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Walters v. Medbest Medical Management, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. New York

February 27, 2015

JANE WALTERS, Plaintiff,


LAWRENCE E. KAHN, District Judge.


Plaintiff Jane Walters ("Plaintiff") commenced this action alleging sexual harassment and unlawful retaliation against Defendants MedBest Medical Management, Inc. ("MedBest"); Neurological Associates of Central New York ("Neurological") and Dr. Craig T. Montgomery (together, "Neurological Associates, " or "NA"); and State University of New York Upstate Medical University, Upstate University Hospital, and the State University of New York (together, the "State Defendants") (collectively, "Defendants") pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. ("Title VII"), and New York Human Rights Law, 18 N.Y. EXEC. LAW § 290, et seq. ("NYHRL"), and state law claims for negligence, assault, and battery against Neurological Associates. Dkt. No. 1 ("Complaint"). Presently before the Court are Defendants' Motions to dismiss. Dkt. Nos. 11 ("NA Motion"); 16 ("State Motion"); 19 ("MedBest Motion"). For the reasons that follow, the NA Motion and State Motion are granted, and the MedBest Motion is granted in part and denied in part.[1]


A. Employment History

Plaintiff was an employee of MedBest, a medical management and employee leasing company that provides staffing to Neurological. Compl. ¶ 8. Neurological is a neurosurgical medical practice affiliated with MedBest and the State Defendants. Id . ¶ 9. Dr. Montgomery is a neurosurgeon, who is a part owner and employee of Neurological, and is also employed by the State Defendants. Id . ¶ 14.

Plaintiff began working as an administrative assistant at Neurological in January 2011. Id . ¶ 16. Her primary responsibilities involved scheduling appointments and contacting patients. Id . When Plaintiff commenced her employment with Neurological, its former practice manager "warned [Plaintiff] about Dr. Craig Montgomery's hostile demeanor towards the office staff." Id . ¶ 17.

In April 2011, after a patient arrived for an appointment without the required MRI report, "Dr. Montgomery approached Plaintiff, screaming in her face, What the fuck? Why are these patients showing up without what they fucking need? Now you have to fucking reschedule them.'" Id . ¶ 18. Dr. Montgomery's behavior caused Plaintiff to shake, cry, and become afraid. Id . Dr. Montgomery continued to be "rude and abusive toward Plaintiff on a regular basis." Id.

On September 8, 2011, after encountering an issue with a patient Plaintiff had scheduled for an appointment, Dr. Montgomery "became upset... and launched into a profanity-filled tirade against [Plaintiff] in front of patients." Id . ¶ 21.

In or around September 2011, Dr. Montgomery began calling Plaintiff "Is, " in reference to an old Saturday Night Live skit in which a character, with the same first name as Plaintiff, would be referred to as "Jane is an ignorant slut." Id . ¶ 22. Plaintiff was aware of the nickname's reference and found it offensive. Id . "As a joke, employees even had note pads written up with Upstate Medical University letterhead that had Plaintiff's name, and the Is' nickname on them." Id . ¶ 23.

In October 2011, Plaintiff required medical treatment and spent two weeks in the hospital, where she was diagnosed with diverticulitis. Id . ¶ 24. "Throughout 2012, Dr. Montgomery continued to treat [Plaintiff] and the other female employees with hostility." Id . ¶ 25. Plaintiff's health continued to deteriorate as she suffered from increased stress. Id.

In January 2013, Plaintiff stood with non-party Dr. Nolan outside of Dr. Montgomery's office, when Dr. Montgomery became upset with Plaintiff over a scheduling conflict he attributed to her. Id . ¶ 26. "Dr. Montgomery again screamed profanities in Plaintiff's face while violently throwing papers around the office." Id . Dr. Montgomery then "exclaimed to the whole office, I'm the fucking boss, I am in charge here, I know what's fucking going on here, I know who is fucking in the [operating room].'" Id . Plaintiff began to cry uncontrollably and shake. Id . Dr. Nolan acknowledged Dr. Montgomery's inappropriate behavior and apologized to Plaintiff. Id . ¶ 27.

On May 16, 2013, Dr. Montgomery approached Plaintiff while holding a chart in his hand and said "I oughta fucking smash you in the fucking face for this one." Id . ¶ 28. In a "joking attempt to calm Dr. Montgomery, " Plaintiff replied, "Oh please, not too hard this time." Id . Approximately thirty minutes later, Dr. Montgomery approached Plaintiff from behind and whispered into Plaintiff's ear, "This is the third fucking prior surgery case today, and it's fucking early yet." Id . ¶ 29. As Plaintiff turned to acknowledge Dr. Montgomery, "he hit the back of Plaintiff's chair with the patient's charts he was holding hard enough to tip the chair forward and up until its back legs were off the ground." Id . As a result, Plaintiff fell to the ground, injuring her back, neck, and waist. Id . Afraid, Plaintiff immediately vomited. Id.

Later that day, Plaintiff filed a complaint with the Syracuse Police Department regarding the harassment and assault by Dr. Montgomery. Id . ¶ 30. Plaintiff also complained to Neurological's practice manager, Angela Dubose ("Dubose"), who met with Plaintiff to discuss the incident the following day. Id . ¶ 31.

On May 20, 2013, "Plaintiff's primary care physician sent a letter to MedBest removing [Plaintiff] from work until further notice due to Plaintiff's injury." Id . ¶ 33. On June 13, 2013, MedBest sent Plaintiff a letter acknowledging Plaintiff's complaint against Dr. Montgomery. Id . ¶ 34. The letter also indicated that SUNY Upstate Medical University's Office of Employee/Labor Relations had started an investigation into the May 16, 2013 incident. Id . On August 9, 2013, Plaintiff's employment was terminated. Id . ¶ 36.

"Plaintiff believes Dr. Montgomery treated her with such hostility and assaulted her because she is a female." Id . ¶ 37. Dr. Montgomery never treated male staff members with the same type of hostility and aggression he showed Plaintiff and the other six female employees. Id . ¶¶ 19-21.

B. Procedural History

Prior to commencing this action, Plaintiff filed administrative charges with the New York State Division of Human Rights and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). Compl. ¶ 4. "The instant action was filed to preserve the Plaintiff's intentional tort claims." Id.

In the Complaint, Plaintiff alleges several causes of action pursuant to federal and state law: (1) sexual harassment and retaliation against all Defendants pursuant to Title VII and NYHRL; (2) common law assault and battery against Dr. Montgomery pursuant to New York law; and (3) negligence against Neurological and Dr. Montgomery pursuant to New York law. Id . ¶¶ 42-64. Plaintiff seeks monetary relief. Id . ¶ 64.

Neurological Associates moves to dismiss Plaintiff's Title VII and tort claims against them for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), and Plaintiff's NYHRL claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). NA Mot. Both the State Defendants and MedBest seek to dismiss Plaintiff's Title VII and NYHRL claims for failure to state a claim pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). State Mot.; MedBest Mot.

Plaintiff has opposed the Motions, but consents to dismissal of her NYHRL claims against all Defendants. See Dkt. Nos. 21 ("Response to NA Motion") at 4 ("Plaintiff agrees that her state law claims under the New York Human Rights Act should be dismissed pursuant to the state election of remedies provision."); 22 ("Response to State Motion") at 4 (same); 38 ("Response to MedBest Motion") (failing to address MedBest's argument seeking dismissal of Plaintiff's NYHRL claims).[3]

Accordingly, presently before the Court are Motions to dismiss Plaintiff's sexual harassment and retaliation claims against all Defendants pursuant to Title VII, and Plaintiff's ...

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