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Blair v. Brooklyn Transportation Corp.

United States District Court, E.D. New York

March 30, 2018

JENNIFER BLAIR, Plaintiff,
v.
BROOKLYN TRANSPORTATION CORP., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          DORA L. IRIZARRY Chief United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Jennifer Blair (“Plaintiff”) is a transgender female residing in Jamaica, New York. (Complaint, (“Compl.”) Dkt. Entry No. 1, ¶ 3.) Defendant Brooklyn Transportation Corp. (“Defendant”) is a school bus transportation service provider incorporated in New York. (Compl. ¶ 4.) Plaintiff brings claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000 et seq. (“Title VII”), the New York State Human Rights Law, N.Y. Exec. Law § 296 et seq. (“NYSHRL”), and the New York City Human Rights Law, N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-107 et seq. (“NYCHRL”). Plaintiff requests a declaratory judgment, as well as compensatory damages for personal injury and all past lost wages and benefits, punitive damages in the maximum amounts permitted by law, and reasonable attorneys' fees. (See generally Compl.)

         Pursuant to Rule 12 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Defendant moved to dismiss the Complaint for failure to state a claim for relief. (See Def.'s Mem. in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss (“Def.'s Mot.”), Dkt. Entry No. 12-1.) Plaintiff opposed the motion, (See Pl.'s Mem. in Opp'n to Mot. to Dismiss (“Pl.'s Opp'n.”), Dkt. Entry No. 13.), and Defendant replied. (See Def.'s Reply Mem. In Supp. Of Mot. To Dismiss (“Def.'s Reply”), Dkt. Entry No. 14.)

         Background

         Plaintiff is a transgender female residing in Jamaica, New York. (Compl. ¶ 3.) Defendant is a school bus transportation service provider incorporated in New York, with its principal place of business in Brooklyn. (Id. ¶ 4.) Defendant hired Plaintiff in 2007 as a bus driver. (Id. ¶ 12.) When Plaintiff was hired, her gender, gender identity, and gender expression were all female, and her co-workers referred to her as Jennifer Blair. (Id. ¶ 13.) However, at the time of Plaintiff's hiring, Plaintiff's legal name was Keith Edward Blair. (Id. ¶ 14.) Therefore, Plaintiff's employment-related documentation and paychecks displayed her former name. (Id.) Thus, Defendant was aware of Plaintiff's transgender status.

         In 2009, Plaintiff legally changed her name to Jennifer Blair and updated her required employment documentation, including paperwork related to her commercial driver's license, social security records, and company paperwork accordingly. (Id. ¶ 15.) Plaintiff alleges that she was not permitted to change the gender marker on her driver's license. (Id. ¶ 16.)

         In or around summer 2013, Plaintiff began working under a new manager, William Lewis (“Lewis”). (Id. ¶ 17.) Lewis had access to employee personnel files, which contained employees' personal information. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that Lewis repeatedly tried to get her attention while she was at work and made inappropriate comments toward her based on sex. (Id. ¶ 18; Exhibit A, Dkt. No. 1-2.)[1]

         In February 2014, Lewis issued Plaintiff's medical certification form under her former name, Keith Edward Blair. (Compl. ¶ 19.) Plaintiff needed this certification form to obtain medical clearance in order to continue operating a bus. (Id. ¶ 21; New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law § 19-A.) The medical certification form utilized by Defendant is a handwritten form with a space to write in the employee's name, social security number, company, and position, among other details. (Def.'s Mot., Exhibit A & B, Dkt. No. 12-2.)[2] In order to obtain medical clearance in compliance with New York law, drivers have to provide the medical certification form to a designated medical provider and get an annual physical examination. (Compl. ¶ 21; New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law § 19-A.) Plaintiff is required to obtain a physical examination every 6 months since she is diabetic. (Compl. ¶ 22.)

         Until February 2014, Plaintiff had received her medical certification form with no issues. (Id. ¶ 23.) When Plaintiff received the medical certification form under her former male name, Plaintiff immediately alerted Defendant to the error and requested updated paperwork under her legal name. (Id. ¶ 24.) However, Defendant did not reissue the paperwork even though Defendant was aware this form was necessary for Plaintiff to obtain a physical exam to renew her commercial driver's license. (Id. ¶ 25.)

         Plaintiff received a letter from Defendant in June 2014 that she was no longer qualified to operate a commercial vehicle as her medical clearance had lapsed effective June 4, 2014. (Id.) At this time, Plaintiff went to a designated medical provider and “convinced”[3] the medical provider to call Defendant in order to get the information necessary for the evaluation, rather than rely on the inaccurate form. (Id. ¶ 28.) Plaintiff was informed during her physical examination that the requirements for diabetic drivers to obtain medical clearance now required an evaluation by an endocrinologist. (Id. ¶ 29.) Plaintiff made the earliest appointment available to see an endocrinologist, July 29, 2014. (Id. ¶ 30.) After the July 29 appointment, Plaintiff was medically cleared to resume driving, but the relevant state agencies did not finish processing Plaintiff's paperwork until October 2014. (Id.)

         Plaintiff was suspended from her employment without pay from June 4 to October 29, 2014. (Id. ¶ 31.) Defendant did not provide Plaintiff with alternative work in a non-driving position during this time. (Id. ¶ 32.)

         On November 12, 2014, Plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) alleging sex discrimination and harassment. (Id. ¶ 33; See also Exhibit A, Dkt. No. 1-2.) On June 20, 2016, the EEOC issued a reasonable cause determination, finding that Plaintiff “was subjected to gender discrimination when [her] medical clearance form was incorrectly issued in her former name, and she incurred a loss of income when she was suspended without pay, all in violation of Title VII.” (Compl. ¶ 34-35; See also Exhibit B, Dkt. No. 1-3.) The EEOC also determined that Defendant “failed to take prompt and appropriate action by offering [Ms. Blair] alternative work in a non-driving position and/or immediately correcting the name to reflect [Ms. Blair's] preferred legal name.” (Compl. ¶ 35; See also Exhibit B, Dkt. No. 1-3.) The EEOC attempted conciliation between the parties, but those efforts failed. (Compl. ¶ 36.) Plaintiff requested a Notice of Right to Sue, which was issued on November 30, 2016. (Id. ¶ 37; See also Exhibit C, Dkt. No. 1-4.)

         Discussion

         I. Motion to Dismiss Standard

         Under Rule 8(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, pleadings must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Pleadings are to give the defendant “fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Dura Pharms., Inc. v. Broudo, 544 U.S. 336, 346 (2005) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)), overruled in part on other grounds by Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007)). “[T]he pleading standard Rule 8 announces does not require ‘detailed factual allegations, ' but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). “A pleading that offers ‘labels and conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

         Under Rule 12(b)(6), a defendant may move, in lieu of an answer, for dismissal of a complaint for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” To resolve such a motion, courts “must accept as true all [factual] allegations contained in a complaint, ” but need not accept “legal conclusions.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. For this reason, “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice” to insulate a claim against dismissal. Id. “[A] complaint must contain ...


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