Court Dismisses Disability Discrimination and Retaliation Claims

In Balgley v. N.Y. City Health & Hosps. Corp., No. 14-CV-9041 (KBF), 2017 WL 95114 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 10, 2017), Southern District Judge Katherine Forrest dismissed plaintiff’s retaliation claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and his disability discrimination claim under the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL). In sum, plaintiff alleges that defendant unlawfully denied him extended medical leave and then terminated him.

Americans With Disabilities Act

As to plaintiff’s ADA retaliation claim, the court explained that plaintiff failed to make out a prima facie case because he produced insufficient evidence of causation. From the decision:

[p}laintiff has failed to raise a triable issue as to a causal connection between his filing of EEOC charges and any adverse employment action. Plaintiff suggests that temporal proximity between his filing of the October 2012 charge and the denial of Discretionary Extended Leave is sufficient; it is not. He filed his October 2012 claim with the EEOC a year prior to the first denial of his leave request in November 2013. However, plaintiff admits he was approved for paid leave multiple times during that year. On these facts, the rather attenuated temporal connection breaks altogether. As to plaintiff’s second EEOC charge, it cannot logically have any causal connection as it was filed after the denial of his Discretionary Extended Leave request.

The court reached the same conclusion as to plaintiff’s claim that defendant retaliated for his use of approved medical leave, since “[t]he only fact plaintiff alleges to support causation is that the Discretionary Extended Leave request was denied after plaintiff used other forms of medical leave for which he was repeatedly approved over a period of six months—and for which he continued to be approved after the denial of Discretionary Extended Leave.”

While “[a] gap of six months does not rule out causation”, the court determined that “in light of the entire record—the repeated approval of plaintiff’s other leave requests (before and after his requests for Discretionary Extended Leave), the absence of facts showing disability-based animus, and the time lapse between plaintiff’s requests for medical leave and the denial of Discretionary Extended Leave—plaintiff alleges insufficient facts to raise a triable issue as to a causal relationship.”

Even assuming plaintiff made out a prima facie case, he “fails to proffer facts to rebut defendants’ showing that he was actually denied Discretionary Extended Leave because his performance evaluations were disqualifying.”

Thus, defendants met their burden to articulate a legitimate, non-retaliatory reason for the alleged adverse employment action:

Defendants carried this burden by offering undisputed facts to show that plaintiff was denied Discretionary Extended Leave because he did not meet the requirements under established company policy. To qualify for Discretionary Extended Leave, HHC employees must have exemplary performance evaluations for their employment tenure. [T]his type of leave is discretionary, and employees “must meet the set forth criteria to be considered for such leave. It is undisputed that plaintiff did not have exemplary performance evaluations for his employment tenure. His performance evaluation for July 2011 through July 2012 was “Need[ed] Improvement;” in October 2012 plaintiff had a counseling session “concerning his low productivity and the quality of his work as reflected on his performance evaluations;” and when plaintiff was reevaluated for the period from October to December 2012, he received only a “Satisfactory” rating. This is a legitimate, non-retaliatory reason to deny plaintiff the Discretionary Extended Leave.

Since defendants carried their burden, plaintiff was then required to “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.”

Plaintiff did not do so:

He does not dispute his performance ratings or the requirement of exemplary performance evaluations to qualify for Discretionary Extended Leave. He only alleges, without pointing to any supporting facts, that he believes that in practice employees with employment performance similar to his, who did not complain of discrimination, were granted this extended paid medical leave. This threadbare allegation is insufficient to permit the conclusion that plaintiff’s undisputed disqualification for Discretionary Extended Leave under company policy was pretextual.

 

New York City Human Rights Law

The court also dismissed plaintiff’s disability discrimination claim under the more lenient New York City Human Rights Law:

Assuming without deciding that plaintiff’s COPD [Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder] would qualify as a disability under the NYCHRL’s more lenient standard, plaintiff does not plead any facts to support the conclusion that he suffered an adverse employment action due to his COPD. He was diagnosed with COPD in 2009. He does not allege that he sought or was denied any accommodation for his COPD, and he does not allege any adverse employment action taken against him until the denial of Discretionary Extended Leave in 2013. Furthermore, as discussed [above], even if plaintiff had made out a prima facie case that the denial of Discretionary Extended Leave was caused by disability discrimination, he fails to rebut defendant’s facts showing a nondiscriminatory reason for the denial.