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Dineley v. Coach, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. New York

July 11, 2017

COACH, INC., Defendant.

          For Plaintiff: Casimir Joseph Wolnowski Phillips & Associates, PLLC.

          For Defendant: Jonathan Stoler Lindsay Colvin Stone Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton, LLP.

          OPINION & ORDER

          DENISE COTE District Judge.

         Plaintiff Danielle Dineley (“Dineley”) was formerly employed by defendant Coach, Inc. (“Coach”) as an Executive Assistant. Dineley seeks back pay for hours worked in excess of forty hours per workweek, alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq., and the New York Labor Law (“NYLL”) Articles 6 & 9. Dineley also alleges she was discriminated against and subjected to a hostile work environment and constructively terminated based on her perceived or actual disability in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq. (“ADA”) and the New York City Human Rights Law, as codified in the Administrative Code of the City of New York § 8-107 et seq. (“NYCHRL”).

         Coach moved for summary judgment on December 16, 2016, arguing that Dineley was properly classified as exempt from the FLSA and the NYLL, and that Dineley cannot establish that she was subject to a hostile work environment or constructively discharged. For the reasons that follow, Coach's motion for summary judgment is granted in part.


         The following describes the evidence which is either undisputed or taken in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, unless otherwise noted. Coach is a New York design house headquartered in New York City. During Dineley's employment, Coach had approximately 17, 000 employees worldwide. Dineley was employed as an Executive Assistant at Coach from January 18, 2011, until she resigned her employment, effective September 4, 2015. Dineley was classified as an overtime exempt employee and thus was not paid overtime during her employment at Coach. Coach does not dispute that Dineley worked more than 40 hours a week, or her accounting of such hours.

         Plaintiff served from January 18, 2011 to November 4, 2013 as the Executive Assistant for a Vice President of Human Resources and the second most senior member of the HR department (the “HR VP”), and a Senior Director of Human Resources (the “Senior Director”). Dineley's starting base salary was $65, 000, and had increased to $75, 850 by November 3, 2013, when she transferred to work in the Design Department.

         Dineley's job duties in HR were to support the HR VP in overall management and coordination of team activities, manage schedules for the HR VP and Senior Director, arrange travel and prepare travel expense reports, answer telephone calls, plan and coordinate meetings, and participate in human resources meetings and on special project teams. Dineley served as a gatekeeper for emails, calls, and meeting requests for the HR VP and Senior Director. She developed organizational/filing systems for the Senior Director. She independently learned Coach's personnel policies in order to better advise her co-workers on Coach's policies. Dineley was “a point person for general HR questions, especially for other [Executive Assistants] who usually reach[ed] out to [her] first.” She also helped train and “on-board” new assistants at Coach. In her self-evaluations of her performance in 2011 and 2012, Dineley stated that she also managed temporary employees who staffed the seasonal Coach Sample Sale. On her resume Dineley stated that during this time she handled confidential and highly sensitive information on a daily basis.

         On November 4, 2013, Dineley became an Executive Assistant in Coach's Design Department. Her salary had increased to $92, 000 when she resigned from Coach. In addition, Dineley received annual bonuses of up to $10, 000 each year she worked at Coach.

         Dineley was initially assigned to support two senior executives within the Design Department. In about January 2014, Dineley was assigned to support only Coach's Vice President of Design, the second most senior executive in the Design Department (the “Design VP”).[1] Dineley managed the Design VP's schedule and fielded incoming emails and calls, and helped prepare travel arrangements. Dineley was required to use her judgment to decide when a matter was sufficiently important that she needed to interrupt the Design VP during meetings. As the Design VP's Executive Assistant, Dineley was responsible for scheduling and coordinating the Design Department's Design Time meetings, an important meeting at which designers would discuss their projects. She also helped manage and improve the Design Department's sample sales and made sure that the Design Department's sales at the sample sale were properly credited to the Department. Dineley was also responsible for monitoring and reordering the Design Department's supplies. She had authority to approve expense reimbursement requests for under $100, and requests for more than $100 that she felt did not require any further review.

         In her role as Executive Assistant, Dineley was responsible for selecting and interviewing applicants for full-time and temporary administrative assistants and executive assistants, as well as making hiring recommendations. The designers and executives only met with those candidates that she recommended. Dineley supervised and delegated assignments to two administrative assistants. The administrative assistants were classified as non-exempt employees and were paid base salaries of approximately half that of Dineley's and received smaller bonuses. The two administrative assistant's primary duties were to support multiple, less senior members of the design team, as Dineley supported the Design VP. Dineley's self-evaluations of her performance, and her resume, stated that she managed the two administrative assistants, as do most contemporaneous company documents.[2] Dineley drafted the assistants' performance reviews based on her own observations and feedback from the designers, and followed up by holding one-on-one meetings with the assistants to review their ratings. She tracked the assistants' hours and had some role in deciding when they could take vacation. In one instance, Dineley received complaints from designers about one of the assistants, and at the Design VP's direction worked with HR to prepare a “note to file.” Dineley had a one-one-one meeting with the assistant. Per the Design VP's instruction, after the disciplinary incident, Dineley required that the two assistants check in with Dineley each morning when they arrived, had fifteen minute “touch base” meetings with them each morning, and a thirty minute meeting once a month to discuss long-term projects and accomplishments.

         Dinely experienced difficulties working for the Design VP nearly from the start, which was months before she first advised Coach of her disability. In April 2014, Dineley met with an HR Representative to discuss the mid-year performance review Dineley had received from the Design VP, and reported that she was having a “hard time” working with the Design VP. Dineley reported to the HR Representative that the Design VP gave conflicting directions and took her stress out on Dineley. From at least April 2014, the Design VP required Dineley to interrupt her during meetings to relay important updates, and tell her each day when she was leaving the office for the day. The Design VP also required Dineley to meet with her each morning to review the day's schedule and to create an end-of-day report for the Design VP's review. Dineley felt that the Design VP “micro-managed” her work.

         On October 6, 2014, the plaintiff informed the Design VP that she needed to take a medical leave of absence to seek inpatient treatment for alcoholism. This was the first time she informed anyone at Coach about her alcoholism, and the first time she requested any accommodation from Coach related to this issue. The Design VP granted Dineley's request for leave. After interviewing and recommending a temporary replacement, Dineley began her leave of absence on October 12.

         Dineley returned to work on November 16. Dineley returned to the same position supporting the Design VP and with the same salary and benefits. Beginning in mid-December, Dineley asked the Design VP for permission to leave the office by 6:00 p.m. four days a week in order to attend outpatient treatment services. The Design VP granted Dineley's request. In March 2015, Dineley's outpatient schedule was reduced to two days a week, for which she asked and was granted permission to leave the office by 6:00 p.m. The Design VP continued to require Dineley to notify her when she was leaving the office for the day, including during meetings with top executives, but did not require her to state the reason.

         According to Dineley, after she returned to work from her leave of absence, the Design VP subjected her to “general mistreatment” and was “nasty to her all the time.” It was as though the Design VP “suddenly just decided she didn't like [Dineley] anymore and wanted to make [her] as uncomfortable as possible.” While Dineley acknowledges that the Design VP was difficult to work for before she took leave, she asserts that the Design VP's mistreatment of her increased after the leave. According to Dineley, the Design VP would frequently “criticize and yell at [her].” According to Dineley, “it started happening a couple times a week [and] [a]s time went on, it became more and more frequent until toward the end it was basically like [Dineley] couldn't ever do anything right in her eyes and she made that very clear.” The Design VP said things to Dineley such as, “Are you okay?”; “Is everything all right”; Is there anything going on with you?”; and “You're letting everything fall apart.” Dineley also alleges that the Design VP once called her “stupid.” Dineley reports that the day after an evening for which she had to leave early for treatment, she addressed the Design VP to the effect of “Oh, I hope you weren't here too late last night, ” to which the Design VP responded by saying, “Yes, we were here very late. A lot of people have to work late at night. They don't all get to leave early like you.” On another occasion the Design VP told her “this isn't a 9 to 5 job.” According to Dineley, these types of comments were “never” made to her before the leave, and they were made in a condescending tone. Dineley understood all of these comments to be in relation to her leave of absence, need for accommodation, and substance abuse problems based upon “[t]he way she said it to [Dineley] . . . [her] tone, her body language, [and] the way she looked at [Dineley] while she said it.” For example, Dineley believes that when the Design VP asked if everything was all right, she was implying that Dineley was drinking again. When the Design VP mentioned personal issues, Dineley believes she was referring to her addiction issues and need for accomodation.

         On August 21, 2015, the Design VP gave Dineley her annual performance evaluation with an overall rating of “solid performance.” During Dineley's 2015 performance review the Design VP purportedly said “you have a lot of personal issues and who knows how much of that has had an effect on your performance problems.” Dineley viewed ...

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