Sacay v. Research Foundation of City Univer. of Ny, 97-CV-4002(NG).

Decision Date27 March 2002
Docket NumberNo. 97-CV-4002(NG).,No. 97-CV-4006(NG).,97-CV-4002(NG).,97-CV-4006(NG).
Citation193 F.Supp.2d 611
PartiesMelanie SACAY, Plaintiff, v. THE RESEARCH FOUNDATION OF THE CITY UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK; the City University of New York; Brooklyn College; Christine Persico, individually and in her capacity as Assistant Dean for Brooklyn College; and Mary Rose Morris, individually and in her capacity as Director of the Office of Adult and Continuing Education at Brooklyn College, Defendants. Valerie Sacay, Plaintiff, v. The Research Foundation of the City University of New York; the City University of New York; Brooklyn College; Christine Persico, individually and in her capacity as Assistant Dean for Brooklyn College; and Mary Rose Morris, individually and in her capacity as Director of the Office of Adult and Continuing Education at Brooklyn College, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of New York

Rebecca Northey New York, NY, for plaintiff.

James O'Brien, Joel Graber, New York, NY, for defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

GERSHON, District Judge.

Valerie Sacay and her daughter Melanie Sacay bring these separate actions against the Research Foundation of the City University of New York ("Research Foundation"), the City University of New York ("CUNY"), Brooklyn College, Assistant Dean for Brooklyn College Christine Persico, and Director of the Office of Adult and Continuing Education at Brooklyn College Mary Rose Morris for discrimination and retaliation under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12112, 12117; the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. §§ 701 et seq.; New York State Human Rights Law ("NYSHRL"), Executive Law § 296 et. seq.; New York City Human Rights Law ("NYCHRL"), Administrative Code of the City of New York § 8-107; and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of the First, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution. Defendants move for summary judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 on all of both plaintiffs' claims.

FACTS

Unless otherwise indicated, the following facts are undisputed.

1. Valerie Sacay

a. Employment and Medical History. On May 1, 1989, Christine Persico, Assistant Dean at Brooklyn College, hired Valerie Sacay as an Administrative Assistant in the Office of Adult and Community Education, now known as the Office of Adult and Continuing Education ("BCACE"). BCACE is fiscally administered by the Research Foundation, and Valerie1 was on the Research Foundation's payroll. The Research Foundation is a not-for-profit corporation that acts as fiscal agent for sponsored programs performed by CUNY. Valerie's primary responsibility was to assist in the design and production of the Audit and Community Education Catalog. On April 16, 1991, Valerie was promoted to Grant Assistant Administrator, which entailed the additional responsibilities of developing and upgrading a computerized registration program. On July 2, 1994, Valerie was promoted to Research Assistant B. In addition to her previous responsibilities, Valerie had to create and manage new databases, including PeopleWare, and supervise data entry personnel. Valerie received recognition for her achievement.

Valerie claims that, when she began working for BCACE, she had a number of physical impairments. She had complex partial seizure disorder, which required her to avoid exhaustion and prevented her from taking the subway or other transportation which creates a "strobing effect." As a result, she quit her job in Manhattan to work closer to home in Brooklyn. Valerie also claims she had back problems and poor vision, which prevented her from reading out of one eye and made her susceptible to eye strain. Valerie's back and neck condition worsened while working at BCACE. From April 12, 1991 to April 23, 1991, Valerie was out on sick leave for chest pain, which was later diagnosed as a gall bladder attack. On January 30, 1992, Valerie suffered a post-surgical mycardial infarction and was required to recuperate at home for eight weeks. By March 1995, Valerie had developed severe gastritis, and was diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome, an ulcer, and a hiatus hernia.

Valerie claims that by 1994, she "could not take public transportation; climb more than a few stairs; engage in strenuous physical activities necessitating lifting, pushing, pulling, or carrying; sit for more than an hour without back discomfort; work under high stress; or allow myself to become physically exhausted or sleep deprived." She further claims that, although she did not claim to be disabled, she discussed all her conditions, except epilepsy, and the limitations these conditions caused, with Persico. In response, Valerie claims Persico made several accommodations for her, even though Valerie did not specifically ask for an "accommodation." Valerie claims that, even though other employees had non-glare screens, she was the only employee with a "special screen." She also claims she had a more supportive desk chair than other employees. Following her 1992 heart attack, and upon Valerie's request, Persico provided Valerie with computer equipment at home. Valerie claims this was done for defendants' benefit so she could work at home.

Following her return to work, Valerie continued to performed some of her catalog duties from home, but she was generally in the office every day from 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., except for the last two weeks before catalog production. Valerie indicated that "our office was so crowded that you couldn't think or breath or anything. It was extremely noisy and crowded.... [W]hen this catalog production thing got compressed and crunchier and involved, you know—seventeen hours—things are much easier to do if you are at home because if you are at home, you can stop and you can lay down and take fifteen minutes and just go breathe." Working at home was typical. According to Persico, "[a]ll the part-time professionals did their work from home unless they were at the campus supervising a class and hiring. Mostly people worked at home."

At a November 11, 1994 meeting, Valerie indicated to Persico and Mary Rose Morris, the Director of the Office of Adult and Continuing Education Program at Brooklyn College, that she could not continue to perform both her catalog and database duties and asked to be relieved from her catalog duties because she was "burned out." After Morris announced that the catalog would be outsourced at a November 28, 1994 staff meeting, Valerie wrote in a December 28, 1994 memorandum that "[n]ow that I've just been relieved of the catalog, I can finally get cracking and hope to proceed with gusto on PeopleWare!" While it is undisputed that the Research Foundation decided to outsource the catalog sometime in November, Valerie and the Research Foundation got into a dispute over Valerie's responsibilities in outsourcing the catalog. During this dispute, Valerie reiterated that she could not perform her catalog duties due to her stress, stating in a February 10, 1995 memorandum that:

Over time, my job had grown significantly into a whole other entity which no one could have possibly foreseen. I have never requested or been unwilling to accept all the additional work and responsibilities that have piled on over the past five years: and I have been successfully handling and fulfilling all of the ever-expanding functions that had been asked of me. However, there were long-run consequences that were detrimental and cumulative: the point has been reached where I could not, safely or reasonably, continue effectively at this pace. Catalog production, which requires intense concentration and unending sessions on the computer, was literally "swallowing my life," exacerbating existing health problems and triggering new ones.... The stress level passed "burn-out" months ago.

Defendants' Exhibit T, 2 (emphasis in original). At her deposition, Valerie testified that she was seeking to be relieved from her catalog responsibilities only, and that she did not want to be released from any other function or seek any other accommodation in this memorandum.

On November 29, 1994, Persico approved the renewal of Valerie's contract for another six months, until June 30, 1995. The Personnel Action Form indicates that "Ms. Sacay is expected to be reappointed on 7/1/95. Benefits should be continuous." In mid-December 1994, Valerie was absent from work due to pharyngitis and otitis media (inflamation of the middle ear cavity). Valerie was out on sick leave again from January 2, 1995 to May 1, 1995 with bronchitis and pneumonia, which she claims was unrelated to her disability. In February, she was treated for "multiple bouts of abdominal pain and multiple movements of diarrhea," which were "exacerbated by stress and anxiety," received counseling for stress, and physical therapy for "severe cervical and lumbosacral radiculitis." Valerie submits medical documentation indicating that, on February 16, 1995 she was treated for irritable bowel syndrome. She was treated for irritable bowel syndrome and hypertension again on March 13, 1995, but her treating physician indicated that the irritable bowel syndrome was improving with rest and medication. On March 14, 1995 and March 20, 1995, Valerie was treated for hypertension and chest pain. On March 29, 1995, Valerie underwent an endoscopy and was diagnosed with an acute peptic ulcer, acute gastritis, and a hiatus hernia. While Valerie was out, her database duties were assigned to another employee, and catalog production was outsourced. However, there was no need to transfer her duties to setup the database because Valerie had already completed this task.

In a letter dated June 15, 1995, after Valerie had been terminated (see discussion to follow), Valerie's treating physician, Dr. Yonk, opined that Valerie has a medical condition that affects her life activities in significant ways. He identified her condition as partial epilepsy since 1986, postoperative...

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