Martinez v. RZB Finance LLC, No. 1:2010cv04214 - Document 19 (S.D.N.Y. 2010)

Court Description: OPINION AND ORDER: 11 MOTION to Dismiss. For the foregoing reasons, Defendant's motion to dismiss is granted with respect to the ADA and CFEP A disability discrimination claims and denied with respect to the ADEA, Title VII, and CFEP A age, ra ce, and national origin discrimination claims. The Clerk of the Court is directed to close this motion (docket # 11). A conference is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. on November 15, 2010. (Status Conference set for 11/15/2010 at 04:30 PM before Judge Shira A. Scheindlin.) (Signed by Judge Shira A. Scheindlin on 11/5/10) (db)
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Martinez v. RZB Finance LLC Doc. 19 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK .___________________________________________________ J{ MARIA V. MARTINEZ, OPINION AND ORDER Plaintiff, 10 Civ. 4214 (SAS) - againstRZB FINANCE LLC, Defendant. .--------------------------------------------------- J{ SHIRA A. SCHEINDLIN, U.S.D.J.: I. INTRODUCTION Maria Martinez brings suit against RZB Finance LLC ("Defendant") alleging race and national origin discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), I disability discrimination and retaliation in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ("ADA"),2 age discrimination and retaliation in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 ("ADEA"),3 and age, race, national origin, and disability See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. 2 See id. § 12112 et seq. 3 See 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. 1 Dockets.Justia.com discrimination and retaliation in violation of the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act ("CFEPA,,).4 Defendant moves to dismiss the discrimination claims brought under the ADEA, Title VII, ADA, and CFEPA. For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion is granted in part and denied in part. II. BACKGROUND Martinez is a 48-year old Latina female. s Prior to her termination in April 2009, Martinez had worked for Defendant for over ten years in several accounting positions, the last as Chief Accountant. 6 After returning from a onemonth medical leave in March 2008, Defendant transferred Martinez without explanation from her position as Chief Accountant "to a position without a title in a newly formed department with no other employees, no employees reporting to plaintiff, with fewer, demeaning and inferior responsibilities and no responsibilities related to her previous position as Chief Accountant.,,7 Additionally, the office associated with her new position was located in the basement. 8 Brian Rekos, "a 4 See Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46a-60. 5 See Complaint ("Compl.") , 8. 6 See id. " 9, 11, 12. 7 Id " 13, 15. See id , 14. Martinez alleges that working in the basement aggravated her disability and made her physically ill. See id 8 2 younger, white, male employee in his early twenties without the requisite training, experience and education" replaced Martinez as Chief Accountant. 9 Martinez alleges that throughout her tenure working for Defendant, other younger, non-Latino colleagues, including Rekos, earned more money and received more substantial benefits than she did. IO She also asserts that she made official complaints to her supervisors before her medical leave regarding other instances of age and race discrimination. II Martinez filed a charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") on October 3,2008, and an Affidavit of Illegal Discriminatory Practice with the State of Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities ("CHRO") on January 5, 2009. 12 Defendant terminated Martinez's employment in April 2009.13 The EEOC issued a right to sue letter to Martinez on February 26,2010, and CHRO discharged her claim shortly Id. 19, 31. Prior to his promotion, Rekos had been subordinate to and trained by Martinez. See id. 19. 9 10 See id. 11 See id. 12 See id. 13 See id. 30-32. 17, 18. 6. 11. 3 thereafter. 14 III. LEGAL STANDARD A. Motion to Dismiss The Supreme Court's landmark decisions in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombli 5 and Ashcroft v. Jqbal 16 arguably shifted pleading standards from "simple notice pleading" to a "more heightened form ofpleading,,,17 requiring that allegations in a complaint meet a standard of "plausibility" to survive a motion to dismiss. 18 A claim satisfies the plausibility standard "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.,,19 While plausibility "is not akin to a probability requirement," plausibility requires "more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.,,20 Pleading facts that are "merely consistent 14 See id. 15 550 U.S. 544 (2007). 16 - 17 18 7. U.S. - , 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1955 (2009). Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203,210 (3d Cir. 2009). Twombly, 550 U.S. at 564. 19 Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949 (quotation omitted). 20 Id. (quotation marks omitted). 4 with a defendant's liability,,21 fails to "nudge[ ] [the plaintiff's] claims across the line from the conceivable to plausible.,,22 In reviewing a motion to dismiss, the court must "accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint,,23 and "draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor.,,24 However, the court need not accord "[l]egal conclusions, deductions or opinions couched as factual allegations ... a presumption of truthfulness.,,25 With respect to employment discrimination cases, in Swierkiewicz v. Sorema NA.,26 which preceded Twombly and Iqbal, the Supreme Court rejected a heightened factual pleading requirement. Specifically, the Court held that an employment discrimination complaint need not allege specific facts establishing a 21 Id. (quotation marks omitted). 22 Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. 23 Id. at 572. Accord Rescuecom Corp. v. Google Inc., 562 F.3d 123, 127 (2d Cir. 2009). 24 Ofori-Tenkorang v. American Int 'I Group, Inc., 460 F.3d 296,298 (2d Cir.2006). 25 In re NYSE Specialists Sec. Litig., 503 F.3d 89, 95 (2d Cir. 2007) (quotation omitted). 26 534 U.S. 506 (2002). "The Swierkiewicz holding applies with equal force to any claim ... that the McDonnell Douglas framework covers." Williams v. New York City Housing Auth., 458 F.3d 67, 72 (2d Cir. 2006). 5 prima facie case of discrimination. 27 Rather, "the ordinary [pre-Twombly] rules for assessing the sufficiency of a complaint apply.,,28 The Twombly court held that Swierkiewicz remains good law. 29 However, some courts and commentators have concluded that Twombly and Iqbal repudiated Swierkiewicz, at least to the extent that Swierkiewicz relied upon pre- Twombly pleading standards. 30 Reconciling Swierkiewicz, Twombly, and Iqbal, a complaint need not establish a prima facie case of employment discrimination to survive a motion to dismiss; however, "the claim must be facially plausible and must give fair notice to the defendants of the basis for the claim."31 B. Age Discrimination in Employment Act 27 See id. at 514. 28 Id. at 511. See Twombly, 550 U.S. at 569-70 ("Plaintiffs say that our analysis runs counter to Swierkiewicz ... , [H]owever, Swierkiewicz ... simply reemphasized ... that ... a heightened pleading standard for Title VII cases was contrary to the Federal Rule[s] .... Here, in contrast, we do not require heightened fact pleadings of specifics ....") (quotation marks and citations omitted). 29 See, e.g., Fowler, 578 F.3d at 211 ("We have to conclude, therefore, that because Conley has been specifically repudiated by both Twombly and Iqbal, so too has Swierkiwicz, at least insofar as it concerns pleading requirements and relies on Conley."). 30 31 Fowler v. Scores Holding Co., 677 F. Supp. 2d 673, 679 (S.D.N.Y. 2009). 6 "Claims under the ADEA are governed by the three-step burdenshifting framework set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green . ... "32 Under this framework, a plaintiff must first establish a prima facie case of age discrimination. 33 "[I]f the plaintiff succeeds in establishing a prima facie case of age discrimination, then the burden shifts to the [employer] to articulate a nondiscriminatory reason for the [adverse employment action].,,34 Finally, if the employer articulates a non­discriminatory reason for the challenged action, the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to demonstrate that the defendant's explanation was pretextual. 35 To establish a prima facie case of age discrimination, a plaintiff must show: (1) she is a member of the protected class; (2) she was qualified for her position; (3) she suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) the circumstances surrounding the adverse action give rise to an inference of age discrimination. 36 "A D'Cunha v. GenoveselEckerd Corp., 479 F.3d 193, 194­95 (2d Cir. 2007) (citing McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802 (1973)). 32 33 See id. at 195. 34 Id. 35 See id. 36 See Abdu-Brisson v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., 239 F.3d 456,466 (2d Cir. 2001). 7 plaintiffs burden of establishing a prima facie case is de minimis.,,)7 c. Title VII Title VII proscribes discrimination against or termination of an individual on the basis of "race, color, religion, sex, or national origin."38 To establish a prima facie case of discrimination, a plaintiff must show: "(1) [s]he is a member ofa protected class; (2) [s]he was qualified for the position [s]he held; (3) [s]he suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) the adverse action occurred under circumstances giving rise to the inference of discrimination" based on her membership in the protected class. 39 "The last element may be established, for example, by showing that a similarly situated person not in the protected class was treated more favorably than the plaintiff.,,40 Like ADEA claims, courts analyze Title VII claims under the McDonnell Douglas burden shifting analysisY D. Americans With Disabilities Act 37 Id. at 467. 38 42 U.S.C. § 2000e­2. 39 Ruiz v. County o/Rockland, 609 F.3d 486,492 (2d Cir. 2010). F. Supp. 2d ­ , No. 09 Civ. 6572,2010 WL 768888, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 8,2010). 40 Barbosa v. Continuum Health Partners, Inc., ­ 41 See McDonnell Douglas Corp., 411 U.S. at 802. 8 The ADA prohibits discrimination against a "qualified" individual on the basis of disability.42 An individual is qualified if, with or without reasonable accommodation, she "can perform the essential functions of the employment position that such individual holds or desires."43 The ADA defines disability as either "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities," "a record of such impairment," or "being regarded as having such an impairment."44 The ADA creates a private right of action for disability­based employment discrimination. 45 To establish a prima facie case of discrimination under the ADA, a plaintiff must show: (1) her employer is subject to the ADA; (2) she has a disability within the meaning of the ADA; (3) she was otherwise qualified to perform the essential functions of her job, with or without reasonable accommodation; and (4) she suffered an adverse employment action because of her disability.46 42 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a). 43 Id. § 12112(8). 44 Id. § 12102. 45 See id § 12112(a). 46 See Shannon v. New York City Transit Auth., 332 F.3d 95, 99 (2d Cir. 2003). 9 Courts analyze claims of ADA disability discrimination using the McDonnell Douglas three­part burden shifting analysis. 47 E. Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act CFEP bars an employer from discriminating against an employee A because of her "race, color, religious creed, age, sex, marital status, national origin, ancestry, present or past history of mental disability, mental retardation, learning disability or physical disability" unless the factor in question is a bona fide occupational qualification. 48 Generally, Connecticut courts look to federal precedent for guidance in interpreting CFEP . 49 A Disability discrimination claims under CFEP are the exception to the A federal precedent rule. CFEP defines "physically disabled" as "any individual A who has any chronic physical handicap, infirmity or impairment, whether congenital or resulting from bodily injury, organic processes or changes or from illness."so Thus, the CFEPA definition of disability, not requiring proof o f a See Regional Econ. Cmty. Action Program, Inc. v. City of Middletown, 294 F.3d 35, 48­49 (2d Cir. 2002). 47 48 Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46a­60. 49 See Colby v. Pye & Hogan, LLC, 602 F. Supp. 2d 365, 370 nA (D. Conn. 2009); Levy v. Commissioner on Human Rights & Opportunities, 671 A.2d 349,355 (Conn. 1996). 50 Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46a­51(15). 10 substantially limited major life activity, is broader than the ADA definition. 51 Further, while the ADA embraces claims of "being regarded as having a disability," CFEPA does not provide such a cause of action. 52 IV. DISCUSSION A. ADEA Discrimination Defendant seeks to dismiss Martinez's ADEA discrimination claim for failure to state an adverse employment action or to allege a connection between her age and such an adverse action. 53 To be adverse, the action must effect a change in Martinez's employment conditions that is '''more disruptive than a mere inconvenience or an alteration ofjob responsibilities. ",54 For example, '''[a] materially adverse change might be indicated by a termination of employment, a demotion evidenced by a decrease in wage or salary, a less distinguished title, a material loss of benefits, 51 See Beason v. United Techs. Corp., 337 F.3d 271,278­79 (2d Cir. 2003). 52 See id. at 279­80. See Defendant's Memorandum of Law in Support of Motion to Dismiss the First, Third, Fifth, and Seventh Claims for Relief ("Def. Mem.") at 810. 53 Galabya v. New York City Bd. ofEduc., 202 F.3d 636,640 (2d Cir. 2000) (quoting Crady v. Liberty Nat'l Bank & Trust Co. oflnd., 993 F.2d 132, 136 (7th Cir. 1993)). 54 11 significantly diminished material responsibilities, or other indices ... unique to a particular situation. ",55 Martinez's complaint alleges a transfer to a new position, located in the basement, with a less distinguished title and significantly fewer substantive responsibilities. 56 As Martinez's tennination also qualifies as an adverse employment action,57 her complaint alleges two materially adverse changes in employment status. The circumstances of Martinez's demotion give rise to an inference of age discrimination. "Generally, a plaintiff's replacement by a significantly younger person is evidence of age discrimination.,,58 Martinez, in her late forties at the time, alleges that an employee in "his early twenties" replaced her as Chief Accountant following her demotion, earning greater compensation for the position than she had received. 59 Martinez thus presents circumstances giving rise to an 55 56 57 Id. (quoting Crady, 993 F.3d at 136). See CompL 13­15. See Galabya, 202 F.3d at 640 (quoting Crady, 993 F.3d at 136). Carlton v. Mystic Transp., Inc., 202 F.3d 129, 135 (2d Cir. 2000) (finding an inference of discrimination when a plaintiff's job duties were transferred to employees between eighteen and twenty­five years his junior). Accord D 'Cunha, 479 F.3d at 195 (finding age discrimination where the age difference was eight years). 58 See Compl. " 19,31. Martinez pleads allegations concerning Rekos "upon infonnation and belief." Id. Pleading in such a manner is appropriate for facts, such as hiring practices and salary figures, "particularly within [Defendant's] 59 12 inference of age discrimination. Defendant's motion to dismiss is denied with respect to the ADEA discrimination claim. B. Title VII Discrimination Defendant seeks to dismiss Martinez's Title VII discrimination claim for failure to state an adverse employment action or to allege a connection between her race or national origin and the adverse action. 60 As discussed above, Martinez's demotion and termination both qualify as materially adverse changes in employment. The circumstances of Martinez's demotion suggest race and national origin discrimination. There is no rigid rule about what circumstances give rise to an inference of discrimination. 61 For example, it may be established by showing that "a similarly situated person not in the protected class was treated more favorably than the plaintiff.,,62 Martinez alleges that a higher­paid white male replaced her as Chief Accountant following her unexplained demotion. Martinez knowledge and control." Boykin v. KeyCorp, 521 F.3d 202, 215 (2d Cir. 2008). 60 See Def. Mem. at 8­10. See Kamrowski v. Morrison Mgmt. Specialist, No. 05 Civ. 9234,2010 WL 3932354, at *13 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 29,2010). 61 62 See Barbosa, ­ F. Supp. 2d ­ , 2010 WL 768888, at *4. 13 thus describes a facially plausible claim. 63 Defendant's motion to dismiss is denied with respect to the Title VII discrimination claim. c. ADA Discrimination Defendant seeks to dismiss Martinez's ADA discrimination claim for failure to allege a disability or to explain how Defendant perceived her to be disabled. 64 Martinez's complaint contains no description of her alleged disability. The only references are to a medical "disability" or "condition.,,65 The most specific allegation is that her disability "includes a severe allergy to mold."66 To withstand a motion to dismiss, Martinez must assert a facially See Fowler, 677 F. Supp. 2d at 279. See also Swierkiewicz, 534 U.S. at 514 ("[The plaintiff s] complaint detailed the events leading to his termination, provided relevant dates, and included the ages and nationalities of at least some of the relevant persons involved with his termination. These allegations give respondent fair notice of what petitioner's claims are and the grounds upon which they rest. "). 63 64 See Def. Mem. at 12­15. See, e.g., Comp!. 13 ("[U]pon returning from a one month leave due to a medical disability ...."); id 14 ("RZB knew of p laintiffs medical disability which required her to take leave, and perceived and regarded her as disabled."); id ("When plaintiff returned to work from her medical leave ... her supervisor ... told [her] that she no longer held the position that she had before going on disability."); id. 16 ("The environment in the basement where plaintiff was required to work upon her demotion aggravated her medical condition ...."). 65 66 Id 16. 14 plausible claim that gives fair notice to Defendant of its basis. 67 Vague descriptions of a n alleged medical condition fall short of the type of pleading a plausible ADA claim requires. 68 Thus, Martinez's ADA claim is dismissed for failing to allege a disability. D. CFEP A Discrimination CFEP looks to federal precedent to decide age, race, and national A origin discrimination claims. 69 As Martinez's ADEA and Title VII discrimination A claims have not been dismissed, her CFEP claims with respect to age, race, and national origin discrimination may also proceed. A Regarding disability discrimination, Defendant argues that the CFEP claim should be dismissed because, unlike the ADA, the statute does not provide an action for "regarded as disabled" claims. 70 As Martinez only alleges that A Defendant perceived her to be disabled/ 1 her CFEP claim for disability discrimination is dismissed. 67 Fowler, 677 F. Supp. 2d at 679. See Padilla v. New York State Dep 't ofLabor, No. 09 Civ. 5291,2010 WL 3835182, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 13,2010). 68 69 See Colby, 602 F. Supp. 2d at 370 n.4; Levy, 671 A.2d at 355. 70 See Def. Mem. at 16. 71 See Compl. 17. 15 v. CONCLUSION For the foregoing reasons, Defendant's motion to dismiss is granted with respect to the ADA and CFEP disability discrimination claims and denied A with respect to the ADEA, Title VII, and CFEPA age, race, and national origin discrimination claims. The Clerk of the Court is directed to close this motion (docket # 11). A conference is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. on November 15,2010. Dated: New York, New York November 5, 2010 16 ­ Appearances - For Plaintiff: Christine A. Rodriguez, Esq. Law Office of Christine A. Rodriguez 225 Broadway, Suite 2900 New York, New York 10007 (212) 430­6525 For Defendant: James J. Maloney, Esq. Kavanagh Maloney & Osnato LLP 415 Madison Avenue New York, New York 10017 (212) 207­8400 17