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Claes v. Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research

United States District Court, N.D. New York

February 27, 2015

DONNA CLAES, Plaintiff,

For Plaintiff: LUCIANO L. LAMA, ESQ., THE LAMA LAW FIRM, Ithaca, NY.

For Defendant: TODD R. SHINAMAN, ESQ., NIXON PEABODY LLP, Rochester, NY.

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DAVID N. HURD, United States District Judge.


On June 25, 2014, plaintiff Donna Claes (" plaintiff" or " Claes" ) initiated this action, which arises from the 2013 transfer of her employment position within defendant Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research (" defendant" or " the Institute" ). She brings one federal claim pursuant to

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the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, 29 U.S.C. § § 621--634 (" ADEA" ), and one state claim for the intentional infliction of emotional distress (" IIED" ).[1] Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief reinstating her original employment position as well as back pay, compensatory damages, and attorneys' fees and costs.

On July 28, 2014, the Institute filed a motion to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) (" Rule " ). After plaintiff was granted several extensions of time to respond to defendant's motion, she filed a cross-motion seeking leave to file an amended complaint pursuant to Rule 15(a)(2) and a memorandum in support of the proposed amended complaint. Defendant replied and opposed the cross-motion. Both motions were considered on submit, without oral argument.


The following facts, taken from the proposed amended complaint, are assumed true for purposes of the motion to dismiss. See Chambers v. Time Warner, Inc., 282 F.3d 147, 152 (2d Cir. 2002).

By 2013, Claes--who was over forty years old--had worked as the Executive Assistant to the Institute's President, David Stern (" President Stern" ), for over thirteen years. She consistently received positive performance evaluations throughout her employment.

In April 2013 Claes attended a Senior Leadership Team meeting with President Stern, Chief Financial Officer Sophia Darling (" CFO Darling" ), Chief Operations Officer and Vice President of Operations Joan Curtis, Vice President Bridgette Rigas, and Vice President Eric Richards.[2] During this meeting President Stern stated that he wanted someone " younger with fresher ideas" in plaintiff's position. Proposed Am. Compl. ¶ 15. Also during the meeting, CFO Darling encouraged plaintiff to consider " doing something else within the company." Id. ¶ 17. Plaintiff advised that she was content in her current position.

In a one-on-one conference after the meeting, CFO Darling again " strongly advised" Claes to consider a transfer. Id. ¶ 20. Plaintiff understood that her employment would be terminated if she did not agree to a transfer. She was advised to contact Susan Hartman (" Hartman" ), a consultant for the Institute, to discuss the issue further. Hartman informed plaintiff that President Stern described the Executive Assistant position as " evolving." Id. ¶ 23. Plaintiff reaffirmed her desire to remain in her current position. Nonetheless, in the face of " intense pressure," plaintiff reluctantly requested a transfer to

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a position in the Intellectual Property/Technology Transfer Office on May 20, 2013. Id. ¶ 28.

On July 11, 2013, Claes received an email from CFO Darling advising that her request for transfer to a Technology Transfer Specialist position had been officially approved. She was assured that her salary, pay grade, and full-time employment status would not change. Before plaintiff began her new position in October 2013, the Institute hired Vanessa Greenlee (" Greenlee" ) to fill her Executive Assistant position. Greenlee was approximately thirty years old at the time and had no prior experience in the field.

On October 2, 2013, Claes received a letter signed by CFO Darling and the Director of Intellectual Property, Paul Debbie (" Director Debbie" ). This letter again acknowledged her transfer and reflected that her current salary would remain at $60,725.[3] However, the letter also noted that she had " resigned" from her position as Executive Assistant on May 20, 2013, and indicated that her performance would be assessed quarterly, the need for her new position would be reevaluated in September 2014, and her salary may be subject to change in October 2014.

On October 7, 2013, in response to this letter, Claes emailed CFO Darling, Director Debbie, and the Principal Liaison for Technology Marketing and Licensing, Karen Kindle, and noted her disagreement with the suggestion she had " resigned" from her prior position. She also objected to the quarterly performance assessments and the possible change in salary in October 2014--both of which she claims were not discussed with her prior to the October 2 letter. CFO Darling replied by informing plaintiff that she had voluntarily requested the transfer and cautioned that her new position and salary could not be guaranteed beyond October 2014. Plaintiff became concerned about her new position, and discussed the terms of that position with Director Debbie on October 17, 2013.

When Claes arrived at work on the morning of October 18, 2013, she noticed that CFO Darling and Director Debbie were already in the office. Plaintiff characterizes this early arrival as atypical and claims to have become so emotionally upset that she immediately went home. She still had remote access to President Stern's email and checked his messages from her home. She discovered an email from Human Resource Manager Jane Calder, who recommended that plaintiff's employment with the Institute be terminated. Plaintiff subsequently filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (" EEOC" ), which found no evidence that her age was a factor in her employment transfer and issued a Right to Sue letter in April 2014. ...

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