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Brescia v. LTF Club Management Company, LLC

United States District Court, S.D. New York

January 9, 2020

KRISTEN BRESCIA, Plaintiff,
v.
LTF CLUB MANAGEMENT COMPANY, LLC, LTF CLUB OPERATIONS COMPANY, INC., LTF GROUND LEASE COMPANY, LLC, KELLY FREDERICKS, JIM FIORELLO, SUSAN MISTRI, CARRIE JONES, ERIC BETZ, AND JOHN DOES "1" THROUGH "10", Defendants.

          OPINION & ORDER

          NELSON S. ROMAN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Kristen Brescia ("Plaintiff) brings this action against LTF Club Management Company, LLC, LTF Club Operations Company, Inc., LTF Ground Lease Company, LLC (collectively, "LTF"), Kelly Fredericks, Jim Fiorello, Susan Mistri, Carrie Jones, Eric Betz, and John Does 1 through 10 (collectively, the "Individual Defendants") (all together, "Defendants"), asserting seven causes of action arising under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. ("Title VII"), New York State Human Rights Law, NY. Exec. Law § 296 et seq. ("NYSHRL"), and state common law. (First Amend. Compl. ("FAC"), ECF No. 21.) Plaintiff alleges (1) retaliation (First and Second Causes of Action), constructive termination (Third and Fourth Causes of Action), and negligent hiring (Seventh Cause of Action) against LTF, (2) aiding and abetting of retaliation and constructive termination against the Individual Defendants (Fifth Cause of Action), and (3) sexual assault and battery against Defendant Betz (Sixth Cause of Action). (Id.)

         Presently before the Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss the FAC's Third, Fourth, and Seventh Causes of Action, as well as certain allegations in the Fifth Cause of Action. (Defs. Mem. of Law in Support of Mot. to Dismiss (“Defs. Mot.”), ECF No. 23.) Plaintiff opposes. For the following reasons, the motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

         BACKGROUND

         The following facts are derived from the FAC. They are assumed to be true for the purposes of the motion.

         A. Plaintiffs Employment with LTF

         In or around January 2017, Plaintiff was hired to be a personal trainer at Life Time Fitness, located in West Harrison at 1 Westchester Park Drive (the “Club”). (FAC ¶ 24.) As a personal trainer, Plaintiff did not receive a fixed salary. (Id. ¶ 25.) Rather, she received an income that was a calculated percentage of the price paid by clients for a private session, as determined by LTF. (Id.) Plaintiff began her employment on January 23, 2017. (Id. ¶ 26.)

         Around the end of August 2017, Plaintiff was accepted into a graduate program at Pace University for biochemistry and molecular cell biology and received an academic scholarship to attend starting in September 2017. (Id. ¶ 46.) Plaintiff met with Defendant Fiorello, the personal training manager at the Club, to speak about her future. (Id. ¶ 47.) During their meeting, Defendant Fiorello assured Plaintiff that she would become a manager at either the Club (if the position opened), or another Life Time Fitness club in the Northeast, namely the soon-to-be-opened Chappaqua location. (Id. ¶ 48.) Defendant Fiorello thereafter took several steps to help Plaintiff obtain a managerial position. For example, he (1) ensured that the online certifications for Member Onboarding Managers (“MOM”) were uploaded so that Plaintiff could be promoted, (2) told the manager who oversaw new hires to “assign” Plaintiff to one, (3) told Plaintiff to be a mentor and to start acting like a manager, (4) told Plaintiff to continue attending leadership meetings and to work closely with Duncan Forbes, the MOM at Harrison, and (5) had Plaintiff work with the new hires, in general. (Id. ¶ 49.) Based on Fiorello's representations and actions, Plaintiff decided to defer her acceptance to Pace University for one year. (Id. ¶ 50.)

         B. The Sexual Harassment/Assault Incidents and Plaintiffs Reporting

         During her employment at the Club, Plaintiff was the victim of several incidents of sexual misconduct by co-workers. First, on Plaintiffs first day of employment, a male coworker pulled his pants down in front of Plaintiff in the unisex employee locker room and then spoke with her while she ate an apple during her break. (Id. ¶ 27.) Plaintiff reported the incident to Defendant Fiorello, who in turn reported the incident to Defendant Mistri, the Club's general manager. (Id. ¶¶ 28-29.) The employee was fired, but Plaintiff alleges that she was not comfortable with the process. (Id. ¶ 30.) In particular, Plaintiff maintains that Defendant Mistri was unfriendly and appeared annoyed at Plaintiff for having reported the incident. (Id. ¶ 31.)

         Several months later, on June 30, 2017, Plaintiff attended an after-hours work event, i.e., an “outing, ” to celebrate employees hitting a budget target set by LTF. (Id. ¶ 32.) According to Plaintiff, these outings generally involved some form of drinking, and employees generally were admonished if they did not attend. (Id. ¶¶ 33-34.) As such, Plaintiff felt pressure to attend this outing. (Id. ¶ 35.)

         When Plaintiff arrived, nearly everyone was drunk. (Id. ¶ 36.) As the night progressed, Defendant Betz eventually texted Plaintiff to ask if he could come over to her house. (Id. ¶ 37.) Plaintiff agreed, and the two ended up congregating at her back patio. (Id. ¶¶ 37-38.) After about an hour, Plaintiff asked Defendant Betz to leave. (Id. ¶ 38.) Defendant Betz ignored her request and instead forcefully, and without her consent, picked up Plaintiff, kissed her, put his hands up her shirt and shorts, and improperly touched her. (Id.) In doing so, Defendant Betz ignored Plaintiff s refusals. (Id.)

         Plaintiff was reluctant to bring a complaint to management's attention, in part due to the negative experience she had reporting the first sexual harassment incident, her fear of not being believed, the social stigma of being a sexual assault survivor, her relationships at the club, and possible retaliation. (Id. ¶ 39.) According to Plaintiff, Defendant Betz was a “rock star” who brought in a lot of money.[1] (Id. ¶ 40.) Notwithstanding her reservations, on July 1, 2017, Plaintiff told Forbes about the incident. (Id. ¶ 42.) Although he was required by law to report the incident, Forbes agreed-presumably at Plaintiffs request-not to say anything. (Id. ¶ 44.)

         Over the next few weeks, Plaintiff grew anxious and uncomfortable in Defendant Betz's presence. (Id. ¶ 45.) Plaintiff felt that Defendant Betz “always seemed to be hanging around.” (Id.) Eventually, on October 12, 2017, Defendant Betz made a gesture to Plaintiff, who was training with a client, from across the room. (Id. ¶ 52.) The gesture upset Plaintiff, causing her to retreat to the back room of the Club. (Id.) Soon after, Forbes found Plaintiff crying and admitted to her that he should have reported Defendant Betz to Human Resources the day she informed him of the June 30th incident. (Id. ¶¶ 52-53.) Forbes told Plaintiff to report Defendant Betz promptly to Defendant Fiorello. (Id. ¶ 53.)

         Although still hesitant to file a report and start an official investigation, Plaintiff followed Forbes's advice and reported the incident to Defendant Fiorello the next day. (Id. ¶ 54.) Defendant Fiorello was upset and expressed that he felt somewhat responsible because the assault occurred during the June 30th outing. (Id. ¶ 55.) He insisted that Plaintiff speak to Human Resources about the incident. (Id. ¶ 55.) Plaintiff followed Defendant Fiorello's advice and reported the incident to Defendant Fredericks, an employee in Human Resources. (Id. ¶ 56.)

         Plaintiff expressed her concern to Defendant Frederick that there was nothing to do at this point, given that the incident had occurred months prior, and that it would just be her word against Defendant Betz. (Id. ¶ 57.) Defendant Fredericks, however, made it clear to Plaintiff that “[Defendant Betz] shouldn't get away with what he did.” (Id.) She went on to explain, “If he did [sexually assault] you, he either has done it to someone else or will do it to someone else if he gets away with it this time.” (Id.) Defendant Fredericks then stated that she would talk to Defendant Betz, who would most likely be suspended during the investigation. (Id. ¶ 58.) Plaintiff later followed up with Defendant Fiorello, who reiterated that Plaintiff was “doing the right thing” and apologized that she had to go through this process. (Id. ¶ 59.)

         C. Plaintiff Reports the Incident to the Police

         With both the Club's support, and given Defendant Frederick's comments, Plaintiff filed a criminal complaint against Defendant Betz on October 17, 2017. (Id. ¶ 63.) The next day, Plaintiff met with Detective Heinz of the Pelham Police Department to provide him with a statement on Defendant Betz's sexual assault. (Id. ¶ 64.) During their meeting, Detective Heinz told Plaintiff that Defendant Betz had been arrested in Missouri for assault. (Id. ¶ 65.) According to Plaintiff, upon her information and belief, LTF knew, or should have known, of this prior assault before offering him employment. (Id. ¶ 65.1.)

         D. Defendants Implement New Schedules

         The next day, on October 14, 2017, during a meeting with Defendants Fiorello and Mistri, Plaintiff was told that her schedule would be adjusted, together with Defendant Betz's schedule, so that they only overlapped for three hours each shift. (Id. ¶ 61.) Under this arrangement, Defendant Betz was also to vacate the Club by 3:00 p.m. (Id.) Notwithstanding these adjustments, Plaintiff felt uncomfortable with having overlap with Defendant Betz, and she felt that he should have borne the burden of any rescheduling conflict. (Id. ¶ 62.)

         Ten days later, on October 24, 2017, Plaintiff saw Defendant Betz at the Club at around 3:30 p.m., which was contrary to the scheduling arrangement Defendants Fiorello and Mistri had communicated to Plaintiff. (Id. ¶ 66.) Plaintiff texted Defendant Fiorello for clarification about why Defendant Betz was at the club after 3:00 p.m., but she did not receive a response. (Id. ¶ 67.)

         She then reached out to Defendant Fredericks, who was surprised that no one had told Plaintiff of the “new schedule” that had been implemented. (Id. ¶ 68.) According to Defendant Fredericks, the Club did not want to impact member experience by having Defendant Betz move his schedule around. (Id. ¶ 69.) It therefore created a new schedule where she and Defendant Betz would overlap for six hours during each day, rather than three hours. (Id.)

         E. Defendant Betz's Arrest, Continued Employment at the Club, and Subsequent Charge and Conviction

         The next day, on October 25, 2017, Detective Heinz showed up to the Club to look for Defendant Betz. (Id. ¶ 70.) Defendant Betz, however, had slipped away because, upon Plaintiffs information and belief, someone at the Club had tipped him off. (Id. ¶ 71.) When he asked whether Defendant Betz would be fired, Detective Heinz was told that he would.[2] (Id. ¶ 71.) Despite this assurance, Defendant Betz continued to work at the Club, teach classes, and receive all benefits. (Id. ¶ 82.)

         On December 14, 2017, Defendant Betz turned himself into the police and was charged for forcible touching under New York Penal Law § 130.52 (sexual abuse in the third degree) and harassment under Penal Law § 240.26(1) (harassment in the second degree). On October 11, 2018, Defendant Betz pled guilty. (Id.) The next week, on October 18, 2018, LTF terminated Defendant Betz's employment. (Id.)

         F. Defendants' Retaliatory Conduct

         On October 25, 2017, prior to Defendant Betz turning himself, Plaintiff received an email from the Club that set out further changes to her and Defendant Betz's schedules. (Id. ¶ 72.) Although their schedules no longer overlapped, the change negatively impacted Plaintiff far more than Defendant Betz. (Id. ¶ 73.) Specifically, Plaintiff lost 5.5 hours of work each week and was unable to move a substantial number of clients into her new schedule, thereby reducing her compensation. (Id. ¶ 74.) Plaintiff was also no longer able to attend leadership meetings, which affected her place on the Club's managerial track. (Id.)

         Plaintiff brought up her frustrations with coworkers. During one such time, Forbes found Plaintiff in tears as she spoke about the situation. (Id. ¶ 75.) He pulled her into Defendant Fiorello's office and told her that she could get in trouble by talking with other trainers about her issues with Defendant Betz and scheduling. (See id.) Forbes also admonished Plaintiff by informing her that this was “no way to act . . . if she wanted to be a manager.” (Id.) Later that evening, Defendant Fredericks reprimanded Plaintiff and reminded her that all communications about Defendant Betz were to go through Defendant Fredericks. (Id. ¶ 76.)

         Going forward, Plaintiff faced multiple negative repercussions: (1) she was no longer invited to leadership meetings; (2) Defendants Fiorello and Frederick ceased speaking with her; (3) Forbes informed her that he could not speak with her and that the Club also prohibited him from speaking with Detective Heinz; and (4) Plaintiff generally received the cold shoulder from her coworkers. (Id. ΒΆ 77.) Plaintiff maintains, upon information and belief, that LTF, through Defendants Fredericks, ...


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