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Rodriguez v. City of New York

United States District Court, S.D. New York

August 20, 2014

JEFFERSON RODRIGUEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
THE CITY OF NEW YORK, MARTHA E. STARK, DAVID FRANKEL, NANCY GOODMAN, DETECTIVE: LEONARD MASTROGIACOMO, in their individual and official capacities, Defendants.

Moshe C. Bobker, Cronin & Byczek, LLP, Lake Success, New York, for the Plaintiff Jefferson Rodriguez:

Sarah B. Evans, Bruce Rosenbaum Office of the New York City Corporation Counsel, New York, New York, the Defendants.

OPINION & ORDER

DENISE COTE, District Judge.

Jefferson Rodriguez brings this action against the City of New York ("City") and individual City defendants in their individual and official capacities, alleging (1) a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983") for unlawful retaliation in connection with the exercise of his First Amendment rights; (2) a claim that he was subjected to a hostile work environment on account of his race in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §2000e-2(a)(1); and (3) a claim under Section 1983 for false arrest. Defendants have moved to dismiss the first two claims. For the following reasons, the motion is granted.

BACKGROUND

The following facts are taken from the complaint ("Complaint") and documents integral to it.[1] Plaintiff was a uniformed member of the City Sheriff's Office ("Sheriff's Office") from November 1993 until the termination of his employment on March 12, 2010. The Sheriff's Office is a division of the City Department of Finance. Plaintiff is Hispanic, of Puerto Rican descent.

In October of 2006, plaintiff and seven other Hispanic deputies in the Sheriff's Office filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York alleging that the Sheriff's Office discriminated against the plaintiffs based on race and national origin, and retaliated against them because they exercised their First Amendment rights to complain about discriminatory treatment. Rodriguez v. City of New York, et al., 06cv1555 (RJH) ("Underlying Discrimination Action"). The case settled in January of 2008, with the City paying the plaintiffs $575, 000.

On October 7, 2008, plaintiff was injured in an automobile accident while acting within the scope of his employment with the Sheriff's Office. Plaintiff thereafter applied for worker's compensation benefits, claiming to be physically unable to work. Plaintiff was put on paid sick leave from the Sheriff's Office.

On June 30, 2009, while plaintiff was on paid leave, the Department of Finance brought charges him, accusing him of engaging in unauthorized outside employment while on paid leave ("Disciplinary Charges"). The Department of Finance accused plaintiff of operating a private security company and working as an armed security guard at two adult entertainment clubs in Queens while receiving worker's compensation benefits and claiming to be physically unable to work. Plaintiff was suspended from his employment at the Sheriff's Office without pay on the day the charges were brought. In response, plaintiff began to draw on his sick leave benefits.

As a result of the charges brought by the Department of Finance, the City controverted plaintiff's worker's compensation claim before the Worker's Compensation Board. Following a Worker's Compensation Board Hearing, an administrative law judge ruled in plaintiff's favor. The City appealed that decision to the Worker's Compensation Board.[2] In December of 2009, having run out of sick leave time, plaintiff requested permission from the Department of Finance to "borrow time." The request was refused.

In January of 2010, a formal hearing was held in connection with the Disciplinary Charges against plaintiff before the City Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings ("OATH"). Plaintiff argued to the OATH Administrative Law Judge that the Disciplinary Charges were in retaliation for his participation in the Underlying Discrimination Action. The hearing occurred on January 6 and 7.

On January 10, 2010, having been cleared by his physician to return to duty, plaintiff reported for work at the Sheriff's Office but was sent home on the ground that he was required to be cleared for duty by a doctor chosen by the City. On January 27, 2010, plaintiff again attempted to report for duty and was arrested by the New York City Police Department on a charge of criminal trespass. Plaintiff was convicted of criminal trespass in Queens County Criminal Court on May 29, 2012. That conviction was reversed by the Supreme Court of New York, Appellate Term for the Second Department on February 7, 2014. People v. Rodriguez, 988 N.Y.S.2d 524, 524 (App. Term 2014). The City's application for leave to appeal that decision to the New York Court of Appeals is currently pending.

On March 5, 2010, the OATH Administrative Law Judge issued a Report and Recommendation ("OATH Report and Recommendation"). He found that plaintiff engaged in unauthorized outside employment while receiving worker's compensation benefits, submitted false documents stating that he was unable to work from October of 2008 to June of 2009, and made false statements at a Worker's Compensation board hearing. Addressing plaintiff's allegation that the Disciplinary Charges were brought in retaliation for plaintiff's participation in the Underlying Discrimination Action, the Administrative Law Judge stated that "[t]his retaliation claim is premature." The Administrative Law Judge then opined that

[e]ven if a retaliation claim could be raised at this stage, [plaintiff] failed to show that the charges were prompted by his earlier complaint. It appears that petitioner brought the charges because it believed that respondent committed fraud while on sick leave.

Plaintiff was fired by the Department of Finance on March 12, 2010.

Plaintiff brought a CPLR Article 78 proceeding ("Article 78 Proceeding") in New York Supreme Court on July 9, 2010, challenging the termination of his employment on the ground that the OATH Administrative Judge's finding that plaintiff engaged in unauthorized employment while receiving worker's compensation benefits was not supported by substantial evidence. That action was subsequently transferred to the Appellate Division, First Department ("First Department"). While that action was pending, plaintiff filed the instant action in this Court on February 3, 2011. Plaintiff brought nine claims for violations of plaintiff's rights under the United States Constitution and federal and state law. Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint on May 2. On July 15, ...


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