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Garces v. New York City Housing Authority

United States District Court, S.D. New York

July 17, 2017

JUAN PABLO GARCES, Plaintiff,
v.
THE NEW YORK CITY HOUSING AUTHORITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Laura Taylor Swain United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Juan Pablo Garces ("Plaintiff or "Garces"), brings this civil rights action, pursuant to The Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12111 et seq. (the "ADA"), against Defendant The New York City Housing Authority ("Defendant" or "NYCHA"). In a one-count Amended Complaint, Plaintiff, a former NYCHA employee, alleges that he suffered unlawful discrimination on the basis of his disability, that his employer unlawfully failed to make a reasonable accommodation of his disability, and that Defendant's actions resulted in his constructive discharge. (Docket Entry No. 11.) Plaintiff seeks declaratory judgment, compensatory damages, and costs. Defendant now moves, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), to dismiss all of Plaintiff s claims, for failure to exhaust administrative remedies as to the ADA constructive discharge claim, and for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. (Docket Entry No. 13.)

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

         The Court has reviewed carefully all of the submissions of the parties. For the following reasons, the Defendant's motion is denied in its entirety.

         Background

         The following summary is derived from the factual allegations in the amended complaint, which are accepted as true for purposes of the instant motion practice, and the complaint that Plaintiff filed with the New York State Division of Human Rights ("SDHR"), which is referenced in the Amended Complaint and is material to Defendant's exhaustion arguments.[1]

         Plaintiff was sixty-eight years old at the time he filed the Amended Complaint in this action, and was employed by Defendant for more than twenty-five years, from February 9, 1990, until September 30, 2015. (Amended Complaint, Docket Entry No. 11, ¶ 8 ("Am. Compl.").) Since 2004, Plaintiff has suffered from a disability due to medical problems with his kidneys. (Id ¶ 10.) In February 2006, Plaintiff had a kidney transplant that has significantly affected his immune system, and anti-rejection medication has made Plaintiff vulnerable to contracting "infections from exposure to bacteria in unsanitary environments." Id. Because of these health issues, Plaintiff, who had served as a Construction Project Manager for NYCHA since 1996, requested and was granted a reasonable accommodation for office work at Defendant's central office, located at 90 Church Street in New York, New York, beginning October 17, 2006. (Id ¶¶ 9, 11.) On or about October 22, 2014, Deputy Director of Construction Victor Brenner ("Brenner") assigned Plaintiff to a new position and title- "Program Specialist"-within the 90 Church Street office. (Id ¶ 13.) That position had a higher civil service title and higher compensation associated with it. Id. After several months in the Program Specialist position, Plaintiff asked to receive the higher salary that was associated with the position; Mr. Brenner refused to increase his salary. Plaintiff then filed a grievance through his union in March 2015, and Brenner removed Plaintiff from the Program Specialist position shortly thereafter, as of March 27, 2015. (See id ¶¶ 14-16.)

         In April 2015, Brenner informed Plaintiff that he was being transferred from the 90 Church Street location to NYCHA's Upper Park Avenue Community Association ("UPACA") office, located at 125th Street and Lexington Avenue, in Upper Manhattan. (Id ¶ 17.) Plaintiff "immediately objected" to the transfer, "explaining that due to his health condition and need for a reasonable accommodation, he could not be moved to the UPACA Harlem office as of May 11, 2015" (Id ¶ 18.) On May 8, 2015, Plaintiff emailed Defendant's Human Resources Director and Equal Employment Opportunity office, explaining his need for a reasonable accommodation and why he would be unable to report to UPACA. Id. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant ignored this email and did not engage in an interactive process to consider Plaintiffs request for a reasonable accommodation to remain at the 90 Church Street office. Id. Plaintiff further alleges that he advised Adam Eagle, NYCHA's Deputy Director of Capital Projects and Administration, about his medical conditions in either May and/or June of 2015 "that would specifically prevent him from reporting to UPACA due to his need for reasonable accommodation, " but neither Mr. Eagle nor Defendant met with Plaintiff or tried to reasonably accommodate Plaintiff. (Id ¶ 20.) Plaintiff alleges that he continued to object to the transfer and provide Defendant with medical notes to support his request for a reasonable accommodation. (Id ¶ 19.) On May 26, 2015, Brenner directed Plaintiff to report to the UPACA office, "under threat of insubordination by refusing to do so." Id.

         As directed, Plaintiff reported to UPACA on May 26, 2015, and "found the environment unclean and unsanitary, " and was concerned that such an environment "would further aggravate his condition and substantially increase the likelihood of [contracting] infections" that could further jeopardize his kidney and overall health. (Id ¶ 21.) After Plaintiffs first day at UPACA, he "immediately" returned to the 90 Church Street NYCHA office to speak with Capital Projects Director Patricia Zander about his need for a reasonable accommodation and transfer back to the 90 Church Street location, citing the unsanitary conditions at the UPACA location, the physical stress of the commute to UPACA due to the increased travel time, and the high subway stairs required to travel there. (Id ¶ 22.) Ms. Zander refused to meet with Plaintiff in person, and emailed Plaintiff the following day, May 27, 2015, ordering him back to UPACA. (Id ¶¶ 22-23.)

         Plaintiff simultaneously notified his union of the unsanitary work conditions at UPACA, which were allegedly confirmed by a letter the local union president sent to NYCHA on June 3, 2015. (Id ¶ 24.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendant did not undertake to "clean up the environment at UPACA until at least July 24, 2015, almost two months after Plaintiff was involuntarily assigned there" and that, initially, "Defendant tried to [hide] the unhealthy conditions at UPACA from the union" by intentionally "taking misleading photographs" of bathrooms. Id.

         Plaintiff alleges "he was not assigned any meaningful work at the UPACA location, " and that he "could do the . . . same close-out work he was assigned [at UPACA] from the 90 Church Street location;" thus, allowing him "to remain at 90 Church Street would have posed no undue hardship to the agency." (Id ¶ 25.) Plaintiff continued to report to the UPACA location as directed, though he missed two weeks of work in June of 2015, "due to bronchial conditions, which his doctor had diagnosed as due to the toxins he was exposed to in his work environment at the UPACA location." (Id ¶ 26.) According to Plaintiff, "[t]he new location also unreasonably extended his commuting and work time, aggravating his stress and preexisting health conditions." Li Plaintiff further alleges that he exhausted his sick leave balance due to his "aggravated health conditions in May and June 2015, " which he attributes to the "unsanitary work environment at UPACA."

         On or about June 17, 2015, Plaintiff filed a complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights ("SDHR"), "based in part on disability discrimination due to Defendant's failure to reasonably accommodate his health condition." (Id ¶ 27.) "At about the time of filing his SDHR complaint, " Plaintiff also filed his retirement papers, effective September 30, 2015, "due to the stressful conditions he has been placed under at UPACA without reasonable accommodation, causing severe aggravation of his fragile health condition." (Id. ¶ 28.) Plaintiff alleges that he "had originally planned to retire at his full retirement age after 30 years of service, " and thus "lost at least ten percent of his pension and additional salary by being pressured into retiring early." (Id ¶ 31.)

         On or about September 7, 2015, Defendant returned Plaintiff to the 90 Church Street office, "but gave him no meaningful work there." (Id ¶ 32.) The transfer occurred after Plaintiff had filed the SDHR complaint and a separate verified petition with the New York City Office of Collective Bargaining, and after he had already submitted his retirement papers. Id.

         On January 20, 2016, Plaintiff received a right to sue letter from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). (Id. ΒΆ33.) On April 15, 2016, Plaintiff commenced the instant action, and ...


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