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Shojae v. Harlem Hospital Center

United States District Court, S.D. New York

January 12, 2018

PARI SHOJAE, Plaintiff,

          OPINION & ORDER


         On July 7, 2015, plaintiff Pari Shojae, a Muslim Persian female pharmacist previously employed by Harlem Hospital Center, brought this action against Harlem Hospital Center (“Harlem Hospital”), New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation (“HHC”), Shahnawa Khan, and Henna Farooqi, alleging discrimination, retaliation, and hostile work environment claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000 et seq as well as under state and local laws.

         On or about November 20, 2013, plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”); on or about April 12, 2015, the EEOC issued a Notice of Right to Sue Letter. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 4-5.) Plaintiff timely filed this lawsuit.

         On May 26, 2017, defendants Harlem Hospital, HHC, and Farooqi moved for summary judgment on all claims.[1] (ECF No. 63.) On September 11, 2017, this case was transferred to the undersigned.

         For the reasons set forth below, defendants' motion for summary judgment is GRANTED.


         The following facts are materially undisputed and all inferences are drawn in favor of the plaintiff. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986).

         Plaintiff holds a doctorate in pharmacy and was hired in or about August 2009 as a Level 2 IV Supervisor at Harlem Hospital. During the relevant period, she was under the supervision of both defendants Khan and Farooqi.

         A. Plaintiff's Work under Defendant Khan

         Plaintiff claims that defendant Khan discriminated against her by virtue of her religion, national origin, and gender. Specifically, she points to three separate incidents with defendant Khan during her employment.

         First, she was offered a signing bonus of $10, 000 upon accepting the job. (ECF No. 64, Nacchio Declaration (“Nacchio Decl.”), Ex. C.) Plaintiff claims that she never received this bonus, and that when she asked defendant Khan for it, he said to her that “a regular Pakistani woman” would “never ask for a signing bonus” and that it is “improper behavior for a woman.” (ECF No. 66, Defendants' Local Rule 56.1 Statement (“Defs.' 56.1 Statement”) ¶ 11).

         Second, in March 2011, Khan reassigned plaintiff to a stockroom supervisor position; this reassignment did not affect plaintiff's salary.[2] (Id. ¶¶ 33-34.) In that new assignment, plaintiff supervised Khan's nephew, whom she accused of stealing and refusing to work. (Id. ¶¶ 36-37.) In or about May 2011, plaintiff confronted Khan about his nephew. (Id. ¶ 38.) She alleges that he responded, “Pari, you are Muslim, you need to be on our side” and also that in “Pakistan, a woman would never speak to [him] this way.” (Id. ¶¶ 38-39.) Also in May 2011, Khan reassigned her to a satellite pharmacy. (Id. ¶ 41.) This reassignment did not affect plaintiff's salary.[3] Plaintiff claims that after this reassignment she began to be excluded from meetings, though she does not know how many meetings she was excluded from or who decided the attendees. (Id. ¶¶ 44-46.)

         Third, on May 15, 2012, plaintiff received a letter from defendant Khan regarding her excessive absences from work. (Id. ¶ 47.)

         On September 15, 2012, plaintiff wrote a letter to Human Resources complaining of discrimination by defendant Khan. (Id. ¶ 50.) This was the first official complaint filed. (Id. ¶ 51.)

         Defendant Khan issued two letters to plaintiff after this date-one on November 1, 2012, which cited her for insubordination by being away from her desk during a “Code Blue, ” and one on February 6, 2013, which regarded her failure to provide medical interventions. (Id. ¶¶ 69, 71.) Neither letter had an effect on her job. (Id. ¶¶ 70, 72.) However, plaintiff alleges that they were retaliatory in nature and that they caused her “extreme stress.” (Id. ¶ 72.)

         In June 2013, as a result of an investigation into allegations of nepotism, defendant Khan was demoted from his position, and no longer supervised plaintiff. (Id. ¶¶ 88-91.)

         B. Plaintiff's Work under Defendant Farooqi

         In June 2013, defendant Farooqi, a Muslim woman of Indian descent, was appointed Interim Director of Pharmacy, replacing defendant Khan. (Id. ¶¶ 90-92.) Shortly thereafter, Farooqi and plaintiff had two altercations. (Id. ¶ 99.) In both cases, plaintiff came to the administrative office, directly connected to Farooqi's office, in order to sign into the timesheet book. (Id. ¶¶ 98, 100.) As a matter of practice, pharmacy staff are required to sign in and out on a timesheet book that is kept in the administrative office in order to record their working hours. (Id. ¶ 97.)

         On both occasions, plaintiff asked the book to be passed to her outside of the administrative office. Farooqi reported that plaintiff called her a devil, an allegation later confirmed by two witnesses to the first incident. (Id. ¶¶ 101, 105, 108.) Furthermore, witnesses confirmed that plaintiff said that she didn't want to enter the office because she didn't want to see Farooqi's face. (Id. ¶¶ 105, 108.) Farooqi told plaintiff her behavior was “unprofessional.” (Id. ¶ 110.) Plaintiff threatened, on the second such incident, to call the hospital police. (Id. ¶ 119.)

         Farooqi told an administrator about the incidents, who in turn contacted the human resources department. (Id. ¶ 128.) Accordingly, on July 3, 2013, plaintiff was informed by Labor Relations Specialist Kassandra King that she was suspended for one month because she referred to Henna Farooqi “as a devil.” (Id. ¶ 129.) It is the defendants' policy that only a labor relations panel for disciplinary action can suspend an employee; defendant Farooqi did not have this power. (Id. ¶¶ 130-31.)

         On January 23, 2014, after a complete investigation, plaintiff was formally served with disciplinary charges arising from the two June 2013 altercations with Farooqi. (Id. ¶ 132.)

         Plaintiff maintains that all of her altercations with Farooqi were in retaliation for complaints against defendant Khan, asserting without providing any evidence that Farooqi was “close with Khan” and surmising that Farooqi might retaliate because she is Sunni, and plaintiff complained of “Sunni favoritism and nepotism” by Mr. Khan. (Id. ¶ 121.) Farooqi herself does not “consider herself Sunni.” (ECF No. 64, Ex. B., Farooqi Deposition (“Farooqi Dep.”) at 24.)

         C. Plaintiff's Disciplinary Infractions

         In addition to the three letters written by defendant Khan discussed above, plaintiff received a number of other disciplinary letters. Most, but not all, of these letters referred to plaintiff's unwillingness to perform medical interventions[4]-a requirement of her job.

         On September 28, 2012, she was issued a memorandum to file (a letter for her file noting a problem in her performance) from one of her direct supervisors, Balvant Kabrawala, for refusing to provide medical intervention and unprofessional behavior during a staff meeting. (Id. ¶ 52.) Kabrawala's memorandum stated that plaintiff had said to him during the meeting that she “will answer to God and God will punish you.” (Id. ¶ 53.)

         On October 3, 2012, Kabrawala issued a second memorandum to file for “[j]eopardizing patient safety, disruptive behavior with uncooperative attitude during staff meeting, ” and refusing to perform medical interventions. (Id. ¶ 56.) Plaintiff testified that this memorandum was insulting, but that it did not affect her job. (Plaintiff's Deposition (“Pl.'s Dep.”) at 120:2-13.)

         On October 24, 2012, plaintiff was required to attend an interdisciplinary meeting regarding the interventions. (Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 62.) Plaintiff testified that this meeting “didn't affect [her] job.” (Pl.'s Dep at 121:2-5.)

         In April 2013, plaintiff refused to attend two different staff meetings, citing, in a letter she wrote to hospital police, a “hostile work environment.” (Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 73.)

         On November 19, 2013, Chong Lee, a supervisor, issued a memorandum advising plaintiff she must complete medical interventions and attend staff meetings. (Id. ¶¶ 134-36.) Plaintiff maintains that Lee issued this and other memoranda at Farooqi's instruction and based upon a retaliatory motive, but proffers no evidence supporting this claim. (Id. ¶¶ 137-38.)

         On December 30, 2013, Kabrawala wrote to Farooqi complaining of her insubordination and stating that her behavior was “unprofessional and disruptive.” (Id. ¶ 140.)

         On January 2, 2014, Lee wrote a letter to Farooqi, stating that he was unable to assign plaintiff to satellite pharmacies due to her “refusal” to completely daily intervention reports. (Id. ¶ 139.)

         On June 19, 2014, Nadeem Aslam, another pharmacist, complained to Dr. Farooqi in an email that plaintiff's “ethic/attitude could negatively influence or impact other employees, ” citing her insubordination to him when he was conducting a training in her department. (Id. ¶ 141.)

         D. Plaintiff's Suspension, Psychiatric ...

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