Bonterre v. City of New York et al
OPINION AND ORDER re: 27 MOTION for Judgment on the Pleadings . filed by The City of New York, Gaspar Moreno, The New York City Department of Sanitation, Robert Weiss. For the re asons discussed, Defendants motion for judgment on the pleadings is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part. The motion is granted as to: Count One as to the individual defendants only; Counts Two, Four, Seven, Ten and Eleven against all defendants; Counts Three and Nine as to Moreno; The motion is denied as to: Count One against the City and DSNY; Counts Three and Nine against the City, DSNY and Weiss; Counts Five, Six and Eight against all Defendants.The parties are directed to appear for a teleconference on October 12, 2021 at 4:30 p.m. The parties are directed to dial (877) 411-9748 and enter access code 3029857# when prompted. The Clerk of Court is respectfully directed to terminate the motion, Doc. 27. (As further set forth in this Order.) ( Telephone Conference set for 10/12/2021 at 04:30 PM before Judge Edgardo Ramos.) (Signed by Judge Edgardo Ramos on 9/7/2021) (cf)
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UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
OPINION AND ORDER
THE CITY OF NEW YORK, THE NEW YORK
CITY DEPARTMENT OF SANITATION,
ROBERT WEISS, and GASPAR MORENO,
18 Civ. 745 (ER)
Bettina Bonterre has brought suit against the City of New York, its Department of
Sanitation (“DSNY”), and DSNY employees Robert Weiss and Gaspar Moreno, alleging
violations of Title VII the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the New York State Human Rights Law
(“NYSHRL”), the New York City Human Rights Law (“NYCHRL”), and New York common
law. 1 Before the Court is Defendants’ motion for judgment on the pleadings on all claims
pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c). For the reasons discussed, Defendants’ motion is GRANTED
in part and DENIED in part.
A. Factual Background
At all relevant times, Bonterre was a Clerical Assistant employed by the DSNY. ¶ 22. 2
She alleges several instances of sexual harassment and assault throughout her employment.
See 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e, et. seq., N.Y. Exec. Law § 296, et. seq., N.Y. Admin. Code § 8-107, et. seq., respectively.
Bonterre’s common law claims are for negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress (“NIED” and
Citations to “¶ _” refer to the Complaint., Doc. 1. All facts taken from the complaint are assumed to be true for
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Bonterre alleges that when she began her employment in 1997, she arrived at her
workplace—a garage depot in the Bronx—to find pornography openly playing. ¶ 14. She
further alleges that, in 2009, she unknowingly ingested a “date rape” drug that was placed in her
drink at a gathering among her co-workers for a supervisor’s birthday. ¶ 15. Following her
ingestion of the drug, she was assaulted and raped by her co-workers and supervisors. ¶ 16. She
subsequently “complained to upper management” about this incident. ¶ 17. However, she
alleges that, after lodging such complaints, she was assaulted by a group of co-workers and
supervisors in a DSNY parking lot, which included one worker shoving his hand down her pants.
¶ 18. She alleges that after this incident, the City and DSNY “failed to engage in any meaningful
interactive process,” and the responsible parties remained DSNY employees. ¶ 20. This
workplace environment continued following her complaints, but “abated temporarily” when she
was reassigned to another location. ¶ 21.
Bonterre was relocated to a garage location in upper Manhattan in February 2014. ¶¶ 11,
22. Weiss was her supervisor at this location. ¶ 24. She alleges that she was subjected to a
hostile work environment at this location, citing the following patterns of conduct: “offensive,
sexually-explicit comments by co-workers, including comments about the size of her breasts,”
“daily conversations of crude and explicit nature using terms focused and referring to Ms.
Bonterre’s vagina, breasts, anus, buttocks, lips and legs,” “making suggestions to go to the
‘Deegan cheater’s motel,’” and that “garage workers frequently and habitually physically
touch[ed] Ms. Bonterre as they pass[ed] the Plaintiff’s desk.” ¶ 25. She alleges that the abovementioned hostile work environment was generally perpetuated “[i]n the presence of [Weiss],”
and that he was present for “substantially all of the sexually-based offenses.” ¶¶ 25, 28.
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Bonterre also alleges two more specific incidents under Weiss’ supervision. First, in
October 2016, she states that Moreno intentionally sliced her pants with a razor in Weiss’
presence. ¶ 26. Second, and also in Weiss’ presence, Moreno “deliberately shoved the handle of
a broomstick deeply into Ms. Bonterre’s clothed buttocks while callously laughing.” ¶ 27.
Bonterre alleges that “despite [her] complaints,” Weiss has taken no action in response to
the sexually-based offenses, and that Defendants have allowed this verbal and physical
harassment to continue on a regular basis. ¶¶ 28–29. She further alleges that “when she voiced
her protests and complaints, she was met with inaction and escalated instances of harassment.” ¶
30. Bonterre filed an EEOC charge on March 20, 2017 and received a Right to Sue letter on
October 31, 2017. ¶¶ 9–10. She alleges that these incidents have caused her emotional distress
and anxiety. ¶ 31.
B. Procedural History
Bonterre filed this case on January 26, 2018. Defendants answered the complaint on
April 2, 2018. Doc. 18. Defendants moved for judgment on the pleadings on January 26, 2021.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c) provides that “[a]fter the pleadings are closed—but early enough not
to delay trial—a party may move for judgment on the pleadings.” Under Rule 12(c), courts
apply the same standard as applied on a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule
12(b)(6). Judgment on the pleadings is appropriate only if, drawing all reasonable inferences in
favor of the non-moving party, it is apparent from the pleadings that no set of facts can be proven
that would entitle the plaintiff to relief. Sheppard v. Beerman, 18 F.3d 147, 150 (2d Cir. 1994).
In considering a Rule 12(c) motion, courts should assume all the well pleaded factual allegations
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in the non-moving party’s pleadings to be true. Brown v. De Fillipis, 717 F. Supp. 172, 178
(S.D.N.Y. 1989). When deciding a motion for judgment on the pleadings, a court may only
consider “the pleadings and exhibits attached thereto, statements or documents incorporated by
reference in the pleadings, matters subject to judicial notice, and documents submitted by the
moving party, so long as such documents either are in the possession of the party opposing the
motion or were relied upon by that party in its pleadings.” See Prentice v. Apfel, 11 F. Supp. 2d
420, 424 (S.D.N.Y. 1998) (citing Brass v. Am. Film Techs., Inc., 987 F.2d 142, 150 (2d Cir.
A. Statute of Limitations
Defendants first make several timeliness arguments. Regarding the hostile work
environment and retaliation claims, they argue that any allegations based on events occurring
prior to May 24, 2016 are time-barred under Title VII, and that any allegations prior to January
26, 2015 are time-barred under NYSHRL and NYCHRL. They also argue that the common law
claims are time-barred to the extent they are predicated on any conduct arising before January
26, 2017 for the IIED claim, and before October 28, 2016 for the NIED claim. 3 Accordingly,
Defendants argue that the only specifically dated, timely-alleged incidents in the complaint are
the razor incident and the broomstick incident (which the parties agree are timely-alleged).
In Bonterre’s opposition, she conceded that the IIED and NIED claims were time-barred
and withdrew them. The Court therefore grants Defendants’ motion regarding the IIED and
NIED claims. Bonterre also conceded that the 1997 pornography incident was not sufficiently
Defendants also argued that these claims were barred for failure to file a notice of claim on the City within ninety
days after the claim arose pursuant to N.Y. Gen. Mun. Law § 50–i.
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linked to the rest of her claims to be actionable. The parties differ, however as to how to treat the
sexual assault allegations from 2009.
Bonterre has argued that all allegations from 2009 are timely and support her hostile
work environment claim pursuant to the continuing violations doctrine. Under this doctrine, “if a
Title VII plaintiff files an EEOC charge that is timely as to any incident of discrimination in
furtherance of an ongoing policy of discrimination, all claims of acts of discrimination under that
policy will be timely even if they would be untimely standing alone.” Chin v. Port Auth. of N.Y.
& N.J., 685 F.3d 135, 155–56 (2d Cir. 2012). Discrete discriminatory acts, such as “termination,
failure to promote, denial of transfer or refusal to hire,” are not timely under the doctrine if they
occurred outside of the limitations period. Nat. R.R. Passenger Corp. v. Morgan, 536 U.S. 101,
114 (2002). However, because the “very nature” of hostile work environment claims involves
repeated conduct, a plaintiff need only allege that one incident pursuant to the unlawful practice
occurred within the limitations period. Id. at 115–118. Nevertheless, “the timely incident must
be sufficiently related to the prior events so that they can be said to be part of the ‘same’ hostile
work environment.” Sanderson v. N.Y. State Elec. & Gas Corp., 560 F.App’x. 88, 91 (2d Cir.
2014). To assess whether incidents are part of the same hostile work environment, courts have
considered factors such as “(1) whether the timely and untimely harassment is of a similar
nature, (2) whether the same individuals perpetuated the harassment, (3) the frequency and
temporal proximity of the acts, and () whether the employer took any intervening remedial
action.” Annunziata v. Int’l Bhd. of Elec. Workers Local Union # 363, No. 15 Civ. 3363 (NSR),
2018 WL 2416568, at *13 (S.D.N.Y. May 29, 2018).
The 2009 incidents are insufficiently related to the timely-alleged instances of harassment
to make them timely, even under the continuing violations doctrine. First, Bonterre does not
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allege that Weiss or Gaspar were involved in the 2009 incidents, nor does she allege that any of
the individuals who were involved have participated in the pattern of discrimination in her
current workplace. These discrepancies weigh against a finding of relatedness. See Dziedzic v.
State University of N.Y. at Oswego, 648 F.App’x 125, 128 (2d Cir. 2016) (affirming summary
judgment for employer when the timely-alleged sexual joke was made by different co-workers in
a different section of plaintiff’s department, and was therefore not related to other, untimely
events); see also Solomon v. Fordham Univ., No. 18 Civ. 4615 (ER), 2020 WL 1272617, at 14
n.14 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 17, 2020) (continuing violations doctrine inapplicable when untimely
incidents occurred years before the timely incidents and involved different individuals).
Similarly, Bonterre alleges that the inappropriate environment existing in 2009 “abated
temporarily” following her reassignment to another location at an unidentified date. 4 ¶ 21. Such
“intervening action” by her employer further suggests that the incidents are not related. See
Morgan, 536 U.S. at 118. Finally, Bonterre alleges no specific actions that occurred between the
2009 incidents and her 2014 reassignment to her current workplace, aside from the conclusory
statement that this “inappropriate environment was sustained and continued” despite her protests.
¶ 21. While there is no bright-line rule regarding temporal gaps between incidents, it is “less
plausible” that such incidents are related when there are gaps of one year or more. See
McGullam v. Cedar Graphics, Inc., 608 F.3d 70, 78 (2d Cir. 2010) (finding it less plausible that
incidents were related when there was a nearly one-year gap between them). Thus, despite
Bonterre’s argument that Weiss was “aware of” the 2009 incidents, see ¶ 23, she has not
plausibly alleged that these incidents were part of the same pattern of harassment as the razor and
While it is not completely clear from the face of the Complaint, this reassignment appears to have occurred prior to
her February 2014 reassignment to her current workplace.
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Bonterre also alleged several general patterns of inappropriate workplace behavior
occurring after she was transferred to her current garage. See ¶ 25. These allegations are
undated, though Bonterre’s opposition brief states that issues such as sexually charged comments
took place “both before, and during, the statutory [limitations] period.” Doc. 29 at 6. Because
the expiration of the statute of limitations is an affirmative defense that should be granted on a
motion to dismiss “only if it is clear on the face of the complaint that the statute of limitations
has run,” the Court cannot conclude that allegations contained in ¶ 25—to the extent they
otherwise state a claim—are time-barred at this juncture. Goodwine v. City of New York, No. 15
Civ. 2868 (JMF), 2016 WL 3017398, at *5 (S.D.N.Y. May 23, 2016) (quoting Mosdos Chofetz
Chaim, Inc. v. RBS Citizens, N.A., 14 F. Supp. 3d 191, 209 (S.D.N.Y. 2014)); see also Taylor v.
City of New York, 207 F. Supp. 3d 293, 300 (S.D.N.Y. 2016) (“For the claims that are timely and
those that are undated, the Court will consider whether they state a claim on the merits.”).
However, the sexual assault allegations from 2009, and any earlier allegations, may be
considered by the Court only as background; they are not themselves actionable.
B. Hostile Work Environment Claims
To state a hostile work environment claim, a plaintiff must allege that their workplace is
“permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult that is sufficiently severe or
pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment and create an abusive working
environment.” Littlejohn v. City of New York, 795 F.3d 297, 320–21 (2d Cir. 2015). A plaintiff
“need not show that her hostile working environment was both severe and pervasive; only that it
was sufficiently severe or sufficiently pervasive, or a sufficient combination of these elements, to
have altered her working conditions.” Pucino v. Verizon Wireless Commc’ns, Inc., 618 F.3d
112, 119 (2d Cir. 2010). A single incident of harassment is ordinarily insufficient to state a
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hostile work environment claim, although it is possible if the incident is “extraordinarily severe.”
Alfano v. Costello, 294 F.3d 365, 374 (2d Cir. 2002) (citation omitted). The Court must consider
“the case-specific circumstances in their totality and evaluate the severity, frequency, and degree
of the abuse” to determine whether the “severe and pervasive” threshold is met. Id. The plaintiff
must also allege that a specific basis exists on which to impute that conduct to the employer. See
Distasio v. Perkin Elmer Corp., 157 F.3d 55, 62 (2d Cir. 1998).
While the Title VII test applies to claims under the NYSHRL, see Forrest v. Jewish
Guild for the Blind, 3 N.Y.3d 295, 310 (2004), claims under the NYCHRL are to be considered
independently and construed more broadly in favor of plaintiffs alleging discrimination. Mihalik
v. Credit Agricole Cheuvreux N. Am., Inc., 715 F.3d 102, 109 (2d Cir. 2013). Under the
NYCHRL, a plaintiff must only allege that she was treated less well than other employees
because of her protected status, and that discriminatory intent was a motivating factor. Id.; see
also Chin v. N.Y.C. Hous. Auth., 106 A.D.3d 443, 445 (1st Dep’t 2013).
Defendants argue that the razor and broomstick incidents were insufficiently severe or
pervasive to state a hostile work environment claim, citing several cases in which allegations
based on inappropriate touching or the violation of personal space were dismissed as insufficient.
They also allege that the allegations of general inappropriate behavior set forth in ¶ 25 are too
conclusory to state a claim. While it is a close call, the Court finds that the broomstick
incident—either by itself or in conjunction with her other timely allegations—could provide the
basis for a hostile work environment claim.
In this Circuit, courts determining whether a single incident of sexually-motivated
touching is sufficient to state a hostile work environment claim have focused on the degree to
which the contact was intentional and/or physically intrusive. See Guzman v. Macy’s Retail
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Holdings, Inc., No. 09 Civ. 4472 (PGG), 2010 WL 1222044, at *5 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 29, 2010)
(motion to dismiss hostile work environment claim denied when plaintiff alleged that defendant
“pressed—as opposed to brushed—his genitals against her” after she asked him to stop); see also
Reid v. Ingerman Smith LLP, 876 F. Supp. 2d 176, 185 (E.D.N.Y. 2012) (distinguishing between
“[i]ntentionally grabbing, squeezing, or otherwise feeling an intimate part of another’s body” and
merely “brushing against it” for the purposes of a single actionable hostile work environment
incident); cf. Redd v. N.Y. Div. of Parole, 678 F.3d 166, 177 (2d Cir. 2012) (“[D]irect contact
with an intimate body part constitutes one of the most severe forms of sexual harassment.”)
(citation omitted). If the contact is intentional and sufficiently invasive or intrusive, a plaintiff
may state a claim based on one incident of inappropriate contact.
Bonterre alleges that Moreno “deliberately shoved the handle of a broomstick deeply into
Ms. Bonterre’s clothed buttocks while callously laughing.” ¶ 27. Viewed in the light most
favorable to Bonterre, this conduct is comparably severe to several other incidents for which
motions to dismiss or for summary judgment on hostile work environment claims were denied,
as it involves intentional contact with an intimate body part. In Guzman, the Court denied the
defendant’s motion to dismiss when the defendant had allegedly “rubbed his genitals against [the
plaintiff’s] body,” reasoning that the nature of such contact was “distinguishable from others in
which the single incident of contact was incidental and fleeting.” 2010 WL 1222044, at *4–5.
Similarly, several courts in this Circuit have found incidents of intentionally squeezing a
plaintiff’s breast or slapping their buttocks sufficient to state a claim for a hostile work
environment if done with the requisite intent. See Reid, 876 F. Supp. 2d 176 at 185 (allegation
that a defendant “grabbed and squeezed” one of Plaintiff’s breasts sufficient to deny motion to
dismiss); see also Domingues v. Barton Chevrolet Cadillac, No. 18 Civ. 7772 (PMH), 2021 WL
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637016, at *5 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 17, 2021) (allegation that defendant grabbed plaintiff’s breast
stated a hostile work environment claim); Wahlstrom v. Metro-N. Commuter R.R. Co., 89 F.
Supp. 2d 506, 521 (S.D.N.Y. 2000) (allegations that defendant “wrapped his arms around [the
plaintiff], grabbed her in a ‘bear hug,’ made a grunting sound, and slapped her left buttock three
times” stated a hostile work environment claim because such contact was “neither harmless nor
accidental.”). Bonterre’s allegations that the broomstick was “shoved . . . deeply” while Moreno
was “callously laughing” certainly raise a similar inference that the contact was intrusive, and
was neither harmless nor accidental.
The cases cited by Defendants are not to the contrary. Rather, defendants cite only cases
describing conduct that is more “incidental and fleeting.” See Guzman, 2010 WL 1222044, at
*5. For example, in Holohan v. Newmark & Co. Real Estate, Inc., the plaintiff alleged that “[the
defendant’s] hand brushed against her thigh and that she moved away from him in response,” in
addition to several other sexually charged comments. See No. 18 Civ. 6275 (AJN), 2019 WL
4743883, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 16, 2019). The court distinguished this incident from a “forceful
grope” or other similar behavior that might be sufficient to state a claim. Id. at *3. See also
Moore v. Verizon, No. 13 Civ. 6467 (RJS), 2016 WL 825001, at *11–12 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 5, 2016)
(allegations that defendant “once poked Plaintiff in the back” insufficiently severe and
pervasive) 5; Carter v. Verizon, No. 13 Civ. 7579 (KPF), 2015 WL 247344, at *11 (S.D.N.Y. Jan.
20, 2015) (allegations that supervisor would place her hands on plaintiff’s shoulder and press her
breasts against him did not raise a sufficient inference that the contact was a sexual advance, was
sufficiently frequent, or occurred despite his objections). Finally, Defendants cite Anderson v.
Defendants, perhaps intending to analogize to Moore, attempt recast Bonterre’s allegations as merely being “poked
in the buttocks with a broomstick.” Doc. 28 at 14. However, at this stage, the Court must view the allegations in
the light most favorable to Bonterre, who describes a more severe, violent contact.
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Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP, 850 F. Supp. 2d 392, 404 (S.D.N.Y. 2012). In Anderson, the pro
se plaintiff’s allegations that his supervisor would “come around my cube on occasions and place
her vagina literally on my left shoulder or inches from my face” were insufficient to state a
hostile work environment claim. Id. However, the court read this allegation in conjunction with
a similar allegation that the plaintiff’s supervisor would “at times come to my cube and position
herself i[n] such a way that her vagina is practically sitting on my left shoulder, or would stand
so close to me that if I was to turn to my left my nose would be directly in front of the bottom of
her stomach.” Id. On this basis, the court concluded that the plaintiff had only alleged that his
supervisor “stood too close to [him,]” and thus did not state a hostile work environment claim.
Defendants have also argued that there is no plausible nexus between the razor incident
and Bonterre’s gender. However, the Court’s determination does not rest on razor incident, as
the broomstick incident—which Defendants have not argued was unrelated to Bonterre’s
gender—is by itself sufficient to state a claim. Regarding the broomstick incident, the Court
agrees that such unwanted contact with an intimate body part could certainly raise an inference
of being motivated by gender. See, e.g., Swiderski v. Urban Outfitters, Inc., No. 14 Civ. 6307
(JPO), 2017 WL 6502221, at *5–6 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 18, 2017) (issues of fact existed regarding
whether allegations of invasions of personal space and intimate patdowns were motivated by
gender); see also Redd, 678 F.3d at 179 (reasonable jury could infer that grabbing plaintiff’s
breasts was motivated by gender). In any event, the Complaint as a whole raises a plausible
inference that her gender was a motivating factor for both of these incidents, when read in
conjunction with Bonterre’s allegations that other employees under Weiss’ supervision engaged
in “daily” conversations about her “vagina, breasts, anus, buttocks, lips and legs.” ¶ 25.
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Defendants have correctly argued that Bonterre’s allegations in ¶ 25—which alleges the
existence of these daily conversations and several other general patterns of offensive behavior in
her workplace—are too vague to state a claim for hostile work environment conduct on their
own. However, these allegations nevertheless lend plausibility to her allegation that the razor
and broomstick incidents were part of a pattern of sexually motivated behavior toward her. 6 See
Vega v. Hempstead Union Free Sch. Dist., 801 F.3d 72, 88 (2d Cir. 2015) (considering
allegations that were not actionable by themselves, but that supported an inference of
discriminatory intent regarding other actionable conduct).
While discovery may well show that the broomstick incident was more “incidental and
fleeting” than is suggested by Bonterre’s Complaint, she has alleged sufficiently severe conduct
to survive a Rule 12(c) motion and thus states a Title VII hostile work environment claim.
Accordingly, Bonterre therefore also states a claim for hostile work environment under
NYSHRL, which is subject to the same standard, and the NYCHRL, which is construed even
more liberally in favor of plaintiffs. See Mihalik v. Credit Agricole Cheuvreux N. Am., Inc., 715
F.3d 102, 109 (2d Cir. 2013) (interpretations of state and federal civil rights law are a “floor
below which the City’s Human Rights law cannot fall.”) (emphasis in original) (quotation marks
and citation omitted).
C. Retaliation Claims
A prima facie claim for retaliation under Title VII and the NYSHRL requires that a
plaintiff establish “(1) participation in a protected activity; (2) that the defendant knew of the
The razor allegation and these background facts also provide additional support for the Court’s conclusion that
Bonterre has plausibly alleged a “severe or pervasive” hostile work environment. See Harris v. Forklift Sys., Inc.,
510 U.S. 17, 23 (1993) (a court must consider all the circumstances to assess whether an environment was
sufficiently hostile); see also Domingues, 2021 WL 637016, at *5 (noting, in the summary judgment context, that
“even if a jury concluded that the [breast-grabbing incident] in isolation was not ‘extraordinarily severe,’ it could
find that there was a series of incidents [including the breast-grabbing incident] which created an objectively hostile
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protected activity; (3) an adverse employment action; and (4) a causal connection between the
protected activity and the adverse employment action.” Littlejohn, 795 F.3d at 316. However, at
the pleading stage, a plaintiff must only allege facts that provide plausible support to the prima
facie requirements. Wu v. Good Samaritan Hosp. Med. Ctr., 815 F.App’x 575, 581 (2d Cir.
2020). To state a claim under the NYCHRL, a plaintiff must plausibly allege that “(1) [the
plaintiff] participated in a protected activity known to defendants; (2) defendants took an action
that disadvantaged [the plaintiff]; and (3) a causal connection exists between the protected
activity and the adverse action.” Fletcher v. Dakota, Inc., 99 A.D.3d 43, 51–52 (1st Dep’t 2012).
Defendants argue that Bonterre’s retaliation claims are insufficient on the following
bases: (1) she failed to allege that she engaged in protected activity; (2) she failed to allege that
Defendants engaged in activity which would have deterred a reasonable person from engaging in
protected activity; and (3) she failed to allege a causal connection between any protected activity
and any retaliatory acts. The Court agrees that Bonterre has failed to state a claim for retaliation.
In the Complaint, Bonterre alleges that “[d]espite Ms. Bonterre’s complaints and
[Weiss’s] presence throughout substantially all of the sexually-based offenses, [Weiss] has taken
no action,” and that “[w]hen Plaintiff voiced her protests and complaints, she was met with
inaction and escalated instances of harassment.” ¶¶ 28, 30. She also alleges that she filed an
EEOC complaint on March 20, 2017. ¶ 9. 7
While Bonterre’s undated “complaints” may have constituted protected activity, as
presently alleged they are too vague to provide a basis for a retaliation claim, with the exception
of the March 2017 EEOC complaint (which Defendants concede was protected activity). See
Bonterre also alleges that she “complained to upper management” about the 2009 date rape drug incident, which
led to further retaliation shortly following her report. ¶¶ 17–18. However, as discussed above, the 2009 allegations
are time-barred. Bonterre did not rely on this report to her supervisors in her opposition brief, or otherwise argue
that this retaliation allegation was timely.
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Appel v. Schoeman Updike Kaufman Stern & Ascher L.L.P., No. 14 Civ. 2065 (AJN), 2015 WL
13654007, at *15 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 26, 2015) (allegations insufficient when plaintiff “states that
she complained about her perceived age discrimination, but she does not allege to whom she
complained or when these complaints were made”); see also Herling v. N.Y.C. Dep’t of Educ.,
No. 13 Civ. 5287, 2014 WL 1621966, at *9 (E.D.N.Y. Apr. 23, 2014) (allegations that plaintiff
“regularly complained” of unlawful discrimination and retaliation did not state a claim without
specifying when the complaints were lodged, or to whom). While Bonterre argues in her
opposition brief that these complaints were made to her supervisors, this is not clearly set forth in
the Complaint itself. Moreover, even if Bonterre had alleged to whom they were made (or
sufficient facts about what the complaints consisted of), the Complaint does not specify when
such complaints occurred. Thus, the Court is without a basis to infer whether any actionable
retaliatory behavior followed these complaints and—if so—whether such behavior was plausibly
caused by her activity. To be sure, Bonterre alleges that her “protests and complaints” were “met
with inaction and escalated instances of harassment.” ¶¶ 28, 30. But without any details about
what those escalated instances of harassment consisted of, this statement is too conclusory to
provide a basis for a retaliation claim.
Similarly, while Bonterre’s EEOC complaint surely constituted protected activity, she
alleges that this complaint was filed on March 20, 2017. ¶ 9. Bonterre alleges no specific
conduct after this date, as she alleges the razor incident occurred in October 2016 and the
broomstick incident took place on February 11, 2017. ¶¶ 26–27. As discussed above, threadbare
allegations of “escalated instances of harassment,” without more, are insufficient to state a claim.
Thus, while Bonterre has adequately alleged that she engaged in protected activity through filing
her EEOC complaint, she has not alleged facts that plausibly support any actionable retaliatory
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conduct after this activity, or an inference that any such conduct was caused by her EEOC
complaint. Accordingly, Bonterre fails to state a claim for retaliation under Title VII, NYSHRL,
or NYCHRL. 8
D. Individual Liability
Bonterre has named all defendants in all of her causes of action. Defendants raise several
challenges to their individual liability.
Individual Liability under Title VII
Defendants have argued that all Title VII claims against Weiss and Moreno must be
dismissed, as Title VII does not provide for individual liability. See Patterson v. Cnty. of
Oneida, N.Y., 375 F.3d 206, 221 (2d Cir. 2004). Bonterre did not respond to this argument in her
opposition brief, and the Court agrees that Bonterre fails to state a Title VII claim against Weiss
and Moreno individually on this basis. All Title VII claims against the individual defendants are
Aiding and Abetting Claims
N.Y. Exec. Law § 296(6) makes it unlawful for any person—regardless of supervisor
status—to “aid, abet, incite, compel or coerce” any actionable discriminatory act. To state a
claim under § 296(6), a plaintiff must allege that a defendant “actually participated in the alleged
discriminatory acts.” Forrest v. Jewish Guild for the Blind, 3 N.Y.3d 295, 328 (2004) (internal
quotation marks and alterations omitted). Aiding and abetting claims under the NYCHRL are
While NYCHRL requires only a showing of an action that “disadvantaged [Bonterre],” as opposed to one that
would reasonably deter an employee from engaging in protected conduct, she still must plausibly allege that a
“causal connection” exists between her protected activity and such action. Fletcher, 99 A.D.3d at 52. This she has
Case 1:18-cv-00745-ER Document 31 Filed 09/07/21 Page 16 of 21
analyzed under the same standard. See Malena v. Victoria’s Secret Direct, LLC, 886 F. Supp. 2d
349, 367 (S.D.N.Y. 2012). 9
Defendants argue that because Weiss and Moreno are the “alleged principal actors”
responsible for the broomstick incident, they cannot be held responsible for “aiding and abetting
their own conduct.” Doc. 30 at 9 (citing Boonmalert v. City of New York, 721 F.App’x 29, 34
(2d Cir. 2018)); see also Doc. 28 at 23. Bonterre argues that the individual defendants “assisted
each other and the entity-employer, DSNY, in creating the discriminatory hostile work
environment,” which is cognizable under § 296(6). Doc. 29 at 15.
Bonterre has the better argument. There has been some disagreement among district
courts in this circuit regarding the extent to which an individual may be held liable under §
296(6) for conduct for which they are also the principal actor. See Murtha v. N.Y. State Gaming
Comm’n, No. 17 Civ. 10040 (NSR), 2019 WL 4450687, at *18 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 17, 2019)
(collecting cases). This ambiguity stems from the Second Circuit’s decision in 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). In Tomka, the Second Circuit held that the plaintiff stated a
claim under § 296(6) when she alleged that “each of the individual defendants assaulted her and
thereby created a hostile working environment,” because each defendant had “actually
participat[ed]” in the conduct giving rise to the claim. 66 F.3d at 1317. Since Tomka, many
courts have held that a plaintiff who alleges that an employer has “encouraged[,] condoned, or
approved the discriminatory conduct of a sole employee, may rely on the same [employee’s]
The Court notes that aiding and abetting claims under the NYCHRL are typically brought under N.Y. Admin.
Code § 8-107(6). In Count Eight of her complaint, which alleges “NYC Aiding & Abetting Discrimination,”
Bonterre has instead cited to N.Y. Admin. Code § 8-107(19), which prohibits interference with protected rights.
However, the Court assumes, as the parties appear to have done in their briefs, that Bonterre has asserted a claim for
aiding and abetting discrimination, as opposed to one for interference with protected rights.
Case 1:18-cv-00745-ER Document 31 Filed 09/07/21 Page 17 of 21
discriminatory conduct to prove, perhaps circularly, individual liability under the aiding and
abetting provision of the NYSHRL.” Murtha, 2019 WL 4450687, at *18 (citing Johnson v.
Cnty. of Nassau, 82 F. Supp. 3d 533, 535 (E.D.N.Y. 2015)) (internal quotation marks omitted).
Other courts, however, have abided by the narrower rule that an individual cannot aid or abet
their own violation of NYSHRL, effectively limiting Tomka to situations where there are
multiple individual defendants who have aided and abetted each other’s violations. Id. (citing
Bliss v. MXK Rest. Corp., 220 F. Supp. 3d 419, 426 (S.D.N.Y. 2016)).
Because the Second Circuit has not revisited its reasoning in Tomka in a precedential
opinion, the Court will adhere to the “majority” interpretation that a claim is stated if an
employee participates in the alleged conduct, regardless of whether such participation also
constitutes a primary violation of NYSHRL or whether other employees were involved. See
Boston v. Taconic Mgmt., No. 12 Civ. 4077 (ER), 2014 WL 4184751, at 2 n.9 (S.D.N.Y. Aug.
22, 2014) (applying Tomka and concluding that “assuming the alleged discrimination can be
imputed to . . . Plaintiff’s employer, [the individual defendant] can be held liable for aiding and
abetting regardless of whether his actions form the basis for Taconic’s liability in the first
instance.”) (citations omitted); see also Johnson, 82 F. Supp. 3d at 536 (plaintiff could state an
aiding and abetting claim regardless of whether other employees contributed to the
discrimination). 10 Under this standard, Bonterre clearly states a claim. Moreno’s “actual
participation” in the broomstick incident is self-evident. Moreover, Bonterre has also adequately
alleged that Weiss actually participated in the incident, based on the fact that he was present for
Defendants cite Boonmalert v. City of New York, in which the Second Circuit stated, in a summary order, that “an
individual cannot aid and abet their own discriminatory conduct” under § 206(6). See 721 F.App’x at 34 (citing
Strauss v. N.Y. State Dep’t of Educ., 26 A.D.3d 67 (3d Dep’t 2005)). However, Boonmalert nowhere cites Tomka,
and also rests on the separate ground that there was no actionable primary violation of the NYSHRL or NYCHRL.
The Court finds it unlikely that, if the Second Circuit meant to overturn or clarify the reasoning of Tomka, it would
have done so in a non-precedential opinion that does not even mention it.
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it and took no remedial action. See Lewis v. Triborough Bridge & Tunnel Auth., 77 F. Supp. 2d
376, 384 (S.D.N.Y. 1999) (“[T]he case law establishes beyond cavil that a supervisor’s failure to
take adequate remedial measures [in response to a NYSHRL violation] can rise to the level of
‘actual participation’ under HRL § 296(6).”).
However, the Court also notes that Bonterre’s allegations appear to state a claim under
the narrower interpretation of Tomka. In Tomka, the Plaintiff alleged that she had been sexually
assaulted by three individuals, all as part of the same extended incident. 66 F.3d at 1301–02.
While it found that each defendant “actually participate[d]” in the sexual assaults and thereby
contributed to the creation of a hostile work environment, the Second Circuit did not clarify
whether its decision rested on the “circular” theory discussed above, or whether the defendants
had simply aided and abetted each other’s primary acts. See Tully-Boone v. N. Shore-Long
Island Jewish Hosp. Sys., 588 F. Supp. 2d 419, 427 (E.D.N.Y. 2008) (discussing this ambiguity).
Here, however, Defendants have asserted that both Weiss and Moreno are “the alleged principal
actors” for the broomstick incident. See Doc. 30 at 9. Bonterre therefore also states a claim
based on the theory that Weiss and Moreno aided and abetted each other’s contributions to the
hostile work environment. Cf. Chau v. Donovan, 357 F. Supp. 3d 276, 286 (S.D.N.Y. 2019)
(plaintiffs may state a claim for aiding and abetting under § 296(6) by alleging a primary
violation committed by another employee, by the business itself, or by alleging that an individual
“primarily directed the discriminatory conduct in concert with other employees or an employer”)
Finally, because Bonterre states a claim for aiding and abetting under the NYSHRL, she
also states such a claim under NYCHRL. See Malena, 886 F. Supp. 2d at 367.
Case 1:18-cv-00745-ER Document 31 Filed 09/07/21 Page 19 of 21
Moreno’s Individual Liability Under NYSHRL and NYCHRL
Defendants finally argue that Moreno cannot be liable as an “employer” under NYSHRL
and NYCHRL. As discussed above, Bonterre has stated a claim against Moreno for aiding and
abetting under § 296(6) and the NYCHRL, both of which apply to any “person” as opposed to
any “employer,”—but has failed to state a retaliation claim against any defendant. Thus, as a
practical matter, Defendants’ “employer” argument is relevant only to Moreno’s liability under
Counts Three and Six, which allege a hostile work environment under the NYSHRL and
NYCHRL, respectively, and Count Nine, which alleges supervisory liability under the
The term “employer” is not explicitly defined in the NYSHRL. However, courts have
found that “common-law principles . . . determine who may be liable as an employer . . . with
greatest emphasis placed on the alleged employer’s power ‘to order and control’ the employee in
his or her performance of work.” Griffin v. Sirva, Inc., 29 N.Y.3d 174, 186 (2017). Bonterre did
not respond to Defendants’ argument that Moreno is not an “employer” under the NYSHRL, and
has alleged no facts to support the inference that Moreno exercised any control or supervision
over her in the workplace. Indeed, her designation of him as an “employee” and Weiss as her
“supervisor” in the Complaint undermines such an inference. Count Three is therefore dismissed
as to Moreno. For substantially the same reasons, allegations against Moreno under Count Nine,
which alleges supervisory liability under NYCHRL § 8-107(13), must be dismissed. See Doe v.
Bloomberg L.P., 36 N.Y.3d 450, 460–61 (2021) (noting that § 8-107(13) applies when an
employee exercises supervisory responsibility, but does not extend to employees without such
These claims should also be dismissed for the independent reason that Bonterre did not address them in her
opposition brief. See Lipton v. Cnty. of Orange, 315 F. Supp. 2d 434, 446 (S.D.N.Y. 2004) (“This Court may, and
Case 1:18-cv-00745-ER Document 31 Filed 09/07/21 Page 20 of 21
However, regarding Count Six, the NYCHRL hostile work environment claim, Bonterre
brings her claims under N.Y. Admin. Code § 8-107(1)(a), the plain text of which prohibits “[a]n
employer or an employee or agent thereof” from engaging in discrimination. See N.Y. Admin.
Code § 8-107(1)(a) (emphasis added). Thus, even assuming arguendo that Moreno is not an
“employer” under the NYCHRL, he could still be liable as an “employee.” See Doe, 36 N.Y.3d
at 459 (2021) (“The City HRL specifically imposes primary liability on employees and agents
for some discriminatory acts.”) (citing § 8-107(a)). The Court therefore declines to dismiss
Count Six as to Moreno.
For the reasons discussed, Defendants’ motion for judgment on the pleadings is
GRANTED in part and DENIED in part. The motion is granted as to:
Count One as to the individual defendants only;
Counts Two, Four, Seven, Ten and Eleven against all defendants;
Counts Three and Nine as to Moreno;
The motion is denied as to:
Count One against the City and DSNY;
Counts Three and Nine against the City, DSNY and Weiss;
Counts Five, Six and Eight against all Defendants.
The parties are directed to appear for a teleconference on October 12, 2021 at 4:30 p.m.
The parties are directed to dial (877) 411-9748 and enter access code 3029857# when prompted.
The Clerk of Court is respectfully directed to terminate the motion, Doc. 27.
generally will, deem a claim abandoned when a plaintiff fails to respond to a defendant’s arguments that the claim
should be dismissed.”).
Case 1:18-cv-00745-ER Document 31 Filed 09/07/21 Page 21 of 21
It is SO ORDERED.
September 7, 2021
New York, New York
EDGARDO RAMOS, U.S.D.J.
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