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Lin v. New York State Department of Labor

United States District Court, Northern District of New York

December 11, 2014

HUA LIN, Plaintiff,
v.
NEW YORK STATE DEPARTMENT OF LABOR, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

Lawrence E. Kahn, U.S. District Judge

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Hua Lin (“Plaintiff”) filed this employment action against Defendant New York State Department of Labor (“Defendant”), pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and the New York State Human Rights Law (“HRL”), N.Y. Exec. Law § 290 et seq. Dkt. No. 1 (“Complaint”). Presently before the Court is Defendant’s Motion to dismiss. Dkt. No. 7 (“Motion”). For the following reasons, the Motion is granted in part and denied in part.

II. BACKGROUND[1]

Plaintiff was previously employed by Defendant and was terminated on September 16, 2010. Compl. ¶ 8. As a result of her termination, Plaintiff filed a complaint against Defendant in the Northern District of New York on October 4, 2011 (“2011 Complaint”), alleging discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII and the HRL. Id. ¶¶ 9, 17.

While Plaintiff’s 2011 Complaint was being litigated, Plaintiff “took and passed the New York State Civil Service Exam.” Id. ¶ 10. Following the exam, Plaintiff was (and remains) listed on an active Civil Service List for the positions of Labor Services Representative (“LSR”), Labor Services Representative (Chinese), Labor Services Investigator (“LSI”), and Labor Services Investigator (Chinese). Id. ¶ 11. The list on which Plaintiff appears is effective from March 30, 2011, through March 30, 2015.[2] Id.

Following Plaintiff’s placement on the active Civil Service List, Diane Taylor (“Taylor”), a supervisor for Defendant, “sent an email with the subject heading ‘Hua Lin - Remove from LSR List?’” Id. at 13. In this email, Taylor stated that Plaintiff had “recently ‘filed a discrimination complaint against her former supervisor”’ and inquired into whether there were any way to justify removing Plaintiff from their LSR list. Id. In a follow-up email, Taylor wrote, “‘we need to get past Hua.’” Id. Defendant subsequently hired other individuals for open LSR and LSI positions. Id. ¶¶ 14, 20. The individuals hired for these positions were listed below Plaintiff on the Civil Service List for the applicable positions.[3] Id.

On December 16, 2013, Plaintiff filed a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), and on May 29, 2014, she received a Right to Sue letter. Id. ¶ 15. Plaintiff then filed the Complaint in June 2014, alleging retaliation under Title VII and the HRL. See generally id. Defendants filed the Motion and an accompanying Memorandum of law, seeking dismissal of both of Plaintiff’s claims for failure to state a cause of action. See Mot.; Mem. Plaintiff submitted a Response in which she consented to dismissal of her retaliation claim under the HRL, but otherwise opposed the Motion. See Dkt. No. 9 (“Response”) at 5. Defendants then filed a Reply. Dkt. No. 10 (“Reply”).

III. LEGAL STANDARD

A. Motion to Dismiss

To survive a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a “complaint 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, 663 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). A court must accept as true the factual allegations contained in a complaint and draw all inferences in favor of a plaintiff. See Allaire Corp. v. Okumus, 433 F.3d 248, 249-50 (2d Cir. 2006). A complaint may be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) only where it appears that there are not “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. Plausibility requires “enough fact[s] to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of [the alleged misconduct].” Id. at 556. The plausibility standard “asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “[T]he pleading standard Rule 8 announces does not require ‘detailed factual allegations, ’ but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Where a court is unable to infer more than the mere possibility of the alleged misconduct based on the pleaded facts, the pleader has not demonstrated that she is entitled to relief and the action is subject to dismissal. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79.

B. Title VII

“‘Title VII’s anti-retaliation provision makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against any . . . employee . . . because [that employee] opposed any practice’ made unlawful by Title VII or ‘made a charge, testified, assisted, or participated in any manner in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing under [Title VII].’” Jones v. Onondaga Cnty. Res. Recovery Agency, No. 13-CV-01425, 2014 WL 2480170, at *6 (N.D.N.Y. June 3, 2014) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a)). Title VII retaliation claims are analyzed using the burden-shifting framework laid out in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973), under which the plaintiff must first present a prima facie case of retaliation. Summa v. Hofstra Univ., 708 F.3d 115, 125 (2d Cir. 2013) (citations and quotations omitted). Once the plaintiff establishes a prima facie case, “the burden of production shifts to the employer to demonstrate that a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason existed for its action.” Id (citing Raniola v. Bratton, 243 F.3d 610, 625 (2d Cir. 2001)). “If the employer demonstrates a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason, then ‘[t]he burden shifts . . . back to the plaintiff to establish, through either direct or circumstantial evidence, that the employer’s action was, in fact, motivated by discriminatory retaliation.’” Id (citing Raniola, 243 F.3d at 625)).

Though a plaintiff in a discrimination case need not plead a prima facie case of discrimination in order to survive a motion to dismiss, Leibowitz v. Cornell Univ., 445 F.3d 586, 591 (2d Cir. 2006) (citing Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 508, 510 (2002)); see also E.E.O.C. v. Port Auth. of N.Y. & N.J., 768 F.3d 247, 254 (2d Cir. 2014) (“Twombly’s endorsement of Swierkiewicz mandates, at a minimum, that Swierkiewicz’s rejection of a heightened pleading standard in discrimination cases remains valid.”) (citation omitted), “a court may still consider the elements of a prima facie case to determine whether Plaintiff has given ‘fair notice’ of [her] claim, ” Jones, 2014 WL 2480170, at *6 (citing Corbett v. Napolitano, 897 F.Supp.2d 96, 111 (E.D.N.Y. 2012)).[4] To make out a prima facie case of retaliation under Title VII, a plaintiff must show that: “(1) she engaged in a protected activity; (2) her employer was aware of this activity; (3) the ...


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