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Peguero-Miles v. City University of New York

United States District Court, S.D. New York

September 25, 2014

Anarosa Peguero-Miles, Plaintiff,
v.
City University of New York, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

ALISON J. NATHAN, District Judge.

Before the Court is the Defendants[1] motion to dismiss Plaintiff's Third Amended Complaint. In her Complaint, Plaintiff brings state-law claims under New York's Human Rights Law ("NYSHRL"), city-law claims under New York City's Human Rights Law ("NYCHRL"), and federal-law claims under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e, et seq., and 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983. Plaintiff also brought a claim under Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. § 1985, against Defendant Professional Staff Congress/CUNY, but she voluntarily dismissed this claim.[2] Dkt. No. 50. For the reasons discussed below, the motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

I. BACKGROUND

The following facts are drawn from Plaintiff's Complaint, and are presumed true and construed in Plaintiff's favor on this motion to dismiss. Kassner v. 2nd Ave. Delicatessen, Inc., 496 F.3d 229, 237 (2d Cir. 2007).

Plaintiff describes herself as a "bilingual, dark skinned, petite Dominican woman." Compl. at 14. She began working for the State University of New York Manhattan Educational Opportunity Center ("MEOC"), which is administered by the City University of New York ("CUNY"), in December 2009 as a Food Stamp Employment and Training Job Developer in the Counseling Department. Compl. at 15. The Counseling Department was managed at the time by Defendant Angela Rita-Farias. In February 2010, Plaintiff assumed the duties of the MEOC Career Job Developer and was then officially appointed to that position from April 2010 through August 2010. Compl. at 15.[3] For a brief period of time in August 2010, she reported to both the Counseling Department, managed by Rita-Farias, and the Research Department, managed by Steven Jacobs. Compl. at 15. By the end of August 2010, she reported only to Jacobs and retained the title of Job Developer. Compl. at 15. As a Job Developer, Plaintiff's duties included training students to find suitable work, conducting resume and cover letter writing workshops, cultivating relationships with various employers, and finding employment for students. Compl. at 15. She received two satisfactory performance evaluations from Jacobs on February 22, 2011 and Rita-Farias on June 14, 2010. Compl. at 15, 39.[4]

Plaintiff alleges that during her employment at the MEOC, she was subjected to numerous discriminatory remarks and adverse employment actions after she complained about these comments. She provides a long list of statements allegedly attributed to Rita-Farias and other MEOC employees that derogatively discuss Plaintiff's national origin[5] and race[6] as well as others' national origin, [7] race, and religion[8]. The exact chronology of Plaintiffs complaints regarding these comments is unclear, but she alleges that she may have made her first "informal" complaint about Rita-Farias's comments in August 2010, Compl. at 6, which is around the time her supervisor changed from Rita-Farias to Jacobs. Plaintiff alleges that she lodged additional complaints at various times to the following individuals: Defendant Rodney Alexander, the Executive Director of the MEOC; Jacobs; Sadie Bragg, Borough of Manhattan Community College ("BMCC") Vice President; Iyana Titus, BMCC's Affirmative Action Counselor; Defendant Walida Najeeullah, MEOC's Operations Coordinator; and union representatives. Compl. at 16, 20, 26.[9] Plaintiff further alleges that other MEOC employees made similar complaints to Alexander, including Renetta Mason, Steve Elson, and Jannet Rivera, and that Alexander failed to address any of the complaints until after Plaintiff raised her complaints with Titus. Compl. at 27. According to Plaintiffs Complaint, Rivera was not reappointed five months after she filed a complaint and she later settled a case of retaliation filed against CUNY. Compl. at 20.

Plaintiff alleges that she was shut out of Rita-Farias's inner circle after she complained about discrimination and a hostile work environment and was similarly shut out of certain work projects and committees. Compl. at 20. She also claims that shortly thereafter, Alexander came to her and told her that "I hear you're making comments about discrimination. We don't discriminate here at the MEOC. Come on, stop saying those things." Compl. at 26.

The exact sequence of events leading to Plaintiffs termination is less than clear, but the chronology as provided in Plaintiffs Complaint appears to be as follows. On or about February 10, 2011, Plaintiff had a meeting with Alexander, Najeeullah, and Jacobs at which she allegedly stated that she was a victim of discrimination. Compl. at 26. On February 25 or 28, 2011, Alexander sent to Plaintiff an email detailing "several troubling incidents" and complaints about Plaintiff's behavior. Compl. at 34; Rodriguez Decl. Ex. E. Then on March 3, 2011, Plaintiff had a meeting with Alexander to discuss the issues raised in the email. Compl. at 29; Rodriguez Decl. Ex. F. Plaintiff alleges that she then met with Titus on March 11, 2011 to file a complaint of discrimination. Compl. at 29. On March 15, 2011, Alexander issued a memo reminding Plaintiff to treat her colleagues with civility and forbearance. Compl. at 29. On March 17, 2011 Plaintiff's husband was escorted off MEOC premises, and on March 25, 2011, Plaintiff was placed on administrative leave before she was terminated on July 1, 2011. Compl. at 29. Thus, she alleges that two weeks after she filed a formal complaint she was effectively terminated. Compl. at 23. Plaintiff also alleges that Rita-Farias had some part in Alexander's decision not to reappoint Plaintiff. Compl. at 16. Defendants allegedly initially told Plaintiff on July 1, 2011 that she was terminated because of budget cuts, but on September 8, 2011, the Defendants allegedly changed their position and informed Plaintiff that she was refused reappointment because of a series of "troubling incidents." Compl. at 13.

On April 4, 2011, Plaintiff filed a Complaint with the New York State Department of Human Rights. Compl. at 9; Rodriguez Decl. Ex. C at 1. Following a hearing at which witnesses testified, the administrative law judge made factual findings and concluded that in light of the evidence, Defendants "credibly showed that Complainant's employment was terminated because of Complainant's behavior towards her co-workers." Rodriguez Decl. Ex. C at 1. The DHR endorsed the administrative law judge's findings on September 28, 2012. Rodriguez Decl. Ex. D at 2. At some point, Plaintiff filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), which closed its case on Plaintiff's claim because the "EEOC has adopted the findings of the state or local fair employment practices agency that investigated this charge." Compl. at 12. The EEOC then issued to Plaintiff a right-to-sue letter on December 12, 2012, Compl. at 12, and Plaintiff timely filed this suit on March 11, 2013 within 90 days of receiving that letter, Dkt. No. 2.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

When deciding a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a court must accept as true all well-pleaded facts and draw all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Krassner, 496 F.3d at 237. Thus, factual allegations are presumed true, but a court is "not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)). "To survive a motion to dismiss, the plaintiff's pleading must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). "Further, [the Court] must interpret the factual allegations of a pro se complaint to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest.'" Grullon v. City of New Haven, 720 F.3d 133, 139 (2d Cir. 2013) (quoting Harris v. City of N.Y., 607 F.3d 18, 24 (2d Cir. 2010)).

Claims for employment discrimination are analyzed under the burden-shifting framework of McDonnell-Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973), which requires a plaintiff to first establish a prima facie case of discrimination. Ruiz v. Cnty. of Rockland, 609 F.3d 486, 491 (2d Cir. 2010) (citing Holcomb v. Iona College, 521 F.3d 130, 138 (2d Cir. 2008); Back v. Hastings on Hudson Union Free Sch. Dist., 365 F.3d 107, 123 (2d Cir. 2004)). But "[t]he Supreme Court has held... that the requirements for establishing a prima facie case under McDonnell Douglas [do not] apply to the pleading standard that plaintiffs must satisfy in order to survive a motion to dismiss.'" Williams v. N. City Hous. Auth., 458 F.3d 67, 71 (2d Cir. 2006) (quoting Swierkiewicz v. Sorema, N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 510 (2002)). Rather, plaintiffs need only satisfy the pleading requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) as interpreted by the Supreme Court's holdings in Twombly and Iqbal to survive a motion to dismiss. Barbosa v. Continuum Health Partners, Inc., 716 F.Supp.2d 210, 214-15 (S.D.N.Y. 2010) (discussing the interplay of Swierkiewicz, Twombly, and Iqbal ). Nonetheless, "the elements of the prima facie case [still] provide an outline of what is necessary to render a plaintiff's... claims for relief plausible, '" and so "courts consider these elements in determining whether there is sufficient factual matter in the complaint which, if true, gives Defendant a fair notice of Plaintiff's claim and the grounds on which it rests.' Cruz v. N.Y. State Dep't of Corr. & Cmty. Supervision, No. 13 Civ. 1335 (AJN), 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 77428, at *5-6 (S.D.N.Y. June 4, 2014) (quoting Henry v. NYC Health & Hosp. Corp., No. 13 Civ. 6909 (PAE), 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 32821, at *9-10 (S.D.N.Y. Mar 10, 2014)).

Finally, "[a] court may take judicial notice of the status of other lawsuits in other courts and the substance of papers filed in those actions.' Peoples v. Fischer, No. 11 Civ. 2694 (SAS), 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 62428, at *12 (S.D.N.Y. May 3, 2012) (quoting Schenk v. Citibank/Citigroup/Citicorp, No. 10 Civ. 5056, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 130305, at *5 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 9, 2010)); see also Conopco, Inc. v. Roll Int'l, 231 F.3d ...


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