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Rao v. Rodriguez

United States District Court, E.D. New York

March 30, 2017

DR. ADDAGADA C. RAO, Plaintiff,


          NICHOLAS G. GARAUFIS, United States District Judge.

         In this action, Plaintiff Dr. Addagada C. Rao asserts that Defendants Ramon Rodriguez and Wyckoff Heights Medical Center, Inc. ("Wyckoff'), discriminated against him on the basis of race, national origin, and age in violation of federal, state, and municipal law. (See Compl. (Dkt. 1).) Defendants have jointly moved for summary judgment on all claims (the "Motions"). (See Wyckoff Mot. for Summ. J. (Dkt. 82); Rodriguez Mot. for Summ. J. (Dkt. 91) Qoining in Wyckof Ps motion); see also Mem. in Supp. of Wyckoff Mot. for Summ. J. ("Wyckoff Mem.") (Dkt. 83); Mem. in Supp. of Rodriguez Mot. for Summ. J. ("Rodriguez Mem.") (Dkt. 93).) For the reasons stated below, Defendants' Motions are DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This section reviews the undisputed facts, [1] followed by certain allegations that are in dispute.[2]

         A. Undisputed Facts

         Plaintiff "was employed as the Chairman of Wyckoff s Department of Surgery from 1988 until January 2012." (Wyckoff Rule 56.1 Statement ("Wyckoff R56.1") (Dkt. 85) ¶ 1.) "During the time that Plaintiff was working for Wyckoff he also maintained a private practice" (the "Rao PC"). (Id. ¶ 4.) Certain physicians were employed both by Wyckoff and by the Rao PC. (Id. ¶¶ 5-6.) On or about December 23, 2011, Rodriguez was appointed as Wyckoff s Chief Executive Officer ("CEO"). (Id.3.)

         1. Plaintiffs December 30. 2011. Letter

         "Plaintiff wrote a letter dated December 30, 2011 to Dr. Mounzer Tchelebi, [Wyckoff s] Chief Medical Officer" (the "December 30 Letter"). (Wyckoff R56.1 ¶ 7.) The Letter stated: "I would like to step down as Chairman of Surgery. I am requesting that you form a search committee for appointing a new Chairman. I will continue to be acting Chairman until you have recruited an appropriate replacement." (Dec. 30, 2011, Ltr. (Dkt. 84-6).)

         2. Rodriguez's January 8, 2012. Email

         On January 8, 2012, Rodriguez directed his executive assistant to send an email on his behalf "to the entire hospital" stating, in relevant part:

Almost a week ago, [Plaintiff] submitted his resignation as Chief of Surgery. It is with great humbleness that I accept his decision----- It is no reflection on [Plaintiffs] many years of service that this action is being taken, it is just for every time there is a season.
I've asked Dr. Akella Chendrasekhar to assume the position of Acting Chief of Surgery[3] until such time that a Search Committee has been formed and conclude their work with a recommendation of a candidate.

(Jan. 8, 2012, Email (Draft) (Dkt. 84-7) (draft sent by Rodriguez to executive assistant); see also Jan. 8, 2012, Email (as Sent) (Dkt. 84-8) (substantially identical version sent from executive assistant to hospital staff); Wyckoff R56.1 ¶¶ 9-11, 13.) Chendrasekhar, who was appointed as Acting Chief of Surgery, "is of Indian descent." (Id. ¶ 12.)

         3. Subsequent Events

         The next day, January 9, 2012, Plaintiff and Rodriguez both "attended a regular monthly inter-departmental meeting of the various department chairpersons at Wyckoff.... At this meeting[, ] Rodriguez declared to the others present that [Plaintiff] had resigned as Chief of Surgery on December 30, 2011, " and "announced that [Rodriguez] had appointed a new Acting Chief of Surgery." (Wyckoff R56.1 ¶ 17.) Plaintiff stated that he had not resigned, and protested the appointment of a new Acting Chief. (Id.) Rodriguez then instructed Plaintiff to leave the meeting, since he was no longer the Chief, and the meeting was for department heads only. (Id.)

         Rodriguez sent emails to Wyckoff s Board of Trustees on January 13 and 29, 2012, expressing concern that Plaintiff had been running a "closed shop" in the Wyckoff surgery department by restricting entry to the surgical staff, and accusing Plaintiff of "removing" revenue from Wyckoff to the Rao PC. (Id. ¶¶ 18-19, 27-30.) Rodriguez also emphasized his view that Plaintiff "was not let go, " but rather that Plaintiff "resigned." (Id. ¶ 28.)

         On January 15, 2012, Acting Chief Chendrasekhar forwarded Rodriguez a letter from one of Wyckoff s chief surgery residents (the "Surgery Resident Letter"). (Id. ¶ 20.) The letter alleged "misconduct by Dr. Percy Erachshaw that occurred while Plaintiff was the Chairman of the Department, " and explained that the "residents have remained publicly silent about these issues" because of Erachshaw's "close ties with [Plaintiff]." (Id. ¶¶ 21-23; see also Id. ¶ 5 (noting that Erachshaw was employed by the Rao PC in addition to working at Wyckoff).)

         4. The January 17, 2012. Notice of Termination

         On January 17, 2012, Wyckoff provided "notice of termination" letters to both Plaintiff and Erachsaw. (Id. ¶¶ 25, 26.) Both terminations had an effective date of February 17, 2012. (Id.)

         B. Plaintiffs Additional Factual Allegations

         "Plaintiff is of Indian national origin... and his skin color is brown." (Pl. Opp'n to Defs.' Mots, for Summ. J. ("PL Opp'n") (Dkt. 87) at 1.) Plaintiff "was 70 years old at the time of the events at issue." (Id.) As of December 2011, when Rodriguez became Wyckoff s CEO, "Wyckoff had a mandatory retirement requirement in place for departmental chairpersons ... when they reached the age of 75." (Id. at 3.)

         1. Erachshaw's December 29, 2011 Meeting with Rodriguez

         The day before Plaintiffs December 30 Letter, Erachshaw met with Rodriguez and allegedly had the following exchange:

Rodriguez stated to Erachshaw, "tell Dr. Rao to resign now, and if he does not resign, I'll fire him." In response, Erachshaw stated that Plaintiff is responsible for a high volume of surgeries at Wyckoff, and asked, "what is this all about?" Rodriguez replied, "tell your boss to look in the mirror. His face looks like an oyster shell." Erachshaw commented that Plaintiff was 70 years old but possessed high energy and personally performed about 300 surgeries a year. Then Rodriguez referred to Plaintiff as "calcified." Erachshaw asked him, "what are you talking about?" Rodriguez answered, "well, there is a certain ethnic culture here and one of my jobs is to change that."

(Pl. Opp'n at 4 (citing to Erachshaw's testimony and affidavit).) Defendants deny that Rodriguez made these remarks. (Wyckoff Mem. at 9.)

         Plaintiff alleges that "Erachshaw promptly discussed [this] conversation" with him. (Pl. Opp'n at 4.) That day and the following morning, Plaintiff and Erachshaw learned that many hospital staff members believed that Rodriguez had fired Plaintiff, or intended to fire him soon. (Id. at 5.)

         2. Plaintiffs December 30, 2011. Letter

         Plaintiff alleges that he put the December 30 Letter in a sealed envelope and left it in Tchelebi's office. (Pl. Opp'n at 7.) Plaintiff then called Tchelebi on his cell phone, recounted Erachshaw's conversation with Rodriguez, and told Tchelebi about the December 30 Letter. (Id.) "In response, Dr. Tchelebi informed [Plaintiff] that he intended to tear up the letter as soon as he returned to his office the following week, because [Plaintiffs] job could not be terminated by Mr. Rodriguez, only by the Board of Trustees." (Id.)

         Tchelebi contests these allegations. He testified that he was physically present at the hospital on December 30, 2011, and that he received Plaintiffs letter and gave it to Rodriguez that same day. (Id.) He admits that he spoke to Plaintiff on the phone, [4] but offers a differing account of the conversation: Tchelebi allegedly "informed Plaintiff that he had passed on Plaintiffs letter to Rodriguez, before thanking him for his years of service." (Id. at 8.) Plaintiff responds that based on the available evidence-including E-Z Pass vehicle records and Wyckoff s biometric "Timesheet" records-Tchelebi was likely not in the hospital at any point on December 30, 2011, after Plaintiff allegedly placed the letter in his office. (Id. at 9-10.)

         3. Plaintiffs January 3. 2012. Meeting with Rodriguez Plaintiff and Erachshaw met with Rodriguez together on January 3, ...

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