Rich v. Bush Industries, Inc.
ORDER denying 4 Motion to Dismiss. Defendant shall answer the complaint within 20 days of entry of this order. Signed by Hon. Richard J. Arcara on 5/3/2010. (JMB)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT W E S T E R N DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
M A R IL Y N RICH, P la in tiff, D E C IS IO N AND ORDER 1 0 -C V -1 3 7 A v.
BUSH INDUSTRIES, INC., D e fe n d a n t.
IN T R O D U C T IO N D e fe n d a n t Bush Industries, Inc. has made a motion to dismiss for failure to s ta te a claim upon which relief may be granted, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the F e d e ra l Rules of Civil Procedure ("FRCP"). Defendant asserts that plaintiff has m a d e no factual allegations that would support a reasonable inference that she w a s terminated because of her disability. Plaintiff responds that her factual a lle g a tio n s about the timing of her medical treatments and subsequent te rm in a tio n give rise to reasonable inferences about what defendant's motive was fo r firing her. The Court held oral argument on April 26, 2010. For the reasons b e lo w , the Court will deny the motion. B AC K G R O U N D T h is case concerns allegations that a woman was fired from her job b e c a u s e her self-insured employer wanted to reduce costs associated with her
breast cancer treatments. Plaintiff is a resident of Jamestown, New York. Defendant is a Delaware corporation that does business in Jamestown. According to the complaint, plaintiff began working for defendant in late July 2004 a s an accounts representative. Beginning approximately in December 2007, p la in tiff assumed some supervisory responsibilities as well. During the time when s h e worked for defendant, plaintiff never received any warnings, reprimands, or o th e r personnel actions that would suggest unsatisfactory job performance. In a p p ro xim a te ly July 2008, plaintiff was diagnosed with breast cancer. Plaintiff's d ia g n o s is was well known among her colleagues. Plaintiff continued to work until A u g u s t 14, 2008, the day before her double mastectomy surgery, and returned to w o rk on October 17, 2008. A c c o rd in g to plaintiff, the events leading directly to the commencement of th is case began approximately a month after she returned to work. In November 2 0 0 8 , a human resources executive at defendant held a health insurance meeting w ith approximately 50 employees, including plaintiff. At the meeting, the e xe c u tive told the attendees are that defendant was a self-insured company, and th a t the medical benefits being paid out for the 2008 calendar year were "at an a ll-tim e high." The executive then told the attendees that nine employees in p a rtic u la r had caused the unprecedented expenditures for medical benefits. Plaintiff has not alleged that the executive named these nine employees at the m e e tin g . An employee attending the meeting stated that records for these nine 2
employees were being pulled and reviewed. Plaintiff has not alleged who this e m p lo ye e was or how this employee would know about any records review. On D e c e m b e r 3, 2008, plaintiff was terminated from her employment with defendant. The complaint suggests that defendant did not tell plaintiff why it was firing her w h e n the firing occurred. P la in tiff subsequently filed a charge of employment discrimination with the E q u a l Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"); the exact date of the filing is unclear, but the EEOC appears to have received the filing no later than June 3, 2 0 0 9 . On December 9, 2009, the EEOC sent plaintiff a Notice of Rights letter. Plaintiff filed her complaint in this case on February 19, 2010. The complaint c o n ta in s two claims, one for a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U .S .C . §§ 1210112300, and one for a violation of the state Human Rights Law, N .Y . Executive Law §§ 290301. D e fe n d a n t filed the pending motion to dismiss on March 12, 2010. From its m o tio n papers, defendant does not appear to deny that plaintiff's claims would be le g a lly cognizable if factually supported. Rather, defendant emphasizes that p la in tiff has not laid enough of a factual foundation for her claims to make those c la im s "plausible." Defendant asserts that plaintiff does not explicitly allege in her c o m p la in t that she was fired because of her breast cancer treatments. Defendant a s s e rts further that plaintiff has provided no context for the November 2008 m e e tin g and has taken a single statement from that meeting and over-analyzed it. 3
In opposition, plaintiff asserts that she has pled enough factual information in her c o m p la in t to permit the Court to draw obvious inferences about the real reason fo r her termination. Specifically, plaintiff argues that this case should proceed to th e discovery phase to explore why, after four years of apparently satisfactory w o rk performance, defendant fired plaintiff just weeks after announcing to a large g ro u p of employees that it was concerned about expenditures for medical b e n e f it s . D IS C U S S IO N
Courts review motions to dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted by "accepting all factual allegations in the complaint as true, and drawing all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Peter F. Gaito Architecture, LLC v. Simone Dev. Corp., ___ F.3d ___, 2010 WL 1337225, at *3 (2d Cir. Apr. 7, 2010) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Accepting plaintiff's allegations here as true, she worked for defendant
fo r over four years and not only performed at a satisfactory level but also a s s u m e d increasing responsibility as time passed. Nonetheless, plaintiff found h e rs e lf out of a job within four months of her breast cancer surgery, within two m o n th s of her return to work, and within three weeks of her employer's a n n o u n c e m e n t that nine employees out of 50 or more had expensive medical 4
problems. An inference that defendant terminated plaintiff before her medical e xp e n s e s ran any higher flows reasonably from these allegations. Under these
circumstances, plaintiff successfully submitted a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." FRCP 8(a)(2). Plaintiff
n o w should have a chance to explore the extent to which defendant targeted her b e c a u s e of the costs associated with her breast cancer treatments. Cf., e.g.,
Dewitt v. Proctor Hosp., 517 F.3d 944, 948 (7th Cir. 2008) (denying summary judgment in a "disability by association" case involving a nurse working at a hospital, where "[t]he uncontroverted evidence suggests that [defendant employer, the hospital], which faced financial trouble, was very concerned about cutting costs. Because [defendant]'s unusually high `stop-loss' coverage didn't kick in until claims exceeded $250,000, it personally felt the heavy bite of [plaintiff]'s expenses. [Defendant] wasn't discreet about its concerns: in the May 2005 meeting, [plaintiff's supervisor] informed [defendant]'s clinical managers that the hospital would have to be `creative' in cutting costs."). Of course, that plaintiff's narrative plausibly could have happened does not mean that it actually did happen. If plaintiff cannot substantiate her claims enough to warrant a trial then defendant can avail itself of dispositive motion practice at a later time. For now, however, moving the case into the discovery
p h a s e is the appropriate course of action.
CONCLUSION F o r all of the foregoing reasons, defendant's motion is denied. Defendant s h a ll answer the complaint within 20 days of entry of this order. SO ORDERED.
s/ Richard J. Arcara
HONORABLE RICHARD J. ARCARA UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE DATED: April 29, 2010
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