Uyar v. Seli et al
ORDER granting 19 Motion to Dismiss; granting in part and denying in part 23 Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiff is directed to file an amended complaint consistent with this Order within 14 days. Plaintiff is also directed to read and comply with 5 Chambers Practices--particularly the font formatting requirements, and the requirement that all documents be submitted in OCR text-searchable PDF format. Future non-compliant filings may be summarily denied. See attached for memorandum of decision. Signed by Judge Vanessa L. Bryant on 3/6/2017. (Hoffman, S)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF CONNECTICUT
EMRE SELI and YALE UNIVERSITY,
Case No. 3:16-cv-186
March 6, 2017
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION
GRANTING EMRE SELI’S MOTION TO DISMISS [DKT. NO. 19] AND
GRANTING-IN-PART AND DENYING-IN-PART
YALE UNIVERSITY’S MOTION TO DISMISS [DKT. NO. 23]
The Plaintiff Asli Uyar (“Uyar”) brings this action alleging sexual
harassment and sex discrimination in a ten-count Complaint against
defendants Emre Seli (“Seli”) and Yale University (“Yale”) (collectively,
“Defendants”). Seli has moved to dismiss Counts Five, Six, Seven, Eight,
and Nine of the Complaint, and Yale has moved to dismiss Counts One,
Two, Three, Four, and Ten of the Complaint, for failure to state a claim
upon which relief can be granted, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6). For the reasons that follow, Seli’s Motion to Dismiss
[Dkt. No. 19] is GRANTED, and Yale’s Motion to Dismiss [Dkt. No. 23] is
GRANTED-IN-PART and DENIED-IN-PART.
Unless otherwise noted, the following facts are taken from the
Plaintiff’s complaint. Plaintiff is a Turkish national who was granted a visa
to work in the United States as a post-doctoral fellow at the Yale School of
Medicine’s Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive
Sciences doing research in the area of early embryo genetics. [Dkt. No. 1
(“Compl.”) ¶¶ 4, 6.] Seli was a Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and
Reproductive Sciences at the Yale School of Medicine. Id. ¶ 7. He ran the
laboratory where Uyar performed her fellowship work and he supervised
her fellowship research. Id. Plaintiff’s fellowship research was funded by,
and her position was dependent on, grant money obtained by Seli, and Seli
could at any time decide not to continue funding Plaintiff’s position. Id. ¶ 8.
Additionally, to continue to advance in her field, Plaintiff was dependent on
positive recommendations from Defendant Seli to obtain other positions or
to publish in academic journals. Id. ¶ 9.
In the summer of 2012, Seli, who was married, began to pursue a
romantic relationship with the Plaintiff. The Plaintiff initially rejected his
advances, but Seli persisted and Uyar relented in September 2012. Id. ¶¶
11-12. Plaintiff claims that she tried to end this relationship repeatedly, but
each time, Seli coerced her into continuing the relationship by threatening
that Plaintiff would lose her fellowship if she ended it. Id. ¶¶ 13-14. The
Plaintif continued the relationship in order to remain in the United States
and pursue her career. Id. at 15.
On May 31, 2014, Seli’s wife learned of the relationship. Id. ¶ 18.
Plaintiff alleges that Seli sought to terminate her relationship with Yale to
appease his wife. Id. at 19. On June 1, 2014, Seli sent an email to his
department’s business manager, claiming that Plaintiff’s research “did not
look promising for next year and I think we may not renew her
appointment,” and he forwarded this email to his wife, even though his wife
had no professional involvement with the Plaintiff. Id. ¶ 20, 24. The same
day, Seli cancelled Plaintiff’s research project, and cancelled Plaintiff’s
flight to and registration at a professional conference she was scheduled to
attend. Id. ¶ 21, 25. The cancellation of the Plaintiff’s research project
prevented her from producing and publishing a major research project
during her fellowship. Id. ¶ 22. This cancellation would have been fatal to
Plaintiff’s academic career prospects. Id. Seli also told the Plaintiff that if
she continued coming to work, Seli would tell her friends and family about
the relationship in order to ruin her reputation. Id. ¶ 23, 28. He also
threatened to ruin her academic career by telling others that she had
falsified her curriculum vitae in order to obtain her fellowship at Yale. Id.
¶¶ 27, 28. Plaintiff initially complied with Seli’s directive. Id.
On June 18, 2014, Yale emailed Seli that her position would expire on
August 18, 2014. Id. ¶ 31. On June 24, 2014, Plaintiff reported the
relationship and Seli’s threats to the Department Chair, who returned
Plaintiff to work. Id. ¶ 33. Once she returned to the laboratory, Seli became
hostile and threatening when he interacted with Plaintiff, including by
excluding her from meetings and preventing her from working on the
laboratory’s research projects. Id. ¶¶ 34-35
In order to preserve her professional reputation, Plaintiff succumbed
to Seli’s pressure, terminated her fellowship at Yale and accepted a
position at a less prestigious academic institution. Id. ¶ 37-38.
Subsequently, Seli threatened Plaintiff with litigation if she attempted to
pursue a sexual harassment claim at Yale, and Yale published her research
without crediting her. Id. ¶¶ 39-41.
Plaintiff filed an administrative complaint with the Connecticut
Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (“CHRO”) on March 31,
2015, alleging that she was discriminated against in the terms and
conditions of her employment, sexually harassed, constructively
discharged, and retaliated against by the Defendants. [Dkt. No. 19-2]. She
received a right to sue letter from the Equal Employment Opportunities
Commission (“EEOC”) on December 1, 2015. [Compl. ¶ 45, Exh. A].
Plaintiff filed the instant action on February 5, 2015, alleging as to
Yale sex discrimination, sexual harassment, and retaliation in violation of
Title VII, sexual harassment in violation of Title IX, and negligent
supervision, and alleging as to Seli tortious interference with a business
expectancy, defamation, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and
invasion of privacy. [Compl. at 1]. Seli and Yale moved to dismiss the
Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) on April 4,
2016 [Dkt. No. 19] and April 15, 2016 [Dkt. No. 23], respectively.
“‘To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient
factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible
on its face.’” Sarmiento v. U.S., 678 F.3d 147, 152 (2d Cir. 2012) (quoting
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). While Rule 8 does not require
detailed factual allegations, “[a] pleading that offers labels and conclusions
or formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do. Nor
does a complaint suffice if it tenders naked assertion[s] devoid of further
factual enhancement.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quotations and citations
omitted). “Where a complaint pleads facts that are ‘merely consistent with’
a defendant’s liability, it ‘stops short of the line between possibility and
plausibility of ‘entitlement to relief.’” Id. (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 557 (2007)). “A claim has facial plausibility when
the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the
reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct
alleged.” Id. (citations omitted).
In considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the
Court should follow a “two-pronged approach” to evaluate the sufficiency
of the complaint. Hayden v. Paterson, 594 F.3d 150, 161 (2d Cir. 2010). “A
court ‘can choose to begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are
no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.’” Id.
(quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). “At the second step, a court should
determine whether the ‘well-pleaded factual allegations,’ assumed to be
true, ‘plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.’” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556
U.S. at 679). “The plausibility standard is not akin to a probability
requirement, but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant
has acted unlawfully.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quotations omitted).
In general, the Court’s review on a motion to dismiss pursuant to
Rule 12(b)(6) “is limited to the facts as asserted within the four corners of
the complaint, the documents attached to the complaint as exhibits, and
any documents incorporated in the complaint by reference.” McCarthy v.
Dun & Bradstreet Corp., 482 F.3d 184, 191 (2d Cir. 2007). The Court may
also consider “matters of which judicial notice may be taken” and
“documents either in plaintiffs’ possession or of which plaintiffs had
knowledge and relied on in bringing suit.” Brass v. Am. Film Techs., Inc.,
987 F.2d 142, 150 (2d Cir. 1993); Patrowicz v. Transamerica HomeFirst, Inc.,
359 F. Supp. 2d 140, 144 (D. Conn. 2005). Here, Plaintiffs attach the EEOC
right to sue letter to her Complaint, and Seli attaches the CHRO complaints
to his briefing. These documents are integral to the Complaint and may be
A. Claims Against Yale
1. Title VII
Pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, “[i]t shall be an
unlawful employment practice for an employer . . . to discriminate against
any individual with respect to [her] compensation, terms, conditions, or
privileges of employment, because of such individual’s . . . sex.” 42 U.S.C.
§ 2000e-2(a)(1). “[S]exual harassment so ‘severe or pervasive’ as to ‘alter
the conditions of . . . employment and create an abusive working
environment’ violates Title VII.” Faragher v. City of Boca Raton, 524 U.S.
775, 786 (1998) (quoting Meritor Sav. Bank, FSB v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57, 64
(1986)). “[A] plaintiff seeking relief for sexual harassment may . . . proceed
under two theories: (1) quid pro quo, and (2) hostile work environment.”
Karibian v. Columbia Univ., 14 F.3d 773, 777 (2d Cir. 1994).
a. Count One: Sex Discrimination
Yale argues that the Plaintiff has failed to state a claim for “sex
discrimination” because she failed to “allege in a nonconclusory fashion,
that she suffered an employment action because of her gender.” [Dkt. No.
24 at 8 (emphasis in original)]. This argument evinces a fundamental
misunderstanding of the law. “[S]exual harassment is a form of sex
discrimination that is actionable under Title VII.” Meritor Sav. Bank, 477
U.S. at 57 (expanding Title VII protections from quid pro quo harassment to
hostile work environment harassment). By alleging facts consistent with
sexual harassment, Plaintiff has stated a claim for sex discrimination under
The Plaintiff does not allege in a separate count that she was
subjected to a “hostile work environment” in violation of Title VII.
However, she has alleged that Seli coerced the Plaintiff into commencing
and continuing their sexual relationship over a long period of time and that
he coerced her to leave Yale and accept a less prestigious position.
Accepting those allegations as true they undoubtedly describe a workplace
which was hostile. To prevail on a hostile work environment claim, a
plaintiff must demonstrate: (1) that her workplace was permeated with
discriminatory intimidation that was sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter
the conditions of her work environment, and (2) that a specific basis exists
for imputing the conduct that created the hostile environment to the
employer. Id. “The conduct alleged must be severe and pervasive enough
to create an environment that ‘would reasonably be perceived, and is
perceived, as hostile or abusive.’” Schwapp v. Town of Avon, 118 F.3d 106,
110 (2d Cir. 1997) (quoting Harris v. Forklift Sys., Inc., 510 U.S. 17, 22
(1993)). To be actionable, a “sexually objectionable environment must be
both objectively and subjectively offensive, one that a reasonable person
would find hostile or abusive, and one that the victim in fact did perceive to
be so.” Faragher, 524 U.S. at 787.
The Plaintiff has alleged that she succumbed to Seli’s pressure both
in commencing and continuing a sexual relationship with him which she
did not welcome; and further, that she reluctantly relinquished a highly
prestigious fellowship at Yale in supplication to his pressures and
accepted a less prestigious position to preserve her professional
reputation. She has alleged ample facts constituting the subjective prong
of the test. If the Plaintiff were to present persuasive evidence of these
allegations, a reasonable jury could find that her work environment was
hostile, satisfying the objective prong. Accepting the Plaintiff’s allegations
as true, Seli’s behavior was both subjectively and objectively hostile.
b. Count Two: Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment
To establish a prima facie case of quid pro quo sexual harassment, a
plaintiff must “present evidence that she was subject to unwelcome sexual
conduct, and that her reaction to that conduct was then used as the basis
of decisions affecting the compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of
her employment.” Karibian, 14 F.3d at 777 (citing Lipsett v. University of
Puerto Rico, 864 F.2d 881, 898 (1st Cir. 1988)). Actionable unwelcome
sexual conduct includes “[u]nwelcome sexual advances, requests for
sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.”
Meritor Savings Bank, 457 U.S. at 65.
Yale argues that “a quid pro [quo] claim that involves only unfulfilled
threats, is insufficient to sustain a claim.” [Dkt. 24 at 16]. In so doing, they
ignore binding Second Circuit precedent regarding employees who submit
to advances in order to avoid changes in their employment status. In
Karibian the court held:
[I]n the typical quid pro quo case, the employee who refuses to
submit to her supervisor’s advances can expect to suffer some jobrelated reprisal. Accordingly, in such “refusal” cases, evidence of
some job-related penalty will often be available to prove quid pro quo
harassment. But that is not to say that such evidence is always
essential to the claim. In the nature of things, evidence of economic
harm will not be available to support the claim of the employee who
submits to the supervisor’s demands. The supervisor’s conduct is
equally unlawful under Title VII whether the employee submits or not.
Under the district court’s rationale, only the employee who
successfully resisted the threat of sexual blackmail could state a
quid pro quo claim. We do not read Title VII to punish the victims of
sexual harassment who surrender to unwelcome sexual encounters.
Such a rule would only encourage harassers to increase their
Karibian, 14 F.3d at 778 (emphasis in original). The court reaffirmed this
holding in Jin v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., stating:
Karibian’s essential holding that an employer is liable in a
submission case is sound even under the Supreme Court’s new
liability analysis . . . . [W]hen a victim is coerced into submitting to a
supervisor’s sexual mistreatment, the threatened detrimental
economic tangible employment action may not take place. But that
does not mean that use of the submission as the basis for other job
decisions does not also constitute tangible employment action.
Jin v. Metro. Life Ins. Co., 310 F.3d 84, 98 (2d Cir. 2002). The Plaintiff
alleges that she endured myriad coercive acts affecting her employment
and employment prospects in retaliation for her initial refusal to submit to
and later capitulation to Seli’s sexual demands. The Plaintiff has alleged
that she first rejected and ultimately submitted to Seli’s persistent
advances in order to maintain her position; and further, that because she
succumbed to his advances and his wife learned of his infidelity, her
professional reputation, fellowship, professional prospects, personal
relationships, and ability to remain in the United States were threatened,
forcing her to leave her fellowship and pursue her research at a less
prestigious institution. While this is not the classic quid pro quo case,
Plaintiff has stated a claim for quid pro quo sexual harassment.
c. Count Three: Retaliation
Title VII makes it unlawful for employers to retaliate against
employees who oppose employment discrimination, or submit or support a
complaint of employment discrimination. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a); Univ.
of Texas Sw. Med. Ctr. v. Nassar, 133 S. Ct. 2517, 2532 (2013). “‘To
establish a prima facie case of retaliation, an employee must show 
participation in a protected activity known to the defendant;  an
employment action disadvantaging the plaintiff; and  a causal
connection between the protected activity and the adverse employment
action.’” Terry v. Ashcroft, 336 F.3d 128, 141 (2d Cir. 2003) (quoting Quinn
v. Green Tree Credit Corp., 159 F.3d 759, 769 (2d Cir. 1998)). This causal
connection “can be shown indirectly by timing: protected activity followed
closely in time by adverse employment action.” Vega v. Hempstead Union
Free Sch. Dist., 801 F.3d 72, 90 (2d Cir. 2015).
Plaintiff has alleged that she informed Yale of Seli’s actions on June
24, 2014, and that immediately upon returning to work, Seli began to treat
her in a hostile and threatening manner. This is sufficient to allege
retaliation under Title VII. See Burlington N. & Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. White,
548 U.S. 53, 57 (2006) (“[T]he antiretaliation provision . . . covers those (and
only those) employer actions that would have been materially adverse to a
reasonable employee or job applicant. In the present context that means
that the employer’s actions must be harmful to the point that they could
well dissuade a reasonable worker from making or supporting a charge of
discrimination.”). The Court recognizes that the Plaintiff relies wholly on
inference in asserting this claim. That having been said, the fact that Seli’s
behavior is alleged to have changed immediately after the Plaintiff reported
the situation to Yale raises a sufficient specter of liability at the motion to
dismiss state to cause the Court to decline to dismiss the claim.
Yale asks the Court to disregard any allegations relating to Seli’s
conduct before June 4, 2014, arguing that the only timely allegations of
adverse actions are an email from Yale informing her that her fellowship
would expire on August 18, 2014, and Plaintiff’s constructive discharge.
The Court disagrees.
A plaintiff must file a discrimination claim within 300 days of the
occurrence of the allegedly unlawful employment practice. 42 U.S.C. §
2000e–5(e)(1). Here, the Plaintiff filed her charge of discrimination with the
CHRO on March 31, 2014. As a result, discrete incidents that occurred
more than 300 days before that date, or before June 4, 2014 in this case,
generally are time-barred. However, “under the continuing violation
exception to the Title VII limitations period, if a Title VII plaintiff files an
EEOC charge that is timely as to any incident of discrimination in
furtherance of an ongoing policy of discrimination, all claims of acts of
discrimination under that policy will be timely even if they would be
untimely standing alone.” Chin v. Port Auth. of N.Y. & New Jersey, 685
F.3d 135, 155-56 (2d Cir. 2012) (quoting Lambert v. Genesee Hosp., 10 F.3d
46, 53 (2d Cir. 1993)). Moreover, “evidence of an earlier alleged retaliatory
act may constitute relevant ‘background evidence in support of [that]
timely claim.’” Id. at 150 (quoting Jute v. Hamilton Sundstrand Corp., 420
F.3d 166, 176 (2d Cir. 2005)). “Such background evidence ‘may be
considered to assess liability on the timely alleged act.’” Id.
Hostile work environment claims are paradigmatic examples of
continuing violations, because “[t]heir very nature involves repeated
conduct,” Nat’l R.R. Passenger Corp. v. Morgan, 536 U.S. 101, 115 (2002).
While Plaintiff and Seli’s sexual relationship ceased before June 4, 2014,
his alleged discriminatory conduct continued beyond that date, and as
alleged, represents a continuing course of conduct.
2. Count Four: Title IX
Plaintiff asserts that Yale’s failure to protect her from Seli’s
harassment violates Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972, 20
U.S.C. § 1681 et seq., because Yale is a recipient of federal education
funds. However, Title VII is Plaintiff’s exclusive remedy. Plaintiff did not
allege that she was a student, and all of the allegations in the Complaint
focus on Plaintiff’s employment with Yale. “Title IX was not intended to
enable employees of educational institutions complaining of gender
discrimination to bypass the remedial scheme Congress established in
Title VII.” Urie v. Yale Univ., 331 F. Supp. 2d 94, 97-98 (D. Conn. 2004).
Because all of the allegations in the Complaint relate to the Plaintiff’s
employment, Count Four must be DISMISSED.
3. Count Ten: Negligent Supervision
“A negligent supervision claim requires a plaintiff to plead and prove
that she suffered an injury ‘due to the defendant’s failure to supervise an
employee whom the defendant had a duty to supervise.’” Miller v. Ethan
Allen Glob., Inc., No. 3:10-CV-1701 JCH, 2011 WL 3704806, at *11 (D. Conn.
Aug. 23, 2011) (quoting Abate v. Circuit–Wise, Inc., 130 F. Supp. 2d 341, 344
(D. Conn. 2001)). “In order to state a claim, a plaintiff must allege that a
defendant knew or should have known of another employee’s propensity to
engage in the alleged tortious behavior.” Shanks v. Walker, 116 F. Supp.
2d 311, 314 (D. Conn. 2000). Plaintiff’s Complaint meets this standard. She
has alleged (1) that she notified Yale of Seli’s behavior; (2) that Yale
returned her to the same lab to continue working with him; and (3)
following her return, Seli treated her in a threatening manner. Yale’s
motion to dismiss is therefore DENIED with respect to Count Ten.
B. Claims Against Seli
Seli has moved to dismiss claims against him for (1) tortious
interference with a business expectancy; (2) defamation; (3) negligent
infliction of emotional distress; and (4) invasion of privacy.
Seli argues generally that the Court should disbelieve the Plaintiff
because some of the statements she filed with her CHRO claim were
contradictory. [Dkt. 19-1 at 5]. For example, in one complaint, she said that
she had been constructively discharged, and in the other, she said that she
was terminated on September 6, 2014. Id. However, some of these
inconsistencies are less evidence that the Plaintiff is not credible, but
rather that the Plaintiff, may not have understood what was legally
significant about her experience when she filed her first CHRO complaint
pro se, and that her attorney filed an amended complaint with this in mind.
Moreover, the legal standard on a motion to dismiss requires the Court to
accept the Complaint’s allegations as true and to consider them in the light
most favorable to the Plaintiff. The Court further notes that the Plaintiff is a
Turkish national, residing in this country to pursue scientific research; not
advanced research in the humanities or law. Therefore she is even less
facile with legal terminology and is entitled to greater deference than a
typical pro se litigant. As a consequence of the deference afforded in
cases such as this, the Court declines to dismiss the claims on this basis.
1. Count Five: Tortious Interference with a Business
Plaintiff alleges that Seli interfered with the business relationship
between Plaintiff and Yale by making numerous false and defamatory
statements about the Plaintiff and her work, and by threatening her and
retaliating against her. These actions, she claimed, forced her to leave her
position for a less prestigious and remunerative one, and damaged her
professional reputation and career prospects. Seli argues that he could
not interfere with the Plaintiff’s business relationship with Yale, because he
himself was an agent of Yale, and should not be liable for breaching his
own contract. [Dkt. 19-1 at 6-7]. Seli also claims that Plaintiff did not suffer
any professional injury, because Yale returned Plaintiff to work after she
complained about Seli’s behavior, and her allegations about being
excluded from meetings were not sufficient to allege intimidation,
molestation, or malice. Id. at 8-9.
“A claim for intentional interference with contractual relations
requires the plaintiff to establish: (1) the existence of a contractual or
beneficial relationship; (2) the defendant’s knowledge of that relationship;
(3) the defendant’s intent to interfere with the relationship; (4) that the
interference was tortious; and (5) a loss suffered by the plaintiff that was
caused by the defendant’s tortious conduct.” Rioux v. Barry, 283 Conn.
338, 351 (2007) (citations omitted). “[N]ot every act that disturbs a contract
or business expectancy is actionable . . . . [A]n action for intentional
interference with business relations . . . requires the plaintiff to plead and
prove at least some improper motive or improper means.” Larsen Chelsey
Realty Co. v. Larsen, 232 Conn. 480, 502 n. 24 (1995) (quotations and
“[I]t is well-settled that the tort of interference with contractual
relations only lies when a third party adversely affects the contractual
relations of two other parties.” Wellington Sys., Inc. v. Redding Group,
Inc., 49 Conn. App. 152, 168 (1998) (emphasis in original; quotations
omitted). “[T]here can be no intentional interference with contractual
relations by someone who is directly or indirectly a party to the contract.
The general rule is that the agent may not be charged with having
interfered with a contract of the agent’s principal.” Appleton v. Bd. of
Educ., 53 Conn. App. 252, 267 (1999), rev’d in part on other grounds, 254
Conn. 205 (2000) (quotations and citations omitted). Here the Plaintiff
alleges that Seli was more than a Yale employee who supervised her. She
alleges that he was the awardee of the research grant which created her
position and paid her salary, that he had the authority to cancel her major
research project and the authority not to renew her employment. [Compl.
¶¶ 20-21] Even if Seli was just Yale’s agent, “an agent acting legitimately
within the scope of his authority cannot be held liable for interfering with or
inducing his principal to breach a contract between his principal and a
third party, because to hold him liable would be, in effect, to hold the
corporation liable in tort for breaching its own contract.” Wellington, 49
Conn. App. at 168 (quotations and citations omitted).
However, an exception to the general rule applies if the agent “did
not act legitimately within his scope of duty but used the corporate power
improperly for personal gain.” Id. (quotations and citations omitted). In an
employment context, this personal gain must be something “beyond the
mere removal of the plaintiff from the position.” Tucker v. Eighth Utilities
Dist., No. TTDCV054002448S, 2007 WL 1470602, at *5 (Conn. Super. Ct. Apr.
23, 2007). Plaintiff’s allegations fit within this exception. As pleaded, Seli
abused his position as Plaintiff’s supervisor to damage her career—by
constructive discharge and by disparaging the quality of her research—in
order to appease his wife.
Nevertheless, Plaintiff has not alleged that she had anything other
than an at-will employment relationship with Yale. Seli “cannot be liable for
interfering with the rights of parties to a contract that is terminable at will.”
CDC Techs., Inc. v. IDEXX Labs., Inc., 7 F. Supp. 2d 119, 132 (D. Conn.
1998), aff’d, 186 F.3d 74 (2d Cir. 1999); see also Windover v. Sprague
Techs., 834 F. Supp. 560, 568 (D. Conn. 1993) (holding that no business
expectancy existed in an at-will employee’s promotion); Estela v. Bristol
Hosp., Inc., No. CV116013260, 2013 WL 4779574, at *10 (Conn. Super. Ct.
Aug. 14, 2013) (holding that at-will contracts between a doctor and patients
did not create a business expectancy). Count Five must therefore be
2. Count Six: Defamation
Seli argues that his email stating the Plaintiff “did not look promising
for next year and I think we may not renew her appointment” was a
statement of opinion that cannot give rise to a cause of action for
defamation. [Dkt. 19-1 at 10-11]. He also asserts that Seli’s email fell within
a privilege for employer communications. Id. at 11. Plaintiff counters that
Seli’s statement that Plaintiff’s research “did not look promising” could be
understood to mean that Plaintiff’s research was poor or substandard
according to some objective measure. [Dkt. No. 35-1 at 9-11]. Plaintiff also
argues that where a statement was made with malice, the privilege for
employer communications does not apply. Id.
Under Connecticut law, to establish a prima facie case of defamation
a plaintiff must demonstrate that: (1) the defendant published a defamatory
statement; (2) the defamatory statement identified the plaintiff to a third
person; (3) the defamatory statement was published to a third person; and
(4) the plaintiff’s reputation suffered injury as a result of the statement.
Bagley v. Yale Univ., 42 F. Supp. 3d 332, 364 (D. Conn. 2014) (quotations
omitted). “[A] defamation claim requires a statement that is an assertion of
fact, either explicit or implied, and not merely an opinion, provided the
opinion does not imply the existence of undisclosed defamatory facts.”
Indiaweekly.com, LLC v. Nehaflix.com, Inc., 596 F. Supp. 2d 497, 503 (D.
Conn. 2009). However, where statements may “reasonably be read to imply
that they are based on undisclosed defamatory facts,” a defamation claim
may survive a motion to dismiss. Id. at 504-05. While “communications
between managers regarding the review of an employee’s job performance
. . . are protected by a qualified privilege,” this privilege fails where the
declarant has “knowledge of [a statement’s] falsity or reckless disregard as
to its truth.” Torosyan v. Boehringer Ingelheim Pharm., Inc., 234 Conn. 1,
In this case, Plaintiff has alleged that Seli maliciously criticized the
quality of the Plaintiff’s scientific research solely to retaliate against her.
Seli published that he did not believe the Plaintiff’s research was
“promising,” while implying that this assessment was based on some
objective measure of scientific achievement. Plaintiff has therefore
properly alleged that Seli’s statement was defamatory. Cf. Hutchinson v.
Proxmire, 443 U.S. 111, 116 (1979) (suggesting that statements intimating
that a scientist’s research was “perhaps duplicative” and “transparent[ly]
worthless” were defamatory).
The Plaintiff does not allege that any person to whom Seli made
disparaging comments about the Plaintiff acted on or repeated them. She
does not allege that she encountered anyone in the course of her job
search or elsewhere who was aware of Seli’s statements. Nor does she
allege that she was compelled to disclose them herself. Even if she had,
generally, Connecticut does not recognize self-publication as a basis for a
defamation claim. Cweklinsky v. Mobil Chem. Co., 267 Conn. 210, 217
(2004). However she has not alleged any facts tending to show that she
suffered reputational damage. Accordingly her defamation claim is denied.
The complaint does not allege all of the essential elements of a defamation
claim and therefore Count Six is DISMISSED without prejudice to refilling
within 14 days of the date of this decision.
3. Count Seven: Negligent Infliction of Emotional
Seli argues that Plaintiff’s negligent infliction of emotional distress
claim should be dismissed, because she did not allege that the conduct at
issue occurred during the termination process. [Dkt. 19-1 at 12-13].
“Negligent infliction of emotional distress in the employment context arises
only where it is ‘based upon unreasonable conduct of the defendant in the
termination process.’” Parsons v. United Techs. Corp., Sikorsky Aircraft
Div., 243 Conn. 66, 88 (1997) (quoting Montinieri v. Southern New England
Telephone Co., 175 Conn. 337, 345 (1978)). Plaintiff does not allege that
one or more specific events precipitated her constructive discharge.
Rather, she alleges that Seli was generally hostile and threatening between
late June 2014 and September 6, 2014, and coerced her into a sexual
relationship for two years before that. The allegations in this case are
consistent with those alleged in Pecoraro v. New Haven Register, which
dismissed a negligent infliction of emotional distress case based on
“harassment and retaliation that allegedly occurred over the course of her
entire employment relationship with defendant,” 344 F. Supp. 2d 840, 847
(D. Conn. 2004). Count Seven must therefore be DISMISSED.
4. Counts Eight and Nine: Invasion of Privacy
Seli argues that Plaintiff did not specify what information was
allegedly disseminated about her, or that such information is “highly
offensive to a reasonable person.” [Dkt 19-1 at 13-15]. The Complaint
alleges in conclusory fashion that Seli shared “private details of [Plaintiff’s]
personal and professional life with others, including his wife.” [Compl. ¶¶
42]. It did not specify what this private information consisted of, or how
many “others” learned of the information. Plaintiff’s allegations are so
vague and conclusory that they fail to put the Defendants on notice of her
claims as required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8. In addition,
because Plaintiff offered no argument in support of these claims in her
brief, the court assumes these counts have been abandoned. Accordingly,
Counts Eight and Nine are DISMISSED without prejudice to refilling within
14 days of the date of this decision.
For the foregoing reasons, Seli’s Motion to Dismiss [Dkt. No. 19] is
GRANTED, and Yale’s Motion to Dismiss [Dkt. No. 23] is GRANTED-INPART and DENIED-IN-PART. Plaintiff is directed to file an amended
complaint consistent with this ruling within 14 days of the date of this
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Hon. Vanessa L. Bryant
United States District Judge
Dated at Hartford, Connecticut: March 6, 2017
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