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June 06, 2013

The shifting burdens of going forward in actions involving alleged unlawful discrimination

The shifting burdens of going forward in actions involving alleged unlawful discrimination
2013 NY Slip Op 03617, Appellate Division, First Department

A complainant alleging unlawful discrimination must set out a prima facie case of such discrimination, shifting the burden of going forward to the employer to demonstrate a nondiscriminatory reason for its action. If the employer can successfully demonstrate a nondiscriminatory reason for its decision, the burden shifts back to the complainant to show that the reasons given by the employer were pretextual in an effort to excuse its unlawful action.

In other words, once a prima facie case of alleged unlawful discrimination is rebutted by the employer with “legitimate, independent and nondiscriminatory reasons” for its decision, the burden of going forward shifts to the aggrieved individual to demonstrate that the explanation offered by the employer was mere subterfuge for its unlawful discriminatory actions. 

This decision addressing charges of alleged unlawful discrimination and charges of alleged unlawful retaliation illustrate the “shifting of the burden of going forward.”

According to the decision, the plaintiff had presented a prima facie case of “age-based discrimination” for his failure to be selected for employment as a teacher by the New York City Department of Education for its New York City Teaching Fellows program.

However, the Appellate Division dismissed his petition explaining that the Department of Education met its burden of proffering legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for failing to hire the plaintiff in it’s Teaching Fellows program by showing that the plaintiff had made “stereotyping statement” that parents in a particular ethnic group are more successful in communicating the importance of education to their children, resulting in superior academic performance in the course of his being interviewed to the position.

That done, the court said that the plaintiff had failed to show that Department's proffered reasons were pretexts for unlawful discrimination.

With respect to the plaintiff’s allegations of retaliation, the Appellate Division said that while he again had made out a prima facie case of retaliation, the Department had met its burden of proffering legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for declining to accept plaintiff into its SMART teaching certification program, including reciting the plaintiff's “expressed intention to focus his teaching energies on students ‘willing and interested’ in learning.”

Again, said the court, the plaintiff failed to show that Department's reasons were pretextual in an effort to justify its acts of unlawful discrimination.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:


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