisor was Angel Audiffred, Ferreras's chief of staff at the time. Charles Castro told Audiffred " not to treat plaintiff any differently," and plaintiff enjoyed a good relationship with Audiffred at the outset of his employment. (Plf. R.56.1 Response ¶ ¶ 12-13.) Initially, Castro reported to work five days a week, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.; but in October 2009 his hours were reduced to 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.; and in January 2010, his schedule was changed again, and he was told to report to work from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. daily.
Castro's responsibilities in the Council Member's office included some typing and other clerical tasks, and he was also asked, along with other employees, to empty the office garbage cans twice weekly. ( See id. ¶ 15. He was asked a few times to transport boxes from Ferreras's office in City Hall back to her district office. Plaintiff felt that this was " difficult work," and he
did not appreciate being asked to do it. (Plf. R56.1 Response ¶ 68.) Although he generally did not discuss his disability with anyone in the office, there were a few occasions on which plaintiff complained about the heavy lifting. Once, he told a co-worker that the garbage bags were too heavy, which led the co-worker to help him. On another occasion, when Audiffred asked plaintiff and the same co-worker to move boxes of bottled water, plaintiff told Audiffred that he could not do it. Plaintiff testified that Audiffred " said okay" and sent him back inside. (Castro Dep. 42-43;  see also Plf. R56.1 Response ¶ 71.) And in December 2009, while moving boxes of toys for a Christmas party, Plaintiff told another employee, Maryann Smith-Jackson, that he could not lift more than 50 pounds at a time; she told him to " take [his] time." ( See Castro Dep. 31-35.)
During his time in the Council Member's office, Castro did not form close relationships with the other staff members. He testified that, aside from Smith-Jackson, " nobody talked to me, nobody had a conversation with me." ( Id. at 40.) However, he also testified that he was " shy" and that he " kept  to himself" his feelings of being excluded by the other staff members. ( Id. at 40-41.) Plaintiff further testified that, on at least one occasion, Genao " was laughing [about] the way I walked. . . . When I walked by, she looked at me and laughed." ( Id. at 36; see also Plf. R56.1 Response ¶ 62.) Castro also testified that there was a time he believed Genao called him a derogatory name in Spanish, but he was not sure of the word she used or of its meaning. (Plf. R56.1 Response ¶ 63.) On another occasion, Council Member Ferreras " yelled at" Castro; and although he testified that she yelled at him because he " didn't finish [his] work on time," he also testified that he believed she yelled at him because of his disability. (Castro Dep. 76; see also Plf. R.56.1 Response ¶ 21.) Plaintiff also testified that there was a time that he asked Audiffred for a MetroCard so that he could travel to Manhattan, but Audiffred instead asked him to see if Charles Castro would cover the trip.
To the extent Castro believed be was being treated unfairly, he complained to his uncle but did not mention any of these incidents to anyone in the Council Member's office, nor did he file any type of formal grievance or complaint during the time of his employment.
With the exception of the time that Ferreras " yelled at" plaintiff, neither she nor any of her staff members made any other comments about Castro's work during the time of his employment. However, Audiffred testified that, in response to plaintiff's periodic tardiness and absence, he reminded Castro " that if he is going to
be out or late, that he should let me know." (Audiffred Dep. 70.) And Charles Castro testified that Genao told him at some point that " all [Castro] does is play on the computer all day long."  (C. Castro Dep. 26; see also Plf. R56.1 Response ¶ 23.)
In early November, 2009, Audiffred notified all staff members, including plaintiff, that their seats were being reassigned. There is no dispute that plaintiff was not informed of the reason for the change.
In or around October 2009, several weeks after Castro began working in Ferreras's office, he completed, with his uncle's assistance, a packet of personnel forms. He returned the completed paperwork but subsequently was told that the forms had been lost, and he was therefore asked to complete them again. Plaintiff completed the forms a second time in late October or November 2009 but still was not placed on the Council payroll and did not receive any pay. (Plf. R56.1 Response ¶ 30; see also Castro Dep. 28.)
Sometime after the second set of forms was completed, Charles Castro met with Audiffred and Michael Nieves in order to discuss plaintiff's pay. (Plf. R56.1 Response. ¶ 31.) Even after that meeting, however, Ferreras's office did not pay plaintiff, and in a November 17, 2009 email to Audiffred, Ferreras wrote, " Charlie's nephew has not been paid??? What's up? I thought he was on payroll already?" ( Id. ¶ 34; see also Eichenholz Am. Decl. Ex. N.) By email dated November 25, 2009, Audiffred responded that he had " explained to Charlie a few days ago" that he, Audiffred and plaintiff " have to sit down and figure out how much we owe [S]teven," and that Charles Castro agreed to " come by" the following week. (Eichenholz Am. Decl. Ex. O.) He further wrote, " [I] will let you know how much that comes out to...[I] estimate it's about $500." ( Id., ellipsis in original.)
On November 30, 2009, Castro emailed to Audiffred a calendar setting forth the dates he had reported to work prior to that time. In a December 14, 2009 email to Ferreras, Charles Castro wrote that Audiffred had indicated to him that plaintiff
was to receive a $500 stipend, which Charles Castro estimated amounted to " less than $10.00 per day." (Eichenholz Am. Decl. Ex. P.) Charles Castro also wrote that plaintiff had " been there without a check since September," and asked Ferreras to " pay him at least the minimum wage and see to it that Angel gets him paid." ( Id.)
In January 2010, Ferreras terminated Audiffred as her chief of staff and hired Emmett Hare to replace him. On January 4 and 5, 2010, Castro provided Ferreras with the calendars he had previously sent to Audiffred, as well as a calendar containing his December 2009 hours, and he also began contemporaneously recording the hours he worked.
In early March, 2010, Castro and Ferreras signed an " Office Clerical Consultant Contract" (the " Consulting Contract" ), pursuant to which Castro was to be paid as a " Consultant" at the rate of $10.00 per hour, up to a total of $5,000, for the provision of certain clerical services including " assigned office work," " storage and filing of documents" and " distribution of mail and faxes to appropriate staff."  (Eichenholz Am. Decl. Ex. U.) On March 10, 2010, plaintiff received a check for $3,425, which represented payment for 340,5 hours in accordance with the Consulting Contract. ( See id. Exs. U, V.) That same day, plaintiff resigned from employment with Ferreras, but he did not discuss the reasons for his resignation with the Council Member or any of the staff members. He did, however, tell Emmet Hare that he " didn't like [his] schedule." (Plf. R56.1 Response ¶ 53, alteration in original.)
On April 15, 2010, plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination, hostile work environment and retaliation with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (" EEOC" ) and the New York State Division of Human Rights (" NYSDHR" ). The NYSDHR dismissed the charge for administrative convenience (so that plaintiff could pursue his rights via an action in this court) on June 23, 2010. (Eichenholz Am. Decl. Ex. C.) On August 4, 2010, the EEOC issued a " Right to Sue" notice. Plaintiff initiated the instant action by filing the Complaint on October 25, 2010. As previously stated, several of plaintiff's claims were withdrawn over the course of the parties' pretrial proceedings. The claims that remain to be adjudicated are those for failure to accommodate and disparate treatment pursuant to Title I of the ADA; retaliation pursuant to Title V of the ADA; failure to accommodate and disparate treatment in violation of the Rehabilitation
Act; hostile work environment; violation of the Equal Protection Clause pursuant to § 1983; and employment discrimination in violation of the New York State and New York City Human Rights Laws (the " NYSHRL" and " NYCHRL," respectively). Plaintiff seeks equitable relief, " prohibiting the defendants from continuing to violate plaintiff's and other disabled employees' civil rights . . . and a reasonable accommodation and reinstatement to his position of 'Council's Aide.'"  (Compl. ¶ 114.) ...