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Otoole v. County of Orange

United States District Court, S.D. New York

May 31, 2017

MARIANNE T. OTOOLE, as Trustee of the Estate of MARY BEA FRATTO, Plaintiff,
v.
COUNTY OF ORANGE, Defendant.

          OPINION & ORDER

          NELSON S. ROMAN, United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Marianne T. O'Toole, proceeding as the bankruptcy trustee of Mary Bea Fratto, brings this action against Fratto's former employer, the County of Orange ("Defendant"). Plaintiff alleges that throughout Fratto's tenure at the Orange County Correctional Facility ("OCCF" or defendant), from November 2012 to October 2013, Defendant discriminated against Fratto based on her sex, and, when she objected, retaliated against her, all in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §2000e el seq. Defendant now moves, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, to dismiss the Complaint in its entirety. For the following reasons, Defendant's motion to dismiss is DENIED.

         BACKGROUND

         I. Facts Alleged[1]

         The following facts - which are taken from the Complaint, documents it incorporates, and matters of which the Court may take judicial notice - are construed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff. See, e.g., Kleinman v. Elan Corp., 706 F.3d 145, 152 (2d Cir. 2013); LaFaro v. N.Y. Cardiothoracic Grp., PLLC, 570 F.3d 471, 475 (2d Cir. 2009); Aurecchione v. Schoolman Transp. Sys., Inc., 426 F.3d 635, 638 (2d Cir. 2005).

         Defendant is the Orange County Correctional Facility (“OCCF”), a unit within the Orange County Sheriff's Office. (Complaint (“Compl.”) ¶ 7, ECF No. 1.)

         Fratto, a female corrections officer, was hired by the OCCF in November 2012 for a probationary term of one year. (Compl. ¶¶ 7-9.) Fratto commenced her employment along with twelve other probation officers. (Id. ¶ 8.) Shortly after she began working at OCCF, Fratto “began to receive much attention” from Sergeant Jeffrey Long (“Sergeant Long”), (id. ¶ 10), which she had reduced to friendly and helpful conduct until she learned “that [he] had a history of making romantic/sexual advances toward female officers.” (Id. ¶ 11.) Soon thereafter, co-workers started to publicly remark that Fratto “was having sexual relations with S[ergeant] Long.” (Id. ¶ 12.) For example, one officer “directly told [] Fratto that she should stop having sex with S[ergeant] Long, ” while others lewdly remarked, “[i]t's not who you know, it's who you blow.” (Id. ¶¶ 13-14.) This harassment continued for about four months. Believing “that the jail was filled with untrue rumors that she was sleeping with S[ergeant] Long, ” Fratto reported her concerns to Kathy Critelli, an administrator at the OCCF; Critelli recommended Fratto file a written complaint. (Id. ¶¶ 15-17.) Despite fearing retaliation, Fratto filed a formal written complaint of harassment in May 2013. (Id. ¶ 16.)

         Around the same time, Captain Jacquelyn Bennett (“Captain Bennett”) met with Fratto to discuss the harassment complaint. While Captain Bennett assured Fratto that the OCCF would shield her from any retaliatory measures, Plaintiff believes that Captain Bennett “resented [Fratto] for her perceived relationship with S[ergeant] Long and for [filing] a formal complaint of harassment.” (Id. ¶¶ 18-19.) By way of example, in July 2013 Captain Bennett questioned Fratto about “allegedly failing to properly supervise a unit of female inmates during a particular shift.” (Id. ¶ 20.) Specifically, Captain Bennett claimed a videotape existed showing that Fratto “had allowed a female inmate to nearly strike her without any repercussion.” (Id. ¶¶ 20-21.) When Fratto tried to explain the inmate had not tried to strike her and “only moved her hand in a non-threatening gesture, ” Captain Bennett responded, “[a]re you lying about this like you were lying about Sergeant Long?” (Id. ¶¶ 22-23.) The Complaint cites this exchange as an example of retaliation given that Fratto “was never disciplined or written up in any manner concerning her supervision of the female inmates.” (Id. ¶ 24.)

         Fratto was fired in October 2013, (id. ¶ 25), when she was told by two ranking officers “that they did not know why” she had been terminated. (Id. ¶ 26.) Fratto believes, as she alleged in her Complaint, that she would not have been fired “had [she] been a man, or had she not complained of gender-based harassment.” (Id. ¶ 32.) More specifically, while the other “male probationary officers … regularly violated department rules, ” they were never disciplined and even those with below average performance reviews passed their probationary periods or were retrained. (Id. ¶¶ 8, 28-29.) Only one other member of Fratto's class had been involuntarily terminated - a male officer - for having falsified his pistol permit. (Id. ¶ 27.)

         Fratto filed a charge of discrimination (alleging sex discrimination and retaliation) with the EEOC in February 2014. Plaintiff filed the instant case on March 21, 2016. (See Compl. ¶ 7, ECF No. 1). In due course, Defendant moved to dismissed under Rule 12(b)(6), arguing that Plaintiff failed to state a Title VII claim. (See generally Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss (“Def.'s Mot.”), ECF No. 12; Def.'s Mem. in Supp. (“Def.'s Mem.”), ECF No. 14.)

         STANDARD ON A MOTION TO DISMISS

         A Rule 12(b)(6) motion tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint and requires a court to determine whether the facts alleged are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a plausible claim for relief. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009). When ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a 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 such a motion, however, the plaintiff must plead sufficient facts “to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. 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.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. In assessing whether this standard has been met, courts take “all factual allegations contained in the complaint” as true, Twombly, 550 U.S. at 572, and “draw all inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party[], ” In re NYSE Specialists Sec. Litig., 503 F.3d 89, 95 (2d Cir. 2007) (citation omitted).

         A plaintiff must show “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully, ” id., and cannot rely on mere “labels and conclusions” to support a claim, Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. If the plaintiff's pleadings “have not nudged [his or her] claims across the ...


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