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Medcalf v. Thompson Hine LLP

United States District Court, S.D. New York

February 4, 2015

VALERIE MEDCALF, Plaintiff, -
v.
- THOMPSON HINE LLP, Defendant

For Valerie Medcalf, Plaintiff: Stewart Lee Karlin, Stewart Lee Karlin, Attorney-at-Law, New York, NY.

For Thompson Hine LLP, Defendant: Shaun David McElhenny, Thompson Hine LLP, New York, NY.

OPINION AND ORDER

Edgardo Ramos, United States District Judge.

Valerie Medcalf (" Plaintiff" or " Medcalf" ) brings this action against her former employer, the law firm Thompson Hine, LLP (" Defendant" or " Thompson Hine" ). The litigation arises from Plaintiff's employment relationship with Defendant during and after her pregnancy. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges several claims against Defendant for employment discrimination and breach of privacy in violation of federal, state, and local laws. Defendants move to dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Def.'s Mem. L. Support Mot. Dismiss, Doc. 24. Defendant contends that Plaintiff's claims are barred by the doctrine of res judicata, citing a separate case filed by Plaintiff in this district against one of Defendant's partners and his wife that the court dismissed with prejudice on April 9, 2013. Id. at 1 (citing Medcalf v. Walsh, 938 F.Supp.2d 478 (S.D.N.Y. 2013)) (hereinafter Medcalf I ). For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion is DENIED.

I. Background[1]

A. Factual Background

Plaintiff was employed as a legal secretary by Defendant from May 2005 until February 28, 2012, when Defendant terminated her employment. Am. Compl., Doc. 8 at ¶ ¶ 6, 43. Plaintiff became pregnant with her first child in late 2010. Id. at ¶ 9. She informed Carol Palmer (" Palmer" ), Office Administrator and Plaintiff's direct supervisor, and George Walsh (" Walsh" ), one of the attorneys she supported, of her pregnancy and due date. Id. at ¶ ¶ 8, 10. Plaintiff claims that, during her pregnancy, she was sometimes prevented from keeping her regular prenatal appointments due to Defendant's " overly restrictive policy" with respect to medical appointments.[2] Id. at ¶ 11. In addition, Walsh expressed his " tacit disapproval" and " apparent negativity" whenever she needed to attend a prenatal appointment. Id. at ¶ 12.

Plaintiff gave birth to her daughter on May 30, 2011. Id. at ¶ 9. As a result of Defendant's maternity and medical leave policies, Plaintiff contends that she was " forced" to work full-time up until two weeks before she gave birth. Id. at ¶ 13. The Complaint indicates that Plaintiff's eight-week leave period, which commenced May 18, 2011, consisted of various types of leave and vacation days. Id. Plaintiff returned to work on July 19, 2011. Id. at ¶ 16. The Complaint explains that, since Plaintiff was breast-feeding her child and working full-time, she had to express breast milk at least once per day while at work. Id. at ¶ 26. It further alleges that she was only allowed to do so during her lunch break and only in a closet that stored excess alcoholic beverages, holiday decorations, and office supplies. Id. at ¶ ¶ 27-28. According to Plaintiff, other individuals had access to the materials stored in the closet and therefore the space was not entirely private. Id. at ¶ 27. She also maintains that the closet was " dusty and dirty" and that she saw insects and other unspecified vermin in and around the closet. Id.

Plaintiff claims that she began experiencing symptoms associated with " post-partum related mental health issues" on or about June 24, 2011, before returning to work. Id. at ¶ 14. She visited the hospital emergency room at least twice--once on July 14, 2011 and again on August 5, 2011. Id. at ¶ ¶ 15, 18. During the second visit, which occurred after she had returned from maternity leave, she was diagnosed with postpartum-related mental health issues and prescribed medication. Id. Plaintiff claims that she then began seeing a psychiatrist, who advised her that her condition was " very severe" and " would likely need up to five months of 'no duty' time to fully recover." [3] Id. at ¶ 20.

Shortly after her visit with the psychiatrist, Plaintiff informed Palmer, Walsh, and the other attorneys whom she supported via email of the doctor's diagnosis and the recommended five-month recovery period. Id. at 21. In the same email, she asked that the information be kept confidential. Id. Plaintiff returned from her postpartum leave on November 21, 2011. Id. at ¶ 24.

Upon her return, Plaintiff learned that she was no longer officially supporting Walsh. Id. at ¶ 29. Nonetheless, Plaintiff alleges that she was still required to answer his phone and do other secretarial work for him. Id. at ¶ 29. Specifically, Walsh asked Plaintiff to conduct searches of his email account on a regular basis during the time that she worked for Defendant. Id. at ¶ 36. In order to carry out that task, Walsh granted Plaintiff the same level of access to his email as he himself had. Id. at ¶ ¶ 31-32. On February 21, 2012, while supposedly searching Walsh's account for a message she was asked to find, Plaintiff discovered that Walsh had forwarded several messages that Plaintiff had sent about her health and pregnancy to his wife. Id. at ¶ ¶ 37-38. Plaintiff also came across his wife's responses to those emails, which Plaintiff interpreted as " disparaging" to herself and her child. Id. at ¶ 40. Among other things, Walsh's wife allegedly implied that Plaintiff was an unfit mother and a " malingerer" who was taking advantage of Walsh while suffering from an illusory illness. Id. at ¶ 40. Plaintiff responded by sending a message directly to Walsh's wife, who in turn replied that she had not disparaged Plaintiff or her daughter. Id. at ¶ 41.

The following day, Plaintiff made Palmer aware of what had occurred. Id. at ¶ 42. Plaintiff also directly replied to Walsh's wife again. Id. Upon learning about Plaintiff's second communication to Walsh's wife, Palmer instructed Plaintiff to go home, with pay, while Palmer investigated the matter. Id. Following several telephone and email exchanges between Plaintiff, Palmer and Tony Brown, Defendant's Human Resources Director, Plaintiff was discharged on February 28, 2012. Id. at ¶ 43. Plaintiff claims that she was initially denied unemployment compensation because Defendant alleged misconduct on her part. Id. at ¶ 44. However, an administrative law judge determined that no misconduct had occurred and ruled that Plaintiff was eligible for unemployment benefits; Defendant's appeal was denied. Id. at ¶ 45.

B. Procedural Background

On June 29, 2012, Plaintiff filed a Complaint against Walsh and his wife, along with John Does Numbered 1-25, in the Southern District of New York asserting four claims, each sounding in intentional tort: conspiracy to commit tortious interference with business relations, tortious interference, intentional infliction of emotion distress, and defamation. Medcalf I, 938 F.Supp.2d at 481-82, 484; see also Medcalf I, Doc. 1.[4] An Amended Complaint was filed on October 22, 2012. See Medcalf I, Doc. 15. Plaintiff alleged many of the same facts in Medcalf I as in the instant case. The commonly alleged facts include Plaintiff's pregnancy, Thompson Hine's unidentified policy concerning prenatal medical appointments and Walsh's negative reaction to Plaintiff keeping those appointments. Medcalf I, Doc. 15 at ¶ ¶ 15-16. Plaintiff also described her post-partum related mental health issues, the related five-month recommended leave, and her confidential communication of these issues with her supervisor and Walsh. Id. at ¶ ¶ ...


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