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Ashmeade v. Citizens Bank

United States District Court, S.D. New York

June 22, 2018

KEITH ASHMEADE, Plaintiff,
v.
CITIZENS BANK; CITIZENS SECURITIES, INC; CITIZENS FINANCIAL GROUP, INC.; and JENNIFER DEPEAU, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          JOHN G. KOELTL, DISTRICT JUDGE

         The pro se plaintiff, Keith Ashmeade, brings this action against his alleged former employers, Citizens Bank, N.A. ("Citizens Bank"), and Citizens Securities, Inc. ("Citizens Securities") (collectively, "Citizens"), as well as his former supervisor, Jennifer Depeau ("Depeau"), and Citizens Financial Group ("CFG"), the alleged parent company of Citizens, alleging claims arising out of the termination of his employment. Ashmeade alleges claims of discrimination on the basis of his personal bankruptcy, in violation of 11 U.S.C. § 525(b) and the New York State Human Rights Law, N.Y. Exec. Law §§ 2 90 et seq. (the "NYSHRL"); state law claims of defamation and wrongful termination caused by the defendants' alleged negligence, failure to train, and negligent supervision; and federal claims of racial discrimination, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq. Ashmeade also asserts that the defendants committed several so-called "procedural violations" by improperly removing this case from state court and failing to respond in a timely manner to his original Complaint. Ashmeade seeks sanctions against the defendants pursuant to Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for these "procedural violations." Presently before the Court is a motion pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to dismiss Ashmeade's Amended Complaint and an alternative motion pursuant to Rule 12(f) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to strike any remaining claims of procedural errors. For the following reasons, the defendants' motion to dismiss is granted in part and denied in part.

         I.

         In deciding a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the allegations in the complaint are accepted as true, and all reasonable inferences must be drawn in the plaintiff's favor. McCarthy v. Dun & Bradstreet Corp., 482 F.3d 184, 191 (2d Cir. 2007). A court's function on a motion to dismiss is "not to weigh the evidence that might be presented at a trial but merely to determine whether the complaint itself is legally sufficient." Goldman v. Belden, 754 F.2d 1059, 1067 (2d Cir. 1985). A court should not dismiss the complaint if the plaintiff has stated "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). While the Court should construe the factual allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, "the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in the complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions." Id.

         A court may also consider documents incorporated by reference in the complaint as well as documents the plaintiff either had in the plaintiff's possession or had knowledge of and upon which the plaintiff relied in bringing suit. See Cortec Indus., Inc. v. Sum Holding L.P., 949 F.2d 42, 48 (2d Cir. 1991).

         When faced with a pro se complaint, a court must "construe [the] complaint liberally and interpret it to raise the strongest arguments that it suggests." Chavis v. Chappius, 618 F.3d 162, 170 (2d Cir. 2010) (brackets and internal quotation marks omitted). A court may also consider allegations that are contained in the plaintiff's opposition papers. See Burgess v. Goord/ No. 98-CV-2077, 1999 WL 33458, at *1 n.l (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 26, 1999) (collecting cases); see also Kaplan v. N.Y. State Dep't of Corr. Servs., No. 99-cv-5856, 2000 WL 959728, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. July 10, 2000). "Even in a pro se case, however, . . .threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Chavis, 618 F.3d at 170. Thus, although a court is "obligated to draw the most favorable inferences" that the complaint supports, it "cannot invent factual allegations that [the plaintiff] has not pled." Idw* see also Estevez v. City of New York, No. 16-cv-73, 2017 WL 1167379, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 28, 2017).

         II.

         The following facts are taken from Ashmeade's Amended Complaint ("Am. Compl.") and are accepted as true for the purposes of this motion to dismiss.

         On January 4, 2016, Ashmeade agreed to work as a licensed banker at Citizens Bank, a subsidiary of CFG, in Middletown, New York. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 2, 3. His position with Citizens constituted at-will employment. PL's Response at 12. As a licensed banker, Ashmeade was subject to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority ("FINRA") regulations and to the employment policies of Citizens Bank. Am. Compl. 1 8. Ashmeade's supervisor at Citizens Bank throughout his employment was the Middletown Branch Manager, Jennifer Depeau. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 6, 24.

         In May, 2016, Ashmeade filed a bankruptcy petition pursuant to Chapter 13 of Title 11 of the United States Code. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 4, 8; See 11 U.S.C. §§ 1301 et seq.[2]

         Citizens Bank then received an anonymous phone call informing it that Ashmeade had petitioned for bankruptcy under Chapter 13. Am. Compl. ¶ 4. FINRA rules required Ashmeade to disclose any history of bankruptcy by updating his FINRA Form U4. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 2, 8; Am. Compl. Exs. 7.1a, 7.1b. As Ashemeade's employer, Citizens was responsible for reviewing and ensuring such disclosures were in compliance with FINRA rules. See Am. Compl. fl 8, 9; Exs. 7.1a, 7.1b. Citizens therefore conducted an investigation into Ashmeade's bankruptcy disclosures pursuant to its authority as a FINRA employer. Am. Compl. ¶ 5; Exs. 7.1a, 7.1b. Citizens closed the investigation after two months and did not share with Ashmeade the information it gathered. Am. Compl. ¶ 5. After Citizens closed the investigation, Depeau verbally informed Ashmeade of a "stipulation" that the he could not be promoted until his Chapter 13 case was completed. Am. Compl. ¶ 5; see Am. Compl. ¶¶ 6, 8.

         Late in 2016, Citizens discovered that in April, 2016, Ashmeade failed to mark a personal day as "Paid Time Off" in the time-keeping system. Am. Compl. f¶ 14, 16, 17. Depeau reviewed and approved Ashmeade's erroneous timesheet when Ashmeade initially completed it, and Depeau only became aware of the error over six months later upon an end-of-year review. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 14, 17. Depeau informed Ashmeade that this error was an oversight. Am. Compl. ¶ 17. Upon asking Citizens's Human Resources ("HR") department about the procedure to amend his timesheet, Ashmeade was not given any warning of a risk of termination. Am. Compl. ¶ 14. Ashmeade completed a manual adjustment to his timesheet which was subsequently submitted by Depeau. Am. Compl. ¶ 15.

         Ashmeade's employment with Citizens Bank was terminated in January, 2017. Am. Compl. ¶ 24. Before termination, Ashmeade received strong performance reviews from his supervisor and received no warnings of inadequate conduct. Am. Compl. ¶ 14. Pursuant to their obligation to disclose the reason for termination of a FINRA-registered employee on the terminated employee's Form 05, Citizens disclosed that Ashmeade was "[d]ischarged . . . due to policy violations. Mr. Ashmeade falsified his bank time card. Not investment related." Ex. 7.2.

         One month after his termination in January 2017, Ashmeade's position was filled by a former colleague who is twenty years younger and less qualified than Ashmeade. Ashmeade's replacement maintained a friendly relationship with Depeau, and she is not a member of a protected class. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 21, 24. Since his discharge from Citizens Bank, Ashmeade has had difficulty finding a new job and suffered adverse employment consequences. Am. Compl. ¶ 20.

         Ashemeade filed this pro se action on October 27, 2017, in New York State court. The defendants jointly removed the case to federal court on November 17, 2017, invoking this Court's federal question and supplemental jurisdiction. Dkt. No. 1; see 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1367, 1441. On November 27, 2017, the defendants moved for a more definite statement of Ashmeade's claim. Dkt. Nos. 6-10. After a brief exchange of correspondence and a pre-motion hearing before the Court, Ashmeade filed the operative Amended Complaint on January 8, 2018. Dkt. No. 18. The defendants moved to dismiss Ashmeade's Amended Complaint on January 26, 2018. Dkt. Nos. 23-26.

         III.

         A.

         The defendants move to dismiss Ashmeade's claim of bankruptcy discrimination under 11 U.S.C. § 525(b) because Ashmeade has failed to state sufficient facts to claim ...


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