Toussaint v. Interfaith Med. Ctr.

Decision Date12 January 2022
Docket Number21-CV-1100 (ARR) (JRC)
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of New York
PartiesJESSIE TOUSSAINT, Plaintiff, v. INTERFAITH MEDICAL CENTER, LOCAL 1199 SEIU UHWE, GEORGE GRESHAM AS PRESIDENT LOCAL 1199 SEIU, PATRICIA SEELEY-AUSTIN A/K/A PATRICIA EDMUND, MARGARET PICKERSGILL, PRISSINA ALSTON, and HALLAM SMALL, Defendants.
OPINION & ORDER

ALLYNE R. ROSS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

In March 2021, plaintiff, Jessie Toussaint, commenced the present action against defendants Interfaith Medical Center (“Interfaith”), Margaret Pickersgill, Prissina Alston, Hallam Small, Local 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East (“the Union” or “Local 1199”), George Gresham, and Patricia Seeley-Austin also known as Patricia Edmund (Patricia Edmund). Plaintiff, a former employee of Interfaith and former member of Local 1199, asserts federal claims under the Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA), 29 U.S.C. § 158, the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), 29 U.S.C. § 151 et seq. and the Employment Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq., as well as state law claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress, defamation, civil conspiracy, malicious prosecution, and prima facie tort. At the crux of plaintiff's complaint is her belief that she was wrongfully terminated by Interfaith to prevent her from attaining her health welfare and pension benefits and that the Union failed to fairly represent her in its subsequent grievance process.

Defendants have moved to dismiss the case pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons discussed below, I grant defendants' motion.

BACKGROUND[1]

Plaintiff worked as a Patient Care Technician at Interfaith from June 2009 to September 2020. Third Am. Compl. ¶ 12, ECF No 47. During her employment, she was a member of the bargaining unit of Local 1199, and from June 2014 onward she participated in a pension plan operated by the Union. Id. According to plaintiff, at the time of her dismissal in 2020, she was “fully vested in her health welfare and pension benefits, ” id., and less than ten years from being eligible “for her full pension payouts, ” id. ¶ 97.

On August 9, 2020, plaintiff was at work when a patient with “a history of behavioral and mental health issues physically attacked two security guards.” Id. ¶ 21. During the altercation, the patient “was struck on the eye.” Id. According to plaintiff, she was not in the patient's room when the incident took place, nor did she “witness [it] first hand.” Id. ¶ 24. At some point around this time, though, plaintiff told the nurse's station to call a “code orange, ” which notified Small, the supervisor in charge of Patient Care Assistants, Behavior Health Associates, and Patient Care Technicians, that an incident had occurred. Id. ¶ 21.[2]

The following day, when plaintiff returned to work, she was called into a meeting with Small, Pickersgill, who was the head of the Behavioral Health Department, and Alston, a doctor at Interfaith. Id. ¶¶ 16, 18, 47. Edmund, a labor organizer for Local 1199, see Id. ¶ 15, may have been present as well. Compare Id. ¶ 15 (alleging that Edmund was at the meeting) with Id. ¶ 18 (omitting Edmund from the list of attendees at the meeting). At the meeting, the defendants who were there “attempted to coerce Plaintiff to falsely admit that she witnessed” the incident the previous day. Id. ¶ 47. Alston specifically told plaintiff, “You saw what happened and you failed to report the patient abuse.” Id. Plaintiff claims that Alston “knew or should have known” that her statements were false. Id. ¶ 18. On documents dated August 12, 2020, Pickersgill and Small accused plaintiff of “Patient Abuse” and “fail[ure] to report patient abuse” for being “in the patient's area where the incident took place.” Id. ¶ 48.

On or about September 1, 2020, Interfaith fired plaintiff for “patient abuse” and “failure to report patient abuse.” Id. ¶ 13. Around the same time, Interfaith submitted a report to the New York State Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs (“NYSJC”). Id. ¶ 73. The complaint offers inconsistent accounts of what the report alleged, but Interfaith appears to have accused plaintiff of either patient abuse and failure to report patient abuse, id. ¶¶ 13, 19, or engaging in “Obstruction against/to a Service Recipient, ” id. ¶¶ 52-53, 73. Also in September 2020, Local 1199 removed plaintiff's recommendations from its hiring hall, a database that “made employee resumes and recommendations available to prospective employers who sought to hire union members.” Id. ¶¶ 75, 85.[3] Following plaintiff's termination, Local 1199 filed a grievance with Interfaith on her behalf. Id. ¶¶ 29, 34. In an email sent on September 23, 2020, Edmund informed plaintiff that her “termination grievance meeting with [Interfaith] was to be held on September 28, 2020.” Id. ¶ 34. “By letter dated[] October 14, 2020, [Interfaith] denied the grievance and upheld [p]laintiff's termination.” Id.

On October 15, 2020, plaintiff sent a text message to Edmund, seeking to learn the result of the grievance meeting. Id. ¶ 35. On November 5, 2020, Edmund responded, stating “in pertinent part, ‘The Division [hearing and appeals] paper work [for an appeal of the initial denial] has already been file[d] with the 1199 legal department. They will contact you when your date is available.' Id.[4] Plaintiff did not receive any further communication from the Union, and in December 2020 she emailed Edmund. Id. Edmund replied by text on January 13, 2021, telling plaintiff, “I got your email. Your division hearing and appeals has been filed already.” Id. According to plaintiff, these communications were false, as the Union had not yet appealed the outcome of the grievance meeting. Id. ¶¶ 35, 46.

On March 1, 2021, plaintiff initiated the instant lawsuit, bringing claims against Interfaith, Pickersgill, Alston, Small, and Gresham, the president of Local 1199. See Compl., ECF No. 1.

The following month, the NYSJC completed its investigation of the September 9, 2020, incident. Third Am. Compl. ¶ 53. In a letter dated April 29, 2021, the NYSJC determined that the allegation against plaintiff of “Obstruction against/to a Service Recipient” was unsubstantiated. Id.

The letter explained that an ‘unsubstantiated' finding means there was not enough evidence to confirm that an incident occurred or that the incident occurred but did not rise to the level of abuse and/or neglect.” See Notice of Provider of Investigation Determination 4, ECF No. 51-1.[5] It also stated that an unsubstantiated finding does not preclude an employer from taking adverse employment action against the employee. Id.

In May 2021, Interfaith, Pickersgill, Alston, and Small (collectively, “Interfaith defendants) and Gresham separately filed motions to dismiss plaintiff's complaint. See Letter re Mot. to Dismiss Moving Papers by Alston, Interfaith, Pickersgill, and Small, ECF No. 29; Letter re Notice of Mot. by Gresham, ECF No. 27. In Gresham's motion, he argued that because the Union had not yet completed its appeals process, plaintiff's claim that the Union breached its duty of fair representation was not ripe. Mem. of Law in Support of Mot. by Gresham 16-18 (on file with the court). In response, on June 3, 2021, plaintiff voluntarily dismissed her causes of action against Gresham. See Letter re Voluntary Dismissal of Union Def., ECF No. 30; Notice of Voluntary Dismissal, ECF No. 32.

That same day, the Union filed an appeal of plaintiff's grievance to the Chapter Hearing and Appeals Board (Chapter Board). Third Am. Compl. ¶ 35. The Chapter Board convened to review plaintiff's case on June 9, 2021. Id. At the end of that meeting, the Chapter Board denied plaintiff's request to take her case to arbitration. Id. ¶¶ 6, 35. In a letter to plaintiff sent two days later, the Chapter Board stated that plaintiff “does not want to return to work” and reiterated its decision not to pursue arbitration. Id. ¶ 6. Plaintiff claims that this statement contradicted what she said at the meeting, where she told the Chapter Board that she “wanted to return to work” and “always had a good rapport with the patients.” Id. ¶ 36. On June 30, 2021, plaintiff “was hospitalized due to physical ailments that manifested from her mental anguish and emotional distress” surrounding her termination and the Union's denial of her appeal. Id. ¶¶ 37, 54.

Plaintiff appealed the Chapter Board's denial of her arbitration request to the Union's Division Hearing and Appeals Board (Division Board). Id. ¶ 35. On July 13, 2021, counsel for the Union contacted plaintiff's attorney, telling her that plaintiff's Division Board appeal was scheduled for July 26, 2021, and that Edmund “would contact [p]laintiff with the notice of this . . . appeal.” Id. ¶ 38. On July 19, 2021, having heard nothing from Edmund, plaintiff's attorney contacted the Union's counsel. Id. According to plaintiff, Edmund claimed she was unable to get in touch with plaintiff because “there was an issue with [p]laintiff's email address.” Id. The next day, plaintiff's counsel requested that someone else from the Union send plaintiff the notice of appeal; [s]hortly thereafter, the union's legal department promptly sent [p]laintiff a letter notice of the July 26, 2021 appeal meeting.” Id. ¶ 39. Plaintiff's final appeal meeting was held on or about July 26, 2021 and denied by letter decision dated on or about August 8, 2021.” Id. ¶ 35. The Union explained in the letter that “there was no chance of [p]laintiff prevailing on her discharge arbitration.” Id. ¶ 40.

Following the Division Board's decision, plaintiff filed a motion with this court, requesting leave to “reinstate[] the...

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