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Wilson v. Ontario County Sheriff's Department

United States District Court, W.D. New York

August 8, 2014

RACHEAL WILSON, Plaintiff,
v.
ONTARIO COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT, SERGEANT TOMES, OFFICER BORDEN, Both Individually, Defendants.

DECISION AND ORDER

ELIZABETH A. WOLFORD, District Judge.

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Racheal Wilson ("Plaintiff") is a corrections officer employed by defendant the Ontario County Sheriff's Department ("OCSD"). Plaintiff commenced the instant action on December 27, 2012, alleging that Defendants discriminated against her following the birth of her son in 2010. (Dkt. 1). In particular, Plaintiff alleges that she was not permitted to take compensated breaks in excess of her normal break time to express breast milk. Plaintiff also alleges that she was retaliated against for complaining about this purported discrimination, that she was subjected to a hostile work environment, and that she was deprived of equal protection of the laws in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

Defendants have moved to dismiss the complaint in its entirety for failure to state a claim pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). (Dkt. 5). In the alternative, Defendants move to strike paragraphs 10-38 of the complaint. ( Id. ). Plaintiff has cross-moved for leave to amend the complaint by substituting Ontario County as a defendant in place of the OCSD. (Dkt. 12). For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion to dismiss is granted and Plaintiff's motion for leave to amend is denied as futile. In addition, Defendants' motion to strike is denied as moot.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff alleges that she has been employed by the OCSD since August 22, 2001. (Dkt. 1 at ¶ 9). Plaintiff claims that in November 2006, while she was pregnant, she was assigned to "the courthouse" but that an individual identified in the complaint as "Lt. Nolan" "sent Plaintiff back to the jail from the courthouse" because Plaintiff was pregnant and did not qualify to carry a weapon. ( Id. at ¶¶ 10-11). Plaintiff further alleges that she was assigned to the overnight shift during her 2006-2007 pregnancy despite having a note from her doctor stating that she should be moved to the day shift. ( Id. at ¶¶ 13-16). Plaintiff claims that when she returned from maternity leave in September 2007, she asked "management" how they were going to handle her "breast pumping breaks" and that she "was informed" that she would have to pump during her regular breaks. ( Id. at ¶¶ 18-19). Plaintiff allegedly requested in January 2008, that the OCSD institute a policy for pregnant officers to "allow them to express breast milk while pregnant [sic] during the course of the day." ( Id. at ¶ 20).

Between her pregnancy in 2006-2007 and her subsequent pregnancy in 2009-2010, Plaintiff alleges that she advanced in her career at the OCSD. In particular, Plaintiff alleges that she was chosen to be a field training officer, sent to field training officer school, "put in charge of the jail vehicle, " chosen for the emergency response team, chosen for the honor guard, and complemented by defendant Sergeant Charles Tomes ("Sgt. Tomes") on her performance. ( Id. at ¶¶ 21-25).

In March 2010, when Plaintiff alleges she was seven months pregnant, Plaintiff claims she was reassigned to a "Pod" by an individual identified in the complaint as "Sgt. Lyons." ( Id. at ¶ 28). The complaint does not explain the meaning of a "Pod." Plaintiff alleges that she informed Sgt. Lyons and Sgt. Tomes that she was worried about being assigned to a Pod because her pregnancy was interfering with her ability to climb the stairs. ( Id. at ¶ 29). Plaintiff further alleges that she could barely walk due to her pregnancy, but "they kept putting her in a Pod setting with potentially violent inmates...." ( Id. at ¶ 30). Plaintiff alleges that she "had to take vacation days" because "they" assigned her to a particular Pod in which there were "15 minute checks and high security risk inmates." ( Id. at ¶ 35). Plaintiff purportedly asked Sgt. Tomes if she could be given a different assignment, given the advanced stage of her pregnancy, but Sgt. Tomes allegedly told her that it would not be fair to the other officers. ( Id. at ¶¶ 36-37). Plaintiff alleges that as a result of Sgt. Tomes' refusal to reassign her, she decided to take vacation that day, "to avoid being placed in that danger, given her vulnerable condition." ( Id. at ¶ 37). Plaintiff alleges that in or about May 2010, her doctor placed her on light duty, and that as a result, the sergeants could not schedule her in the Pod anymore. ( Id. at ¶ 38).

Plaintiff purportedly returned from maternity leave for her 2009-2010 pregnancy on September 25, 2010. ( Id. at ¶ 39). Plaintiff alleges that she was subjected to discrimination upon her return from maternity leave. ( Id. at ¶ 40). In particular, Plaintiff alleges that in October 2010, unnamed co-workers refused to cover for her while she took a break to express breast milk, claiming that they were "too busy" and that she should "find someone else to do it." ( Id. at ¶ 41). Plaintiff also alleges that on October 1, 2010, Sgt. Tomes asked her how many pumping breaks she would need and of what duration. ( Id. at ¶ 43). Plaintiff estimated that she would require two breaks of approximately 45 minutes each. ( Id. at ¶ 44). Sgt. Tomes purportedly replied, "two hours for breaks?" ( Id. at ¶ 45). Plaintiff claims that Sgt. Tomes advised her that she would have to use her vacation, comp, or unpaid time to take breaks to express her breast milk. ( Id. at ¶ 46).

Plaintiff allegedly complained about the "pumping issue" to her union president, Marty Lozada ("Officer Lozada"). ( Id. at ¶ 49). On November 10, 2010, Officer Lozada allegedly sent Plaintiff a message stating that she did not have to take annual leave to express breast milk. ( Id. at ¶ 51). Plaintiff also alleges that another woman employed by the OCSD, Tamela Cayward, was permitted to take breaks to express breast milk for at least a year following the births of her children. ( Id. at ¶ 52).

On January 7, 2011, Plaintiff alleges that an individual identified in the complaint as "Sgt. Debaere" coached Plaintiff on her work and alleged "improper conduct" while covering a break for another officer. It appears that Plaintiff denies engaging in any improper conduct. ( Id. at ¶ 53).

On January 12, 2011, Plaintiff alleges that she sent a message to "management" asking why she had been moved to "Pod 2, where dangerous inmates were housed." ( Id. at ¶ 54). Approximately an hour after Plaintiff sent this message, she alleges that Sgt. Tomes stopped her in the hallway and berated her in front of Sgt. Debaere and facility cameras on an unspecified subject. ( Id. at ¶ 55). Plaintiff claims that she requested a copy of Sgt. Tomes' statements in writing but Sgt. Tomes refused to provide a written copy. ( Id. at ¶ 56).

Plaintiff alleges that on January 13, 2011, Sgt. Tomes sent Plaintiff "a nasty message" regarding a complaint she made against defendant Officer Sherry Borden ("Officer Borden").[1] ( Id. at ¶ 57). Plaintiff does not specify the content of her complaint against Officer Borden. Plaintiff also claims that on this same day, she sent a message to Sgt. Tomes asking to speak to him about the incident on January 12, 2011, when he yelled at her, but Sgt. Tomes did not respond to her message. ( Id. at ¶¶ 58-59).

On January 16, 2011, Plaintiff claims she sent a message to an individual identified in the complaint as "Sgt. Killian" requesting help making a complaint against Officer Borden. ( Id. at ¶ 60). On January 20, 2011, Sgt. Killian allegedly advised Plaintiff to take her complaint up the chain of command. ( Id. at ¶ 62). At some point during this time period, Plaintiff was allegedly moved from Rover 1 to Pod 2; she claims that the stress of this move caused her milk supply to diminish. ( Id. at ¶ 65).

On January 22, 2011, Plaintiff alleges that she sent a "request to file a hostile work environment" to Officer Lozada. ( Id. at ¶ 66). Officer Lozada allegedly replied "?" ( Id. ). Plaintiff claims that she told Officer Lozada that she wanted a message "when it was done" and he responded, "what happened?" ( Id. at ¶ 67).

On January 22, 2011, and January 28, 2011, Plaintiff allegedly completed "voluntary statements" against Officer Borden. ( Id. at ¶¶ 68-69). The complaint does not explain what a "voluntary statement" is, nor does it specify the content of Plaintiff's "voluntary statements." Plaintiff also alleges that in or about this time period, Officer Borden "stated in front of inmates, inexplicably, that Lt. Smith and Plaintiff were engaged in a torrid affair." ( Id. at ¶ 72). The complaint does not explain who Lt. Smith is or his relationship to Plaintiff.

Plaintiff also alleges that on January 29, and 31, 2011, she "received two write-ups on an inmate that was disrespectful completed, " but that this inmate was released on February 11, 2011, without any hearings. ( Id. at ¶ 70).

Plaintiff filed her complaint on December 27, 2012. (Dkt. 1). On March 1, 2013, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the complaint and/or to strike portions thereof. (Dkt. 5). On June 20, 2013, Plaintiff filed opposition papers to the motion and a cross-motion for leave to amend the complaint through her counsel.[2] (Dkt. 11, 12). Defendants filed reply papers in further support of their motion on June 28, 2013 (Dkt. 14) and opposition papers to Plaintiff's cross-motion on July 3, 2013 (Dkt. 15). Thereafter, on January 15, 2014, this case was transferred to the undersigned. (Dkt. 17).

DISCUSSION

I. Legal Standard

In considering a motion to dismiss, a court generally may only consider "facts stated in the complaint or documents attached to the complaint as exhibits or incorporated by reference." Nechis v. Oxford Health Plans, Inc., 421 F.3d 96, 100 (2d Cir. 2005). A court should consider the motion "accepting all factual allegations in the complaint and drawing all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor.'" Ruotolo v. City of New York, 514 F.3d 184, 188 (2d Cir. 2008) (quoting ATSI Commc'ns, Inc. v. Shaar Fund, Ltd., 493 F.3d 87, 98 (2d Cir. 2007)). To withstand dismissal, a plaintiff must set forth "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.'" Turkmen v. Ashcroft, 589 F.3d 542, 546 (2d Cir. 2009) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)); see also Nielsen v. Rabin, 746 F.3d 58, 62 (2d Cir. 2014) ("The plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement. A well-pleaded complaint may proceed even if it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of the facts alleged is improbable, and that a recovery is very remote and unlikely.") (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).

"While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Thus, "at a bare minimum, the operative standard requires the plaintiff to provide the grounds upon which his claim rests through factual allegations sufficient to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Goldstein v. Pataki, 516 F.3d 50, 56-57 (2d Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks omitted).

With respect to Plaintiff's motion for leave to amend (Dkt. 12), Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15 provides that the Court "should freely give leave [to amend] when justice so requires." Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). "[I]t is within the sound discretion of the district court to grant or deny leave to amend." McCarthy v. Dun & Bradstreet Corp., 482 F.3d 184, 200 (2d Cir. 2007). "A district court has discretion to deny leave for good reason, including futility, bad faith, undue delay, or undue prejudice to the opposing party." Id.

II. Defendants' Motion to Dismiss

A. Claims Against the OCSD

As a threshold matter, Defendants argue that the OCSD is not a proper defendant in this matter because "[i]t is well settled that, under New York law, departments are merely administrative arms of a municipality, do not have a legal identity separate and apart from the municipality and cannot sue or be sued.'" Kamholtz v. Yates County, No. 08-CV-6210, 2008 WL 5114964, at *9 (W.D.N.Y. Dec. 3, 2008) (quoting Caidor v. M&T Bank, No. 5:05-CV-297(FJS)(GJD), 2006 WL 839547, at *2 (N.D.N.Y. March 27, 2006)). "A police department cannot sue or be sued because it does not exist separate and apart from the municipality and does not have its own legal identity." Baker v. Willett, 42 F.Supp.2d 192, 198 (N.D.N.Y. 1999) (dismissing claims against county sheriff's department).

Plaintiff appears to concede this point, inasmuch as she has moved for leave to amend the complaint to substitute Ontario County as a defendant in place of the OCSD. (Dkt. 12). The merits of Plaintiff's motion for leave to amend are considered in Part III of this Decision and Order. To the extent that Plaintiff seeks to assert any claims against the OCSD, those claims are deficient as a matter of law and are dismissed.

B. Claims Against Sgt. Tomes and Officer Borden

Defendants have also moved to dismiss the claims against Sgt. Tomes and Officer Borden in their entirety. Although the allegations in the complaint are unclear on this point, [3] the Court construes Plaintiff's first cause of action as a claim of disparate treatment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000 et seq. ("Title VII") as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(k) ("PDA"); Plaintiff's second cause of action as a claim of a hostile work environment in violation of Title VII, as amended by the PDA; and Plaintiff's third cause of action as a claim of retaliation in violation of Title VII, as amended by the PDA. The Court considers each of the claims against these individual defendants below, in addition to Plaintiff's § 1983 equal protection claim and Plaintiff's punitive damages claim.

1. Title VII Claims

There is no individual liability under Title VII. See Spiegel v. Schulmann, 604 F.3d 72, 79 (2d Cir. 2010) ("We have... determined that the remedial provisions of Title VII... do not provide for individual liability."); Allessi v. N.Y. State Dep't of Corr. & Cmty. Supervision, No. 12-CV-725S, 2014 WL 1671580, at *4 (W.D.N.Y. Apr. 22, 2014) ("[T]here is no individual liability under Title VI...."). As such, neither Sgt. Tomes nor Officer Borden, both of whom are expressly denoted in the complaint as having been sued individually (Dkt. 1 at 1), can be held liable to Plaintiff on any of her Title VII causes of action. Plaintiff does not respond to Defendants' arguments as to this point, effectively conceding that her Title VII claims cannot be asserted against the individual defendants. As a result, Defendants' motion to dismiss is granted as to Plaintiff's Title VII claims (the first, second, and third causes of action) against Sgt. Tomes and Officer Borden.

2. Equal Protection Claim (§ 1983)

Plaintiff's fourth cause of action alleges that Defendants have violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, as enforced by 42 U.S.C. § 1983, due to "the sexual harassment and retaliation suffered ...


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