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Dooley v. Jetblue Airways Corporation

United States District Court, S.D. New York

April 1, 2015

SHARI DOOLEY, Plaintiff,
v.
JETBLUE AIRWAYS CORPORATION, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

JESSE M. FURMAN, District Judge.

Plaintiff Shari Dooley brings suit against her former employer, Defendant JetBlue Airways Corporation ("JetBlue"), alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), Title 42, United States Code, Section 2000e et seq., and the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), Title 42, United States Code, Section 12101 et seq. JetBlue now moves, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, to dismiss. For the reasons stated below, the motion is granted.

BACKGROUND

The following facts, taken from the Amended Complaint (Docket No. 10), are assumed to be true for the purposes of this motion. See, e.g., LaFaro v. N.Y. Cardiothoracic Grp., PLLC, 570 F.3d 471, 475 (2d Cir. 2009).

Plaintiff began working as a flight attendant for JetBlue on June 21, 2006. (Am. Compl. (Docket No. 10) ¶¶ 10-11). On May 29, 2013, Plaintiffs hand was caught between a food cart and a galley counter, leaving her with a fractured hand and nerve damage. (Id. ¶¶ 14-15). Plaintiff was apparently on disability leave from the time of the injury until July 29, 2013, when she returned to work on a "transitional" basis. (Id. ¶ 16). Two days after returning to work, however, JetBlue informed Plaintiff that she was being suspended without pay pending an investigation into her "dependability" - a category of investigation that encompasses Plaintiffs attendance record. (Id. ¶ 21). JetBlue alleged that Plaintiff had improperly taken leave on several occasions in January and February 2013, before her injury and medical leave. (Id. ¶ 25).

On September 13, 2013, JetBlue terminated Plaintiff for violating its policies on dependability. (Id. ¶ 22). Plaintiff disputed JetBlue's rationale and brought an appeal under JetBlue's internal appeals procedure. (Id. ¶ 24). Specifically, Plaintiff maintained that JetBlue had "mis-labeled" at least three periods when she had been absent from work. (Id. ¶¶ 24-25). Plaintiff proffered explanations for those absences - including a car accident and an anaphylactic reaction that her daughter had suffered - and requested that JetBlue recategorize them. (Id. ¶¶ 30-32). She also asserted that she believed she was terminated in part because of discrimination on the basis of her sex and disability resulting from her hand injury. (Id. ¶¶ 35-36). JetBlue declined to recategorize Plaintiffs absences, and refused to undo her termination. (Id. ¶¶ 30-32). This suit ultimately followed.

LEGAL STANDARDS

In reviewing a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the Court must accept the factual allegations set forth in the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. See, e.g., Holmes v. Grubman, 568 F.3d 329, 335 (2d Cir. 2009). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, however, the plaintiff must plead sufficient facts "to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." BellAtl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). A claim is facially plausible "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). More specifically, the plaintiff must allege sufficient facts to show "more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. A complaint that offers only "labels and conclusions" or "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Further, if the plaintiff has not "nudged [his or her] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible, [the] complaint must be dismissed." Id. at 570.

Twombly and Iqbal notwithstanding, the Supreme Court has held that, to survive a motion to dismiss, "a complaint in an employment discrimination lawsuit [need] not contain specific facts establishing a prima facie case of discrimination under the framework set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973).'" Twombly, 550 U.S. at 569 (quoting Swierkiewicz v. SoremaN. A., 534 U.S. 506, 508 (2002) (alterations in original)). Until recently, whether that holding remained good law was an unsettled question within this Circuit. See, e.g., Smith v. City of N.Y., No. 12-CV-3250 (JMF), 2013 WL 1903856, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. May 8, 2013). In EEOC v. Port-Authority of New York and New Jersey, 768 F.3d 247 (2d Cir. 2014), however, the Court concluded that Swierkiewicz remains good law insofar as it stands for the proposition that discrimination claims are not subject to a heightened pleading standard, but that the Supreme Court's recitation of the relevant pleading standard was no longer applicable because it relied on the "no set of facts" standard that was "retire[d]" in Twombly. Id. at 253-54; see Twombly, 550 U.S. at 563. Accordingly, "while a discrimination complaint need not allege facts establishing each element of a prima facie case of discrimination to survive a motion to dismiss, it must at a minimum assert nonconclusory factual matter sufficient to nudge its claims across the line from conceivable to plausible to proceed." PortAuth., 768 F.3d at 254 (internal citations and quotation marks omitted); accord Brown v. Daikin Am. Inc., 756 F.3d 219, 228-229 n.10 (2d Cir. 2014) (stating that "a Title VII plaintiffs complaint must be facially plausible and allege sufficient facts to give the defendant fair notice of the basis for the claim; it need not, however, make out a prima facie case").

DISCUSSION

Plaintiff asserts four claims - discrimination claims under both Title VII and the ADA, a failure to accommodate claim under the ADA, and a retaliation claim under Title VII. The Court considers the two Title VII claims and then turns to the ADA claims.

A. Title VII Discrimination Claim

The Court begins with Plaintiffs Title VII discrimination claim. Title VII prohibits employers from "discriminat[ing] against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). To state a prima facie case of discriminatory discharge under Title VII, Plaintiff must allege that: "(1) [s]he falls within a protected group; (2) [s]he held a position for which [s]he was qualified; (3) [s]he was discharged; and (4) the discharge occurred under circumstances giving rise to an inference of discrimination." Brown, 756 F.3d at 229 (internal quotation omitted). As noted, to survive a motion to dismiss Plaintiff need not specifically plead the elements of a prima facie case, see Port Auth., 768 F.3d at 254, but those elements do "provide an outline of what is necessary to render a plaintiffs employment discrimination claim plausible" and therefore provide a useful standard by which to evaluate a plaintiffs claims. Szuszkiewicz v. JPMorgan Chase Bank, 12 F.Supp. 3d 330, 341 (E.D.N.Y. 2014) (internal quotation marks omitted); accord Smith, 2013 WL 1903856, at *2.

Applying that standard here, Plaintiffs Title VII discrimination claim fails as a matter of law. In particular, her Amended Complaint provides only speculation and conclusory statements in support of her claim that JetBlue's termination was because of sex discrimination. For example, she asserts that JetBlue's refusal to reconsider the allegedly mislabeled absences is evidence of its bias against her (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 23-25, 32-33, 35), but she does not provide any reason to believe that JetBlue's actions were the product of invidious sex-based discrimination. SeeManolov v. Borough of Manhattan Cmty. Coll., 952 F.Supp.2d 522, 527 (S.D.N.Y. 2013) (dismissing a complaint where the plaintiff did "not state[] any facts from which one could infer any discriminatory intent or motivation with respect to race or gender"). Similarly, Plaintiff's repeated assertions that JetBlue's actions can only be the product of discrimination (e.g., Am. Compl. ¶¶ 33, 35, 36), lack any factual support and, thus, do not constitute "circumstances giving rise to a ...


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