Williams v. New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene
OPINION AND ORDER re: 30 MOTION for Summary Judgment Against the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene filed by Carrie Williams, 38 CROSS MOTION for Summary Judgment filed by New York City Department o f Health and Mental Hygiene. For the reasons stated above, the DHMH's motion for summary judgment is granted, and Williams's claims are dismissed, albeit without prejudice to her refiling her claims under the NYCHRL in state court. I t follows that Williams's cross-motion for summary judgment must be and is denied. The Clerk of Court is directed to terminate Docket Nos. 30 and 38, to enter judgment in the DHMH's favor, and to close this case. (Signed by Judge Jesse M. Furman on 3/12/2018) (mro)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
NEW YORK CITY DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND :
OPINION AND ORDER
JESSE M. FURMAN, United States District Judge:
Plaintiff Carrie Williams brings employment discrimination claims against her former
employer, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (the “DHMH”),
pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (the “ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq.;
the New York State Human Rights Law (the “NYSHRL”), N.Y. Exec. Law § 290 et seq.; and the
New York City Human Rights Law (the “NYCHRL”), N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-101 et seq.
Specifically, Williams claims that the DHMH discriminated against her on the basis of her
disability and then retaliated against her after she filed a complaint with the Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission (the “EEOC”). (See Docket No. 1 (“Complaint”)). Williams and the
DHMH now cross-move, pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, for
summary judgment. (Docket Nos. 30, 38). For the reasons discussed below, the DHMH’s
motion is GRANTED, Williams’s motion is DENIED, and the Complaint is DISMISSED.
The relevant facts, taken from the Complaint and admissible materials submitted in
connection with the pending motions, are either undisputed or described in the light most
favorable to Williams. See Costello v. City of Burlington, 632 F.3d 41, 45 (2d Cir. 2011).
Williams worked for the City of New York from October 25, 1987, until her retirement
on March 7, 2016. (Docket No. 31 (“Williams Decl.”), at ¶ 4). In September 2002, Williams
was hired by the DHMH as a Public Health Nurse Level II in the Bureau of Tuberculosis
Control. (Id. ¶ 5). The Bureau of Tuberculosis Control maintains four health centers: the Fort
Greene Chest Center, the Washington Heights Chest Center, the Corona Chest Center, and the
Morrisania Chest Center. (Id. ¶ 8). In 2003, Williams assumed the responsibilities of Patient
Care Manager, and in 2004, she was assigned the title of Public Health Nurse Level III. (Id.
¶¶ 6-7). Williams was assigned to work primarily at the Fort Greene Chest Center, but she
occasionally worked at the Washington Heights Chest Center as well. (Id. ¶ 10).
In or about May 2013, Williams was diagnosed with herniated lumbar discs, arthritis of
the spine and knees, and sciatica; she also suffered from gout and diabetic neuropathy, chronic
conditions that she had previously developed. (Id. ¶¶ 16-17; see also Williams Decl., Ex. 2
(“2015 Tambor Letter”)). As a result of these challenges, Williams’s doctor, Jeffry Tambor,
opined that she was “unable to stand longer than 2-3 minutes and . . . to walk greater than 80 feet
without stopping.” (2015 Tambor Letter). In the fall of 2013, Williams informed her supervisor,
Errol Robinson, that she had a medical condition. (See Docket No. 32 (“Sackowitz Decl.”), Ex.
1 (“Robinson Depo.”), at 27). According to Williams, her initial treatment plan was ineffective,
and her pain management doctor recommended that she undergo surgery. (Williams Decl.
¶¶ 22-23; see also Docket No. 39 (“Murrell Decl.”), Ex. E, at 3-32). Prior to the surgery,
Williams was granted leave from the date of her surgery (January 15, 2015), until her expected
return date (June 2, 2015). (See Murrell Decl., Ex. G).
On May 19, 2014, before Williams began her medical leave, one of the laboratory
associates she supervised at the Fort Greene Chest Center — Sofiya Mazuryan — filed a charge
of discrimination against the DHMH with the EEOC. (See Williams Decl. ¶¶ 32-33; Sackowitz
Decl., Ex. 5 (“Mazuryan Charge”)). Significantly, Mazuryan specifically — and exclusively —
complained about Williams, claiming that she had treated Mazuryan “less favorably than the
other non-white employees she supervise[d].” (Mazuryan Charge). On December 8, 2014, the
EEOC issued its final determination, concluding that Mazuryan was, in fact, “treated less
favorabl[y] than non-white employees and subjected to retaliation after she complained of
discrimination.” (Murrell Decl., Ex. N (“EEOC Proceedings”), at 59-60). To resolve the charge,
the EEOC recommended, among other remedies, that the DHMH “transfer Ms. Carrie Williams
from the Fort Greene location” so that Mazuryan would “no longer be under the direct or indirect
supervision of Ms. Williams.” (Id. at 61).
On January 5, 2015, apparently unaware “that the [DHMH] had decided to transfer
[her],” (Williams Decl. ¶ 47), Williams submitted a “Request for Reasonable Accommodation”
to her supervisor (Williams Decl., Ex. 1 (“First RFRA”)). According to Williams, she “feared
that while [she] was out on medical leave the [DHMH] might transfer [her] to the Corona and
Morrisania locations.” (Williams Decl. ¶ 47). Citing her herniated discs, arthritis, sciatica, gout,
and diabetic neuropathy, Williams requested that she remain primarily at the Fort Greene Chest
Center and that she be assigned a parking space. (First RFRA). Two days later, one of
Williams’s supervisors informed her that she was to be reassigned from the Fort Greene Chest
Center to the Corona and Morrisania centers. (Williams Decl., Ex. 6).
In March 2015, while Williams was still out on leave, she filed a second Request for
Reasonable Accommodation, advising the DHMH that she was ready to return to work on April
13, 2015, and seeking again to remain at the Fort Greene Chest Center. (Williams Decl., Ex. 7
(“Second RFRA”)). She noted that “[d]riving a car longer than one hour causes back and leg
pain” and that transfer to the Morrisania or Corona offices would be infeasible because the
commute between her home on Staten Island and either site would exceed two hours. (Id.).
Shortly thereafter, Williams informed the DHMH that her medical leave would be extended to
June 1, 2015. (Sackowitz Decl., Ex. 9, at 1). In light of that extension, the DHMH advised
Williams that her Request for Reasonable Accommodation was “moot” and that if she needed an
accommodation “on or about June 2, 2015,” she should submit a new request at a later date.
(Williams Decl., Ex. 9 (“April 14 E-mail”)).
On May 1, 2015, Williams submitted her third Request for Reasonable Accommodation,
seeking the same relief that she had sought in her prior two requests. (Williams Decl., Ex. 11
(“Third RFRA”)). In her third request, Williams reported that she could neither drive a car
longer than an hour nor take public transportation. (Id.). Williams also advised that she was able
to return to work sooner than expected — on May 11, 2015 — so long as she was not required to
report to the Corona or Morrisania clinics. (Id.). Errol Robinson, her supervisor, responded by
informing Williams that she should report to the Corona Chest Center on May 11, 2015.
(Williams Decl., Ex. 14). A week later, when Williams had still not reported to the Corona
location, Jewel Jones, the DHMH’s EEO Investigator, e-mailed Williams requesting her
attendance at a meeting the following day to discuss Williams’s accommodations. (Williams
Decl., Ex. 15). Williams contacted her union representative, Judith Arroyo, who was unable to
make the meeting on such short notice. (Williams Decl., Ex. 16). The meeting did not take
place. (Williams Decl. ¶¶ 85-86).
On May 29, 2015, Williams e-mailed Jones, reminding the latter that she was able to
return to work. (Williams Decl., Ex. 16). Having not heard back from Jones by June 2, 2015 —
the day Williams was to return to work — Williams initiated a complaint of discrimination with
the EEOC. (Williams Decl., Ex. 20). On June 5, 2015, James Hallman, the DHMH’s Chief
Diversity and EEO Officer, e-mailed Williams and scheduled a meeting for June 12, 2015.
(Williams Decl., Ex. 16; see Williams Decl. ¶ 93). At that meeting, attended by several DHMH
supervisors, the DHMH offered Williams a proposed accommodation: Williams could become a
“Nurse Coordinator” at the “Gotham Center,” a Long Island City facility. (Williams Decl., Ex.
18; see Williams Decl. ¶¶ 93-94). Williams rejected the proposal in an e-mail four days after the
meeting, stating that commuting to the Gotham Center would require her “to drive more than one
hour” and that the job responsibilities of Nurse Coordinator would require her to visit all four
tuberculosis clinics. (Williams Decl., Ex. 22 (“June 16, 2015 E-mail”)). In response, the DHMH
argued that transit from Staten Island to the Gotham Center would take less than an hour and that
visits from the Gotham Center to other facilities would not be required “every day or every
week.” (Williams Decl., Ex. 25 (“June 23, 2015 E-mail”)). Jones also advised Williams that she
could use public transportation or the Access-A-Ride service. (Id.). On June 25, 2015, Williams
responded by e-mail, confirming that she would not accept the Nurse Coordinator role and
disputing the DHMH’s transportation calculations. (Williams Decl., Ex. 30 (“June 25, 2015 Email”)).
In that same e-mail, Williams also disclosed to Jones that she had filed a charge with the
EEOC. (Id.). Jones responded by seeking further information about the charge, eventually
telling Williams that the DHMH would close the request-for-reasonable-accommodations (or
“RFRA”) process if she did not provide information about her EEOC complaint. (See Williams
Decl., Ex. 33 (“July 16, 2015 E-mail”)). Williams did not provide the information, and, on July
20, 2015, the DHMH closed Williams’s matter because of her “failure to participate in the
reasonable accommodation interactive process.” (Williams Decl., Ex. 35 (“July 20, 2015 Email”)). Further, by letter dated July 28, 2015, the DHMH informed Williams that she had been
referred for disciplinary charges because of her failure to return to work on July 14, 2015 (the
date to which Williams’s leave of absence had been extended) and because she had “failed to
follow up” on her request for reasonable accommodation. (Williams Decl., Ex. 36; see id., Ex.
23). Several months later, on February 23, 2016, the DHMH sent Williams a Notice and
Statement of Charges, charging her with being absent from her work location. (Williams Decl.,
Ex. 37 (“Notice and Statement of Charges”)). Williams resigned from the DHMH on March 7,
2016. (Williams Decl. ¶ 178). This lawsuit followed.
Summary judgment is appropriate where the admissible evidence and the pleadings
demonstrate “no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as
a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); see also Johnson v. Killian, 680 F.3d 234, 236 (2d Cir.
2012) (per curiam). A dispute over an issue of material fact qualifies as genuine “if the evidence
is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); accord Roe v. City of Waterbury, 542 F.3d 31, 35
(2d Cir. 2008). The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a
genuine issue of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). “In
moving for summary judgment against a party who will bear the ultimate burden of proof at trial,
the movant’s burden will be satisfied if he can point to an absence of evidence to support an
essential element of the nonmoving party’s claim.” Goenaga v. March of Dimes Birth Defects
Found., 51 F.3d 14, 18 (2d Cir. 1995) (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23); accord PepsiCo, Inc.
v. Coca-Cola Co., 315 F.3d 101, 105 (2d Cir. 2002) (per curiam).
In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, all evidence must be viewed “in the light
most favorable to the non-moving party,” Overton v. N.Y. State Div. of Military & Naval Affairs,
373 F.3d 83, 89 (2d Cir. 2004), and the court must “resolve all ambiguities and draw all
permissible factual inferences in favor of the party against whom summary judgment is sought,”
Sec. Ins. Co. of Hartford v. Old Dominion Freight Line, Inc., 391 F.3d 77, 83 (2d Cir. 2004).
When, as in this case, both sides move for summary judgment, the district court is “required to
assess each motion on its own merits and to view the evidence in the light most favorable to the
party opposing the motion, drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of that party.” Wachovia
Bank, Nat’l Ass’n v. VCG Special Opportunities Master Fund, Ltd., 661 F.3d 164, 171 (2d Cir.
2011). Thus, “neither side is barred from asserting that there are issues of fact, sufficient to
prevent the entry of judgment, as a matter of law, against it.” Heublein, Inc. v. United States,
996 F.2d 1455, 1461 (2d Cir. 1993).
To defeat a motion for summary judgment, a non-moving party must advance more than
a “scintilla of evidence,” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252, and demonstrate more than “some
metaphysical doubt as to the material facts,” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp.,
475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). The non-moving party “cannot defeat the motion by relying on the
allegations in [its] pleading or on conclusory statements, or on mere assertions that affidavits
supporting the motion are not credible.” Gottlieb v. Cty. of Orange, 84 F.3d 511, 518 (2d Cir.
1996) (citation omitted). Affidavits submitted in support of, or opposition to, summary judgment
must be based on personal knowledge, must “set forth such facts as would be admissible in
evidence,” and must show “that the affiant is competent to testify to the matters stated therein.”
Patterson v. Cty. of Oneida, 375 F.3d 206, 219 (2d Cir. 2004) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)).
Williams brings discrimination and retaliation claims under the ADA, NYSHRL, and
NYCHRL. (See Complaint ¶¶ 98-154). The Court begins with her federal claims.
A. Disability Discrimination
It is well established that “discrimination” under the ADA includes a failure to provide an
employee with a reasonable accommodation for his or her disability. See Graves v. Finch Pruyn
& Co., 457 F.3d 181, 183-84 (2d Cir. 2006). Discrimination claims under the ADA are, like race
discrimination claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, analyzed using the burden-shifting
scheme set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). See McDonnell v.
Schindler Elevator Corp., No. 12-CV-4614 (VEC), 2014 WL 3512772, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. July 16,
2014). To establish a prima facie case of discrimination based on a failure to accommodate, and
thus shift the burden to the defendant to articulate a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for its
conduct, a plaintiff must show by a preponderance of the evidence “that (1) plaintiff is a person
with a disability under the . . . ADA; (2) an employer covered by the statute had notice of his
disability; (3) with reasonable accommodation, plaintiff could perform the essential functions of
the job at issue; and (4) the employer has refused to make such accommodations.” Rodal v.
Anesthesia Grp. of Onondaga, P.C., 369 F.3d 113, 118 (2d Cir. 2004).
Significantly, “[t]he ADA envisions an ‘interactive process’ by which employers and
employees work together to assess whether an employee’s disability can be reasonably
accommodated.” Jackan v. N.Y. State Dep’t of Labor, 205 F.3d 562, 566 (2d Cir. 2000) (quoting
29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(o)(3)). The mere failure to engage in the interactive process is not, however,
an “independent violation of the ADA.” Nazario v. Promed Pers. Servs. NY Inc., No. 15-CV6989 (LGS), 2017 WL 2664202, at *7 (S.D.N.Y. June 19, 2017). Instead, a court must follow “a
two-step process to evaluate whether the failure to provide a proposed accommodation
constitutes a violation of the ADA. First, the plaintiff bears the burden of proving that an
accommodation exists that permits her to perform the job’s essential functions. If the plaintiff
meets that burden, the analysis shifts to the question whether the proposed accommodations is
reasonable; on this question the burden of persuasion lies with the defendant.” Jackan, 205 F.3d
at 566 (internal quotation marks and ellipsis omitted). Critically, if an employee “cannot show
that a reasonable accommodation existed at the time of his [or her] dismissal,” the employee
cannot recover. McElwee v. Cty. of Orange, 700 F.3d 635, 642 (2d Cir. 2012).
Applying those standards here, Williams’s ADA discrimination claims fail as a matter of
law for a simple reason: The accommodation she demanded was unreasonable. In all three of
her RFRAs, Williams made the same demand: that she be reassigned back to the Fort Greene
facility from the Morrisania and Corona clinics. But it is undisputed that DHMH reassigned
Williams from that facility in order to separate her from Mazuryan after the EEOC found that
Williams had discriminated against Mazuryan on the basis of her race. (See EEOC Proceedings
65-66). Contrary to Williams’s argument, it is immaterial that the DHMH disputed the EEOC’s
finding that Williams discriminated against Mazuryan “on the basis of her race, national origin
and participation in a protected activity.” (Docket No. 46 (“Pl.’s Reply Mem.”), at 9; see EEOC
Proceedings 65). The fact that the EEOC’s recommended remedy “was not binding” on the
DHMH is similarly irrelevant. (Id.). The undisputed fact is that there was a serious “personality
conflict between [Mazuryan] and Ms. Williams” that was “exacerbated by Ms. William[s’]
seemingly unpleasant managerial style.” (EEOC Proceedings 65). And separating Williams and
Mazuryan at the Fort Greene Chest Center “was not feasible,” as it was a small facility. (Def.’s
Mem. 15). Given those undisputed facts, Williams’s proposed accommodation was not
reasonable as a matter of law. See, e.g., Diaz v. City of Phila., 565 F. App’x 102, 106 (3d Cir.
2014) (finding that proposed accommodation was “not necessarily reasonable in light of the . . .
conflict with a coworker”); cf. Gordon v. Runyon, No. 93-CV-0037 (JRP), 1994 WL 139411, at
*5 (E.D. Pa. Apr. 21, 1994) (holding that a proposed accommodation was not reasonable where
the employer “could not insulate Plaintiff from coworkers”), aff’d, 43 F.3d 1461 (3d Cir. 1994).
Williams’s remaining arguments with respect to the reasonableness of her proposed
accommodation also lack merit. The bulk of those arguments concern the DHMH’s behavior
during the interactive process. For example, Williams takes issue with the DHMH’s “refusal to
substantively communicate with Plaintiff about either her first or second RFRA.” (Pl.’s Mem.
16). But the law in this Circuit is clear that “an employee may not recover based on his
employer’s failure to engage in an interactive process if he cannot show that a reasonable
accommodation existed at the time of his dismissal.” Stevens v. Rite Aid Corp., 851 F.3d 224,
231 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 138 S. Ct. 359 (2017) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).
Williams also claims, for the first time in her memorandum of law opposing the DHMH’s crossmotion, that the DHMH had “identified a vacancy within the Bureau of STD Control and
Prevention” and “explored [that vacancy] as a potential accommodation.” (Pl.’s Reply Mem. 9).
But “an employer cannot refuse to make an accommodation that it was never asked to make.”
Dooley v. JetBlue Airways Corp., 636 F. App’x 16, 18-19 (2d Cir. 2015) (internal quotation
marks, citation, and brackets omitted). And there is no dispute that Williams never requested
that accommodation — her only request was to be re-assigned back to Fort Greene. 1 Finally,
Williams’s criticisms of the DHMH’s proposed accommodations are irrelevant: It is she, not the
DHMH, who bears the burden of demonstrating the reasonableness of her proposed
accommodation in the first instance. See McElwee, 700 F.3d at 642 (“[A]n employee may not
recover based on his employer's failure to engage in an interactive process if he cannot show that
a reasonable accommodation existed at the time of his dismissal.”); McBride v. BIC Consumer
Prods. Mfg. Co., 583 F.3d 92, 101 (2d Cir. 2009) (“The employer’s failure to engage in such an
interactive process, however, does not relieve a plaintiff of her burden of demonstrating,
following discovery, that some accommodation of her disability was possible.”). As Williams
does not meet that burden, summary judgment must be and is granted to the DHMH on her
discrimination claims under the ADA.
Next, Williams claims that the DHMH impermissibly retaliated against her for engaging
in protected activity under the ADA. (Compl. ¶¶ 109-16). Retaliation claims under the ADA are
also subject to the burden-shifting framework of McDonnell Douglas. See Paxton v. Fluor
Enters., Inc., No. 15-CV-3737 (DLC), 2017 WL 875856, at *5 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 3, 2017). To
state a prima facie case of retaliation under the ADA, a plaintiff “must show that: (1) he engaged
in an activity protected by the ADA; (2) the employer was aware of this activity; (3) the
employer took some adverse employment action against him; and (4) a causal connection exists
between the alleged adverse action and the protected activity.” Treglia v. Town of Manlius, 313
Moreover, even if Williams had requested assignment to the Bureau of STD Control and
Prevention, the DHMH’s explanation for why that accommodation would have been
unreasonable — that “moving plaintiff . . . would have resulted in a vacancy within TB Control
that would not have been filled,” (Def.’s Mem. 16) — is adequate.
F.3d 713, 719 (2d Cir. 2002); see also 42 U.S.C. § 12203(a). “Once a plaintiff establishes a
prima facie case of retaliation, the burden shifts to the defendant to articulate a legitimate, nonretaliatory reason for the challenged employment decision. If a defendant meets this burden, the
plaintiff must point to evidence that would be sufficient to permit a rational factfinder to
conclude that the employer’s explanation is merely a pretext for impermissible retaliation.”
Treglia, 313 F.3d at 721 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). The plaintiff “has the
ultimate burden of showing that the proffered reasons are a pretext for retaliation [under the
ADA].” McDonald v. City of New York, 786 F. Supp. 2d 588, 613 (E.D.N.Y. 2011).
Applying those standards here, the Court concludes that the record does not support
Williams’s retaliation claims. As an initial matter, Williams identifies two allegedly adverse
employment actions: the DHMH’s “refusal to provide [her] with a reasonable accommodation”
and “her effective termination.” (Pl.’s Mem. 21). The second, however, can be traced back to
the first, as Williams resigned rather than face disciplinary charges for her undisputed
absenteeism, (Williams Decl. ¶ 180), and she stopped going to work because the DHMH had
denied her Third RFRA, (Williams Decl. ¶ 172). Thus, Williams’s claims turn on whether she
can prove that the DHMH denied her Third RFRA in retaliation for her filing an EEOC
complaint. 2 She cannot. Even assuming that Williams has met her prima facie burden, the
In any event, considering Williams’s “effective termination” claim independently would
not change the Court’s conclusion. The record supports the DHMH’s claim that Williams’s
“absenteeism” — that is, her failure to work for months — led to her termination. (Def.’s Mem.
19; see also Notice and Statement of Charges 5 (advising Williams that she “violated [a]
Standards of Conduct Rule” because she was “absent from [her] work location without
authorization from July 14, 2015 through [February 23, 2016]”)). That is plainly a legitimate,
non-discriminatory reason for termination, and Williams points to no evidence that it was pretext
for retaliation. See, e.g., Best v. Duane Reade Drugs, No. 14-CV-2648 (CM), 2017 WL 218251,
at *5 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 11, 2017) (finding the “history of Plaintiff’s absences” to be a legitimate,
non-discriminatory reason for her termination and granting summary judgment to the employer
where there was “no evidence to suggest that this rationale was pretext”).
DHMH has proffered a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for denying her Third RFRA: her
failure to participate in the reasonable accommodation process, as manifested in her refusal to
provide basic information about her EEOC filing to Jones. Under New York City’s “Equal
Employment Opportunity Policy,” when an agency is made aware of a complaint filed with the
EEOC, the agency EEO Officer is supposed to transfer the matter to the agency General
Counsel. (Sackowitz Decl., Ex. 16 (“EEO Policy”), at 11). As the DHMH explained, the
purpose of the policy is to permit the agency General Counsel to determine which entity — the
agency itself or the law department — should respond to the EEOC action. (See Murrell Decl.,
Ex. I, at 71; see also Def.’s Br. at 22 (explaining that the policy enables the DHMH “to defend
itself more efficiently and effectively by localizing all decision-making regarding the [DHMH]’s
defense against plaintiff’s EEOC Charge as well as the resolution of her [RFRA] in the General
Counsel’s office”)). In furtherance of that policy, the DHMH requested that Williams provide
the date on which she had filed her charge. Williams — inexplicably — refused to comply.
The failure to comply with the DHMH’s minimal request and, thus, to participate in the
reasonable accommodation process is a legitimate and non-retaliatory reason for closing
Williams’ Third RFRA. See, e.g., Tillery v. N.Y. State Office of Alcoholism & Substance Abuse
Servs., No. 13-CV-1528 (LEK), 2017 WL 2870502, at *11 (N.D.N.Y. July 5, 2017) (holding that
the defendant’s justification for its adverse action against the plaintiff — that it was “more
efficient” — was legitimate and non-retaliatory). The burden thus shifts to Williams to
demonstrate that the proffered justification was “merely a pretext for impermissible retaliation.”
Treglia, 313 F.3d at 721. The evidence falls well short of that standard. Indeed, Williams does
not identify any evidence (and the Court does not discern any evidence) even suggesting pretext.
On top of that, for the reasons discussed above, the record is also clear that Williams’s sole
proposed accommodation was unreasonable as a matter of law. As a result, the DHMH denied
Williams’s Third RFRA and, after she had failed to return to work for months, initiated a
disciplinary proceeding against her. Accordingly, summary judgment is also granted to the
DHMH on Williams’s retaliation claims under the ADA.
C. State-Law Claims
Having dismissed Williams’s federal claims, the Court must decide whether to exercise
supplemental jurisdiction over her claims under the NYSHRL and NYCHRL. A district court
“may decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over [a pendent state law claim] if . . . the
district court has dismissed all claims over which it has original jurisdiction.” 28 U.S.C.
§ 1367(c)(3). The statute does not create “a mandatory rule to be applied inflexibly in all cases.”
Carnegie-Mellon Univ. v. Cohill, 484 U.S. 343, 350 n.7 (1988). Nevertheless, “in the usual case
in which all federal-law claims are eliminated before trial,” as here, “the balance of factors to be
considered under the pendent jurisdiction doctrine — judicial economy, convenience, fairness,
and comity — will point toward declining to exercise jurisdiction over the remaining state-law
claims.” Id.; see also Kolari v. N. Y. Presbyterian Hosp., 455 F.3d 118, 123 (2d Cir. 2006)
(reversing a district court decision to retain supplemental jurisdiction over state-law claims after
dismissal of the federal claim, citing “the absence of a clearly articulated federal interest”);
Marcus v. AT&T Corp., 138 F.3d 46, 57 (2d Cir. 1998) (“In general, where the federal claims are
dismissed before trial, the state claims should be dismissed as well.”); Anderson v. Nat’l Grid,
PLC, 93 F. Supp. 3d 120, 147 (E.D.N.Y. 2015) (“In the interest of comity, the Second Circuit
instructs that absent exceptional circumstances, where federal claims can be disposed of pursuant
to Rule 12(b)(6) or summary judgment grounds, courts should abstain from exercising pendent
jurisdiction.” (citing cases) (internal quotation marks omitted)).
Despite the general presumption, the Court concludes that, in the interest of judicial
economy, it should exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Williams’s NYSHRL claims. That is
because, for purposes of this case, there are no material differences between the ADA and the
NYSHRL. See, e.g., Graves, 457 F.3d at 184 n.3 (explaining that the standards applicable to
claims under the NYSHRL and under the ADA are the same). Given that and the Court’s
decision on Williams’s ADA claims, it would be inefficient, and risk inconsistency, to defer a
decision on her NYSHRL claims to a state court; instead, those claims are dismissed for the
reasons the ADA claims were dismissed. By contrast, the Court declines to exercise
supplemental jurisdiction over Williams’s claims under the NYCHRL, which are subject to a
different standard and must be analyzed separately. See, e.g., Mihalik v. Credit Agricole
Cheuvreux N. Am., Inc., 715 F.3d 102, 109 (2d Cir. 2013) (noting that NYCHRL claims
“require an independent analysis”). In light of that, and because the law governing claims
under the NYCHRL is still developing, Williams’s NYCHRL claims present questions “best left
to the courts of the State of New York.” Brief v. Albert Einstein Coll. of Med., 423 F. App’x 88,
92-93 (2d Cir. 2011) (summary order) (affirming dismissal of the plaintiff’s federal claims and
declining to decide his claims under state and city law on the ground that they were “arguably
governed by different legal standards” and the relevant law of New York was “still developing”);
Giordano v. City of New York, 274 F.3d 740, 754 (2d Cir. 2001) (declining to reach the question
whether the plaintiff had a valid claim under the NYCHRL after dismissing his federal claim).
Accordingly, Williams’s NYCHRL claims are dismissed, but without prejudice to her refiling
them in state court.
For the reasons stated above, the DHMH’s motion for summary judgment is granted, and
Williams’s claims are dismissed, albeit without prejudice to her refiling her claims under the
NYCHRL in state court. It follows that Williams’s cross-motion for summary judgment must be
and is denied. The Clerk of Court is directed to terminate Docket Nos. 30 and 38, to enter
judgment in the DHMH’s favor, and to close this case.
Date: March 12, 2018
New York, New York
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