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Cowan v. The City of Mount Vernon

United States District Court, S.D. New York

March 28, 2017

VANESSA COWAN, Plaintiff,
v.
THE CITY OF MOUNT VERNON, MARTIN BAILEY, NICHELLE JOHNSON, Defendants.

          Benjamin L. F. Leavitt, Esq. Leavitt Legal PLLC White Plains, NY Counsel for Plaintiff

          Paul J. Sweeney, Esq. Coughlin & Gerhart, LLP Binghamton, NY Counsel for Defendants

          OPINION & ORDER

          KENNETH M. KARAS, District Judge

         Plaintiff Vanessa Cowan (“Plaintiff”) brings this Action against Defendants the City of Mount Vernon (the “City”), Martin Bailey (“Bailey”), and Nichelle Johnson (“Johnson, ” and collectively, “Defendants”), alleging sexual discrimination, harassment and retaliation in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (“Title VII”), and New York State law. Before the Court is Defendants' Motion To Dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) (the “Motion”). (Dkt. No. 41.) For the reasons to follow, Defendants' Motion is granted.

         I. Background

         A. Factual Background

         The following facts are drawn from Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint (“SAC”) and are taken as true for the purpose of resolving the instant Motion.

         Plaintiff was sworn into the Mount Vernon Police Department (the “Police Department”) on January 6, 2013 and began her training at the Police Academy on or around January 8, 2013. (Second Am. Compl. (“SAC”) ¶¶ 27-28 (Dkt. No. 36).) Following her graduation from the Police Academy, Plaintiff joined the Police Department as a probationary employee. (Id. ¶ 28.) At the time Plaintiff applied to the Police Department, Plaintiff had a Notice of Claim pending with the City in connection with “sexual harassment she had endured as an employee of the Mount Vernon Youth Bureau, ” but had not filed any action against the City. (Id. ¶ 29.)

         “From very early in [Plaintiff's] employment as a police officer, [Defendant] Bailey[, an employee of the Police Department, ] engaged in sexual harassment of Plaintiff” through conduct that included “making comments about Plaintiff's body, making requests for sex[, ] and even going so far as demanding money from Plaintiff if she was unwilling to sleep with him.” (Id. ¶¶ 20, 30.) In response, Plaintiff filled out “MV-5” forms and filed several harassment complaints about Bailey with the Police Department. (Id. ¶ 31.) Bailey told Plaintiff that “he had been instructed by ‘friends' in the Law Department for the City” to ensure “that Plaintiff was fired from the Police Department.” (Id. ¶ 32.) Bailey made clear to Plaintiff that the “friend” in the Law Department was Defendant Johnson, then-corporation counsel for the City. (Id.)

         “[O]n numerous occasions, ” Bailey threated Plaintiff that he would “spread rumors” about her in connection with “that stuff that happened across the street, ” a reference to the Notice of Claim and subsequent lawsuit Plaintiff filed against the City. (Id. ¶ 33 (internal quotation marks omitted).) Bailey also told Plaintiff that “he was going to make sure that superior officers in the Police Department viewed her as a ‘problem' employee, ” and other officers in the Police Department told Plaintiff that “everyone in the [D]epartment thinks you're a problem.” (Id. ¶ 34 (internal quotation marks omitted).) Plaintiff also overheard Bailey tell another detective that Plaintiff “was dangerous, ” “needed to be stopped, ” and that Bailey needed “help to get rid of [Plaintiff].” (Id. ¶ 35 (internal quotation marks omitted).) In the presence of other Police Department officers, Bailey told Plaintiff, “Bitch, your days are numbered.” (Id. ¶ 36 (internal quotation marks omitted).)

         Plaintiff followed all Police Department protocol in reporting Bailey's “continued” harassment. (Id. ¶ 37.) After filing “numerous written complaints concerning Bailey, Plaintiff was transferred to another unit in the Police Department, ” which Plaintiff describes as a “substation” where she was “ostracized, ” “segregated, ” and “cut off from other officers.” (Id. ¶¶ 38- 39.) Bailey's harassment declined following the transfer. (Id. ¶ 39.)

         Plaintiff asserts that the segregation was in part a response to Plaintiff's sexual harassment complaints, but was also a reaction to Plaintiff's pending lawsuit against the City. (Id. ¶ 40.) Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that the transfer “was explicitly designed to have a negative impact o[n] her job performance” because Plaintiff had been told by multiple administrators in the Police Department that “she could not sue the City and remain a [p]olice [o]fficer.” (Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).) Despite the transfer, Plaintiff never received negative comments, reviews, or reports about her job performance at the Police Department. (Id. ¶ 41.)

         In early June 2014, Plaintiff was notified that she was being placed on “paid administrative leave, ” a status that Plaintiff asserts did not exist “under the Police Department Rules and Regulations” or the “State o[r] City Civil Services Codes.” (Id. ¶ 42 (internal quotation marks omitted).) Plaintiff alleges that such status served as an “effective[] terminat[ion] without a hearing and without all of the processes due her under any and all applicable law[s].” (Id. ¶ 43.) “Eventually, ” Plaintiff was notified that she would not be retained by the Police Department following her probationary period. (Id. ¶ 44.) Plaintiff requested, but was denied, a formal meeting with the Commissioner of the Police Department, a right she was allegedly afforded under Mount Vernon City Law, the City Charter, and applicable state and federal law. (Id. ¶¶ 44-45.)

         Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages in the amount of three million dollars, as well as attorney's fees. (Id. at 9.)

         B. Procedural History

         Plaintiff filed the Complaint in this Action on November 7, 2014, (Dkt. No. 1), and filed an Amended Complaint on March 26, 2015, (Dkt. No. 8). Pursuant to a scheduling order issued May 29, 2015, (Dkt. No. 11), Defendants filed a motion to dismiss and accompanying papers on August 6, 2015, (Dkt. Nos. 17-19). On November 2, 2015, Plaintiff filed a memorandum in opposition to Defendants' motion to dismiss, and a cross-Motion To Amend, seeking leave to file a SAC. (Dkt. Nos. 21-22.) Defendants did not file any papers in further support of their motion to dismiss and did not oppose Plaintiff's Motion To Amend. On March 17, 2016, Plaintiff filed a renewed Motion To Amend. (Dkt. No. 32.) The Court granted the Motion To Amend and denied Defendants' motion to dismiss without prejudice. (Dkt. No. 35.)

         Plaintiff filed the SAC on March 25, 2016. (Dkt. No. 36.) Defendants filed the instant Motion To Dismiss and accompanying papers on April 26, 2016, (Dkt. Nos. 41-43), and Plaintiff filed her opposition on May 25, 2016, (Dkt. No. 44). Defendants filed a reply on June 8, 2016. (Dkt. No. 45.)

         II. Discussion

         A. Standard of Review

         The Supreme Court has held that although a complaint “does not need detailed factual allegations” to survive a motion to dismiss, “a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (alteration and internal quotation marks omitted). Indeed, Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure “demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). “Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders naked assertions devoid of further factual enhancement.” Id. (alteration and internal quotation marks omitted). Rather, a complaint's “[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Although “once a claim has been stated adequately, it may be supported by showing any set of facts consistent with the allegations in the complaint, ” id. at 563, and a plaintiff must allege “only enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face, ” id. at 570, if a plaintiff has not “nudged [his] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible, the[] complaint must be dismissed, ” id.; see also Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (“Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will . . . be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense. But where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not ‘show[n]'-‘that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” (second alteration in original) (citation omitted) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2))); id. at 678-79 (“Rule 8 marks a notable and generous departure from the hypertechnical, code-pleading regime of a prior era, but it does not unlock the doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions.”).

         “[W]hen ruling on a defendant's motion to dismiss, a judge must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint, ” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007), and “draw[] all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff, ” Daniel v. T & M Prot. Res., Inc., 992 F.Supp.2d 302, 304 n.1 (S.D.N.Y. 2014) (citing Koch v. Christie's Int'l PLC, 699 F.3d 141, 145 (2d Cir. 2012)). Additionally, “[i]n adjudicating a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a district court must confine its consideration to facts stated on the face of the complaint, in documents appended to the complaint or incorporated in the complaint by reference, and to matters of which judicial notice may be taken.” Leonard F. v. Isr. Disc. Bank of N.Y., 199 F.3d 99, 107 (2d Cir. 1999) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Wang v. Palmisano, 157 F.Supp.3d 306, 317 (S.D.N.Y. 2016) (same).

         B. Analysis

         Plaintiff brings hostile work environment claims against all Defendants (Counts I and II) and a claim for retaliation against the City (Count III). Plaintiff asserts her hostile work environment claims against the City under both Title VII ...


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