Karam et al v. County of Rensselaer, New York et al
MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER granting in part and denying in part 99 101 Motions for Summary Judgment: The Court hereby ORDERS that Defendants' motions for summary judgment (Dkt. Nos. 99 and 101) are GRANTED in part and DENIED in part as se t forth herein; and the Court further ORDERS that Defendant Vibert's cross-claim against Defendant Rensselaer County is DISMISSED as moot; and the Court further ORDERS that Defendants Russo, Jimino, Vibert, Smith, Hendry, Baldwin, and Doe(s) are TERMINATED from this action; and the Court furtherORDERS that Plaintiff Lisa Karam is TERMINATED from this action; and the Courtfurther ORDERS that the Clerk of the Court shall serve a copy of the Memorandum-Decision and Order on all parties in accordance with the Local Rules. Signed by U.S. District Judge Mae A. D'Agostino on 1/4/16. (ban)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
JAMES KARAM and LISA KARAM,
COUNTY OF RENSSELAER, NEW YORK; JACK
MAHAR, in his individual and official capacity as
Sheriff of Rensselaer County; PATRICK RUSSO, in
his individual and official capacity as the Undersheriff
of Rensselaer County; KATHLEEN JIMINO, in her
individual and official capacity as the County Executive
of Rensselaer County; RUTH VIBERT, in her individual
and official capacity as Chief of Corrections of the
Rensselaer County Sheriff's Department; HAROLD SMITH,
in his individual and official capacity as Captain of the
Rensselaer County Sheriff's Department; TOM HENDRY,
in his individual and official capacity as Director of Human
Resources of Rensselaer County; LINDA BALDWIN, in her
individual and official capacity as the Payroll Clerk of
Rensselaer County; JOHN DOE(S), in their individual and
official capacities as officials, officers, agents, employees
and/or representatives of Rensselaer County; and JANE
DOE(S), in their individual and official capacities as officials,
officers, agents, employees and/or representatives of
RUTH VIBERT, in her individual and official capacity as
Chief of Corrections of the Rensselaer County Sheriff's Department,
COUNTY OF RENSSELAER, NEW YORK,
RUTH VIBERT, in her individual and official capacity as
Chief of Corrections of the Rensselaer County Sheriff's Department,
JAMES KARAM and LISA KARAM,
BOSMAN LAW OFFICE
3232 Seneca Turnpike
Canastota, New York 13032
Attorneys for Plaintiffs and
AJ BOSMAN, ESQ.
DANIEL W. FLYNN, ESQ.
BAILY, KELLEHER LAW FIRM
Pine West Plaza 5
Washington Avenue Extension
Albany, New York 12205
Attorneys for Defendants and Cross
Defendants Rensselaer County, Mahar,
Russo, Jimino, Smith, Handry, Baldwin,
CRYSTAL R. PECK, ESQ.
JOHN W. BAILEY, ESQ.
LAW OFFICES OF ELMER ROBERT
KEACH, III, P.C.
One Pine West Plaza
Albany, New York 12205
Attorneys for Defendant, Cross Claimant,
and Counter Claimant Vibert
ELMER R. KEACH, III, ESQ.
MARIA K. DYSON, ESQ.
Mae A. D'Agostino, U.S. District Judge:
MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER
Plaintiffs James and Lisa Karam commenced this action on August 20, 2013 asserting
twenty-nine causes of action against eight named Defendants pursuant to New York Executive
Law § 296 (the New York Human Rights Law ("NYHRL")), 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983, 1985, and
1986, the New York State Constitution, New York Civil Rights Law §§ 40-c and 79-n, the
Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, common law claims of
prima facie tort, loss of consortium, and negligence, and for a writ of mandamus. See Dkt. No. 1.
The named Defendants, sued in their individual and official capacities, are Rensselaer County,
Sheriff Jack Mahar, Undersheriff Patrick Russo, County Executive Kathleen Jimino, Captain
Harold Smith, director of human resources Tom Hendry, payroll clerk Linda Baldwin
(collectively the "County Defendants"), and former Chief of Corrections Ruth Vibert ("Defendant
Vibert"), as well as unnamed Jane and John Doe(s). See id. Currently before the Court are
motions for summary judgment submitted independently by the County Defendants and
Defendant Vibert. See Dkt. Nos. 99, 101. Plaintiffs have opposed each of the pending motions.
See Dkt. Nos. 125, 128.
Plaintiff1 was appointed as a corrections officer at the Rensselaer County Sheriff's
Department ("Sheriff's Department") in September of 1988. Dkt. No. 141 at ¶ 42. Between 1990
and 2003, Plaintiff was promoted five times and received seven salary increases. Id. at ¶¶ 43-48.
Following Defendant Mahar's election as sheriff in 2003, Plaintiff was appointed as the internal
affairs officer for the Sheriff's Department. Id. at ¶ 53. In addition to the duties of this position,
Plaintiff performed training sessions for corrections officers. Id. at ¶¶ 54, 55.
Over the course of his employment, Plaintiff alleges that he was the target of numerous
discriminatory actions concerning his Arab ancestry. In 2003, Plaintiff was a recipient of a mass
e-mail depicting an Arab headdress and joking about two Arab people on a plane. Dkt. No. 1111. In 2005, Defendants Smith and Russo placed a sign on a burned car that read "Lt. Karam's
Undercover Unit." Dkt. No. 111-2. On March 5, 2010, Plaintiff received an e-mail from
Unless otherwise noted, James Karam will be referred to singularly as "Plaintiff."
Defendant Russo titled "What the Taliban do when they aren't killing people...," which contained
a night vision video depicting a person having sex with an animal. Id.; Dkt. No. 130. At some
indeterminate time, Plaintiff received a time sheet that indicated his department was the "rat
squad." Dkt. No. 111-3. Some of the County Defendants made a statement to Defendant Vibert
that Plaintiff could not work with her because "Lebanese men do not like to answer to women."
Dkt. No. 125 at ¶ 8. At some indeterminate time a comment was made that Plaintiff was "out
feeding [his] camels." Id.
Starting on or around August 26, 2012, Plaintiff was unable to return to his employment at
the Sheriff's Department because he was suffering from temporomandibular joint ("TMJ") pain.
Dkt. No. 141 at ¶¶ 56, 57. At that time, the Sheriff's Office and Rensselaer County had a sick
leave donation program incorporated into various union agreements, which allowed employees
with excess sick time accruals to donate that time to another employee who was at risk of
depleting their own leave time due to serious illness or injury. Id. at ¶¶ 59-61. To use this
program, an employee's initial sick leave donation slips were provided to Defendant Baldwin to
check the donating employee's file to ensure they had adequate sick leave. Id. at ¶ 64. The
donation slips were then passed on to a committee for review, which consisted of Defendants
Hendry, Russo, and a union representative. Id. at ¶¶ 64-66. After Plaintiff had depleted his
accumulated sick leave in the fall of 2012, he was informed that he would not be able to receive
any sick time donations. Id. at ¶¶ 58, 76. Defendant Mahar permanently discontinued the
Sheriff's Department's sick leave donation program around this same time. Id. at ¶ 74.
On or about November 5, 2012, Plaintiff applied for benefits under New York General
Municipal Law § 207-c ("207-c benefits"), which are afforded to law enforcement officials who
are injured in the line of duty. Id. at ¶¶ 80-81; Dkt. No. 111-10 at 2-5. The 207-c benefits
provide for full pay to officers during any time that they are unable to work due to a work related
injury. Dkt. No. 141 at ¶ 82. The Sheriff's Department has a policy of requiring an independent
medical examination for 207-c benefits from injuries that are not easily verified as work-related.
Id. at ¶ 89. The basis for Plaintiff's 207-c benefit application was that he was suffering from post
traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD") and depression due to work-related stress. Id. at ¶ 86.
Plaintiff submitted his initial 207-c application with a report from clinical psychologist Dr.
Richard Ovens stating that Plaintiff's conditions of PTSD and major depressive disorder arose
from work related stress. Dkt. No. 111-10 at 14-15. Thereafter, the Sheriff's Department
contacted Dr. Russell Denea to perform an independent psychiatric examination on Plaintiff. See
Dkt. No. 116-1 at 157-162. On May 1, 2013, Dr. Denea confirmed the findings of Dr. Ovens. Id.
at 161-162. Plaintiff's 207-c application was approved on September 23, 2013, and he was issued
a check for $53,276.33 for retroactive benefits and back pay. Dkt. No. 141 at ¶¶ 95, 96; Dkt. No.
111-20. Plaintiff was issued two additional checks in the amount of $2,017.93 and $1,735.10,
which accounted for his remaining holiday, sick, personal, and vacation hours. Dkt. No. 141 at ¶¶
Defendant Vibert was the Chief of Corrections at the Rensselaer County Jail from March
19, 2012 until March 18, 2013. Dkt. No. 140 at ¶¶ 1, 2. During her employment, Defendant
Vibert was the highest ranking member of the Rensselaer County corrections staff, apart from
undersheriff Russo and Sheriff Mahar. Id. at ¶ 3. Plaintiff and Defendant Vibert worked together
for approximately five months before Plaintiff stopped reporting to work in August of 2012. Id.
at ¶ 8. However, Plaintiff stated that he "rarely interacted with [Defendant Vibert] from March
2012 until August 2012 when [he] left work . . . ." Dkt. No. 144-2 at ¶ 2. After learning that
Plaintiff had not reported to work on several occasions, Defendant Vibert instructed Defendant
Smith to draft a "concern letter" regarding Plaintiff's use of sick time. Id. at ¶¶ 41-43, 47. This
letter was never served upon Plaintiff because he never returned to work after it was drafted. Id.
at ¶ 51. Defendant Vibert played no role in Plaintiff's 207-c benefit application. Id. at ¶ 75.
On or about July 23, 2013, Plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). Dkt. No. 141 at ¶ 100; Dkt. No. 99-16. The
EEOC charge alleged that Plaintiff was discriminated against on the basis of his perceived
disability under the ADA and his Arab ancestry, and that he was retaliated against throughout his
employment with the Sheriff's Department. Dkt. No. 141 at ¶ 101; Dkt. No. 125 at ¶ 6. Plaintiff
received a "right-to-sue" letter from the EEOC on February 6, 2014. Dkt. No. 141 at ¶ 102.
Standard of Review
1. Summary Judgment
A court may grant a motion for summary judgment only if it determines that there is no
genuine issue of material fact to be tried and that the facts as to which there is no such issue
warrant judgment for the movant as a matter of law. See Chambers v. TRM Copy Ctrs. Corp., 43
F.3d 29, 36 (2d Cir. 1994) (citations omitted). When analyzing a summary judgment motion, the
court "cannot try issues of fact; it can only determine whether there are issues to be tried." Id. at
36-37 (quotation and other citation omitted). It is well-settled that a party opposing a motion for
summary judgment may not simply rely on the assertions in its pleading. See Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986) (quoting FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c), (e)). Moreover, "disputes over
irrelevant facts must not be allowed to obscure the lack of a material dispute[.]" Burlington Coat
Factory Warehouse Corp. v. Esprit De Corp., 769 F.2d 919, 923 (2d Cir. 1985).
In assessing the record to determine whether any such issues of material fact exist, the
court is required to resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the
nonmoving party. See Chambers, 43 F.3d at 36 (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S.
242, 255 (1986)) (other citations omitted). However, "[c]onclusory allegations, conjecture, and
speculation . . . are insufficient to create a genuine issue of fact." Kerzer v. Kingly Mfg., 156 F.3d
396, 400 (2d Cir. 1998) (citation omitted). Where the non-movant either does not respond to the
motion or fails to dispute the movant's statement of material facts, the court may not rely solely
on the moving party's Rule 56.1 statement; rather, the court must be satisfied that the citations to
evidence in the record support the movant's assertions. See Giannullo v. City of New York, 322
F.3d 139, 143 n.5 (2d Cir. 2003) (holding that not verifying in the record the assertions in the
motion for summary judgment "would derogate the truth-finding functions of the judicial process
by substituting convenience for facts").
2. Summary Judgment Standard for Employment Discrimination
Courts are cautious in granting summary judgment in employment discrimination cases
where the employer's intent is at issue, Holcomb v. Iona Coll., 521 F.3d 130, 137 (2d Cir. 2008),
"because direct evidence of an employer's discriminatory intent is rare and 'must often be inferred
from circumstantial evidence.'" Serby v. N.Y.C. Dep't of Educ., No. 09-CV-2727, 2012 WL
928194, *5 (E.D.N.Y. Mar. 19, 2012) (quoting Schiano v. Quality Payroll Sys., Inc., 445 F.3d
597, 603 (2d Cir. 2006)). However, "'[s]ummary judgment is appropriate even in discrimination
cases, for . . . the salutary purposes of summary judgment – avoiding protracted, expensive and
harassing trials – apply no less to discrimination cases than to other areas of litigation.'" Hongyan
Lu v. Chase Inv. Servs. Corp., 412 Fed. Appx. 413, 415 (2d Cir. 2011) (quoting Weinstock v.
Columbia Univ., 224 F.3d 33, 41 (2d Cir. 2000)). Indeed, "'[i]t is not beyond cavil that summary
judgment may be appropriate even in the fact-intensive context of discrimination cases.'"
Feingold v. New York, 366 F.3d 138, 149 (2d Cir. 2004) (quoting Abdu-Brisson v. Delta Air
Lines, Inc., 239 F.3d 456, 466 (2d Cir. 2001)). Furthermore, "[e]ven in the discrimination context
. . . a plaintiff must provide more than conclusory allegations to resist a motion for summary
judgment." Holcomb, 521 F.3d at 137 (citing Meiri v. Dacon, 759 F.2d 989, 998 (2d Cir. 1985)).
A "nonmoving party 'must offer some hard evidence showing that its version of the events is not
wholly fanciful.'" Jeffreys v. City of New York, 426 F.3d 549, 554 (2d Cir. 2005) (quoting
D'Amico v. City of New York, 132 F.3d 145, 149 (2d Cir. 1998)). "If the evidence [presented by
the non-moving party] is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment
may be granted." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249-50 (1986) (citations
omitted). The Second Circuit has held that:
In discrimination cases, the inquiry into whether the plaintiff's sex
(or race, etc.) caused the conduct at issue often requires an
assessment of individuals' motivations and state of mind, matters
that call for a "sparing" use of the summary judgment device
because of juries' special advantages over judges in this area . . .
Nonetheless, an employment discrimination plaintiff faced with a
properly supported summary judgment motion must do more than
simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the
material facts. She must come forth with evidence sufficient to
allow a reasonable jury to find in her favor.
Brown v. Henderson, 257 F.3d 246, 251-52 (2d Cir. 2001) (internal citations and quotations
Summary judgment is inappropriate merely because the court "believes that the plaintiff
will be unable to meet his or her burden of persuasion at trial. There must either be a lack of
evidence in support of the plaintiff's position, or the evidence must be so overwhelmingly tilted in
one direction that any contrary finding would constitute clear error." Danzer v. Norden Sys. Inc.,
151 F.3d 50, 54 (2d Cir. 1998) (internal citations omitted). "Nonetheless, when an employer
provides convincing evidence to explain its conduct and the plaintiff's argument consists of purely
conclusory allegations of discrimination, the Court may conclude that no material issue of fact
exists and it may grant summary judgment to the employer." Walder v. White Plains Bd. of
Educ., 738 F. Supp. 2d 483, 493 (S.D.N.Y. 2010) (citation omitted); see also Stern v. Trs. of
Columbia Univ., 131 F.3d 305, 312 (2d Cir. 1997) (same); Meloff v. N.Y. Life Ins. Co., 51 F.3d
372, 375 (2d Cir. 1995) (same).
County Defendants' Motion
1. Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations for claims brought in New York pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983
and the NYHRL is three years. See Johnson v. Dep't of Hous. Pres. & Dev., 218 Fed. Appx. 5, 6
(2d Cir. 2007). Consequently, those claims that fall outside of this three-year time period are
deemed time-barred and must be dismissed. See Van Zant v. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, 80 F.3d
708, 714 (2d Cir. 1996). Furthermore, "discrete discriminatory acts are not actionable if time
barred, even when they are related to acts alleged in timely filed charges." Nat'l R.R. Passenger
Corp. v. Morgan, 536 U.S. 101, 102, 122 S. Ct. 2061, 2066 (2002). Discrimination claims
brought pursuant these statutes "accrue when the plaintiff knows or has reason to know of the
harm." Washington v. Cnty. of Rockland, 373 F.3d 310, 317 (2d Cir. 2004).
However, "[t]he 'continuing violation doctrine' is an 'exception to the normal knew-orshould-have-known accrual date' if there is 'evidence of an ongoing discriminatory policy or
practice.'" Fierro v. Dep't of Educ., 994 F. Supp. 2d 581, 586 (S.D.N.Y. 2014) (quoting Corona
Realty Holding, LLC v. Town of N. Hempstead, 382 Fed. Appx. 70, 72 (2d Cir. 2010)) see also
Jackson v. New York, 381 F. Supp. 2d 80, 87-88 (N.D.N.Y. 2005) (noting that, while the
continuing violation doctrine has evolved from Title VII employment discrimination cases, the
doctrine likewise applies to § 1983 and NYHRL claims). The continuing violation exception
requires showing "specific discriminatory policies or mechanisms such as discriminatory
seniority lists, or discriminatory employment tests." Lambert v. Genesee Hosp., 10 F.3d 46, 53
(2d Cir. 1993), abrogated in part on other grounds by Kasten v. Saint-Gobain Performance
Plastics Corp., 563 U.S. 1, 131 S. Ct. 1325 (2011) (internal citations omitted). The exception
does not apply, however, to "multiple incidents of discrimination, even similar ones, that are not
the result of a discriminatory policy or mechanism." Id.; see also Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp, 536
U.S. at 114 ("Discrete acts such as termination, failure to promote, denial of transfer, or refusal to
hire are easy to identify . . . [and] constitute a separate actionable 'unlawful employment
Hostile work environment claims are treated with a different approach because "[t]heir
very nature involves repeated conduct." Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp., 536 U.S. at 115. Hostile
work environment claims are judged by the cumulative affect of individual acts which may not be
themselves actionable, but together amount to one "unlawful employment practice." Id. at 118.
However, the mere allegation of a hostile work environment does not automatically bring
unrelated discriminatory conduct within the continuing violation exception. See Brennan v. Bally
Total Fitness, 153 F. Supp. 2d 408, 413 (S.D.N.Y. 2001) ("A claim of hostile work environment
does not presuppose a continuing violation"); see also Findlay v. Reynolds Metals Co., Inc., 82 F.
Supp. 2d 27, 36-37 (N.D.N.Y. 2000) (citations omitted) (noting that the continuing violation
exception is disfavored in the Second Circuit). Courts in the Second Circuit have adopted a three
factor test established by the Fifth Circuit in Berry v. Board of Supervisors to evaluate continuing
violations in hostile work environment claims.
The first is subject matter. Do the alleged acts involve the same
type of discrimination, tending to connect them in a continuing
violation? The second is frequency. Are the alleged acts recurring .
. . or more in the nature of an isolated work assignment or
employment decision? The third factor, perhaps of most
importance, is degree of permanence. Does the act have the degree
of permanence which should trigger an employee's awareness and
duty to assert his or her rights[?]
Riedinger v. D'Amicantino, 974 F. Supp. 322, 326 (S.D.N.Y. 1997) (quoting Berry v. Bd. of
Supervisors, 715 F.2d 971, 981 (5th Cir. 1983)). To file a timely hostile work environment claim,
the plaintiff need only show that one of the contributing acts occurred within the statute of
limitations. See Cornwell v. Robinson, 23 F.3d 694, 703-04 (2d Cir. 1994).
Plaintiff's allegations of discrimination fall into four general categories: the manner in
which he was promoted on several occasions between 1990 and 2005, see Dkt. No. 125 at ¶¶ 9,
43, 54-59, the type of accommodations he was afforded to complete his job duties, i.e. being
granted a cell phone and take home vehicle, see id. at ¶¶ 109-18, numerous comments by
coworkers regarding his national origin, see id. at ¶ 8, and the manner in which Defendants
handled his sick leave usage, donations, and related 207-c application, see id. at ¶¶ 17-18, 24-25,
27, 30, 32.
Plaintiff's promotions between 1990 and 2005 are each separate, discrete employment
decisions, which are individual employment actions and not subject to the continuing violations
doctrine. See Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp., 536 U.S. at 114.
Plaintiff claims that he was discriminated against when he was denied the use of a takehome vehicle and a department cell phone. Dkt. No. 125 at ¶¶ 109-18. Further, he claims that
Defendants Smith and Russo discriminated against him by placing a sign on a "burned out
vehicle" that read "Lt. Karam's undercover car." Id. at ¶ 115. While no direct evidence was
submitted regarding the date that these alleged violations occurred, the Court finds that these
events occurred at or around the time Plaintiff was promoted to internal affairs officer in 2005.
Plaintiff testified that he asked for a take home vehicle in 2005, Dkt. No. 113 at 53-54, and
Defendants Russo and Smith sent Plaintiff the picture of the burned out car at the time Plaintiff
requested the take home vehicle, Dkt. No. 120 at 149-50. Plaintiff has presented no evidence that
he continued to ask for a take-home vehicle or cell phone after his initial promotion to internal
affairs. Further, the denial of these accommodations are discrete, individual employment actions
and are not subject to the continuing violations doctrine. See Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp., 536
U.S. at 114. The picture depicting the burned out car with the sign reading "Lt. Karam's
undercover car" clearly related to Plaintiff's request for a take-home vehicle and is not so
factually similar to any other alleged discriminatory conduct as to constitute a continuing
violation. See Martin v. N.Y. State Dept. of Corr. Servs., 224 F. Supp. 2d 434, 444 (N.D.N.Y.
2002) (noting that multiple physical acts of discrimination are not a continuing violation absent a
"constant stream" of similar, allegedly discriminatory conduct). Thus, the actions surrounding
Plaintiff's denial of his requests for a take-home vehicle and cell phone do not fall within the
continuing violation exception.
Plaintiff alleges that numerous discriminatory comments were made about his national
origin throughout his employment at the Sheriff's Department. The nature and date of these
instances include: (1) in 2003, Plaintiff was one recipient of a mass e-mail that depicted an Arab
headdress and stated a joke about two Arab people on a plane, Dkt. No. 111-1, (2) on March 5,
2010, Plaintiff received a chain e-mail from Defendant Russo titled "What the Taliban do when
they aren't killing people...," which contained a night vision video depicting a person having sex
with an animal, id., (3) at some point in 2012,2 Defendant Mahar made a statement to Defendant
Vibert that Plaintiff could not work with her because "Lebanese men do not like to answer to
women," Dkt. No. 125 at ¶ 8, (4) at an indeterminate time, Plaintiff received a time sheet that
indicated his department was the "rat squad," Dkt. No. 111-3, (5) at an indeterminate time, a
comment was made that Plaintiff was "out feeding [his] camels," Dkt. No. 125 at ¶ 8, (6) prior to
Defendant Mahar's election, Plaintiff was assigned the password "camel" for the computer
booking system, Dkt. No. 113 at 208, (7) on September 11, 2001, a coworker made the comment
that Plaintiff's cousins were attacking the World Trade Centers, Dkt. No. 112 at 141, and (8) when
Plaintiff applied for his 207-c benefits, Defendant Russo made a comment that Plaintiff should
shave his goatee or he would be put back on the terrorist watch list, id. at 138. The Court finds
that these eight discriminatory comments are not sufficiently repetitious or continuous throughout
the twelve year period to constitute a continuing violation of discrimination against him. See
Quinn v. Green Tree Credit Corp., 159 F.3d 759, 766 (2d Cir. 1998), abrogated in part on other
grounds by Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp., 536 U.S. at 113 (holding that six discriminatory incidents
over a five year period do not amount to a continuing violation).
b. Hostile Work Environment
The first factor in the Berry analysis of the continuing violation exception for a hostile
work environment claim is whether "the alleged acts involve the same type of discrimination,
tending to connect them in a continuing violation[.]" Riedinger, 974 F. Supp. at 326 (quotation
omitted). In the present case, there are essentially no similarities between the alleged misconduct
While no exact date is given for when this comment was made, it occurred between
Defendant Vibert's hiring on March 19, 2012 and when Plaintiff last worked on August 26, 2012.
See Dkt. No. 99-2 at ¶¶ 2, 7.
surrounding the manner in which Plaintiff was promoted from 1990 until 2005, the denial of his
requests for a take home vehicle and cell phone in 2005, and the denial of his access to the sick
leave donation program in 2012. While Plaintiff contends that each of these incidents is similar
because he was treated differently than other similarly situated officers, see Dkt. No. 125 at ¶¶ 9,
27, 30, 39, nothing other than Plaintiff's conclusory allegations supports this fact. Thus, the Court
finds that each of these allegedly discriminatory actions is not of the same type of discrimination
to constitute a continuing violation for Plaintiff's hostile work environment claims.
In contrast, each of the allegedly discriminatory comments and e-mails about Plaintiff's
national origin are of a similar type to satisfy the first Berry factor. See Schwapp v. Town of
Avon, 118 F.3d 106, 111-12 (2d Cir. 1997) (holding that racially derogatory comments, even if
directed at differing races or individuals, are sufficiently similar to constitute a continuing
violation for hostile work environment claims).
The second inquiry is the frequency of the allegedly discriminatory events. Here, the
eight similar discriminatory comments were made over a twelve year period and several of the
comments were made prior to Defendant Mahar's election in 2005. The Court finds that this
sporadic occurrence of discriminatory language is not frequent enough to constitute a continuing
violation for a hostile work environment claim. Compare Bembry v. Darrow, 97 F. Supp. 2d 281,
286-88 (N.D.N.Y. 2000) (holding that six allegedly discriminatory acts within four years was
insufficient for a continuing violation), with Schwapp, 118 F.3d at 112 (finding a continuing
violation when there were twelve discriminatory comments made over twenty months).
The third, and most important, inquiry is whether the events should have triggered
Plaintiff's awareness to assert his rights at the moment that they were violated. See Riedinger,
974 F. Supp. at 326. In this case, Plaintiff was put on notice of the alleged discrimination at each
time a discriminatory comment was made to him. Further, the Sheriff's Department has a policy
in place to report such instances of discriminatory conduct. Dkt. No. 103-1 at ¶ 52; Dkt. No. 10312. Plaintiff did not file a complaint concerning any of the allegedly discriminatory comments.
Dkt. No. 113 at 258; Dkt. No. 99-4 at 2. Thus, based on a balance of the Berry factors, the Court
finds that there was no continuing violation for purposes of Plaintiff's hostile work environment
claims. See generally Findlay v. Reynolds Metals Co., Inc., 82 F. Supp. 2d 27, 36-37 (N.D.N.Y.
2000) (citations omitted) (noting that the continuing violations exception is disfavored in the
As Plaintiff filed his complaint on August 20, 2013, and no continuing violation discussed
above applies to this time period, only actions occurring after August 20, 2010 may be considered
in evaluating Plaintiff's § 1983 and NYHRL discrimination and hostile work environment claims.
a. First Amendment
To state a prima facie claim of First Amendment retaliation under § 1983 and Article 1,
Section 8 of the New York Constitution, a plaintiff must prove that "(1) his speech was
constitutionally protected, (2) he suffered an adverse employment decision, and (3) a causal
connection exists between his speech and the adverse employment determination against him."
Brunell v. Clinton Cnty., N.Y., 334 Fed. Appx. 367, 370 (2d Cir. 2009) (citation omitted); see also
Carter v. Ocean Beach, 693 F. Supp. 2d 203, 212 (E.D.N.Y. 2010) ("[F]ree speech claims under
Plaintiff asserts seven retaliation claims pursuant to the NYHRL, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981,
1983, Article 1, Section 8 of the New York State Constitution, Title V of the ADA, and the
Rehabilitation Act. See generally Dkt. No. 1. However, Plaintiff's response to the instant motion
only addresses his claims of First Amendment retaliation. Dkt. No. 128 at 19.
Article 1, Section 8 of the New York State Constitution are subject to the same analysis as free
speech claims under the First Amendment").
If a plaintiff is successful in satisfying these four elements and thereby establishes a prima
facie case of retaliation, the burden then shifts to the defendant to "show that it would have taken
the same adverse action in the absence of the protected speech." Anemone v. Metro. Transp.
Auth., 629 F.3d 97, 114 (2d Cir. 2011) (quotation omitted). If the defendant is successful in
introducing a non-retaliatory reason for taking the adverse employment action against the
plaintiff, the burden then shifts back to the plaintiff. See Murray v. Town of N. Hempstead, 853 F.
Supp. 2d 247, 262 (E.D.N.Y. 2012) (citation omitted). The plaintiff then has the burden to
"demonstrate by competent evidence that 'the legitimate reasons offered by the defendant were
not its true reasons, but were a pretext for [retaliation]'" Id. at 262-63 (quoting Patterson v. Cnty.
of Oneida, N.Y., 375 F.3d 206, 221 (2d Cir. 2004)).
i. Protected Activity
A government employee's speech is constitutionally protected if the employee is speaking
in his capacity as a citizen on a matter of public concern. See Weintraub v. Bd. of Educ., 593 F.3d
196, 201-02 (2d Cir. 2010) (citations and quotations omitted). An employee is not speaking in his
capacity as a citizen for purposes of the First Amendment if he is acting pursuant to his official
duties. See Garcetti v. Ceballos, 547 U.S. 410, 421 (2006).
Plaintiff asserts that he engaged in two protected activities, testifying in a fellow
employee's Division of Human Rights ("DHR") sexual harassment hearing on March 9, 2012, see
Dkt. No. 111-5, and speaking with the Sheriff's Department's attorney, Bryan Goldberger, about
potential violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act ("HIPAA") see
Dkt. No. 125 at ¶¶ 19-21. Specifically, Plaintiff asserts that he
told Bryan Goldberger about what [he] knew about the HIPAA
violations and what [he] believed to be unlawful violations and the
attempts of the Sheriff to cover up the HIPAA violations and the
attempts of the Sheriff to stall the investigation and prevent the
investigation and the release of the information as far as whose
records were accessed.
Dkt. No. 113 at 154.
Plaintiff's March 9, 2012 testimony at the DHR hearing regarding the sexual harassment
of Laura Abbott at the Rensselaer County Jail (the "Abbott matter") is a protected activity. See
Konits v. Valley Stream Cent. High Sch. Dist., 394 F.3d 121, 125 (2d Cir. 2005) ("[A]ny use of
state authority to retaliate against those who speak out against discrimination suffered by others,
including witnesses or potential witnesses in proceedings addressing discrimination claims, can
give rise to a cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the First Amendment").
Allegations of potential cover-ups in the Sheriff's Department are matters of public
concern. See Jackler v. Byrne, 658 F.3d 225, 236 (2d Cir. 2011) (quotation omitted) ("Exposure
of official misconduct, especially within the police department, is generally of great consequence
to the public"). Defendants assert that Plaintiff's conversations with Mr. Goldberger, while
admittedly involving matters of public concern, are not protected speech because he was acting
upon his official duties as the internal affairs officer. See Dkt. No. 101-22 at 22 (citing Anemone
v. Metro. Transp. Auth., 629 F.3d 97, 114 (2d Cir. 2011)). In Anemone, the Second Circuit held
that the plaintiff did not engage in protected speech when he spoke to the Queens District
Attorney ("DA") concerning an investigation that he was involved in. 629 F.3d at 116. The
plaintiff was initially assigned to an official investigation, which required cooperation with the
DA. Id. The plaintiff testified that he was the director of security at the Metropolitan
Transportation Authority and "regularly interacted with the District Attorneys' office and viewed
cooperating with these offices as among his duties." Id. The plaintiff claimed that, although the
communication with the DA started as part of his official duties, he was subsequently removed
from the investigation and his continued conversations with the DA were protected speech. Id.
The Second Circuit rejected this argument, holding that "[w]hen a government employee
concededly engages in speech pursuant to his official duties, the fact that he persists in such
speech after a supervisor has told him to stop does not, without more, transform his speech into
protected speech made as a private citizen." Id. (citing Thompson v. District of Columbia, 530
F.3d 914, 918 (D.C. Cir. 2008)).
The Court finds that Defendants' reliance on Anemone is unpersuasive because Plaintiff
had no duty to consult with Mr. Goldberger, he first mentioned his concerns about Defendant
Mahar's conduct to Mr. Goldberger after he had been removed from the investigation, and he
ultimately revealed this information to the press. While Defendants' statement that the "sole
purpose for [Plaintiff's] speaking with Attorney Goldberger in the first place was to discuss an
internal affairs investigation" is not untrue, it is misplaced in this context. Dkt. No. 143-3.
Plaintiff testified that he initially spoke with Mr. Goldberger to inform him that he would not be
able to testify at an upcoming arbitration concerning Scott Radliff. Dkt. No. 113 at 128, 161.
Plaintiff was not investigating this matter as an internal affairs officer, but rather was expected to
be called as a witness. Id. at 128-29. It was only after this discussion about Scott Radliff that
Plaintiff mentioned to Mr. Goldberger his belief that Defendant Mahar had engaged in
misconduct by covering up certain HIPAA violations.
In March of 2012, Plaintiff initially began investigating alleged HIPAA violations. Id. at
66-67. After discovering several concerning violations, Plaintiff reported his findings to
Defendant Mahar. Id. at 76. Defendant Mahar then told Plaintiff to suspend his investigation to
see if some other entity could investigate the HIPAA violations. Id. at 76-77. This task was
assigned to another person at the Sheriff's Department after Plaintiff started suffering migraines
and being absent from work. Id. at 77, 96-96. Defendant Mahar testified that Plaintiff "left at the
very beginning of that investigation." Dkt. No. 116 at 98. Thus, at the time Plaintiff first spoke
with Mr. Goldberger about these issues, he was no longer assigned to this investigation or
actively working as the internal affairs officer. See Schoolcraft v. City of New York, No. 10 Civ.
6005, 2012 WL 3960118, *6 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 10, 2012) (noting that speech occurring after an
employee is placed on suspension weighs in favor of finding that the speech was made as a
citizen). That Plaintiff learned of the alleged HIPAA violations through his employment is not
conclusive that his speech was made as an employee rather than as a citizen. See Hagan v. City of
New York, 39 F. Supp. 3d 481, 510 (S.D.N.Y. 2014) ("[E]mployee speech is not precluded from
protection simply because it 'concerns information related to or learned through public
employment'" (quoting Lane v. Franks, 134 S. Ct. 2369, 2376 (2014)). Further, the chain of
command for Plaintiff's investigation was to report his findings to Defendant Mahar, not directly
to Mr. Goldberger. Dkt. No. 116 at 95; Dkt. No. 125 at ¶ 16; see Hagan, 39 F. Supp. 3d at 510
(holding that a public employee reporting the improper conduct of supervisors and other officials
outside the chain-of-command was protected speech). Plaintiff also relayed his concerns about
Defendant Mahar's conduct to the press after speaking to Mr. Goldberger. Dkt. No. 113 at 299300; see Taylor v. N.Y.C. Dept. of Educ., No. 11 Civ. 7833, 2012 WL 3890599, *6 (S.D.N.Y.
Sept. 6, 2012) (noting that speech being relayed to the press weighs in favor of finding that the
speech was made as a citizen, not as an employee); see also Jackler v. Byrne, 658 F.3d 225, 238
(2d Cir. 2011) (discussing that speech by a public employee may be made "as a citizen" if there is
a "relevant civilian analogue" to reveal such information). Accordingly, the Court finds that
Plaintiff's testimony in the Abbott matter and his conversations with Mr. Goldberger concerning
the cover-up of potential HIPAA violations are both protected speech under the First Amendment.
ii. Adverse Employment Action
The standard for evaluating an adverse employment action is the same in First
Amendment and Title VII retaliation claims. See Zelnik v. Fashion Inst. of Tech., 464 F.3d 217,
227 (2d Cir. 2006). As the Second Circuit described in Hicks v. Baines, the Supreme Court now
recognizes that "Title VII's anti-discrimination and anti-retaliation provisions 'are not
coterminous'; anti-retaliation protection is broader and 'extends beyond workplace-related or
employment-related retaliatory acts and harm.'" Hicks v. Baines, 593 F.3d 159, 165 (2d Cir.
2010) (quoting Burlington N. & Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. White, 548 U.S. 53, 67, 126 S. Ct. 2405, 165
L. Ed. 2d 345 (2006)). In a Title VII retaliation claim, an adverse employment action is one that
is "materially adverse to a reasonable employee or job applicant." Id. (quoting White, 548 U.S. at
57, 126 S. Ct. 2405) (internal quotation marks omitted). "Actions are 'materially adverse' if they
are 'harmful to the point that they could well dissuade a reasonable worker from making or
supporting a charge of discrimination.'" Id. (quoting White, 548 U.S. at 57, 126 S. Ct. 2405).
Although Title VII "does not set forth a general civility code for the American workplace," id.
(quoting White, 548 U.S. at 68-69, 126 S. Ct. 2405), "the alleged acts of retaliation need to be
considered both separately and in the aggregate, as even minor acts of retaliation can be
sufficiently 'substantial in gross' as to be actionable." Id. (quoting Zelnik, 464 F.3d at 227).
"'[P]etty slights or minor annoyances that often take place at work and that all employees
experience' do not constitute actionable retaliation." Id. (quotation omitted). "Thus, '[t]he
antiretaliation provision protects an individual not from all retaliation, but from retaliation that
produces an injury or harm.'" Id. (quotation omitted).
Plaintiff contends that the following instances of retaliation occurred after his testimony in
the Abbott hearing: (1) he was subject to continuous yelling, which contributed to increased stress
and migraines; (2) his keys, firearm, computer access, and office were taken from him after he left
on sick leave; (3) he was denied donated sick time; (4) he was prevented access to his personal
mail; (5) he was not automatically placed on disability after his sick time ran out; (6) he was
required to seek an independent medical evaluation for his 207-c application, and (7) the approval
of his 207-c benefits was unreasonably delayed.4
The Court will first address the alleged actions that do not amount to adverse employment
actions. Plaintiff provides no support that he was subject to increased yelling or job duties after
his testimony in the Abbott matter. While Plaintiff has established that he was yelled at after his
testimony, the evidence presented indicates that Defendant Mahar's yelling at employees was a
common occurrence that pre-dated the Abbott hearing and, thus, was not an adverse change in
employment. See Dkt. No. 113 at 35-38, 41-42, 130-31. Plaintiff's return of his Department
issued equipment after he had left on disability leave had no impact on the terms of his
employment, pay, or benefits. Plaintiff acknowledged that it was reasonable for him to have to
return his firearm and that there were important files locked inside his office. See Dkt. No. 99-22
at 6; Dkt. No. 130, Exh. 26 at 3:15-5:00 (discussing that Plaintiff's gun was department issued and
that at least one Department firearm was missing). Further, other employees at the Sheriff's
Department who applied for 207-c benefits for an indefinite term likewise had to return their
keys, badge, and weapon. Dkt. No. 103-1 at ¶ 47. Plaintiff had some of his personal mail
delivered to his office, which was not immediately forwarded to his home after he left work due
The Court will not consider the allegation that Plaintiff received a blank pay slip with his
name and "rat squad" for his title since no evidence was submitted as to the date this slip was
to his illness. Dkt. No. 140 at ¶¶ 14-17. Any delay in receiving his mail was due to the fact that it
was combined with important work-related information, such as investigation reports, that could
not be released from the Sheriff's Department without first being reviewed. See Dkt. No. 130,
802_0062 call to Ruth Vibert, at 5:20; Dkt. No. 113 at 240. Further, Plaintiff failed to submit a
change of address card to the post office to receive his personal mail at home. Dkt. No. 113 at
240-41. Finally, the requirement for Plaintiff to seek an independent medical analysis for his
207-c application is not an adverse employment action, since his benefits were ultimately granted.
See Dawson v. Cnty. of Westchester, 274 F. Supp. 2d 364, 377-78 (S.D.N.Y. 2003), vacated in
part on other grounds 373 F.3d 265 (2d Cir. 2004) (holding that the requirement to attend a
hearing to determine eligibility to receive benefits is not an adverse employment action if the
hearing was for a proper purpose and the benefits are ultimately approved); Kleehammer v.
Monroe Cnty., 743 F. Supp. 2d 175, 187-88 (W.D.N.Y. 2010). The Court finds that these actions,
individually and in the aggregate, would not dissuade a reasonable employee from engaging in a
protected activity because they were all an ordinary part of employment at the Sheriff's
The remaining allegations, however, constitute materially adverse employment actions.
While a delay in granting an employee's benefits, standing alone, is not an adverse employment
action, see Barriera v. Bankers Tr., No. 98 Civ. 3641, 2003 WL 22387099, *8 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 20,
2003), extensive delays or a delay coupled with other adverse consequences is sufficient to
withstand summary judgment for Title VII retaliation, see Dechberry v. N.Y.C. Fire Dep't, No.
14-CV-2130, 2015 WL 4878460, *13 (E.D.N.Y. Aug. 14, 2015) (noting that a delay in benefits
which exacerbates physical injuries is an adverse employment action); see also Birkholz v. City of
New York, No. 10-CV-4719, 2012 WL 580522, *9 (E.D.N.Y. Feb. 22, 2012) (finding that a delay
that results in "significant financial injury" is an adverse employment action). Here, Plaintiff's
207-c benefits were not granted until September 23, 2013, over a year after his last day working
at the Sheriff's Department.5 Dkt. No. 141 at ¶ 95. The delay in granting Plaintiff's 207-c
benefits, coupled with his inability to use donated sick leave and lack of disability benefits,
resulted in a prolonged period without income.
After Plaintiff's examination for his 207-c benefits, Dr. Denea reported that Plaintiff's
physical complaints to his work related stress "increased in the summer of 2012." Dkt. No. 116-1
at 158. Further, Plaintiff "described feeling concerned about whether he will be able to support
himself without working and without disability income." Id. Thus, Plaintiff has established that
the denial of his access to donated sick leave, coupled with the delay in processing his 207-c
benefits, were adverse employment actions.
It is well settled that proof of causation may either be shown directly by establishing a
retaliatory animus toward the plaintiff or indirectly through circumstantial evidence that, among
other things, demonstrates that the protected activity was followed closely by a retaliatory action.
See Cifra v. Gen. Elec. Co., 252 F.3d 205, 217 (2d Cir. 2001) (citations omitted); see also Gordon
v. N.Y.C. Bd. of Educ., 232 F.3d 111, 117 (2d Cir. 2000); Feingold v. New York, 366 F.3d 138,
160 (2d Cir. 2004) (applying the same causation analysis to First Amendment and Title VII
Defendants provide a list of individuals who applied for 207-c benefits and how long
their applications were pending, without providing any original documentation, to establish that
Plaintiff's benefits were not unreasonably delayed. See Dkt. Nos. 103-11, 101-5. However, such
a self-serving document created in anticipation of litigation is inadmissible evidence that cannot
be considered in a motion for summary judgment. See Rubens v. Mason, 387 F.3d 183, 188 (2d
Cir. 2004) ("[I]n deciding a motion for summary judgment, a court may rely only on material that
would be admissible at trial").
retaliation claims). Further, the cases demonstrate that the Second Circuit "has not drawn a bright
line to define the outer limits beyond which a temporal relationship is too attenuated to establish a
causal relationship between the exercise of a federal constitutional right and an allegedly
retaliatory action." Gorman–Bakos v. Cornell Coop. Extension of Schenectady Cnty., 252 F.3d
545, 554 (2d Cir. 2001) (citations omitted). The relevance of temporal proximity in a particular
First Amendment retaliation case turns on its unique facts and circumstances. See Smith v. Da
Ros, No. 09 Civ. 458, 2011 WL 839374, *13 (D. Conn. Feb. 25, 2011) (citing Burkybile v. Bd. of
Educ. of Hastings–On–Hudson Union Free Sch. Dist., 411 F.3d 306, 314 (2d Cir. 2005)). A
plaintiff can withstand summary judgment if he establishes that "'a retaliatory motive plays a part
in adverse employment actions toward an employee, whether or not it was the sole cause.'" Terry
v. Ashcroft, 336 F.3d 128, 140-41 (2d Cir. 2003) (quoting Cosgrove v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 9
F.3d 1033, 1039 (2d Cir. 1993)); see also Jute v. Hamilton Soundstrand Corp., 420 F.3d 166, 173
(2d Cir. 2005) (quoting Woodman v. WWOR-TV, 411 F.3d 69, 76 (2d Cir. 2005)) ("The burden of
proof that must be met to permit a Title VII plaintiff to survive a summary judgment motion at the
prima facie stage has been characterized as 'minimal' and 'de minimis'").
The first sick leave donation form was submitted for Plaintiff on November 19, 2012,
Dkt. No. 111-12 at 16, and Plaintiff submitted his 207-c application on October 31, 2012, Dkt.
No. 141 at ¶ 80. Plaintiff spoke to Mr. Goldberger in late August or early September of 2012.
Thus, the two or three month gap between Plaintiff's protected speech with Mr. Goldberger and
the allegedly retaliatory actions is sufficient to infer a retaliatory motive. See Espinal v. Goord,
558 F.3d 119, 129 (2d Cir. 2009) (holding that the passage of six months between the protected
activity and the adverse action was sufficient to support an inference of causation).
The connection between Plaintiff's testimony in the Abbott matter on March 9, 2012, and
the allegedly retaliatory actions is more attenuated. See Dkt. No. 111-5. While this nearly eight
month gap is within the period that other Second Circuit courts have held is sufficient to infer
causation, compare Grant v. Bethlehem Steel Corp., 622 F.2d 43, 45-46 (2d Cir. 1980) (finding a
causal connection with an eight month period between the protected activity and retaliatory
action), with Hollander v. Am. Cyanamid Co., 895 F.2d 80, 85-86 (2d Cir. 1990) (finding no
inference of causation for adverse action taken three months after protected speech), such a
determination is heavily reliant upon the specific factual circumstances of each case, see Espinal,
558 F.3d at 129 (allowing a court to "exercise its judgment about the permissible inferences that
can be drawn from temporal proximity in the context of particular cases").
Plaintiff's only arguments in support of a connection between his testimony in the Abbott
matter and the allegedly retaliatory actions are that a copy of the hearing transcript was forwarded
to Defendant Mahar and that he was increasingly yelled at after giving his testimony.6 See Dkt.
No. 128 at 25. As noted earlier, Plaintiff's claim that he was yelled at more after testifying in the
Abbott matter is unpersuasive in light of evidence that yelling was a common part of his job for
the entirety of his employment. See supra Part III(B)(2)(b)(ii). Plaintiff provides no evidence,
apart from his opinion, that his deposition was ever delivered to the Sheriff, and Defendant Mahar
denies ever receiving it. Dkt. No. 103-1 at ¶ 54. Significantly, several other employees testified
at the Abbott hearing and Plaintiff has presented no evidence that Defendants retaliated against
any of those individuals for engaging in the same protected speech. See Gordon, 232 F.3d at 117
The Court will not consider Plaintiff's assertions that others were discriminated against
for various reasons, see Dkt. No. 128 at 25-26, because these instances are not connected to
testifying in the Abbott matter, nor is there any evidence to support these assertions other than
Plaintiff's conclusory statements.
(noting that "evidence such as disparate treatment of fellow employees who engaged in similar
conduct" can establish a causal connection). The Court finds that Plaintiff failed to establish a
causal connection between his testimony in the Abbott matter and the allegedly retaliatory
iv) Defendants' Rebuttal
The County Defendants contend that the decision to end the sick leave donation program
was based upon a general displeasure with the program and the financial burdens it placed on the
Sheriff's Department. Dkt. No. 101-22; Dkt. No. 141 at ¶¶ 69-71. Moreover, this decision could
not have been for a retaliatory purpose because Defendant Mahar did not learn of Plaintiff's
protected speech with Mr. Goldberger until this lawsuit was filed. Dkt. No. 103-1 at ¶ 56.
The Court finds that this explanation is mere pre-text and a retaliatory motive contributed,
at least in part, to the adverse actions taken against Plaintiff. Marcelle Swanberry, Defendant
Mahar's secretary, testified that the Sheriff's Office revamped the sick leave donation program in
2010 or 2011. Dkt. No. 112 at 60-66. This revamping consisted of requiring specific approval of
each leave donation, and only granting donations to the extent that they were needed for the
employee on sick leave to receive a full paycheck. Id. Ms. Swanberry never indicated that the
Department considered eliminating the program in its entirety. Id. Rather, the donation program
was unilaterally canceled by Defendant Mahar over objections by Defendants Hendry and Russo,
see Dkt. No. 141 at ¶¶ 78, 79, without notifying any employees that such a change was
forthcoming, Dkt. No. 122 at 70-71. The sick leave donation program was terminated after
Plaintiff received donations, but before they were approved by the committee. Id. at 69-70.
The County Defendants' argument that Defendant Mahar was unaware of Plaintiff's
protected speech is undermined by actions taken shortly after Plaintiff reported that he would not
be returning to work. Plaintiff submitted a doctor's note on November 4, 2012 indicating that he
would be "out of work until further notice." Dkt. No. 99-18. Shortly thereafter, Defendant Mahar
ordered Defendant Vibert to clean out Plaintiff's office. Dkt. No. 116-1 at 17. While Defendant
Mahar claims that the first time he learned of Plaintiff's allegations of his criminal conduct in
connection with the HIPAA violations was in the context of this lawsuit, Dkt. No. 103-1 at ¶ 56,
he specifically instructed Defendant Vibert to look for the HIPAA investigation file when
cleaning out Plaintiff's office, Dkt. No. 119 at 165-66. Significantly, Defendant Mahar told
Defendant Vibert that "if you find it, you are not to let it out of your sight, you are not to hand it
to anybody else, you are to hand it directly to me, not even to Marcelle." Id. at 166. Upon
finding the file, Defendant Vibert was instructed to "secure it where nobody has access to it but
[her,] and [she was] to personally hand it to [Defendant Mahar]." Id. at 167. The Court finds
that, even if the decision to end sick leave donations was done, in part, to save the department
money, this reasoning is mere pretext given the immediate termination of the program without
discussion or notification to anyone else in the Sheriff's Department at the exact time Plaintiff
started receiving donations, coupled with the urgency and secrecy that Defendant Vibert was
instructed to search Plaintiff's office for the HIPAA investigation files. See Terry v. Ashcroft, 336
F.3d 128, 140-41 (2d Cir. 2003) (noting that a retaliatory motive need only be a part, not the sole
reason, for the adverse employment actions).
The County Defendants also assert that the delay in granting Plaintiff's 207-c application
was because he did not present with an easily verifiable injury and the psychiatrist that the
Sheriff's Department typically used had a conflict of interest. See Dkt. No. 101-22. Plaintiff
submitted his initial 207-c application on October 31, 2012 with a report from clinical
psychologist Dr. Richard Ovens stating that Plaintiff's conditions of PTSD and major depressive
disorder arose from work related stress. Dkt. No. 111-10 at 14-15. Thereafter, the Sheriff's
Department contacted Dr. Russell Denea to perform an independent psychiatric examination of
Plaintiff. See Dkt. No. 116-1 at 157-62. On May 1, 2013, Dr. Denea confirmed the findings of
Dr. Ovens. Id. at 161-62. Defendants present no explanation for why Plaintiff's 207-c application
was delayed until September 23, 2013, see Dkt. No. 111-20, an additional four months after their
independent medical evaluation confirmed Plaintiff's work related injury. Therefore, the County
Defendants' motion on this ground is denied in part and Plaintiff's nineteenth and twentieth causes
of action for First Amendment retaliation against Defendants Mahar and Rensselaer County7
based on Plaintiff's statements concerning the alleged HIPAA violation cover-up survive the
instant motion for summary judgment.
b. ADA, NYHRL, Rehabilitation Act, and § 1981 Claims
Claims of retaliation under the ADA, NYHRL, 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and the Rehabilitation
Act are analyzed under the same standard as Title VII claims. See Treglia v. Town of Manlius,
313 F.3d 713, 719 (2d Cir. 2002) (applying the Title VII standard to ADA, NYHRL, and
Rehabilitation Act retaliation claims); Hicks v. Baines, 593 F.3d 159, 164 (2d Cir. 2010)
(applying the Title VII standard to NYHRL and § 1981 claims). To survive summary judgment
on a retaliation claim, a public employee must establish "(1) that he engaged in [a protected
activity], (2) that the employer was aware of this activity, (3) that the employer took adverse
action against the plaintiff, and (4) that a causal connection exists between the protected activity
and the adverse action . . . ." Cifra v. G.E. Co., 252 F.3d 205, 216 (2d Cir. 2001) (citations
As Plaintiff has failed to present any evidence that the other individual defendants
retaliated against him on this basis, the County Defendants' motion on this ground is granted in
part and Plaintiff's nineteenth and twentieth causes of against Defendants Russo, Jimino, Smith,
Hendry, and Baldwin are dismissed.
omitted). Title VII prohibits an employer from discriminating against an employee "because he
has made a charge, testified, assisted, or participated in any manner in an investigation,
proceeding, or hearing under this subchapter." Terry, 336 F.3d at 141 (quoting 42 U.S.C. §
2000e-3(a)). Courts analyze Title VII and First Amendment retaliation claims according to the
same burden-shifting framework. See id.
i. Protected Activity
Plaintiff asserts the same two instances of protected activities as his First Amendment
retaliation claims: testifying in the Abbott matter, see Dkt. No. 111-5, and speaking with Mr.
Goldberger, see Dkt. No. 125 at ¶¶ 19-21. Testifying in the Abbott matter concerning a charge of
sexual harassment is a protected activity under Title VII. See Cortes v. City of New York, 700 F.
Supp. 2d 474, 482 (S.D.N.Y. 2010).
Conversely, the conversation with Mr. Goldberger only discussed possible criminal
activities by Defendant Mahar and did not discuss any allegedly discriminatory actions taken by
the Sheriff's Department. See Dkt. No. 113 at 154. Thus, the Court finds that this conversation is
not a protected activity under Title VII. See Kelly v. Howard I. Shapiro & Assocs. Consulting
Eng'rs, P.C., 716 F.3d 10, 15 (2d Cir. 2013) (noting that complaints regarding illegal action not
covered by Title VII are not classified as protected activity).
Plaintiff has failed to present any argument that he engaged in a protected activity under
the ADA. See Dkt. No. 101-22 at 22-23. He has not made any requests for reasonable
accommodations, nor has he taken any action to oppose disability discrimination. See Sarno v.
Douglas Elliman-Gibbons & Ives, Inc., 183 F.3d 155, 159 (2d Cir. 1999) (discussing the
protected activity prong of ADA retaliation claims). To the extent that Plaintiff's filing the instant
lawsuit asserting discrimination based on his perceived disability is his protected activity, all of
the allegedly retaliatory acts took place before this action was commenced. Thus, the Court
grants Defendants motion for summary judgment on this ground and Plaintiff's twenty-first cause
of action for retaliation under the ADA is dismissed.
ii. Employer's Awareness
Defendant Mahar stated that he was not present when Plaintiff testified at the DHR
hearing and he did not read or review the testimony after the fact. Dkt. No. 103-1 at ¶ 54.
However, Defendant Mahar also stated that, at the time of the hearing, he was at least generally
aware that Plaintiff testified in the Abbott matter. Dkt. No. 116 at 147. Thus, the Court finds that
Plaintiff's testimony in the Abbott matter satisfies the first two prongs of this analysis. See Risco
v. McHugh, 868 F. Supp. 2d 75, 112 (S.D.N.Y. 2012) (citations omitted) (holding that general
employer knowledge of a plaintiff's protected activity is sufficient).
iii. Adverse Action
The standard for adverse employment actions in First Amendment retaliation claims is
analyzed in the same manner as Title VII retaliation claims. See Zelnik v. Fashion Inst. of Tech.,
464 F.3d 217, 227 (2d Cir. 2006). Therefore, Plaintiff has established that the denial of donated
sick leave, not being automatically placed on disability when his sick time ran out, and a lengthy
delay in processing his 207-c benefits were adverse employment actions. See supra Part
The causation analysis for First Amendment and Title VII retaliation claims is identical.
See Feingold v. New York, 366 F.3d 138, 160 (2d Cir. 2004). Thus, Plaintiff has not established a
prima facie case that his protected activity of testifying in the Abbott matter caused the alleged
retaliatory actions. See supra Part III(B)(2)(b)(iii). Accordingly, the Court grants the County
Defendants' motion on this ground and Plaintiff's sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth, and twentysecond causes of action for retaliation pursuant to the ADA, the NYHRL, 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and
the Rehabilitation Act are dismissed.
a. Section 1981, NYHRL, and NYS Civil Rights Law § 40-c
To withstand summary judgment of a Title VII discrimination claim, a plaintiff must
prove that "(1) [he] is a member of the protected class; (2) [he] is qualified for the job; (3) [he]
suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) the circumstances surrounding the adverse action
give rise to an inference of discrimination." Jackson v. Bataglia, 63 F. Supp. 3d 214, 222
(N.D.N.Y. 2014) (applying the same standard to § 1981 discrimination claims); see also Ganzy v.
Allen Christian Sch., 995 F. Supp. 340, 346-50 (E.D.N.Y. 1998) (applying the same standards to
Title VII, NYHRL, and Civil Rights Law § 40-c discrimination claims).
Defendants concede that Plaintiff is a member of a protected class and that, prior to going
out on extended disability leave, he was qualified for his job. See Dkt. No. 101-22 at 24 n.3.
While the definition of an adverse employment action is narrower in discrimination than
retaliation claims, see Hicks v. Baines, 593 F.3d 159, 165 (2d Cir. 2010), a "material loss of
benefits" is a sufficiently adverse employment action to state a prima facie claim of
discrimination, Mathirampuzha v. Potter, 548 F.3d 70, 78 (2d Cir. 2008) (citation omitted). Thus,
Plaintiff's inability to utilize donated sick leave and the prolonged delay in receiving his 207-c
benefits constitutes an adverse employment action. See supra Part III(B)(2)(a)(ii).
i. Disparate Treatment
A plaintiff can establish an inference of discrimination by "showing that the employer
subjected him to disparate treatment, that is, treated him less favorably than a similarly situated
employee outside his protected group." Graham v. Long Island R.R., 230 F.3d 34, 39 (2d Cir.
2000) (citations omitted). "To be similarly situated, Plaintiffs must show that they were similarly
situated 'in all material respects' to the individuals with whom they seek to compare themselves."
Glenwright v. Xerox Corp., 832 F. Supp. 2d 268, 274 (W.D.N.Y. 2011) (quoting Shumway v.
United Parcel Serv., Inc., 118 F.3d 60, 64 (2d Cir. 1997)).
In the present motion, Plaintiff's allegations concerning his promotions and his denial of a
take home vehicle and cell phone are barred by the statute of limitations. See supra Part
III(B)(1)(a). Thus, the Court will consider Plaintiff's contentions that he was assigned an
exceedingly heavy work load, that his personal mail was not forwarded to his home after he went
out on sick leave, that he was forced to surrender his office keys and department issued firearm,
that he was denied use of donated sick leave, and that his 207-c benefits were delayed. See Dkt.
No. 128 at 10-12.
First, Plaintiff contends that his workload was unreasonably excessive compared to
similarly situated employees. A majority of the excess work that Plaintiff complains of was
assigned at the time he was promoted to internal affairs officer, which was well before the
applicable statute of limitations period. The remaining additional duties allegedly assigned to
Plaintiff are that he "was expected to assist and train Defendant Vibert when she was hired," and
that he was involved in numerous ongoing investigations. Id. at 12; Dkt. No. 112 at 61-67. The
Court finds that Plaintiff has failed to present evidence that any other employee had sufficiently
similar job duties to Plaintiff's internal affairs position to evaluate whether his work duties were
disproportionately assigned to him because of his ethnicity, or simply because of his job
responsibilities. See Whethers v. Nassau Health Care Corp., 956 F. Supp. 2d 364, 379 (E.D.N.Y.
2013) ("These allegations, however do not provide sufficient evidence that defendants treated
[plaintiff] less favorably than similarly situated employees because plaintiff fails to name
similarly situated individuals with similar job titles and responsibilities").
Second, Plaintiff's allegation of disparate treatment based on his personal mail not being
forwarded to him after he left work on extended leave is unsupported by a showing of any
similarly situated employees. Defendant Mahar testified that he was unaware of any other
individuals that had their personal mail sent to the Sheriff's Department, let alone any employees
on extended leave that would require such mail to be forwarded. See Dkt. No. 116-1 at 101-02.
Further, Plaintiff's personal mail continued to be delivered to his office after he had left work
because he failed to submit a change of address card with the post office. Dkt. No. 113 at 240-41.
Thus, Plaintiff was not subject to disparate treatment with regards to his personal mail being
delivered to the Sheriff's Department.
Third, Plaintiff contends that no other employees were required to turn in their office keys
and firearms when they were out on sick leave. See Dkt. No. 101-4 at ¶ 8. The Court finds that
Defendants treated Plaintiff similarly to the only other individual who was out of work for an
indefinite period of time due to mental health issues. See Dkt. No. 119 at 86-88; Dkt. No. 103-1
at ¶¶ 47, 48. Plaintiff's brief on the instant motion concedes that "[t]he other 207-c mental injury
applicant . . . also suffered significant delays in the approval of his application and has his
weapon taken as well." Dkt. No. 128 at 17. Further, Plaintiff acknowledged that it was
reasonable for him to return his firearm and that there were important files locked inside his
office. See Dkt. No. 99-22 at 6; Dkt. No. 130, Exh. 26 at 3:15-5:00 (discussing that Plaintiff's gun
was department issued and that at least one other firearm was missing). Thus, Plaintiff was not
treated disparately by being required to return his firearm and office keys after leaving work for
an indefinite period due to a mental health injury.
Fourth, Plaintiff asserts that he was denied the use of donated sick leave, while other
Caucasian employees were allowed to use the donated time throughout the end of 2012. The
County Defendants argue that donations were denied to every employee, and only employees who
had their donations approved prior to the change in policy were entitled to use them. See Dkt.
No. 103-1 at ¶ 34. However, this account is contradicted by the statements of other Defendants.
Defendant Vibert testified that she was aware of at least one other employee receiving donated
sick time after the program had been abolished. Dkt. No. 119 at 102. Thus, the Court finds that
Plaintiff was subject to disparate treatment through the denial of his sick leave donations. As
Defendants rely on their argument that no employee was allowed to use donated sick leave after
the program was abolished, they have not provided a nondiscriminatory explanation for why
employees other than plaintiff were allowed to use such donated time after Plaintiff was denied
access to it. Therefore, the Court denies the County Defendants' motion on this ground and
Plaintiff's first, second, third, and ninth causes of action for discrimination relating to the denial of
his sick leave donations survive the instant motion for summary judgment.
Finally, Plaintiff asserts that his 207-c benefits were unnecessarily delayed, while
similarly situated employees were granted 207-c benefits without delay. Defendants contend that
Plaintiff's 207-c application was delayed because his injury was not easily verifiable, which
required an independent medical examination. Dkt. No. 103-1 at ¶¶ 41-43. Plaintiff
acknowledges that the only other individual who applied for 207-c benefits based on a mental
health injury likewise suffered significant delays in the approval of his benefits. See Dkt. No. 128
at 17; Dkt. No. 119 at 87. Thus, Plaintiff was treated in the same manner as the only other
similarly situated employee and he has not established a claim of discrimination based on the
disparate treatment in processing his 207-c benefits.
ii. Hostile Work Environment
To withstand summary judgment of a Title VII hostile work environment claim, a plaintiff
must present facts that would allow a reasonable juror to conclude that the complained of conduct
"(1) 'is objectively severe or pervasive, that is, . . . the conduct creates an environment that a
reasonable person would find hostile or abusive'; (2) creates an environment 'that the plaintiff
subjectively perceives as hostile or abusive'; and (3) 'creates such an environment because of the
plaintiff's [protected characteristic],'" Patane v. Clark, 508 F.3d 106, 113 (2d Cir. 2007) (quoting
Gregory v. Daly, 243 F.3d 687, 691-92 (2d Cir. 2001)); see also Gregory, 243 F.3d at 692
(indicating that any characteristic protected by Title VII is sufficient to satisfy the third element).
For racist comments, slurs, and jokes to constitute a hostile work
environment, there must be more than a few isolated incidents of
racial enmity, meaning that instead of sporadic racial slurs, there
must be a steady barrage of opprobrious racial comments. Thus,
whether racial slurs constitute a hostile work environment typically
depends upon the quantity, frequency, and severity of those slurs,
considered cumulatively in order to obtain a realistic view of the
Findlay v. Reynolds Metals Co., Inc., 82 F. Supp. 2d 27, 39 (N.D.N.Y. 2000) (quoting Schwapp v.
Town of Avon, 118 F.3d 106, 110 (2d Cir. 1997)).
In the present matter, only two statements concerning Plaintiff's ancestry were made
within the applicable statute of limitations period. See supra Part III(B)(1)(b). Defendant Russo
stated that Plaintiff had better shave his goatee or he would be placed back on the no fly list, Dkt.
No. 112 at 138, and Defendant Mahar stated that Plaintiff did not like working with women
because of his ancestry, Dkt. No. 125 at ¶ 8. Thus, the Court finds that Plaintiff has failed to
establish that these sporadic comments were objectively so severe or pervasive that an ordinary
person would find them hostile or abusive. See Findlay, 82 F. Supp. 2d at 39.
Plaintiff has likewise failed to present evidence that he subjectively perceived his work
environment as hostile. Plaintiff never filed a complaint concerning any of the allegedly hostile
actions taken against him. Dkt. No. 113 at 258; Dkt. No. 99-4 at 2. The workers compensation
panel noted that "none of the medical reports indicate that [Plaintiff] was specifically verbally
harassed by supervisors." Dkt. No. 101-20 at 3. Plaintiff made no mention of being the subject of
racially insensitive jokes or comments in his initial workers compensation application. Id. at 5.
Moreover, Plaintiff joined in the use of abusive language by calling Defendant Vibert a "cunt"
and joking about Defendant Smith's Polish heritage. Dkt. No. 141 at ¶¶ 129-131; Dkt. No. 112 at
142-43. The Court finds that Plaintiff has failed to raise any genuine question of fact that his
workplace was either objectively or subjectively hostile in relation to Plaintiff's ancestry. Thus,
the County Defendants' motion is granted on this ground and Plaintiff's first, second, and third
causes of action for discrimination based on a hostile work environment are dismissed.
c. Disability Discrimination
Disability discrimination claims under the Rehabilitation Act and the NYHRL "are
governed by the same legal standard as such claims under the ADA." Reddick v. Niagara
Mohawk Power Co., No. 08 CV 0995, 2010 WL 5185098, *3 n.8 (N.D.N.Y. Dec. 16, 2010); see
also Henrietta D. v. Bloomberg, 331 F.3d 261, 272 (2d Cir. 2003) (applying the same standard to
ADA and Rehabilitation Act disability discrimination claims). To withstand summary judgment
under the ADA, a plaintiff must present evidence showing that "(1) his employer is subject to the
ADA; (2) he was disabled within the meaning of the ADA; (3) he was otherwise qualified to
perform the essential functions of his job, with or without reasonable accommodation; and (4) he
suffered adverse employment action because of his disability." McMillan v. City of New York,
711 F.3d 120, 125 (2d Cir. 2013) (quoting Sista v. CDC Ixis N. Am., Inc., 445 F.3d 161, 169 (2d
Cir. 2006)). "A qualified individual can base a discrimination claim on any of 'three available
theories: (1) intentional discrimination (disparate treatment); (2) disparate impact; and (3) failure
to make a reasonable accommodation.'" Fulton v. Goord, 591 F.3d 37, 43 (2d. Cir. 2009) (quoting
Tsombanidis v. W. Haven Fire Dep't, 352 F.3d 565, 573 (2d. Cir. 2003)). A discrimination claim
based on a perceived disability requires a plaintiff to show that the "employer perceived him as
having a disability as defined in the ADA." Thomsen v. Stantec, Inc., 483 Fed. Appx. 620, 622
(2d Cir. 2012).
The ADA defines "disability" as: "A) a physical or mental impairment that substantially
limits one or more of the major life activities of [an] individual; B) a record of such an
impairment; or C) being regarded as having such an impairment." 42 U.S.C. § 12102(2). The
NYHRL defines "disability" somewhat more broadly as "a physical, mental or medical
impairment resulting from anatomical, physiological, genetic or neurological conditions which
prevents the exercise of a normal bodily function or is demonstrable by medically accepted
clinical or laboratory diagnostic techniques[.]" N.Y. EXEC. LAW § 292(21). Thus, the NYHRL
"provides that disabilities are not limited to physical or mental impairments, but may also include
'medical' impairments," and, in addition, "unlike the ADA, the NYHRL does not impose the
requirement that the impairment substantially limit the individual's normal activities." Penberg v.
HealthBridge Mgmt., 823 F. Supp. 2d 166, 182 (E.D.N.Y. 2011) (internal quotation marks
omitted). Additionally, the NYHRL makes it unlawful for an employer "because of an
individual's . . . disability . . . to refuse to hire or employ or to bar or to discharge from
employment such individual or to discriminate against such individual in compensation or in
terms, conditions or privileges of employment." N.Y. Exec. Law § 296-1(a). "Aside from the
law's unique definition of 'disability,'" however, claims under the NYHRL are analyzed under the
same burden-shifting framework as ADA claims. See Penberg, 823 F. Supp. 2d at 182 (citation
Plaintiff was diagnosed with PTSD and major depressive disorder on October 8, 2012.
Dkt. No. 111-10 at 9. These conditions caused Plaintiff to leave work for an extended period of
time. Dkt. No. 99-18. Plaintiff also testified that these conditions manifested in numerous
physical ailments. See Dkt. No. 112 at 50. Thus, the Court finds that Plaintiff was disabled under
the ADA and NYHRL because his medical condition prevented him from reporting to work.
Plaintiff "has been determined by his physician to be unable to return to work," and
"pursuant to his doctor's directive, [he] has been out of work since the end of August 2012." Dkt.
No. 101-3 at ¶¶ 8, 9; Dkt. No. 125 at ¶¶ 23, 24. Thus, the evidence indicates that Plaintiff was not
able to perform his job at the time of the alleged discrimination. See Henzel v. Del. Otsego Corp.,
285 F. Supp. 2d 271, 276 (N.D.N.Y. 2003) ("It is axiomatic that an individual cannot perform the
essential functions of a job if he is completely unable to work regardless of accommodation"
(citations omitted)). Therefore, the Court grants the County Defendants' motion on this ground
and Plaintiff's eleventh, twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth causes of action for disability
discrimination are dismissed.
d. NYS Civil Rights Law § 79-n8
The Court will address Plaintiff's claims brought pursuant to this section even though
neither party has specifically addressed it in their briefs. See MSF Holding Ltd. v. Fiduciary Tr.
Co. Intern., 435 F. Supp. 2d 285, 304 (S.D.N.Y. 2006) (citing First Fin. Ins. Co. v. Allstate
Interior Demolition Corp., 193 F.3d 109, 114 (2d Cir. 1999)) (holding that summary judgment
may be granted sua sponte if the evidence shows that no material dispute of fact exists and that a
party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law).
New York Civil Rights Law § 79-n creates a civil cause of action for "[a]ny person who
intentionally selects a person or property for harm or . . . causes physical injury or death to
another" because of, inter alia, a disability or national origin. NY CIV. RIGHTS L. § 79-n(2). To
date, no New York courts have interpreted the applicability of this law in an employment
discrimination context or the extent of "harm" required to state a cause of action. See Spring v.
Allegany-Limestone Cent. Sch. Dist., No. 14-CV-476S, 2015 WL 5793600, *12 (W.D.N.Y. Sept.
30, 2015). Without interpretation from other courts regarding this statute, the legislative history
provides a helpful understanding of its applicability to employment discrimination actions. See
Auburn Hous. Auth. v. Martinez, 277 F.3d 138, 143-44 (2d Cir. 2002) (noting that courts may
look at legislative history to interpret ambiguous text of a statute). The legislative history of § 79n clearly states that "this new remedy applies only to 'bias-related violence or intimidation.'"
Assemb. 223-529, Reg. Sess. (N.Y. 2010). Further, this statute is not "available where existing
discrimination laws already provide protection, such as in employment or public housing
decisions." Id. Thus, Plaintiff is precluded from relief under this statute both by the nature of the
employment discrimination action and by the lack of any alleged violence or intimidation.
Accordingly, Plaintiff's tenth and fifteenth causes of action are dismissed.
4. Liability for Individual Defendants
Individuals may be personally liable under the NYHRL and § 1981 "where the individual
possessed 'power to do more than carry out personnel decisions made by others,' or is shown to
have 'actually participate[d] in the conduct giving rise to a discrimination claim.'" Jackson v.
Battaglia, 63 F. Supp. 3d 214, 222 (N.D.N.Y. 2014) (quoting Tomka v. Seiler Corp., 66 F.3d
1295, 1317 (2d Cir. 1995), abrogated on other grounds by Burlington Indus., Inc. v. Ellerth, 524
U.S. 742 (1998)) (other citation omitted). Whether such individual's actions classify him or her
as an "employer" for liability under the NYHRL is determined by examining "whether the alleged
employer: (1) had the power to hire employees; (2) made the payment of salary or wages to the
employee; (3) had the power of dismissal over the employee; and (4) had the power to control the
employee's conduct." White v. Pacifica Found., 973 F. Supp. 2d 363, 375 (S.D.N.Y. 2013)
(citations omitted). Individuals may also be liable under the NYHRL if they "aided and abetted"
the allegedly improper conduct "by encouraging, condoning, or approving it." Id. (citation
omitted); see also Frank v. Lawrence Union Free Sch. Dist., 688 F. Supp. 2d 160, 174-75
(E.D.N.Y. 2010) (noting that a defendant cannot aid and abet discriminatory conduct if he was
unaware that the allegedly improper actions were carried out for a discriminatory purpose).
a. Defendant Jimino
Defendant Jimino, as Rensselaer County Executive, has limited interactions with the
Sheriff's Department that do not include hiring, disciplining, or terminating Sheriff's Department
employees. Dkt. No. 101-24 at ¶ 4. Defendant Jimino does not directly supervise the Sheriff's
Department, nor does she play any role in 207-c benefit applications. Id. at ¶¶ 3, 11. Defendant
Jimino stated that she never witnessed, heard, or made any discriminatory statements to or about
Plaintiff. Id. at ¶¶ 6, 8, 9.
Plaintiff contends that Defendant Jimino, "in her position of County Executive for
Rensselaer County, influences and/or decides some issues of hiring, discipline, and benefits."
Dkt. No. 128 at 27. Plaintiff cites a grievance submitted by the United Public Service Employees
Union, served upon Defendant Jimino as County Executive, to support this contention. See id.;
Dkt. No. 112-12 at 4-7. This grievance includes a copy of a proposal for the creation of the sick
leave donation program, signed by Defendant Jimino on behalf of the County on March 11, 2003.
Dkt. No. 112-12 at 7. Rather than proving Defendant Jimino's personal involvement in the
determination of sick leave donations, this provision states that the "Department Head and the
Director of Human Resources will jointly administer the sick bank leave." Id. Plaintiff provides
no evidence that Defendant Jimino played any personal role in discriminatory practices against
Plaintiff, nor that she had any independent control over Plaintiff's actions. See White, 937 F.
Supp. 2d at 376 (noting that individuals with no independent control over the plaintiff are not
sufficiently involved to be considered an employer under the NYHRL). Further, there is no
evidence that Defendant Jimino had any knowledge of the discriminatory actions taken against
Plaintiff as to be an "aider and abettor" under the NYHRL. See Frank, 688 F. Supp. 2d at 174-75.
b. Defendant Hendry
Plaintiff contends that Defendant Hendry, as Director of Human Resources for Rensselaer
County, has the authority to hire, fire, supervise, and to collect and record sick time donations for
county employees. See Dkt. No. 128 at 27. Plaintiff contends that Defendant Hendry knew or
should have known that Plaintiff was entitled to sick leave donations because of his role on the
committee tasked with reviewing sick leave donations. Id.
Defendant Hendry attested that he has "no authority to hire, fire or supervise any Sheriff's
Department employee." Dkt. No. 101-25 at ¶ 5. Defendant Hendry, along with Defendant Russo
and a union representative, were on the committee that approved sick time donations for the
Sheriff's Department. Id. at ¶ 8. In 2012, Defendant Hendry received sick time donations for
Plaintiff, noted that he supported the donations, and sent them to Defendant Russo in accordance
with ordinary procedures. Dkt. No. 121 at 11-12. After this, Defendant Hendry was informed
that Plaintiff's sick time donations would not be approved because the Sheriff's Department had
decided to cancel its donation program. Id. at 12-13; Dkt. No. 101-25 at ¶ 9. Defendant Hendry
did not speak to Defendants Russo or Mahar about why Plaintiff's donations were denied, he did
not know why the donations were denied, and he was "shocked" that the donations were not
approved. Dkt. No 121 at 21-23. Defendant Hendry stated that he had no other direct
involvement in the denial of Plaintiff's donations or the decision to cancel the donation program
and has "no ability to approve sick leave donations absent the Sheriff's approval." Dkt. No. 10125 at ¶¶ 9, 11. Defendant Hendry plays no role in determining 207-c benefit applications. Id. at
c. Defendant Baldwin
Plaintiff contends that Defendant Baldwin, as the payroll clerk for Rensselaer County, had
the duty and ability to provide Plaintiff with donated sick leave information. Dkt. No. 128 at 28.
Plaintiff asserts that Defendant Baldwin's actions of failing to provide him with this information
resulted in these records being altered and/or destroyed. Id. Plaintiff cites the recorded
conversations with Defendant Baldwin to support this contention. After reviewing the
recordings, the Court finds that the conversations between Plaintiff and Defendant Baldwin do not
support the contention that she had a duty to provide Plaintiff with this information, or that her
actions resulted in these records being altered or destroyed. See Dkt. No. 130. Moreover,
Defendant Baldwin attested that she has no independent authority to grant or approve sick time
donations or 207-c applications, that she merely receives such applications and presents them to
her supervisor for approval, and that she never engaged in or witnessed any discrimination against
Plaintiff for his national origin or his perceived disability. Dkt. No. 101-26 at ¶¶ 3, 4, 6-8.
d. Defendant Smith
The only allegation against Defendant Smith it that he placed a sign on a burned out
vehicle that read "Lt. Karam's undercover car." Dkt. No. 128 at 28. This action falls outside the
applicable three year statute of limitations. See supra Part III(B)(1)(b)(i).
e. Defendant Russo
Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Russo joined Defendant Smith in placing the sign on the
burned out car, and that he was personally involved in denying Plaintiff's use of sick leave
donations. See Dkt. No. 128 at 28. Similar to Defendant Hendry's role in determining Plaintiff's
sick leave donations, Defendant Russo simply acted as he was ordered to do by Defendant Mahar.
Dkt. No. 117 at 65-71.
For the foregoing reasons, the Court finds that Defendants Jimino, Hendry, Baldwin,
Smith, and Russo were neither an employer nor an aider and abettor of discrimination against
Plaintiff. Thus, the County Defendants' motion is granted on this ground and Plaintiff's second,
third, fourteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth causes of action against Defendants Jimino, Hendry,
Baldwin, Smith, and Russo are dismissed.
5. Equal Protection
"Title VII claims for disparate treatment parallel the equal protection claims brought under
§ 1983. 'The elements of one are generally the same as the elements of the other and the two
must stand or fall together.'" Demoret v. Zegarelli, 451 F.3d 140, 153 (2d Cir. 2006) (quoting
Feingold v. New York, 366 F.3d 138, 159 (2d Cir. 2004) (internal citation omitted)). Since
Plaintiff's discrimination claims based on the denial of his sick leave donations have withstood
summary judgment, see supra Part III(B)(3)(a)(i), the facts surrounding those claims likewise
withstand summary judgment on his § 1983 equal rights claim. Accordingly, the County
Defendants' motion is denied on this ground and Plaintiff's fourth cause of action against
Defendants Mahar9 and Rensselaer County for equal protection violations survive the instant
Where adequate remedies are available under § 1983, a plaintiff has "no private right of
action under the New York State Constitution" for equal protection claims under Article 1,
Section 11. Wierzbicki v. Cnty. of Rensselaer, No. 1:14-CV-950, 2015 WL 4757755, *6
(N.D.N.Y. Aug. 12, 2015) (citations omitted). Plaintiff has failed to articulate how his state
constitutional claim differs from his § 1983 claims. Therefore, the County Defendants' motion on
this ground is granted in part, and Plaintiff's eighth cause of action is dismissed.
Plaintiff also asserts a "general claim of disparate treatment in violation of his right to
equal protection," which appears to be a class-of-one equal protection claim. Dkt. No. 128 at 19;
Dkt. No. 1 at ¶¶ 138-143. The Supreme Court has clearly stated that "the class-of-one theory of
equal protection has no application in the public employment context . . . ." Engquist v. Or. Dep't
of Agric., 553 U.S. 591, 607 (2008). Accordingly, Plaintiff's twenty-seventh cause of action is
6. 42 U.S.C. §§ 1985 & 1986
Section 1985 allows an injured party to recover damages "[i]f two or more persons . . .
conspire . . . for the purpose of depriving, either directly or indirectly, [the injured party] of the
equal protection of the laws, or of equal privileges . . . of the laws." 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3). To
recover pursuant to Section 1985(3), a plaintiff must demonstrate that there was:
As discussed in supra Part III(B)(4), no individual County Defendant other than
Defendant Mahar played a role in discriminating against Plaintiff. Thus, Plaintiff's equal
protection claims against Defendants Russo, Jimino, Smith, Hendry, and Baldwin are dismissed.
(1) a conspiracy; (2) for the purpose of depriving a person . . . of the
equal protection of the laws, or the equal privileges and immunities
of the laws; (3) an overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy; and
(4) an injury to the plaintiff's person or property, or a deprivation of
a right or privilege of a citizen of the United States.
Morpugo v. Inc. Vill. of Sag Harbor, 697 F. Supp. 2d 309, 339 (E.D.N.Y. 2010) (citing Thomas v.
Roach, 165 F.3d 137, 146 (2d Cir. 1999)). "A conspiracy is an agreement between two or more
individuals, where one individual acts in furtherance of the objective of the conspiracy, and each
member has knowledge of the nature and scope of the agreement." Dove v. Fordham Univ., 56 F.
Supp. 2d 330, 337 (S.D.N.Y. 1999) (citation omitted). There must be a "meeting of the minds,
such that defendants entered into an agreement, express or tacit, to achieve the unlawful end."
Webb v. Goord, 340 F.3d 105, 110 (2d Cir. 2003) (citations omitted). Furthermore, a plaintiff
must demonstrate that the conspiracy was "motivated by 'some racial or perhaps otherwise classbased'" factors. Mian v. Donaldson, Lufkin, & Jenrette Sec. Corp., 7 F.3d 1085, 1088 (2d Cir.
1999) (quoting United Bhd. of Carpenters, Local 610 v. Scott, 463 U.S. 825, 828-29 (1983)).
"[C]onclusory, vague, or general allegations of conspiracy to deprive a person of constitutional
rights cannot withstand a motion to dismiss." Gyadu v. Hartford Ins. Co., 197 F.3d 590, 591 (2d
Cir. 1999) (quoting Sommer v. Dixon, 709 F.2d 173, 175 (2d Cir. 1983)).
Section 1986 establishes a cause of action against "anyone who 'having knowledge that
any of the wrongs conspired to be done and mentioned in section 1985 are about to be committed
and having power to prevent or aid, neglects to do so.' Thus, a § 1986 claim must be predicated
upon a valid § 1985 claim." Mian, 7 F.3d at 1088 (internal quotation and citations omitted).
Plaintiff has provided no evidence to establish that a conspiracy existed amongst the
Defendants. His only support for his conspiracy claims are his statements that Defendants Russo
and Hendry were on the committee that approved Plaintiff's sick leave donations and that,
"between Defendant Hendry, Russo, and Mahar, at some point the donated sick leave documents
disappeared." Dkt. No. 128 at 31. In contrast to the allegations that an agreement existed to
deprive Plaintiff of his rights, Defendant Hendry stated that he "had no say or authority over the
Sheriff's Department sick leave donation program or its determination to cancel the program."
Dkt. No. 101-25 at ¶ 9. Defendant Russo likewise had no say in canceling the sick leave donation
program. Dkt. No. 117 at 65-71. Rather than conspiring to limit Plaintiff's use of donated sick
leave, both Defendants Russo and Hendry opposed the termination of the donation program. Id.
Thus, Plaintiff has presented no evidence to establish that the Defendants worked together in any
way, let alone in a discriminatory manner, to deprive Plaintiff of his rights. Therefore, the County
Defendants' motion is granted on this ground and Plaintiff's fifth, sixth, and seventh causes of
action for conspiracy are dismissed.
7. Prima Facie Tort
"[T]he prima facie tort is aimed at providing relief for the intentional infliction of harm
under circumstances that do not lend themselves to categorization as one of the traditional causes
of action." Nat'l Nutritional Foods Ass'n v. Whelan, 492 F. Supp. 374, 382-83 (S.D.N.Y. 1980).
To prevail on a prima facie tort claim, the plaintiff must show "(1) intentional infliction of harm,
(2) causing special damages, (3) without excuse or justification, (4) by an act or series of acts that
would otherwise be lawful." Curiano v. Suozzi, 63 N.Y.2d 113, 117 (1984) (citations omitted).
"[T]here is no recovery in prima facie tort unless malevolence is the sole motive for defendant's
otherwise lawful act." Smith v. Meridian Tech., Inc., 927 N.Y.S.2d 141, 144 (App. Div. 2011)
Defendants assert that the sick leave donation program was terminated because it was an
expensive undertaking for the Sheriff's Department. Dkt. No. 103-1 at ¶ 33. Further, Defendant
Mahar had expressed concerns over the leave donation program well before Plaintiff sought to
use donated sick leave. Dkt. No. 112 at 60-66. The delay in Plaintiff's 207-c application was due,
in part, to the need for an independent medical evaluation. Dkt. No. 103-1 at ¶ 43. Thus,
Defendants allegedly improper actions were motivated, at least in part, by proper purposes.
Further, Plaintiff has failed to provide any evidence that he suffered special damages. Therefore,
the County Defendants' motion is granted on this ground and Plaintiff's twenty-third cause of
action for prima facie tort is dismissed.
The "alleged violation of federal, state, and city anti-discrimination laws are not torts
under New York Law." Bauger v. Spanish Broad. Sys., Inc., No. 04-CV-8393, 2007 WL
2780390, *4 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 20, 2007). A tort claim cannot arise in employment settings absent
some other "independent legal duty" owed by the employer beyond the anti-discrimination
statutes. Id. Further, "plaintiff's receipt of General Municipal Law § 207–c benefits provide[s]
his exclusive remedy and bar[s] any cause of action based on common law negligence." Braxton
v. City of Yonkers, 717 N.Y.S.2d 326, 327 (App. Div. 2000) (citations omitted).
Plaintiff has failed to establish that Defendants owed him any other duty apart from his
employment contract and his 207-c benefits. See Dkt. No. 128 at 28-30. Thus, the County
Defendants' motion on this ground is granted and Plaintiff's twenty-fourth and twenty-ninth
causes of action for negligence are dismissed.
9. Mandamus and Due Process
"Simply stated, a case is moot when the issues presented are no longer 'live' or the parties
lack a legally cognizable interest in the outcome." Powell v. McCormack, 395 U.S. 486, 496
(1969). Plaintiff alleges that he was entitled to "a writ of mandamus forcing Defendants to
provide [him] retroactive and current pay and benefits in accordance with [207-c]" and that such
failure to pay these benefits deprived him of his due process rights. Dkt. No. 1 at ¶¶ 137, 146.
Plaintiff's 207-c application was approved and he was retroactively paid all benefits and back pay.
See Dkt. No. 141 at ¶¶ 95-99. Accordingly, the County Defendants' motion on this ground is
granted and Plaintiff's twenty-sixth and twenty-eighth causes of action are dismissed as moot.
10. Doe Defendant(s)
"Where a plaintiff 'has had ample time to identify' a Doe defendant but gives 'no indication
that he has made any effort to discover the [defendant's] name,' the plaintiff 'simply cannot
continue to maintain a suit against' the [Doe Defendants]." Valade v. City of New York, 949 F.
Supp. 2d 519, 532 (S.D.N.Y. 2013) (quotations omitted). Plaintiff has failed to provide any
evidence to establish the identity of any of the unnamed Doe Defendant(s). Accordingly, all
causes of action against any Doe Defendant(s) are dismissed.
Defendant Vibert's Motion10
Plaintiff's allegations against Defendant Vibert are that she unlawfully withheld his
personal mail that was delivered to the Sheriff's Department, that she accused him of stealing
office equipment, that she failed to act to protect Plaintiff after hearing statements regarding his
ethnicity, Dkt. No. 125 at ¶ 25, and that she aided and abetted the issuance of a false disciplinary
memorandum, Dkt. No. 99-26 at 8.
The Court will only consider Defendant Vibert's motion to the extent that it addresses
Plaintiff's causes of action numbered 2, 3, 4, 9, 19, 20, and 25, as all other claims asserted against
her were dismissed by the County Defendants' motion for summary judgment.
Plaintiff's second, third, fourth, and ninth causes of action for discrimination and equal
protection violations based on the denial of Plaintiff's access to donated sick leave survived the
County Defendants' motion for summary judgment. See supra Part III(B)(3)(a)(i). Plaintiff has
presented no evidence that Defendant Vibert played any role in the decision to end the sick leave
donation program or to deny Plaintiff's access to donated sick leave. Rather, numerous
Defendants testified that Defendant Vibert was not involved in any decision regarding Plaintiff's
sick leave donations or his 207-c benefits. See Dkt. No. 122-1 at 235-36; Dkt. No. 113 at 292-93;
Dkt. No. 116-1 at 259-60; see also Jackson v. Battaglia, 63 F. Supp. 3d 214, 222 (N.D.N.Y.
2014) (noting that individuals may be liable for discrimination under the NYHRL and § 1981 if
they "actually participate[d] in the conduct giving rise to a discrimination claim"). Accordingly,
Defendant Vibert's motion for summary judgment is granted on this ground and Plaintiff's second,
third, fourth, and ninth causes of action against her are dismissed.
2. First Amendment Retaliation
Plaintiff's nineteenth and twentieth causes of action for First Amendment retaliation
survived the County Defendants' motion. See supra Part III(B)(2)(a). The protected speech in
these claims involved Plaintiff's conversations with Mr. Goldberger regarding Defendant Mahar's
allegedly unlawful actions in covering up numerous HIPAA violations. Defendant Vibert's only
role in the events surrounding these claims is that she retrieved the HIPAA investigation files
from Plaintiff's office at the request of Defendant Mahar. Dkt. No. 119 at 165-66. Plaintiff has
not alleged that Defendant Vibert knew of his protected speech, nor that she played any role in
the denial of his sick leave donations or his 207-c application. See Dkt. No. 122-1 at 235-36; Dkt.
No. 113 at 292-93; Dkt. No. 116-1 at 259-60. Therefore, Defendant Vibert's motion is granted on
this ground and Plaintiff's nineteenth and twentieth causes of action against Defendant Vibert are
3. Loss of Consortium
"A claim for loss of consortium 'is not an independent cause of action, but is derivative in
nature, and may only be maintained where permitted pursuant to the primary tort.'" Wright v. City
of Ithaca, 2012 WL 1717259, *5 (N.D.N.Y. May 15, 2012) (quoting Dilworth v. Goldberg, No.
10 Civ. 2224, 2011 WL 3501869, *23 (S.D.N.Y. July 28, 2011)). None of Plaintiff's remaining
causes of action support a derivative loss of consortium claim. See Santiago v. Newburgh
Enlarged City Sch. Dist., 434 F. Supp. 2d 193, 198 (S.D.N.Y. 2006) (citing Moss v. Stinnes
Corp., 169 F.3d 784, 785 (2d Cir. 1999) ("It is well settled that none of the statutes invoked by
plaintiff—Title VII, the First or Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, or the
New York Human Rights Law—can serve as the basis for a derivative claim for loss of
consortium"); Russell v. Marboro Books, 18 Misc. 2d 166, 189 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1959) ("[T]he
[New York] Civil Rights Law is statutory only and a derivative cause is not therein established").
Accordingly, the Court grants Defendant Vibert's motion on this ground and Plaintiff Lisa
Karam's twenty fifth cause of action for loss of consortium is dismissed.
4. Punitive Damages
Punitive damages are allowed for claims of First Amendment retaliation against municipal
officers sued in their individual capacities. New Windsor Volunteer Ambulance Corps, Inc. v.
Meyers, 442 F.3d 101, 122 (2d Cir. 2006) (citing Smith v. Wade, 461 U.S. 30, 55-56 (1983)).
As all causes of action asserted against Defendant Vibert have been dismissed on other
grounds, the Court will not consider whether she is entitled to a defense of qualified immunity.
Summary judgment on the issue of punitive damages is inappropriate if "there [is] sufficient
evidence to permit the factfinder to infer that the responsible official was motivated by malice or
evil intent or that he acted with reckless or callous indifference to the federally protected rights of
the plaintiff . . . ." Id. As there is a material question of fact as to whether Defendant Mahar
deliberately retaliated against Plaintiff in violation of his First Amendment rights, summary
judgment will not be granted on this issue.
After carefully reviewing the entire record in this matter, the parties' submissions and the
applicable law, and for the above-stated reasons, the court hereby
ORDERS that Defendants' motions for summary judgment (Dkt. Nos. 99 and 101) are
GRANTED in part and DENIED in part as set forth herein;12 and the Court further
ORDERS that Defendant Vibert's cross-claim against Defendant Rensselaer County is
DISMISSED as moot; and the Court further
ORDERS that Defendants Russo, Jimino, Vibert, Smith, Hendry, Baldwin, and Doe(s) are
TERMINATED from this action; and the Court further
ORDERS that Plaintiff Lisa Karam is TERMINATED from this action; and the Court
Plaintiff's first, second, third, fourth, and ninth causes of action against Rensselaer
County and Defendant Mahar for discrimination and equal protection violations based on
disparate treatment in the denial of his donated sick leave, and his nineteenth and twentieth causes
of action against Rensselaer County and Defendant Mahar for First Amendment retaliation based
on his statements concerning an alleged cover-up of HIPAA violations are not dismissed. All
remaining causes of action and all claims against the other individual Defendants are dismissed.
ORDERS that the Clerk of the Court shall serve a copy of the Memorandum-Decision and
Order on all parties in accordance with the Local Rules.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Dated: January 4, 2016
Albany, New York
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