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Toombs v. New York City Housing Authority

United States District Court, S.D. New York

March 27, 2017

NEW YORK CITY HOUSING AUTHORITY, JOHN LOPEZ, individually and in his official capacity, JOHN AND JANE DOES 1-10 and XYZ CORP. 1-10, Defendants.


          LAURA TAYLORS WAIN United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Disiree Toombs (“Plaintiff” or “Toombs”) brings this civil rights action, pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (“Title VII”), The Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. (the “ADA”), New York Executive Law § 296 et seq. (the “NYSHRL”), and New York City Administrative Code § 8-101 (the “NYCHRL”), against Defendants New York City Housing Authority (“NYCHA”), John Lopez (“Lopez”), individually and in his official capacity, John and Jane Does 1-10 and XYZ Corp. 1-10 (collectively, “Defendants”). In a seven-count Amended Complaint, Plaintiff, a former NYCHA employee, alleges that she suffered unlawful discrimination on the basis of her race and familial status, the promotion of a hostile work environment, and retaliation for lodging complaints, and also claims that Defendants failed to accommodate her as the parent of a disabled child. (Docket Entry No. 15.) Defendants now move, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), to dismiss all of Plaintiff's claims against them. (Docket Entry No. 17.)

         The Court has jurisdiction of this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1343, and 1367.

         The Court has considered the parties' submissions carefully. For the following reasons, Defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part. Defendants' motion is granted as to Plaintiff's Second, Third, Fifth, and Sixth Causes of Action. Defendants' motion is denied as to Plaintiff's First, Fourth, and Seventh Causes of Action.


         Except as otherwise indicated, the following facts are alleged in the Amended Complaint or drawn from documents annexed thereto. Plaintiff is a black female who resides in Brooklyn, New York, and was employed by NYCHA as a Caretaker J from July 7, 2007, until her termination on May 26, 2015, and, at all relevant times to this action, was assigned to the Jacob Riis Houses (“Riis Houses”) in Lower Manhattan. (Amended Complaint (“Am. Compl.”), Docket Entry No. 15, ¶¶ 3, 13, 26.) She has a minor and dependent son with severe disabilities and medical needs, requiring care and attention. (Id. ¶ 4.) Defendant NYCHA is a public housing agency in the City of New York and manages and operates the Riis Houses. (Id. ¶¶ 7, 9.) Defendant Lopez was Plaintiff's direct supervisor, an employee of NYCHA, a decision-maker regarding Plaintiff's employment, and the Superintendent at the Riis Houses. (Id. ¶¶ 11, 12.)

         In her position as a Caretaker J, Toombs' duties and responsibilities included maintaining and cleaning the Riis Houses. (Id. ¶ 27.) In or about August 2013, Mr. Lopez, an Hispanic individual, became the Superintendent of the Riis Houses and, shortly thereafter, Mr. Lopez allegedly “stated at a staff meeting attended by Plaintiff as well as approximately twenty (20) other employees, the vast majority of [whom] were Black, ‘I want you out of here so I can bring in my people'” (the “August 2013 statement”). (Id. ¶¶ 29-30.) Mr. Lopez allegedly “terminated, or ordered the termination of, at least six (6) Black employees since becoming Superintendent and replaced them with Hispanic employees.” (Id. ¶ 31.) Plaintiff alleges that “the culture at NYCHA in general and Jacob Riis Houses in particular is discriminatory in nature and there is a clear preference [for] Hispanic employees to the detriment of Black employees similar to Plaintiff.” (Id. ¶ 33.) Plaintiff further alleges that “[t]he discrimination against Black employees in general, and against Plaintiff in particular, [was] continuous from on or about August 2013, when Mr. Lopez became the Superintendent at the [] Riis Houses, until [Plaintiff's] unlawful termination on May 26, 2015, ” and that “Defendants fabricated accusations and allegations of wrongdoing against Plaintiff” “[a]s a pretext to their true discriminatory intentions.” (Id. ¶¶ 34-35.)

         According to termination correspondence, Plaintiff's termination was effectuated “in accordance with the terms set forth in the Settlement Conference held on July 21, 2014” (the “Conference”). (Id. ¶ 41.) The Conference resulted from a letter dated June 27, 2014, which “charged Plaintiff with incompetency or misconduct” in seven specific charges. (See id. ¶¶ 44-45.) At the Conference, Plaintiff “‘agreed' to be held ‘guilty' to … two (2) [disciplinary] charges brought against her for” two separate events that allegedly took place in April 2014; the remaining five charges against Toombs were dropped. (Id. ¶¶ 42, 44.) Plaintiff alleges that six of the original seven charges in the June 27, 2014, letter and at issue at the Conference “were false and fabricated” and “intentionally” brought by Defendants “against Plaintiff in order to create a fictitious business reason for suspending Plaintiff, placing her on [a ten-day unpaid suspension and] probation for an entire year and ultimately terminating her.” (Id. ¶¶ 44, 62.) Plaintiff further alleges that she “agreed to plead guilty [at the Conference] on [a] particular charge based on advice of counsel assigned [to her] by the union and out of fear of being terminated.” (Id. ¶ 49.) Plaintiff alleges that, following the Conference and her suspension without pay, “Defendants relentlessly continued [their] discrimination and harassment against Plaintiff” and filed a series of Counseling Memoranda regarding Toombs' alleged poor performance, misconduct, unexcused absences, and alleged insubordination throughout a period spanning December 2014 through May 2015. (Id. ¶¶ 64-81.)

         Plaintiff alleges that Defendants are “well aware that Plaintiff's minor and dependent son suffers from severe disabilities and has medical needs, ” yet her “requests for a reasonable accommodation have been ignored and/or denied, ” including an April 2015 request for a transfer to a NYCHA location in Brooklyn to enable her to “attend to him faster and easier in case of a medical emergency.” (Id. ¶¶ 82-84.) Plaintiff also alleges that she “engaged in protected activities by making several complaints against Defendants, including, but not limited to”: (1) submitting a complaint to the City of New York, Department of Investigation in or about July 2014, against “Caroline Soriano-Torres, a Hispanic female, for bringing false charges against Plaintiff in an attempt to harass and discriminate against” her; (2) submitting a complaint on or about March 26, 2015, “to the Chair and Chief Executive Officer of NYCHA, complaining of, among other things, corruption and harassment at the workplace;” (3) filing a complaint on or about May 18, 2015, “with the New York State Division of Human Rights (“NYSDHR”) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”)[, ] bringing claims of discrimination against Defendants;” and (4) throughout “the period of 2013 through 2015, ” complaining to Supervisor Caretaker Felicia Ford that Lopez, Anthony Carter, and Ms. Soriano-Torres “were giving significantly more overtime hours to Hispanic Caretakers as opposed to Plaintiff and other similarly situated Black Caretakers.” (Id. ¶ 89.)

         Defendants assert that the NYSDHR issued two Determinations and Orders After Investigation, on October 30, 2015 and November 20, 2015, with respect to complaints filed by Plaintiff on May 18, 2015 and June 10, 2015. (Def. Opening Br. at 9.) Defendants assert that, in both instances, the NYSDHR “found no probable cause to believe that NYCHA has engaged in or is engaging in the unlawful discriminatory practice claimed [or complained] of” by Plaintiff. (Id.) Plaintiff does not dispute that the NYSDHR issued the Determinations and Orders After Investigation. (See Pl. Response Br. at 29-31.)


         Defendants move, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), to dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint in its entirety for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. (See Docket Entry No. 17.) In determining whether a plaintiff has set forth the “short and plain statement of the claim showing that [she is] entitled to relief” required by the Federal Rules (see Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)), the Court looks to whether the allegations in the complaint establish the “facial plausibility” of the plaintiff's claims. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007)). Such a showing “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, ” requiring “more than labels and conclusions, [or] a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (internal quotation marks omitted). In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court assumes the truth of the facts asserted in the complaint and draws all reasonable inferences from those facts in favor of the plaintiff. See Harris v. Mills, 572 F.3d 66, 71 (2d Cir. 2009).

         “In adjudicating a motion to dismiss, a court may consider only the complaint, any written instrument attached to the complaint as an exhibit, any statements or documents incorporated in it by reference, and any document upon which the complaint heavily relies.” Geron v. Seyfarth Shaw LLP (In re Thelen LLP), 736 F.3d 213, 219 (2d Cir. 2013) (citing Chambers v. Time Warner, Inc., 282 F.3d 147, 152-53 (2d Cir. 2002)).

         Title VII Claims: Discrimination Based on Race, Hostile Work (First, ...

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