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Adams v. Delta Airlines, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. New York

March 29, 2018

BAHJI ADAMS, Plaintiff,
DELTA AIRLINES, INC.; RICHARD ANDERSON, acting as CEO on behalf of Delta Airlines, Defendants.


          Hon. Kiyo A. Matsumoto United States District Judge.

         Presently before the court is the Report and Recommendation of United States Magistrate Judge Lois Bloom, filed on December 18, 2017, recommending that that the motion to dismiss (ECF No. 18) filed by defendants Delta Airlines, Inc. (“Delta”) and its Chief Executive Officer, Richard Anderson (“Anderson, ” and together with Delta, “defendants”), be granted in part and denied in part. (Report and Recommendation re Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim (“R&R”), ECF No. 25 at 1-2.) Delta timely objected to Magistrate Bloom's R&R. (Delta Objection to R&R (“Def. Obj.”), ECF No. 26.) Plaintiff Bahji Adams, proceeding pro se, also objected to the R&R, though her objections were received by the court after the objection deadline had passed. (Plaintiff Objection to R&R (“Pl. Obj.”), ECF No. 27.) In any event, the court has undertaken a comprehensive de novo review of the R&R and the record in light of the written objections, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C).[1]For the reasons set forth below, the court adopts Judge Bloom's R&R in its entirety, except that, for the reasons set forth below, the court declines to specify that the dismissal of plaintiff's NYSHRL claim against Anderson is without prejudice.


         The court assumes familiarity with the underlying facts and procedural history, as set forth in greater detail in the R&R. (See R&R at 1-4.) As relevant here, plaintiff alleges that in 2014, while employed by Delta, she was diagnosed with various left knee ailments that left her permanently impaired. (See Amended Complaint (“Am. Compl., ” or the “amended complaint”), ECF No. 11, p. 12 ¶ 8-p. 12 ¶ 12; p.5 ¶ 20.)[2]According to the amended complaint, in late May of 2014, plaintiff informed her supervisor about her knee pain and shortly thereafter, filed a workers' compensation claim, which Delta denied. (Id. p.12 ¶ 12-p. 13 ¶ 13.) At some point, plaintiff visited a doctor, who recommended that plaintiff limit “prolonged standing” and “be able to walk around.” (Id. p.13 ¶ 14.) The amended complaint also annexes a report from “Associates in Orthopaedic Surgery” (Am. Compl. at 28 of 31), [3]stating that it “would help to change/rotate duty stations regularly.”

         After advising her supervisor of her knee pain, plaintiff continued working for Delta until June 20, 2014. (Am. Compl. p. 13 ¶ 15-p. 13 ¶ 16.) The amended complaint alleges that on or about that date, plaintiff “requested the ability to be able to sit-down to get off her knee, ” and in response was “sent home from work, with no return date.” (Id. p. 13 ¶ 16.)

         The amended complaint further alleges that on August 21, 2014, plaintiff met with Delta representatives and requested the use of a chair and a desk, which plaintiff alleges are available at other Delta airport locations, as a reasonable accommodation. (Id. p. 13 ¶ 17, p. 14 ¶ 19, p. 15 ¶ 25.) At some point in or after July of 2014, plaintiff expressed interest in a flight attendant position as a “reasonable accommodation.” (Id. p. 11 ¶ 23.) Plaintiff alleges that a position as a flight attendant would allow her to “sit, stand, stretch, [and] take breaks.” (Id.) Plaintiff's requests were denied, and Delta placed plaintiff on “short-term disability leave which was [then] converted to [unpaid] medical leave” as of September 2014. (Id. p. 14 ¶ 18-p. 14 ¶ 19, p. 16 ¶ 26; see also Id. p. 11 ¶ 23 (alleging that when plaintiff requested a transfer to a flight attendant position, Delta stated it would “attempt to return her to her prior position.”)[4]

         Plaintiff filed either a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), or a Massachusetts state charge that was dual-filed with the EEOC, and received a right to sue letter on January 19, 2016. (Id. p. 11 ¶ 25; see also EEOC Dismissal and Notice of Rights, ECF No. 1 at 29; R&R at 4 n.8 (noting possibility that Massachusetts state charge was filed and dual-filed with EEOC).) Plaintiff commenced the instant action on April 19, 2016, (see Initial Complaint, ECF No. 1), and filed her amended complaint on December 7, 2016. (See Am. Compl.)

         Judge Bloom construed plaintiff's complaint to assert the following claims: a failure to accommodate claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12112, et seq., the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 701 et seq., and the New York State Human Rights Law (“NYSHRL”), N.Y. Exec. L. §§ 290, et seq.; a retaliation claim under the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, the NYSHRL, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), codified at 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e, et seq.; a hostile work environment claim under the ADA, Title VII, and the Rehabilitation Act; a civil rights claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (“section 1983”); and a claim under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”).[5] (See R&R.)

         Judge Bloom recommended that this court: (1) grant defendants' motion to dismiss with respect to plaintiff's federal claims against Anderson, plaintiff's claims under Title VII, plaintiff's reasonable accommodation claim pertaining to her request to transfer to a flight attendant position, plaintiff's hostile work environment claims, and plaintiff's claims under section 1983 and the FTCA; and (2) dismiss plaintiff's state law claim against Anderson without prejudice. (Id. at 20.) Additionally, Judge Bloom recommended that this court deny plaintiff leave to re-plead as to the dismissed claims. (Id. at 19.) Judge Bloom further recommended that plaintiff's claims against Delta alleging that it failed to accommodate plaintiff's request for a desk and chair and retaliated against her, stated claims for violations of the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and the NYSHRL, and should proceed. (Id.)

         Legal Standard

         I. Review of R&R

         A district court reviews those portions of a Report and Recommendation to which a party has timely objected under a de novo standard of review, and “may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C).

         II. Motions to Dismiss

         A plaintiff's complaint must be dismissed if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). In deciding a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (“Rule”) 12(b)(6), the court evaluates the sufficiency of a complaint under a “two-pronged approach.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009). First, courts generally accept as true the well-pleaded factual allegations of a complaint, but are not bound to accept legal conclusions when examining the sufficiency of a complaint. See Id. at 678 (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). Second, after the court assumes all well-pleaded facts to be true, the court must “determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679; see also Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-56. A claim is 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 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

         Where a plaintiff proceeds pro se, courts must construe the plaintiff's complaint “liberally” at the motion to dismiss stage. Harris v. Mills, 572 F.3d 66, 72 (2d Cir. 2009). This means that the court must interpret a pro se complaint “to raise the strongest arguments that [it] suggest[s].” Pabon v. Wright, 459 F.3d 241, 248 (2d Cir. 2006) (quoting Burgos v. Hopkins, 14 F.3d 787, 790 (2d Cir. 1994)). Nonetheless, to survive a motion to dismiss, a pro se complaint “must contain sufficient factual allegations to meet the plausibility standard.” Green v. McLaughlin, 480 F. App'x 44, 46 (2d Cir. 2012) (summary order) (citing Harris, 572 F.3d at 72).


         I. Defendants' Objection

         Judge Bloom recommended that this court deny the defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiff's claims against Delta alleging that it (1) failed to accommodate plaintiff's request for a desk and chair and (2) retaliated against her in violation of the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and the NYSHRL. Defendants objected to this recommendation, and the court will consider each objection de novo.

         A. Reasonable Accommodation[6]

         Defendants contend in their objections that plaintiff “admits she was hired by Delta as a temporary ‘greeter' at JFK airport and that her position required her to be available to direct passengers to the proper security lines and check-in counters in one of New York's busiest international airports.” (Def. Obj. at 2.) Accordingly, defendants assert, it is “apparent on its face that Plaintiff's request that she be provided a ‘chair and desk' would have prevented her from performing any of the functions of the ‘greeter' position, and, therefore, would not have been a reasonable accommodation as a matter of law.” (Id.) Defendants also contend that they accommodated plaintiff by granting her “several weeks of medical leave, ” which “was a reasonable accommodation in and of itself.” (Id. at 3.) These contentions are unavailing.

         The amended complaint alleges that “portable desk stations” are available to Delta employees at other airports, specifically LaGuardia and Atlanta. (Am. Compl. p. 14 ¶ 19, p. 14 ¶ 22, p. 15 ¶ 23; see also Am. Compl. pp. 5-6 ¶ 11 (referring to a “portable desk” as a reasonable accommodation).) Read liberally, the amended complaint also asserts that Delta employees stationed at portable desks in the Atlanta airport were able to assist Delta customers. (See Am. Compl. p. 14 ¶ 22 (“July 2nd, 2014, Delta employees at ATL sitting down with portable desk stations, saying, ‘Let me Help you. see attached exhibit A, B, C.'” [sic]).)[7] At the Rule 12 motion to dismiss stage, assuming the truth of these factual statements, the amended complaint sufficiently alleges that that plaintiff could have performed her essential job functions had she been provided a portable desk and chair as a reasonable accommodation.

         Further, defendants' contention that the “concept of Plaintiff sitting in a chair in the middle of JFK is implausible” appears to be based on defendants' allegations beyond the complaint regarding the volume of passenger traffic at JFK. (Def. Obj. at 2-3.) At the Rule 12 motion to dismiss stage, the court may only properly consider the amended complaint and those documents integral to, incorporated by reference in, or attached to it. Chambers v. Time Warner, Inc., 282 F.3d 147, 152-53 (2d Cir. 2002) (citations omitted). There is nothing in the amended complaint or any attachments regarding the volume of traffic at JFK airport, or any information as to how the volume of pedestrian traffic might limit plaintiff's ability to fulfill her job duties. In deciding defendants' Rule 12(b) (6) motion, the court cannot consider defendants' contentions to the extent they rely on information outside the pleadings.

         Similarly, defendants' contention that “the medical leave provided to Plaintiff was a reasonable accommodation in and of itself, ” (Def. Obj. at 3), does not suffice to warrant dismissal at the Rule 12 motion to dismiss stage. As Judge Bloom correctly stated, at the Rule 12 stage, the employer “bears the weighty burden of showing that the fact-intensive inquiry prerequisite to a finding of reasonable accommodation falls completely in its favor.” Goonan v. Fed. Reserve Bank of New York, 916 F.Supp.2d 470, 482 (S.D.N.Y. 2013) (citations omitted).

         Here, plaintiff alleges in her amended complaint that medical leave was accompanied by a loss of remuneration, (Am. Compl. pp. 8-9 ¶ 17), and was not a reasonable accommodation, particularly in light of the amended complaint's above-discussed allegations that plaintiff could have performed her job duties had she been provided a desk and chair. On de novo review, the undersigned judge agrees with Judge Bloom that plaintiff has sufficiently alleged a failure to accommodate claim under the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and the NYSHRL. If defendants wish to establish the unreasonableness of a desk and chair, based on their contentions regarding the volume of traffic at JFK airport or otherwise, or to establish the reasonableness of medical leave, they may seek to do so at the summary judgment stage or at trial. See Vale v. Great Neck ...

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