United States District Court, S.D. New York
OPINION AND ORDER
KATHERINE POLK FAILLA UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
three months, Plaintiff Nicholas Weir worked as a research
technician in a lab at the Albert Einstein College of
Medicine. His employment was contingent upon successful
completion of this probationary period, but at the end of the
period, he was terminated. Plaintiff now brings claims
against Montefiore Medical Center, Albert Einstein College of
Medicine, and Yeshiva University (collectively,
“Defendants”), under Title VII of the Civil
Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e to 2000e-17,
the New York State Human Rights Law, N.Y. Exec. Law
§§ 290 to 297 (“NYSHRL”), and the New
York City Human Rights Law, N.Y. City Admin. Code
§§ 8-101 to 8-131 (“NYCHRL”).
Plaintiff's Amended Complaint alleges that he had
acrimonious interactions with other members of the lab; that
Defendants impermissibly retaliated against him; and that he
was wrongfully terminated. Defendants move to dismiss
Plaintiff's Amended Complaint on the basis that he has
not plausibly pleaded an inference of discriminatory
motivation. Because the Court agrees with Defendants, the
motion is granted.
is “a male with a dark complexion from Jamaica.”
(Am. Compl. ¶ 1). On December 7, 2015, Plaintiff was
hired to be a research technician in the lab of Dr. Evripidis
Gavathiotis at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine
(“AECOM”), and he began working there on December
28, 2015. (Id. at ¶¶ 2-3). Plaintiff was
given several versions of an offer letter from AECOM, all of
which provided that he would begin with a 90-day
“probationary period, ” during which time both
Plaintiff and AECOM retained the option of terminating his
employment. (Pl. Decl., Doc. 1).
time of his hire, Plaintiff was the only research technician
in the lab, and he was the only lab employee of Caribbean
descent. (Am. Compl. ¶ 4). Plaintiff assisted Dr.
Gavathiotis and others in the lab; by his second week, Dr.
Gavathiotis asked Plaintiff to work overtime “because
[Plaintiff] had a good work ethic and was ‘extremely
motivated.'” (Id. at ¶¶
5-6). In the early weeks of his employment,
Plaintiff “regularly received positive reviews, ”
and, by “mid-January 2016, [Dr.] Gavathiotis and other
researchers working in the [l]ab began compl[i]menting
[Plaintiff] on his work ethic and ability.”
(Id. at ¶ 7; see also Id. at ¶
8). By late January 2016, Dr. Gavathiotis told Plaintiff he
wanted Plaintiff to work in his lab for “a couple of
years.” (Id. at ¶ 9).
then, by Plaintiff's telling, things changed for the
worse. Later in January 2016, “[Dr.] Gavathiotis and
other researchers in the lab started harassing [Plaintiff]
and treating him differently than other employees.”
(Am. Compl. ¶ 10). For example, Onyinyeckukwu Uchime, an
M.D./Ph.D. student, “began coming to the lab more often
and harassing [Plaintiff]”; she questioned
Plaintiff's lab results even though these same results
had been praised by Dr. Gavathiotis and others.
(Id.). Plaintiff alleges that as Ms. Uchime asked
Plaintiff about these lab results, she spoke to him in such
an “elevated” tone of voice that workers in an
adjacent lab “could hear her scolding
[Plaintiff].” (Pl. Opp. 5). Ms. Uchime would become
angry when Plaintiff borrowed her lab equipment, but she
would not react angrily to other employees who borrowed her
equipment. (Am. Compl. ¶ 11; see also Pl. Opp. 5
(“She was spitefully nasty to me for borrowing her
equipment but would not get annoyed when other lab members
borrowed her lab equipment.”)).
this time[, ] [Plaintiff] was forced to move from his regular
work station, ” and he became the only researcher in
the lab without a regular work area. (Am. Compl. ¶ 11).
It is not clear from the Amended Complaint whether
Plaintiff's move from his work station happened because
of his disagreements with Ms. Uchime or was merely
coincidental. Plaintiff alleges in his opposition brief that
he initially sat at a desk previously occupied by a lab
worker named Dennis; when Dennis returned to the lab,
Plaintiff moved to a desk previously occupied by Ms. Uchime.
After Ms. Uchime returned to the lab, and after
Plaintiff's interactions with her escalated, he moved
back to Dennis's desk, but if Dennis needed the desk,
Plaintiff was left with no workstation. (Pl. Opp. 5).
further alleges that in late February 2016, Dr. Gavathiotis
failed to tell Plaintiff about a “lecture he was giving
to people in the [l]ab.” (Am. Compl. ¶ 12). Other
lab members were invited. (Pl. Opp. 7). And Plaintiff states
that his colleagues at some point asked him “which
country [he] was from”; he contends that while
“it may appear to be a simple and amicable question,
one cannot definitively conclude there wasn't any motive
behind such a question.” (Id. at 5-6).
February 2016, Dr. Gavathiotis “began coming up with
different reasons for terminating [Plaintiff].” (Am.
Compl. ¶ 13). Despite having personally hired Plaintiff,
Dr. Gavathiotis “stated that he was looking for someone
with different experience than [Plaintiff].”
(Id.). Plaintiff alleges that Dr. Gavathiotis told
Plaintiff that he needed someone who had experience working
with mice - even though he knew at the time of hiring that
Plaintiff had no such experience. (Pl. Opp. 8). Shortly
thereafter, Dr. Gavathiotis told Plaintiff that he
“didn't fit in” at the lab and that
“other lab members did not trust [Plaintiff].”
(Am. Compl. ¶¶ 14, 16). Dr. Gavathiotis was
“visibly angry” as he said this. (Pl. Opp. 8).
Dr. Gavathiotis told Plaintiff that a lab worker named
Xiomaris - with whom Plaintiff believed he had a productive
working relationship - had complained about him.
(Id. at 6). Plaintiff alleges that this complaint
was fabricated. (Id.). After this, Plaintiff began
working with Dr. Biris, who, Plaintiff claims, was
“very impressed that [Plaintiff] obtained good results
on [his] first attempts on mostly [his] own.”
(Id.). Plaintiff adds that Pavlos, another lab
member, had been “unable to get positive
Gavathiotis then began to give Plaintiff mixed signals: In
late February 2016, he told Plaintiff that the lab would be
able to fund Plaintiff's position until the end of March
2016 (Am. Compl. ¶ 17); a few days later, he told
Plaintiff that Plaintiff's last day in the lab would be
March 4, 2016, but that he could return to the lab as a
volunteer (id. at ¶ 18). On March 3, 2016, Plaintiff went
to AECOM's Human Resources (“HR”) Department
“to report the treatment he was experiencing.”
(Id. at ¶ 19). There, he spoke with Anna
Gartner, an HR specialist, who informed him that “he
could not be fired ‘without a legitimate
reason.'” (Id. at ¶ 20). Plaintiff
returned to the lab after his meeting with Ms. Gartner, at
which time Dr. Gavathiotis “told him to pack up his
things and [ ] leave.” (Id. at ¶ 21).
Plaintiff contends that he asked for time to complete a
project but was escorted out by security. (Pl. Opp. 8).
Plaintiff takes pains to note that Dr. Gavathiotis is not
“a racist, ” but that “the big guys
upstairs and money  got the best of Dr. Gavathiotis.”
(Pl. Opp. 7). Plaintiff alleges that “these influences
… brought the ugly out of Dr. Gavathiotis[, ] which
ultimately resulted in the changes and discrimination
[Plaintiff] experienced.” (Id.). A few days
after his termination, Plaintiff emailed Robert Cancellieri,
AECOM's Director of HR. (Am. Compl. ¶ 22). Mr.
Cancellieri responded that Plaintiff “was fired because
he did not pass his probation[ary] period.”
(Id.). Plaintiff's opposition brief makes a
series of factual allegations that largely echo those in his
Amended Complaint. (See Pl. Opp. 3-9). More detail is
provided, however, concerning “the big guys upstairs,
” and the true reasons for Plaintiff's termination
at AECOM. Plaintiff alleges that he has been the subject of
various reprisals from the City University of New York
(“CUNY”), where he attended college, and the
State of New York - both of which have conspired to coerce
Plaintiff to enlist in the military. (Id. at 3).
Plaintiff alleges that he has “been monitored and
stalked daily since around October 2015” and, indeed,
believes that New York state agencies were aware of his job
at AECOM. (Id. at 3-4). As but one example,
Plaintiff noticed that he was being “stalked/monitored
by state agencies” when he would leave the lab in the
evenings. (Id. at 4). Plaintiff went so far as to
file a claim in the New York Court of Claims in 2015, but has
been “unable to get any impartial judge at the state
level.” (Id. at 3).
Plaintiff spoke with Ms. Gartner in HR on March 2, 2016, he
explained his “lab situation and that it was due to my
ongoing court case against CUNY and the State of New
York[.]” (Pl. Opp. 7-8). Plaintiff attempted to tell
Ms. Gartner more about this court case the next day, but
“she asked [Plaintiff] to stop telling her [about his]
court case, ” and as soon as he returned to the lab, he
was terminated. (Id. at 8).
pre-motion conference with the parties, the Court questioned
Plaintiff about his claims in order to gain a clearer
understanding of the alleged discrimination. When asked to
explain what “led [Plaintiff] to believe that [he was]
subject to discrimination, ” Plaintiff responded that
“discrimination was just a, it was a miniscule of the
core reason why [he] was terminated.” (Dkt. #25-4
(“Conf. Tr.”) 26:12-21). Instead, Plaintiff
explained, he was terminated because of the lawsuit he had
filed in the New York Court of Claims against CUNY and the
State of New York. (Id. at 26:12-28:21).
first time, Plaintiff alleges in his opposition brief that
his compensation was reduced a few days after he began
working in the lab. (Pl. Opp. 4). He reached out to the
administrator of the Biochemistry Department to inquire about
“some mysterious words on [his] first paystub”
and about certain hours that were missing. (Id.).
Plaintiff states that, while he did not get an explanation
for this discrepancy, the missing hours were subsequently
added back. (Id. at 5).
initiated this suit on December 20, 2016. (Dkt. #2). On April
20, 2017, Defendant requested leave to file a motion to
dismiss (Dkt. #13), and the Court held a pre-motion
conference on May 4, 2017 (Dkt. #19). The Court granted
Plaintiff leave to amend his complaint (id.), and he
filed the Amended Complaint on July 6, 2017 (Dkt. #20).
Defendants then moved to dismiss the Amended Complaint on
August 18, 2017. (Dkt. #23). Plaintiff filed an opposition
brief and a declaration in support of his opposition on
October 4, 2017. (Dkt. #28-29). This motion became fully
briefed when Defendants filed their reply brief on October
18, 2017. (Dkt. #30). On November 14, 2017, Plaintiff filed a
letter with the Court asking for leave to amend his complaint
once more and for the matter to proceed to discovery. (Dkt.
#32). The Court addresses this request below.
Motions to Dismiss Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
considering a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6), a court should “draw all reasonable
inferences in Plaintiff['s] favor, assume all
well-pleaded factual allegations to be true, and determine
whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to
relief.” Faber v. Metro. Life Ins. Co., 648
F.3d 98, 104 (2d Cir. 2011) (internal quotation marks
omitted). Thus, “[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, a
complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as
true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on
its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S.
662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly,550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). While this plausibility
requirement “is not akin to a probability requirement
… it asks for more ...