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Wilkerson v. Waffner

United States District Court, N.D. New York

March 30, 2015

PELHAM P. WILKERSON, d/b/a Designs by Pelham, Plaintiff,
v.
TROY WAFFNER, Assistant Director of New York State Fair; BARBARA GODFREY, Assistant Office Services Manager of New York State Fair; and NEW YORK STATE DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE & MARKETS, Defendants.

PELHAM P. WILKERSON, Plaintiff, Pro Se, Schenectady, NY.

HON. ERIC T. SCHNEIDERMAN, Attorney General for the State of New York, Albany, NY, AARON M. BALDWIN, ESQ., JUSTIN L. ENGEL, ESQ., Assistants Attorney General, Counsel for Defendants.

DECISION & ORDER

GLENN T. SUDDABY, District Judge.

Currently before the Court, in this pro se employment discrimination action filed by Pelham P. Wilkerson ("Plaintiff") against the above-captioned entity and individuals is ("Defendants"), is Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). (Dkt. No. 9.) For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part.

I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND

A. Plaintiff's Claims

Generally, liberally construed, Plaintiff's Complaint alleges that, in March of 2013, after inviting him as a minority business owner to solicit a bid for a contract to provide photography services at the New York State Fair, Defendants wrongfully failed to award him that contract on the pretext that his photographs did not show action and were too blurry, and instead awarded the contract to a Caucasian photographer whose bid was higher than Plaintiff's bid. (Dkt. No. 1.) Based on these factual allegations, Plaintiff asserts two claims against Defendants: (1) a claim that Defendants discriminated against him based on his race in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, codified at 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. ("Title VII"); and (2) a claim that Defendants discriminated against him based on his race in violation of New York Executive Law § 296 et seq. (also known as the "New York Human Rights Law" or "NYHRL"). (Dkt. No. 1.) Familiarity with the factual allegations supporting these claims in Plaintiff's Complaint is assumed in this Decision and Order, which is intended primarily for the review of the parties.

B. Parties' Briefing on Defendants' Motion

Generally, in support of their motion to dismiss, Defendants argue that Plaintiff fails to state a claim for discrimination in his employment based on his race under either Title VII nor the NYHRL because (1) both Plaintiff's Complaint and the Request for Quote relied upon in, referred to within and integral to the Complaint (which is attached to Defendants' motion papers), demonstrate that he sought, but was not hired for, an independent contractor position, and (2) based on a balancing of the relevant factors set forth in Cmty. for Creative Non-Violence v. Reid, 490 U.S. 730, 751-52 (1989), independent contractors are not covered under either Title VII or the NYHRL, which are limited to the traditional employment context. ( See generally Dkt. No. 9, Attach. 1 [Defs.' Memo. of Law].)

Generally, in response to Defendants' motion, Plaintiff repeats the allegations contained in his Complaint and argues that the Complaint satisfies the "unless it appears beyond doubt" standard set forth in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41 (1957). ( See generally Dkt. No. 14 [Plf.'s Opp'n Papers].)

Generally, in reply to Plaintiff's response, Defendants argue that "Plaintiff's opposition does not address, much less rebut, the argument made in support of Defendants' motion to dismiss-i.e., that Plaintiff sought, but was not hired for, an independent contractor position which is not covered under Title VII or the NYSHRL." ( See generally Dkt. No. 15 [Defs.' Reply Letter-Brief].)

II. GOVERNING LEGAL STANDARD

It has long been understood that a dismissal for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), can be based on one or both of two grounds: (1) a challenge to the "sufficiency of the pleading" under Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2); or (2) a challenge to the legal cognizability of the claim. Jackson v. Onondaga Cnty., 549 F.Supp.2d 204, 211, nn. 15-16 (N.D.N.Y. 2008) (McAvoy, J., adopting Report-Recommendation on de novo review).

Because such dismissals are often based on the first ground, a few words regarding that ground are appropriate. Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires that a pleading contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2) [emphasis added]. In the Court's view, this tension between permitting a "short and plain statement" and requiring that the statement "show[]" an entitlement to relief ...


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