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Estronza v. RJF Security & Investigations

United States District Court, E.D. New York

November 12, 2014

CARLOS ESTRONZA, Plaintiff,
v.
RJF SECURITY & INVESTIGATIONS, ROBERT FOGLIA, JOSEPH FOGLIA, LINDSAY PARK HOUSING CORP., and CORA D. AUSTIN, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

NICHOLAS G. GARAUFIS, District Judge.

On May 31, 2013, Plaintiff Carlos Estronza filed his Second Amended Complaint ("SAC"), asserting claims of breach of contract, wrongful termination, retaliatory conduct, hostile work environment, and race and age discrimination against Defendants RJF Security & Investigations ("RJF"), Robert Foglia, and Joseph Foglia (collectively, "RJF Defendants"), and a claim of tortious interference with contract against Defendants Lindsay Park Housing Corp. ("LPHC") and Cora D. Austin (collectively, "LPH Defendants"). (SAC (Dkt. 33).) All Defendants moved to dismiss the SAC for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (LPH Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss ("Mot.") (Dkt. 35); RJF Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss ("Mot.") (Dkt. 41).) Plaintiff opposed Defendants' motions. (Opp'n to LPH Defs.' Mot. (Dkt. 39); Opp'n to RJF Defs.' Mot. (Dkt. 44).) The court referred the motions to Magistrate Judge James Orenstein for a Report and Recommendation ("R&R") pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(b)(1). (Apr. 10, 2014, Order (Dkt. 46); Aug. 1, 2014, Order.)

On August 27, 2014, Judge Orenstein issued an R&R recommending that the court deny RJF Defendants' motion to dismiss as to Plaintiff's race discrimination and hostile work environment claims, but grant the motions in all other respects.[1] (R&R (Dkt. 48) at 1, 20.) Plaintiff submitted objections to the R&R ("Plaintiff's Objection") on September 30, 2014.[2] (Pl.'s Obj. (Dkt. 51).) Plaintiff raised two objections to the R&R, arguing that Judge Orenstein (1) "misinterpreted the case law surrounding the contract of employment, absent a written contract of employment, " and (2) "improperly attributed Jack of temporal proximity between specified events in evaluating the sufficiency" of Plaintiffs tortious interference and retaliatory conduct claims. ( Id. at 2.) No other objections to the R&R were filed. LPH Defendants filed a response to Plaintiff's Objection on October 14, 2014. (LPH Defs.' Resp. (Dkt. 53).) For the reasons explained below, Judge Orenstein's R&R is ADOPTED IN PART and MODIFIED IN PART.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Procedural History

On February 17, 2012, Plaintiff Carlos Estronza filed a complaint (the "Initial Complaint") in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, asserting breach of contract, wrongful termination, retaliatory conduct, hostile work environment, race discrimination, and age discrimination claims against RJF Defendants; a tortious interference with contract claim against LPH Defendants; and a claim for punitive damages against all Defendants. (Initial Compl. (Not. of Removal (Dkt. 1), Ex. A).) On March 23, 2012, the LPH Defendants removed the action to federal court on the basis of federal question jurisdiction.[3] (Not. of Removal.) The LPH Defendants then moved to dismiss the claims asserted against them under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) (LPH First Mot. to Dismiss (Dkt. 8)), and the RJF Defendants moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) (RJF Mot. for J. on the Pleadings (Dkt. 16)). Plaintiff opposed Defendants' motions. (Opp'n to LPH First Mot. to Dismiss (Dkt. 14); Opp'n to RJF Mot. for J. on the Pleadings (Dkt. 20).)

The court dismissed Plaintiff's breach of contract, wrongful termination, retaliatory conduct, and tortious interference with contract claims, and granted Plaintiff leave to amend the Initial Complaint to address the pleading deficiencies with respect to those claims. (Mar. 5, 2013, Order (Dkt. 23).) The court denied RJF Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiff's age and race discrimination and hostile work environment claims, on the grounds that RJF Defendants conceded in their reply that "Plaintiff has pied an adequate discrimination claim based upon age and national origin." ( Id. at 6 (quoting RJF Reply in Supp. of Mot. for J. on the Pleadings (Dkt. 21) at 4) (internal quotation marks omitted).) Plaintiff conceded that New York law does not recognize an independent cause of action for punitive damages, and his claim for punitive damages was deemed withdrawn. (Id.)

Subsequently, Plaintiff filed a First Amended Complaint ("FAC") on April 3, 2013. (FAC (Dkt. 24).) LPH Defendants requested a pre-motion conference in anticipation of filing a motion to dismiss the FAC pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Mot. for PMC (Dkt. 25).) After a pre-motion conference (see May 6, 2013, Min. Entry (Dkt. 26)) and a subsequent telephone conference with Judge Orenstein (see May 14, 2013, Min. Entry (Dkt. 28)), Plaintiff filed the SAC on May 31, 2013 with Defendants' consent, with the intention of adding factual allegations to address the alleged deficiencies in pleading. (See May 17, 2013, Ltr. Mot. to Stay Disc. (Dkt. 29); May 14, 2013, Min. Entry (Dkt. 28).)

B. Factual Allegations

In evaluating Defendants' motions to dismiss, the court accepts as true the following allegations from Plaintiff's SAC.[4]

Defendants Robert and Joseph Foglia are, respectively, the President and Vice President of RJF, a security firm. (R&R at I.) Defendant Cora D. Austin is the Chairperson of the Board of LPHC, which engaged RJF to provide security services at its Mitchell-Lama housing cooperative. ( Id. Plaintiff, who is Hispanic, was hired by RJF in March 2007, when he was forty-four years old, as a licensed security guard. ( Id. at 1-2; SAC ¶ 16.) Plaintiff earned $8.75 per hour when he was first hired by RJF, and earned $9.75 per hour at the time he was terminated in September 2011. (SAC ¶¶ 68-69.)

1. Allegations Relating to Employment Relationship

Plaintiff did not sign a written employment contract with RJF. (R&R at 2.) When he was hired, RJF gave him a booklet entitled "RJF Security & Investigations Rules and Procedures" (the "Rules"), which included a section entitled "Grounds for Termination."[5](Id.; SAC ¶¶ 18-20, 22; see also Rules at 4.) Plaintiff was required to "thoroughly review" the Rules and sign an acknowledgement that he had received the booklet. (R&R at 2; SAC ¶¶ 18-20.) When given the Rules, Plaintiff was told "that this booklet would be his conduct bible, and that he would never be fired as long as he followed its rules and procedures." (R&R at 2; SAC ¶ 21.) Based on that promise of job security conditioned on following the Rules, and RJF's promise to accommodate his need for a daytime schedule in order to care for his elderly mother in the evenings, Plaintiff resigned from his prior job, stopped seeking other employment, and began to work for RJF. (R&R at 2; SAC ¶¶ 24-31.)

2. Allegations Relating to Discrimination and Hostile Work Environment Claims

Joseph Foglia held "liquor, cocaine and sex filled parties" at the RJF office, which managers and staff members attended while on duty. (R&R at 2 (quoting SAC, ¶ 33).) Joseph Foglia provided the liquor and cocaine for these parties. (SAC, ¶ 34.) Plaintiff did not attend these parties. (R&R at 2.) Plaintiff "expressed concerns" about these parties to Joseph and Robert Foglia and Austin. ( Id. (quoting SAC., ¶¶ 41-42).)

Robert and Joseph Foglia have subjected Plaintiff to offensive and abusive treatment (see SAC ¶¶ 70-76), and Joseph Foglia has ...


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