United States District Court, D. Connecticut
SYED K. RAFI, Plaintiff
YALE UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE and RICHARD P. LIFTON; Defendants
RULING ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS
A. BOLDEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Syed Rafi (“Plaintiff”), a former employee of
Yale University School of Medicine (“Yale”),
brought this action against Yale and Dr. Richard Lifton,
Chairman of the Department of Genetics (together
“Defendants”). On September 15, 2016, the Court
dismissed Dr. Rafi's initial Complaint without prejudice
for failure to comply with the service requirements of Rule
4(m). Order, ECF No. 49. The following month, Dr. Rafi filed
an Amended Complaint, reopening this case. Am. Compl., ECF
No. 51. Defendants now move to dismiss the Amended Complaint
under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim; in the
alternative, they seek to strike various portions of the
Amended Complaint under Rule 12(f). Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No.
reasons that follow, the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss is
GRANTED with prejudice, and Defendants' Motion to Strike
is DENIED AS MOOT.
I. FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS
Rafi is a former Cytogenetics Fellow at the Yale University
School of Medicine (“Yale”). Am. Compl. at 4,
ECF No. 51. In or around 2001, Dr. Rafi began his employment
with Yale as a clinical cytogenetics trainee under the
supervision of Dr. Richard Lifton, Chairman of the Genetics
Department at the Yale University School of Medicine.
Id. at 3-5. During his time as a cytogenetics
trainee, Dr. Rafi worked in the laboratory of Dr. Mazin
Qumsiyeh, a Yale employee and laboratory director, who was
substantially involved in political activism about issues
affecting Palestine and Israel. Id. at 8-11. Dr.
Rafi alleges that Yale wanted to terminate Dr. Qumsiyeh, and
that, as a means to help Yale avoid a potential employment
discrimination complaint from Dr. Qumsiyeh, Dr. Lifton
pressured Dr. Rafi to file a written complaint against Dr.
Qumsiyeh. Id. At Dr. Lifton's request, Dr. Rafi
provided a confidential statement for Yale describing Dr.
Qumsiyeh's management of the Clinical Cytogenetics
Laboratory and his alleged actions to pressure Dr. Rafi to
participate in political activism. Qumsiyeh Compl., Am.
Compl. Ex. 4, ECF No. 51-2.
to the Amended Complaint, Dr. Lifton “coercively
demanded” this written complaint, and Dr. Rafi
“yield[ed] to Dr. Lifton's coercion” by
providing it. Am Compl. at 11, ECF No. 51. The Amended
Complaint does not allege that Dr. Lifton demanded this
written complaint because of Dr. Rafi's race or national
origin; rather, Dr. Rafi states that he was asked to write
this complaint “since Plaintiff had worked and trained
at that clinical diagnostic cytogenetics laboratory that was
abusively directed and exploited by Dr.
Rafi's written complaint states that Dr. Qumsiyeh was
significantly involved in “Palestinian political
activism” during his time as Director of the Clinical
Cytogenetics Laboratory in which Dr. Rafi worked. Qumsiyeh
Compl. at 1, Am. Compl. Ex. 4, ECF No. 51-2. According to the
complaint, Dr. Qumsiyeh interfered with Dr. Rafi's
application to undergo an American Board of Medical Genetics
(“ABMG”) Medical Genetics Training Program at the
Boston University School of Medicine because he wanted Dr.
Rafi to complete the training at Yale instead. Id.
at 1-2. After Dr. Rafi began the ABMG training program at
Yale, he claims that Dr. Qumsiyeh “did not wait for too
long to indirectly pressure [him] to attend his Palestinian
Political meetings” and sent multiple unsolicited
emails each day to Dr. Rafi's inbox regarding this
political activity. Id.
Dr. Rafi refused to participate in these activities, he
alleges that Dr. Qumsiyeh became “rude and
authoritative.” Id. According to Dr. Rafi, Dr.
Qumsiyeh required him to complete additional diagnostic
laboratory work until 10 p.m. to compensate for time spent on
ABMG training activities, required him to resign from his
position as a full time technologist and accept the position
of “temporary” technologist, which did not
include benefits, and attempted to extend his training period
even after he had already completed the required ABMG
training program in order to compel him to perform additional
unpaid research work on behalf of the laboratory.
Id. at 3-4.
Rafi eventually left Yale and moved to Boston, Massachusetts.
Id. at 13. According to Dr. Rafi, Dr. Lifton and
Yale unlawfully interfered with his efforts to obtain
employment at various institutions in the Boston area,
including at Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Women's
Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital, and others.
Id. at 13-22. Dr. Rafi specifically alleges that Dr.
Lifton “colluded” with Dr. Cynthia Morton,
Director of Clinical Cytogenetic Laboratories at Brigham and
Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, to ensure
that he was not hired. Id. Dr. Rafi claims that this
interference was in order for Dr. Lifton to employ him at
Yale, so that he could testify as a witness against Dr.
Qumsiyeh. Id. Dr. Rafi never alleges that Dr.
Qumsiyeh filed an employment discrimination case against
Yale, however, nor does he specify what sort of testimony he
was being asked to give.
Rafi states that he was eventually able to obtain lower-level
roles at Harvard Medical School as a molecular genetics
research associate and later as a manager at a core service
laboratory. Id. at 16-17. He alleges that Dr.
Barbara Pober, who left Yale around the same time as Dr.
Qumsiyeh and who worked as an Associate Professor at
Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School,
participated in “influence peddling from within
HMS” to ensure that those positions were terminated.
Id. According to Dr. Rafi, Dr. Pober's husband
was an influential Yale professor at the time of these
alleged actions; however, he does not name Dr. Pober as a
Defendant in this action. Id. at 15. Each time Dr.
Rafi's employment in Boston was terminated, he was
allegedly encouraged to apply to Yale. Id. at 16-17.
Dr. Rafi also alleges that, although Yale also wanted Dr.
Pober, who is Jewish and female, to return to Yale to testify
against Dr. Qumsiyeh, they did not engage in similar
retaliatory acts as to her following her employment with
Amended Complaint briefly includes an additional allegation
that Defendants' interference with Dr. Rafi's
employment efforts was also caused, in part, by a separate
Title VII lawsuit that Dr. Rafi had previously brought
against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
(“HHS”). Id. at 25-27. In this lawsuit,
Dr. Rafi alleged that the National Institute of Health
(“NIH”) discriminated against him, while he was
working as a volunteer researcher. Id. Dr. Rafi
claims that Dr. Lifton had a “special bond” with
the director of the NIH at the time and that Dr. Rafi's
previous Title VII complaint was “open and readily
available, ” suggesting that Dr. Lifton knew about this
complaint at the time of the allegedly retaliatory actions.
Id. The Amended Complaint indicates that Dr. Rafi
initiated this previous lawsuit in 2002, which would have
been during his employment with Yale as a cytogenetics
Rafi claims that Dr. Lifton's interference in his job
applications in the field of cytogenetics continues to this
day. He claims that Yale's and Dr. Lifton's actions
were primarily in retaliation for Dr. Rafi's refusal to
work for Yale and testify against Dr. Qumsiyeh, and he claims
that these acts violated the provisions of Title VI, Title
VII, Title IX, 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and 42 U.S.C. §
STANDARD OF REVIEW
considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim
under Fed R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), the court must accept as true
all factual allegations in the complaint and draw all
possible inferences from those allegations in favor of the
plaintiff. See York v. Ass'n of the Bar of the City
of New York, 286 F.3d 122, 125 (2d Cir.), cert.
denied, 537 U.S. 1089 (2002). The proper consideration
is not whether the plaintiff ultimately will prevail, but
whether the plaintiff has stated a claim upon which relief
may be granted such that he should be entitled to offer
evidence to support his claim. See id. (citation
omitted). Courts considering motions to dismiss under Rule
12(b)(6) generally “must limit [their] analysis to the
four corners of the complaint, ” though they may also
consider documents that are “incorporated in the
complaint by reference.” Kermanshah v.
Kermanshah, 580 F.Supp.2d 247, 258 (S.D.N.Y. 2008).
reviewing a complaint under Rule 12(b)(6), the court applies
“a ‘plausibility standard, '” which is
guided by “two working principles.” Ashcroft
v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). First, the
requirement that the court accept as true the allegations in
a complaint “is inapplicable to legal
conclusions.” Id. “Threadbare recitals
of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere
conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id.
Second, to survive a motion to dismiss, the complaint must
state a plausible claim for relief. Id. at 679.
Determining whether the complaint states a plausible claim
for relief is “‘a context-specific task that
requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial
experience and common sense.'” Harris v.
Mills, 572 F.3d 66, 72 (2d Cir. 2009) (quoting
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679).
seek dismissal of Dr. Rafi's Complaint under Rule
12(b)(6) on the following grounds: (1) Dr. Rafi fails to
state a claim under Title VII because he failed to exhaust
his administrative remedies, his claims are untimely, and
they do not sufficiently allege adverse action; (2) Dr.
Rafi's Title VI claims are time-barred and are improperly
alleged against Dr. Lifton; (3) Dr. Rafi fails to allege any
gender-based discrimination as required to state a claim
under Title IX; (4) Dr. Rafi's claims under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1981 (“Section 1981”) are time-barred; and
(5) Dr. Rafi does not adequately allege state action, as
required to state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983
(“Section 1983). Alternatively, Defendants seek a more
definite statement under Rule 12(e) as well as to strike
various portions of the Complaint under Rule 12(f).
Claims against Dr. Lifton
Amended Complaint asserts Title VII retaliation claims
against Yale and Dr. Lifton, claiming that both Defendants
retaliated against him for “refus[ing] to serve as a
defense witness against Dr. Qumsiyeh” by interfering
with his efforts to gain employment elsewhere. Am. Compl. at
2, ECF No. 51. The Amended Complaint also similarly asserts
Title VI claims against Dr. Lifton as well as claims under
Title IX. All of the claims against Dr. Lifton are
argue that all Title VII claims brought against Dr. Lifton
should be dismissed, as only employers, not individuals, can
be liable under Title VII. Def. Mem. in Supp. at 11, ECF No.
56-1. The Court agrees.
Second Circuit has established that “individuals are
not subject to liability under Title VII.”
Patterson v. Cty. of Oneida, N.Y., 375 F.3d 206, 221
(2d Cir. 2004) (internal quotations and marks omitted).
Accordingly, any Title VII claims asserted against Dr. Lipton
individually are dismissed, and the Court considers Dr.
Rafi's Title VII claims only as to Yale.
addition to his claims under Title VII, Dr. Rafi asserts that
Dr. Lifton violated his rights under Title VI, by interfering
with his re-employment efforts in retaliation for his refusal
to work for Yale and testify against Dr. Qumsiyeh. Defendants
argue that these claims cannot be asserted against Dr.
Lifton, as Title VI is only applicable to programs receiving
federal assistance. The Court agrees with Defendants.
VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees'
right to be free from race-based or national origin-based
discrimination on the part of programs that receive federal
assistance. 42 U.S.C. § 2000d (“No person in the
United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or
national origin, be excluded from participation in, or denied
the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any
program or activity receiving Federal financial
assistance.”). Dr. Lifton cannot be a defendant in a
Title VI action, as Title VI only applies to entities that
receive federal financial assistance. See Milione,
950 F.Supp.2d at 708-709 (“The proper defendant in a
Title VI action ‘is the entity that receives federal
financial assistance, not an individual.'”)
(quoting Kelly v. Rice, 375 F.Supp.2d 203, 208
(S.D.N.Y. 2005)). Accordingly, all Title VI claims against
Dr. Lifton are dismissed.
Rafi alleges that Dr. Lifton violated the sex discrimination
provisions of Title IX through the same conduct alleged in
connection with his other claims. Defendants claim that Title
IX claims cannot be brought against individual Defendants,
thus Dr. Rafi's claims against Dr. Lifton should be
dismissed. The Court agrees with Defendants.
federally funded educational institutions can be defendants
in a Title IX action. See Davis Next Friend LaShonda D.
v. Monroe County Bd. of Educ., 526 U.S. 629, 363 (1999)
(recognizing dismissal of claims against individual
defendants “on the ground that only federally funded
educational institutions are subject to liability in private
causes of action under Title IX”). Accordingly, Dr.
Rafi's claims against Dr. Lifton are dismissed.
Claims Against Yale
Rafi asserts that Yale violated Title VII, Title VI, and
Title IX. He also asserts that both Yale and Dr. Rafi
violated Section 1981 and Section 1983. For the various
reasons discussed below, all of these claims are dismissed.
seek dismissal of Dr. Rafi's Title VII retaliation claims
against Yale, arguing that: (a) Dr. Rafi failed to exhaust
administrative remedies before bringing this lawsuit in
federal court; (b) his claims are untimely; and (c) he failed
to adequately allege adverse action on the part of
Defendants. The Court concludes that Dr. Rafi did exhaust his
administrative remedies and has properly alleged adverse
action; however, aspects of his Title VII claims are
untimely, and his Title VII retaliation claims ultimately
fail because of his inability to allege participation in
protected activity as required for a prima facie
Exhaustion of ...