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Collazo v. State of Connecticut Department of Social Services

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

September 20, 2017




         Alfonso Collazo (“Plaintiff”), pro se, brings employment discrimination and retaliation claims against the State of Connecticut Department of Social Services (“Defendant, ” or “DSS”) under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (“Title VII”), and the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act (“CFEPA”). DSS has moved to dismiss all of Mr. Collazo's claims under Rule 12(b)(1) and Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Def. Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 18.

         For the reasons outlined below, DSS's [18] Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART. The motion is GRANTED as to Mr. Collazo's disability claims under the ADA, and the motion is DENIED as to Mr. Collazo's hostile work environment and retaliation claims under Title VII.

         I. FACTUAL SUMMARY[1]

         Alfonso Collazo, who is Hispanic, worked for DSS as a shopkeeper for over twenty-six (26) years. Compl. at 3, ECF No. 1. He claims that his duties in that role were primarily physical, and that, in 2005, he suffered a back injury in the workplace. Id. Following this injury, his doctor ordered him to perform only “light duty” without “bending or lifting.” Id. He alleges that his superiors were aware of these physical limitations. Id.

         In February of 2014, DSS assigned him a new supervisor, Bernard Szreders. Id. According to Mr. Collazo, in March of 2014, Mr. Szreders called him “boy” on two occasions. CHRO Compl. at 2, Compl. Ex. B, ECF No. 1-2.[2] Mr. Collazo alleges that he told Mr. Szreders not to call him “boy, ” and that, in response, Mr. Szreders stated: “Great. Now I have to deal with this Spic who I'd rather put a bullet in, than argue with.” Id.

         Later that same month, Mr. Collazo states that he reported this interaction to DSS's Director of Affirmative Action, Astread Ferron-Poole, as well as to the Director of Personnel and the Deputy Commissioner. Id. at 2; Compl. at 3, ECF No. 1. Mr. Collazo claims that, following this internal complaint, he was subjected to harassment in the workplace that ultimately concluded with his departure. Id. He states that, following his internal complaint, Mr. Szreders docked his pay on May 22, 2014 after a doctor's appointment took longer than expected, upgraded a verbal warning into a written warning against Mr. Collazo in April 2014, denied Mr. Collazo's requests for vacation days, and “micromanaged” his activities, including by requiring him to complete a daily report and questioned him about the amount of time he would spend in the restroom. CHRO Compl. at 3, Compl. Ex. B, ECF No. 1-2.

         Mr. Collazo also claims that Mr. Szreders made his work environment difficult by deliberately disregarding Mr. Collazo's doctor's orders, exacerbating his back injury. Id. According to Mr. Collazo, Mr. Szreders ordered him to perform physical duties despite clear doctor's orders that he was to be restricted to “light duty with no bending or lifting....” Id. Mr. Collazo also alleges that, as an accommodation to his physical limitations, he requested a transfer to the Purchasing Department from his post at the Facilities Management Department, where he was required to perform more physical labor, but his request was denied. CHRO Compl. at 3, Compl. Ex. B, ECF No. 1-2. Mr. Collazo alleges that he suffered severe depression as a result of this treatment, and that he has not been able to return to work in this environment given his physical limitations. Id.

         On September 1, 2014, Mr. Collazo filed for disability retirement from the State of Connecticut, and, on March 14, 2016, DSS notified him that they were no longer holding his position. Compl. at 3, ECF No. 1. Mr. Collazo filed an administrative complaint with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (“CHRO”) on June 16, 2014, and the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (“EEOC”) issued a release of jurisdiction on February 9, 2015. CHRO Compl., Compl. Ex. B, ECF No. 1-2; EEOC Letter, Compl. Ex. A, ECF No. 1-1. He then filed suit in this Court on April 5, 2016.


         A district court may not entertain a case where it lacks subject matter jurisdiction. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1); Makarova v. United States, 201 F.3d 110, 113 (2d Cir. 2000) (“A case is properly dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1) when the district court lacks the statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate it.”). Generally, the plaintiff bears the burden to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the court has subject matter jurisdiction over its claims. Id. This burden is met “as long as [the] complaint states a colorable federal claim.” Rodriguez v. DeBuono, 175 F.3d 227, 233 (2d Cir. 1999) (citation omitted). When reviewing a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1), “a court must accept as true all material factual allegations in the complaint.” Shipping Fin. Serv. Corp. v. Drakos, 140 F.3d 129, 131 (2d Cir. 1998) (citation omitted). The court, however, must also refrain from “drawing from the pleadings inferences favorable to the party asserting [jurisdiction].” APWU v. Potter, 343 F.3d 619, 623 (2d Cir. 2003) (citation omitted).

         A district court may also dismiss a case for failure to state a claim under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). In order to survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain factual allegations sufficient to “raise a right to relief above the speculative level” and “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 555, 570 (2007). A claim is facially plausible if “the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Although “detailed factual allegations” are not required, a complaint must offer more than “labels and conclusions, ” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action, ” or “naked assertion[s]” devoid of “further factual enhancement.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557 (2007). Plausibility at the pleading stage is nonetheless distinct from probability, and “a well-pleaded complaint may proceed even if it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of [the claims] is improbable, and . . . recovery is very remote and unlikely.” Id. at 556 (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Cases brought by pro se plaintiffs must be reviewed “with a lenient eye, allowing borderline cases to proceed.” Fleming v. United States, 146 F.3d 88, 90 (2d Cir. 1998) (citation omitted). Generally, pro se litigants “are entitled to a liberal construction of their pleadings, which should be read ‘to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest.'” Green v. United States, 260 F.3d 78, 83 (2d Cir. 2001) (quoting Graham v. Henderson, 89 F.3d 75, 79 (2d Cir. 1996)); see Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972) (holding that the allegations in a pro se complaint are “h[e]ld to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers”).


         DSS seeks dismissal of Mr. Collazo's Complaint in its entirety. DSS argues that the ADA and CFEPA claims should be dismissed under Rule 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, asserting that such suits are barred by the Eleventh Amendment. He also seeks dismissal of the Title VII hostile work environment and retaliation claims under Rule 12(b)(6), arguing that (1) the racial slur alleged by Mr. Collazo is insufficient to state a hostile work environment claim; and (2) the alleged adverse actions are insufficient to support a retaliation claim.

         For the reasons outlined below, DSS's motion to dismiss is granted as to Mr. Collazo's ADA and CFEPA claims and denied as to Mr. Collazo's Title VII claims.

         A. ...

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