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Braun v. Administrators for Professions, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. New York

July 26, 2018

JEANNE BRAUN, Plaintiff,
v.
ADMINISTRATORS FOR THE PROFESSIONS, INC., ANTHONY J. BONOMO, and CARL BONOMO, Defendants.

          Attorney for Plaintiff H.P. Sean Dweck, Esq.

          Attorney for Defendants Kenneth Adam Novikoff, Esq.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          Denis R. Hurley Unites States District Judge

         INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Jeanne Braun (“Plaintiff”) brought this action for employment discrimination against Administrators for the Professions, Inc. (“AFP”), Anthony J. Bonomo (“A. Bonomo”), and Carl Bonomo (“C. Bonomo”) (collectively “Defendants”) alleging gender discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the New York State Human Rights Law (“NYSHRL”), and age discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”) and the NYSHRL. (Compl. [DE 1] ¶¶ 30-45.)

         Presently before the Court is Defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c) (“Rule 12(c)”) for failure to plead a plausible claim of age or gender discrimination. (Mem. in Supp. [DE 24] at 1 (hereinafter “Mem. in Supp.”).) For the reasons explained below, the motion for judgment on the pleadings is granted as to all claims. However, Plaintiff will be given leave to amend her Complaint in accordance with the decision herein.

         BACKGROUND

         The following relevant facts come from the Complaint and are assumed true for purposes of the motion for judgment on the pleadings.

         Plaintiff is a woman who is 61-years old. (Compl. ¶ 6.) She was 59-years old at the time that the events leading to this litigation occurred. (See Id. ¶ 29.) Defendant AFP provides risk management, including malpractice insurance, to physicians, hospitals, and healthcare providers in New York State. (Id. ¶ 8.) Defendant A. Bonomo was Plaintiff's supervisor at AFP, and Defendant C. Bonomo was Executive Vice President of AFP. (Id. ¶¶ 13-15.) Both individual defendants had frequent daily contact with Plaintiff. (Id.)

         Plaintiff was hired to work at AFP in 1994, as a vice president. (Id. ¶ 18.) In 1999, she was promoted to Senior Vice President, at which time she became responsible for programs across multiple departments. (Id. ¶ 19.) In 2003, Plaintiff was again promoted, this time to Executive Vice President, and her attendant responsibilities expanded to include multiple divisions of Defendant AFP. (Id. ¶¶ 20-21.) Upon this final promotion, Plaintiff was a member of senior management and supervised a staff of eighteen people. (Id.) Plaintiff was terminated on July 12, 2016. (Id. ¶ 29.)

         Plaintiff alleges that throughout her tenure with AFP she was subjected and exposed to gender and age discrimination. (Id. ¶ 26.) Plaintiff's examples of this “pattern and practice of gender and age discrimination, ” that include but are not limited to: harassment toward women in the workplace that men did not suffer; Plaintiff being excluded from meetings, decision-making, and social events (including a trip to Las Vegas); AFP letting older workers go while retaining younger workers; AFP terminating Plaintiff after she inquired about her retirement benefits; and Plaintiff being told to “deal with it” when she complained of discriminatory behavior by Defendant C. Bonomo to Defendant A. Bonomo. (Id. ¶ 27.) Plaintiff worked for AFP for 22 years-as both an employee and as senior management-and she claims that she suffered bullying, harassment, and embarrassment throughout her time there despite complaints to senior management.

         Plaintiff brought the instant action on July 7, 2017, after fulfilling the requirement to file a Charge of Discrimination with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (Id. ¶ 16.) Defendants brought their motion for judgment on the pleadings on November 27, 2017. (Notice of Motion [DE 22] at 1.)

         LEGAL STANDARD

         The standard for evaluating a motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) is the same as the standard for a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). See Karedes v. Ackerley Group, Inc., 423 F.3d 107, 113 (2d Cir. 2005). In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court applies a “plausibility standard, ” which is guided by “[t]wo working principles.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2d Cir. 2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007); accord Harris v. Mills, 572 F.3d 66, 71-72 (2d Cir. 2009). First, although the Court must accept all allegations as true, this “tenet” is “inapplicable to legal conclusions;” thus, “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678; accord Harris, 572 F.3d at 72.

         Second, only complaints that state a “plausible claim for relief” can survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. Determining whether a complaint does so is “a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Id.; accord Harris, 572 F.3d at 72.

         In making its determination, the Court is confined to “the allegations contained within the four corners of [the] complaint.” Pani v. Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield, 152 F.3d 67, 71 (2d Cir. 1998). However, this has been interpreted broadly to include any document attached to the complaint, any statements or documents incorporated in the complaint by reference, any document on which the complaint heavily relies, and anything of which judicial notice may be taken. See Chambers v. Time Warner, Inc., 282 F.3d 147, 152-53 (2d Cir. 2002) (citations omitted); Kramer v. Time Warner Inc., 937 F.2d 767, 773 (2d Cir. 1991).

         To establish a prima facie case of unlawful discrimination, a plaintiff must show (1) that she is within the protected class, (2) she was qualified for the position, (3) she experienced adverse employment action, and (4) such action occurred under circumstances giving rise to an inference of discrimination. Testa v. CareFusion, 2018 WL 1611378, at *5 (E.D.N.Y. Apr. 3, 2018) (citing McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973)); see also Gorzynski v. JetBlue Airways Corp., 596 F.3d 93, 107 (2d Cir. 2010) (citing Carlton v. Mystic Transp., Inc., 202 F.3d 129, 134 (2d Cir. 2000). For both gender and age discrimination, “this burden is not a heavy one[.]” Gorzynski, 596 F.3d at 107.

         To survive a motion to dismiss, and accordingly a motion for judgment on the pleadings, a discrimination plaintiff need not allege facts establishing each element of a prima facie case of employment discrimination. See Littlejohn v. City of New York, 795 F.3d 297, 310-11 (2d Cir. 2015). “[A]t the pleadings stage . . ., a plaintiff has a ‘minimal burden' of alleging facts ‘suggesting an inference of discriminatory motivation.'” Vega v. Hempstead Union Free Sch. Dist., 801 F.3d 72, 84 (2d Cir. 2015) (quoting Littlejohn, 795 F.3d at 310). The allegations in the complaint “need not give plausible support to the ultimate question of whether the adverse employment action was attributable to discrimination. They need only give plausible support to a minimal inference of discriminatory motivation.” Littlejohn, 795 F.3d at 311; see also Vega, 801 F.3d at 87 (“[A] plaintiff must allege that the employer took adverse action against [him] at least in part for a discriminatory reason, and [he] may do so by alleging facts that directly show discrimination or facts that indirectly show discrimination by giving rise to a plausible inference of discrimination”) (emphasis added).

         “An inference of discrimination can arise from circumstances including, but not limited to, ‘the employer's . . . invidious comments about others in the employee's protected group; or the more favorable treatment of employees not in the protected group; or the sequence of events leading to the plaintiff's discharge.'” Littlejohn, 795 F.3d at 312 (quoting Leibowitz v. Cornell Univ., 584 F.3d 487, 502 (2d Cir. 2009)). Courts making the plausibility determination should do so “mindful of the elusive nature of intentional discrimination” and the frequency by which plaintiffs must “rely on bits and pieces of information to support an inference of discrimination, i.e., a mosaic of intentional discrimination.” Vega, 801 F.3d at 86-87 (italics and internal quotation marks omitted).

         DISCUSSION

         I. The Parties' Arguments

         As Defendants note in their Memorandum in Support, Plaintiff's discrimination claims in the Complaint are imprecise as to whether she intends to make out a hostile work environment claim, a disparate treatment ...


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