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Yetman v. Capital Dist. Transp. Auth.

United States District Court, N.D. New York

July 23, 2015

MARGARET P. YETMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
CAPITAL DIST. TRANSP. AUTH., a/k/a Capital Dist. Transit Auth.; and DAVID A. PALMER, Individually, Defendants.

DANIEL A. JACOBS, ESQ., RONALD G. DUNN, ESQ., GLEASON DUNN WALSH & O'SHEA, Albany, NY, Counsel for Plaintiff.

CLEMENTE J. PARENTE, ESQ., KRISTI M. RICH WINTERS, ESQ., JACKSON LEWIS P.C., Albany, NY, Counsel for Defendants.

DECISION and ORDER

GLENN T. SUDDABY, District Judge.

Currently before the Court, in this employment civil rights action filed by Margaret P. Yetman ("Plaintiff") against the Capital District Transportation Authority and David A. Palmer ("Defendants"), is Defendants' motion for summary judgment. (Dkt. No. 38.) For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion is granted.

I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND

A. Plaintiff's Amended Complaint

Plaintiff filed her original Complaint in this action on November 9, 2012. (Dkt. No. 1.) She filed an Amended Complaint on January 22, 2013;. (Dkt. No. 13.)

Generally, Plaintiff's Amended Complaint alleges that, during her employment as a bus driver between November of 2007 and July of 2010, Defendants interfered with her employment and retaliated against her, based on her taking leave to undergo treatment for her own health conditions, and to provide care and support (as a single parent) for her children's serious health conditions and/or disabilities, resulting in her constructive discharge. ( Id. )

Based on these factual allegations, Plaintiff's Complaint asserts four claims against Defendants: (1) a claim that Defendants unlawfully interfered with, restrained and/or denied Plaintiff's rights in violation of the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 2611 et seq.; (2) a claim that Defendants discriminated against Plaintiff based on her children's disabilities in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12111 et seq.; (3) a claim that Defendant Capital District Transportation Authority ("CDTA") discriminated against Plaintiff based on her children's disabilities in violation the New York Human Rights Law ("Human Rights Law"), New York Executive Law § 296; and (4) a claim that Defendant Palmer is individually liable under the Human Rights Law. ( Id. )

Familiarity with these claims, and the factual allegations supporting them, is assumed in this Decision and Order, which is intended primarily for the review of the parties. ( Id. )

B. Parties' Briefing on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment

1. Defendants' Memorandum of Law in Chief

Generally, in their memorandum of law, Defendants argue that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law based on the current record for four reasons. (Dkt. No. 38, Part 6 [Defs.' Memo. of Law].) First, Defendant argues, Plaintiff's FMLA interference and retaliation claims fail as a matter of law for the following reasons: (a) as an initial matter, Plaintiff's FMLA claims fail because all of those claims (even those arising under her failure to be rehired) are barred by the governing limitations period of two years, given that a three-year limitations period is reserved for "willful" or reckless conduct, none of which occurred here; (b) in the alternative, Plaintiff's FMLA interference claim fails because she was afforded all rights to which she was entitled under the FMLA; and (c) moreover, Plaintiff's FMLA retaliation claim fails because she cannot establish that she suffered an adverse employment action as a result of her exercise of her FMLA rights. ( Id. )

Second, Defendant argues, Plaintiff's disability discrimination claims fail as a matter of law for the following reasons: (a) as an initial matter, the majority of Plaintiff's disability claims fail because they are time barred; (b) in the alternative, Plaintiff's written warnings and resignation do not constitute adverse employment actions; (c) moreover, Plaintiff was not disabled at the time of any alleged adverse employment actions; (d) furthermore, Plaintiff was not subject to an adverse employment action because of her disability; and (e) finally, there is no admissible record establishing that the legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for CDTA's employment decisions were a pretext for disability discrimination. ( Id. )

Third, Defendant argues, Plaintiff's association disability discrimination claims fail as a matter of law for the following reasons: (a) as an initial matter, the Human Rights Law does not prohibit association disability discrimination; and (b) turning to Plaintiff's association disability discrimination claim under the ADA, that claim fails because she cannot establish that she suffered an adverse employment action, nor can she establish that any such adverse employment action was caused by her children's alleged disabilities. ( Id. )

Fourth, Defendant argues, as a matter of law, Plaintiff's claim for individual liability against Defendant Palmer fails as a matter of law because Plaintiff cannot establish that Defendant Palmer either was an "employer" under the Human Rights Law or aided and abetted violations of the Human Rights Law. ( Id. )

2. Plaintiff's Opposition Memorandum of Law

Generally, in opposition to Defendants' motion, Plaintiff asserts two arguments. (Dkt. No. 41, Attach. 1 [Plf.'s Opp'n Memo. of Law].) First, Plaintiff argues, there are triable issues of fact as to whether Defendants constructively discharged Plaintiff in violation of the FMLA for the following reasons: (a) Defendant Palmer is an "employer" under the FMLA; (b) Defendants failed to timely designate Plaintiff's FMLA leave; (c) Defendants directly penalized Plaintiff for, and discouraged her from taking, FMLA protected leave; (d) Plaintiff's constructive discharge claims are timely, because record evidence of Defendants' continuous course of interference with, and retaliation for, Plaintiff's exercise of her FMLA rights between November 15, 2007, and her resignation on July 6, 2010, reveals a reckless disregard for her FMLA rights, warranting a three-year, not two-year, limitations period; and (e) Plaintiff was constructively discharged from CDTA employment. ( Id. )

Second, Plaintiff argues, there are triable issues of fact as to whether Defendants refused to rehire Plaintiff in violation of the FMLA, ADA and Human Rights Law for the following reasons: (a) Defendants refused to rehire Plaintiff because Defendant Palmer considered her history of FMLA protected leave to be a "negative factor, " in violation of the FMLA; and (b) Defendants refused to rehire Plaintiff because they misbelieved that her and her son Walter's disabilities would distract her from performing her job as a CDTA bus driver. ( Id. )

3. Defendants' Reply Memorandum of Law

Generally, in their reply memorandum of law, Defendants assert two arguments. (Dkt. No. 47, Attach. 3 [Defs.' Memo. of Law].) First, Defendants argue, there is no genuine dispute of material fact precluding summary judgment as to Plaintiff's claim of constructive discharge in violation of the FMLA for the following reasons: (a) Plaintiff's FMLA claims are time barred, because (i) there is no admissible record evidence establishing that Defendant CDTA's conduct was reckless (especially given the evidence that Defendant CDTA approved Plaintiff's requests for FMLA leave of which it received sufficient notice for several years prior to her voluntary resignation), and (ii) there is no admissible record evidence establishing that Defendant Palmer was an "employer" as defined by the FMLA; (b) Plaintiff's FMLA interference claim must be dismissed for the alternative reason that she did not provide additional notice of her intention to take FMLA leave and, even if she did, she was afforded all of the rights to which she was entitled under the FMLA; (c) moreover, Plaintiff's FMLA retaliation claim must be dismissed for the alternative reason that she was not constructively discharged nor subjected to any other adverse employment action as a result of her exercise of her FMLA right. ( Id. )

Second, Defendant argues, there is no question of fact precluding summary judgment as to Plaintiff's claim of failure to rehire in violation of the FMLA, ADA and Human Rights Law for the following reasons: (a) because of Plaintiff's reliance on inadmissible evidence such as double hearsay, there is no admissible record evidence establishing that Plaintiff's prior FMLA leave was a "negative factor" in Defendant Palmer's decision not to rehire her, which was caused by her overall work record, her attendance, her failure to report an incident on her bus, and personal issues between her and a supervisor other than Defendant Palmer; and (b) there is no admissible record evidence establishing that Defendants refused to rehire her because of her perceived disability or her son's alleged disability. ( Id. )

C. Statement of Undisputed Material Facts

The following material facts have been asserted and supported by Defendants in their Statement of Material Facts, and not denied in a matching numbered paragraph with a supporting record citation by Plaintiff in her response thereto, and thus admitted pursuant to Local Rule 7.1 of the Local Rules of Practice for this Court, as explained below in Part II.A. of this Decision and Order. ( Compare Dkt. No. 38, Attach. 5 [Defs.' Rule 7.1 Statement] with Dkt. No. 41, at Part B [Plf.'s Rule 7.1 Response].)

1. Plaintiff's Employment with CDTA

1. Plaintiff worked as a part-time driver for CDTA's Special Transit Available by Request ("STAR") Program from June 2000 until she resigned in November 2000.

2. CDTA rehired Plaintiff as a Bus Operator in November 2004.

3. Bus Operators, including Plaintiff, were covered by a Collective Bargaining Agreement ("CBA"). [Defs.' Rule 7.1 Statement, citing record evidence that establishes above-stated fact] with Dkt. No. 41, at ¶ B.4 [Plf.'s Rule 7.1 Response, failing to cite record evidence that controverts abovestated fact].)

5. When she came back to CDTA in 2004, Plaintiff received a copy of CDTA's employee handbook which contained its policies on Attendance, FMLA and Preventing Harassment in the Workplace. Page 26 of the handbook, which is subtitled "OPERATING POLICY ON THE FAMILY AND MEDIAL LEAVE ACT" states as follows, in pertinent part:

FMLA requires covered employers to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to "eligible" employees for certain family and medical reasons.
...

Unpaid leave must be granted for any of the following reasons:

...
• to care for the employee's... son or daughter... who has a serious health condition; or
• for a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the employee's job.
[T]he employee may be required to provide advance leave notice and medical certification. Taking of leave may be denied if requirements are not met.
• The employee ordinarily must provide 30 days advance notice when the leave is "foreseeable."
• An employer may require medical certification to support a request for leave because of a serious health condition, and may require second or third opinions and a ...

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