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Graziadio v. Culinary Institute of America

United States District Court, S.D. New York

March 20, 2015



NELSON S. ROMN, District Judge.

Plaintiff Cathleen Graziadio ("Plaintiff') commenced this action by complaint filed February 15, 2013 and amended April 22, 2013, against Defendants Culinary Institute of America ("CIA"), Shaynan Garrioch ("Garrioch"), and Loreen Gardella ("Gardella") (collectively, "Defendants"). The amended complaint (dkt. no. 14) seeks damages and other relief for interference and retaliation under the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq. (claims one and two), for associational discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. (claim three), and for associational discrimination under the New York Human Rights Law, N.Y. Exec. Law§§ 292 and 296 et seq. (claim four).

By letter dated January 14, 2014, Plaintiff withdrew her claim under the New York Human Rights Law. Defendants now move for summary judgment on the remaining three claims pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. Defendants' motion is GRANTED for the reasons outlined below.


The facts are gleaned from the parties' Rule 56.1 statements, declarations, and exhibits, and are not in dispute, except where so noted. CIA is the oldest culinary college in the United States, with a primary campus located in Hyde Park, New York. See Affirmation of Joseph J. Lynett ("Lynett Aff.") Ex. A ¶ 2. Garrioch has been employed by CIA since January 6, 2011, first as Director of Human Resources-Administration, and then as Direct of Human Resources. Id. Ex. B. at 5. Gardella has been employed as CIA's payroll manager since May 2007. Id. Ex. C at 6. Non-party Richard Mignault ("Mignault") is CIA's Vice President-Administration and Shared Services. Id. Ex. D at 6. Mignault had final decision-making authority for CIA's employment termination decisions. Id. at 23.

CIA maintains an employee handbook and policy governing employees' entitlement to leave under the FMLA and the administration thereof. Id. Ex. A at 44-47. The policy provides that a qualifying employee is "eligible to take a family care or medical leave of up to a maximum of 12 work weeks in any 12-month period" to handle health issues pertaining to the employee or her children. Id. at 44. The policy also requires that an employee requesting leave provide CIA "appropriate medical certification" from a health care provider within fifteen days of an unanticipated leave request, if practicable. Id. at 45.

CIA hired Plaintiff on April 17, 2007, to work as a Payroll Administrator-Student Payroll. Id. Ex. E at 53, Ex. F. Upon her hire, Plaintiff received a copy of the employee handbook containing CIA's FMLA policy. Id. Ex. G, H. Plaintiff reported directly to Gardella while with CIA. Id. Ex. E at 61.

In March 2012, Plaintiff requested and received FMLA leave on account of a workrelated injury. Id. at 67-69, 71. Plaintiff returned to work thereafter. Id.

A. Leave Requested for Vincent Graziadio

On June 6, 2012, one of Plaintiff's two sons, Vincent Graziadio ("Vincent") was hospitalized for diabetes-related illness. Id. at 72. Plaintiff again took leave, and, on June 7, 2012, received from CIA the United States Department of Labor's FMLA Designation Notice, Notice of Eligibility and Right and Responsibilities, and a Medical Certification form. Id. at 75-77. Plaintiff concedes that she received these materials. Id. at 76. The notices and form stated that, upon request, an employee must provide a certification to support the need for FMLA leave. Id. Ex. M.

Plaintiff was on leave from the date of Vincent's hospitalization, June 6, 2012, until her return to work on June 18, 2012. After her return, on or about June 27, 2012, she provided CIA a medical certification supporting that leave. Id. Ex. E at 78-80, Ex. M. The certification she provided also indicated that future intermittent leave to care for Vincent would be needed, and estimated the term of care as "7 days per week from now through lifetime." Id. Ex. M. The parties agree, however, that Plaintiff did not request any further leave to care for Vincent thereafter.[1] Id. Ex. E at 80. Regarding the leave already taken for Vincent, CIA never expressly approved it as FMLA leave, but the company counted the days taken against Plaintiff's annual FMLA leave allotment and communicated the same to Plaintiff, thus impliedly approving it, at least in the first instance. See id. Ex. T.

B. Leave Requested for T.J. Graziadio

On June 27, 2012, Plaintiff's other son, T.J. Graziadio ("T.J.") reportedly fractured his leg, and that same day, Plaintiff told Gardella that Plaintiff would not be returning to work for the remainder of the week. See id. Ex. N, O. The following week, on July 2, 2012, Plaintiff told Gardella she would not be in for the remainder of that week either, on account of T.J.'s injury, and referenced FMLA documentation Plaintiff had left in her desk drawer. Id. Ex. Q. Gardella responded on July 5, 2012 by confirming receipt of the documentation, which pertained to the earlier leave taken for Vincent's illness, and told Plaintiff she had 196.75 hours of FMLA time remaining. Id. Ex. T.

Expecting Plaintiff to return to work on July 9, 2012, when she did not do so, Gardella emailed Plaintiff asking for an update. Id. Ex. U. Early evening on July 9, 2012, Plaintiff emailed Gardella and requested permission to return to work on a part-time basis, three days per week, until August 2012 or so. Id. Ex. V. In the meantime, CIA had approved the hire of a temporary employee to replace Plaintiff. Id. Ex. S.

Thereafter, while Plaintiff remained absent, Gardella consulted with colleagues and referred the matter to Garrioch. On July 17, 2012, Garrioch sent Plaintiff a letter taking issue with the documentation (or lack thereof) supporting: (a) the prior request for prospective intermittent leave for Vincent; and (b) the more recent leave for T.J. Id. Ex. Y. Garrioch requested that Plaintiff provide supplemental documentation supporting both leave requests within seven days, and Garrioch warned of potential employment action absent receipt of such documentation. Id. In response to Garrioch's letter, Plaintiff sent a series of emails indicating confusion with the request for further ...

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