Boyce v. New York City Mission Soc.

Decision Date05 May 1997
Docket NumberNo. 96 Civ. 2480(DAB).,96 Civ. 2480(DAB).
Citation963 F.Supp. 290
PartiesMelodie Starita BOYCE, Ed. D., Plaintiff, v. NEW YORK CITY MISSION SOCIETY; Robert W. Sheehan, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the New York City Mission Society; The Board of Directors of the New York City Mission Society; Emilio Bermiss, individually and as Executive Director of the New York City Mission Society, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of New York

Warren J. Bennia, New York City (Warren J. Bennia, of counsel), for Plaintiff.

Kenny & Stearns, New York City (Gino A. Zonghetti, of counsel), for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM and ORDER

BATTS, District Judge.

Plaintiff, Melodie Starita Boyce, Ed. D., ("Boyce"), brings this cause of action alleging employment discrimination based on sex, disability and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq. ("Title VII"); 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981a, 1988,1 12101 et seq.; New York Executive Law §§ 296 et seq.; and the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601 et seq. Plaintiff also asserts a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress pursuant to New York State common law. Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Defendants move to dismiss for failure to state a claim.

I. BACKGROUND

In September 1993, Plaintiff, an African-American woman, was hired by the New York City Mission Society, ("Mission Society"), as the Executive Assistant to Emilio Bermiss ("Bermiss"), Executive Director of the Mission Society. (Compl. ¶¶ 5, 10.) At that time, Boyce was assigned managerial duties. (Id. ¶ 11.) Boyce's job title was changed from Senior Director Special Projects/Special Assistant to the Executive Director of the Mission Society ("Special Assistant"). (Id. ¶ 10.)

In or about July 1994, Boyce alleges that she was subject to a continual pattern of harassment at the Mission Society by Bermiss, Robert W. Sheehan ("Sheehan"), Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Mission Society, and the Board of Directors of the Mission Society (the "Board"). (Id. ¶¶ 7, 8, 11.) Specifically, Boyce claims the Defendants engaged in acts against her that included "yelling, cursing, belittling her doctoral degree, assigning secretarial duties to her, indicating that she was not liked, pounding on her office door when it was closed, defendant Bermiss indicating that he would put his foot up her ass[,] and termination of her employment." (Id. ¶ 11.)

On January 20, 1995, Bermiss asked Boyce to come to his office. Boyce complied and Bermiss locked and blocked the door preventing Boyce from leaving. (Id. ¶ 12.) While in the office, Bermiss accused Boyce of trying to take his job. (Id.) Boyce asked to be treated as a professional and continued her attempts to leave the office despite Bermiss' contrary efforts. (Id.) Eventually, Bermiss allowed Boyce to leave the office. (Id.)

As a result of Bermiss' mistreatment, Boyce allegedly suffered chest pains, shortness of breath, anxiety and humiliation. (Id. ¶ 13.) She obtained medical consultation and took disability leave from January 24, 1995, to February 2, 1995. (Id.)

Upon returning to work on February 3, 1995, Boyce discovered that all her work files and documents had been removed from her office and placed in boxes on the floor of Bermiss' office. (Id. ¶ 14.) Boyce was told that Bermiss indicated that her services were no longer needed. (Id.) Boyce also found a note in her office stating that Bermiss wanted to continue the discussion he had with her on January 20th. (Id.) Boyce went to see Bermiss and asked about her employment status. (Id. ¶ 15.) Bermiss told Boyce that he wanted to wait for the arrival of Lynn Law, Director of Development at the Mission Society, before having any further discussion with her. (Id. ¶¶ 15-16.)

Boyce returned to her office and began to experience shortness of breath and chest pains. (Id. ¶ 16.) She called a member of the Board and recounted what had transpired in her January 20th and February 3rd discussions with Bermiss, indicating that because of the pain she was experiencing she could not wait for the arrival of Ms. Law. (Id.) The board member asked Boyce to send a packet of information explaining what had transpired between her and Bermiss to all the members of the Board. (Id.) Due to the pain she was experiencing, Boyce left work immediately after the conversation. (Id.) Documents indicating that Boyce had been harassed by Bermiss and had suffered harmful effects to her health, thereby requiring a leave of absence from work, were mailed to all the members of the Board on February 6, 1995. (Id. ¶ 17.)

On February 15, 1995, Boyce and her legal counsel met with members of an Executive Committee of the Board, including Defendant Sheehan. During the meeting Sheehan indicated that Boyce was still employed by the Mission Society and was being placed on a paid leave of absence. (Id.) Sheehan also indicated that during the leave, the Board would conduct an investigation of Boyce's allegations against Bermiss. (Id.) Sheehan indicated that he did not wish to comment on what potential impact the investigation would have on Boyce's future employment with the Mission Society. (Id.)

On April 7, 1995, Boyce and her legal counsel, met with Sheehan at the law offices of Chadbourne & Parke. (Id. ¶ 18.) During the meeting, Sheehan offered Boyce the option, in lieu of outplacement counselling paid for by the Mission Society, of staying on the payroll for an amount of time for which compensation would equal the cost of outplacement services. (Id.) Sheehan also asked Boyce to sign a release of all claims against the Mission Society and indicated that if Boyce did not accept the offer, her employment with the Mission Society would terminate on that date. (Id.)

Boyce rejected the offer and made a counter-offer which she said was subject to negotiation. (Id. ¶ 19.) Sheehan responded that no further discussion would occur, that he would seek legal counsel and would send a letter to Boyce within the following week. (Id.)

On April 11, 1995, Sheehan sent a letter to Boyce indicating that her employment and all benefits were terminated effective April 7, 1995. (Id. ¶ 20.) Sheehan also wrote that the Mission Society considered Boyce to have voluntarily resigned on February 3, 1995. (Id.) The letter also indicated that the Board of Trustees or the Board had conducted a thorough investigation of Boyce's allegations. (Id. ¶ 21.) Boyce was not privy to the information resulting from the investigation nor did she participate or contribute to the investigation. (Id.) The Board concluded there was no merit to Plaintiff's allegations. (Id.)

Boyce alleges that the Mission Society and Bermiss have manifested a continuous pattern of harassment, belittlement, humiliation and infliction of emotional distress upon her, and that her employment was terminated because of her sex, disability and/or in retaliation for complaining about such discriminatory treatment. (Id. ¶ 22.)

II. DISCUSSION

"On a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must accept as true the factual allegations in the complaint, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff." Bolt Elec., Inc. v. City of N.Y., 53 F.3d 465, 469 (2d Cir.1995) (citations omitted); Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236, 94 S.Ct. 1683, 1686, 40 L.Ed.2d 90 (1974). The Court will grant such a motion only if after viewing plaintiff's allegations in a most favorable light, "it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S.Ct. 99, 102, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957); Walker v. City of N.Y., 974 F.2d 293, 298 (2d Cir.1992), cert. denied, 507 U.S. 961, 113 S.Ct. 1387, 122 L.Ed.2d 762 (1993). Accordingly, the factual allegations set forth and considered herein are presumed to be true for the purpose of deciding the motions to dismiss.

A. Sex Discrimination Pursuant to Title VII and Section 296

In her first cause of action, Plaintiff alleges discrimination based on sex and retaliation, pursuant to Title VII. In her second cause of action, Plaintiff alleges discrimination based on sex, disability and retaliation, pursuant to New York State law. The Court will first address Plaintiff's sex discrimination claims.

Specifically, Boyce alleges that during the course of her employment at the Mission Society she was subject to discrimination on the basis of her sex. Title VII prohibits an employer from discriminating against an individual employee "because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). To state a legally sufficient claim of employment discrimination, a plaintiff must allege that she: (1) is a member of a protected class; (2) was qualified for a particular position; (3) was denied a privilege of her employment; (4) which denial occurred under circumstances giving rise to an inference of discrimination. McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 1824, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973); Rosen v. Thornburgh, 928 F.2d 528, 532 (2d Cir.1991).

A "complaint consisting of nothing more than naked assertions, and setting forth no facts upon which a Court could find a violation of the Civil Rights Act, fails to state a claim under 12(b)(6)." Martin v. New York State Dep't of Mental Hygiene, 588 F.2d 371, 372 (2d Cir.1978) (applying standards to a Title VII claim); Yusuf v. Vassar College, 827 F.Supp. 952, 955 (S.D.N.Y.1993) (applying these standards to a § 1981 and 20 U.S.C. § 1681 claim), aff'd in part and rev'd in part, 35 F.3d 709 (2d Cir.1994).

In the case at bar, Boyce's Complaint clearly satisfies the first and third pleading requirements for employment discrimination. Boyce expressly pleads that she is a woman and, therefore, a member of a protected class. Boyce also demonstrates she was denied a...

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