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July 17, 2013

Failure to establish a prima facie case of unlawful discrimination or retaliation within the meaning of Executive Law §296 requires the dismissal of the complaint

Failure to establish a prima facie case of unlawful discrimination or retaliation within the meaning of Executive Law §296 requires the dismissal of the complaint
Adeniran v State of New York, 2013 NY Slip Op 03441, Appellate Division, Second Department

Caroline Adeniran brought an action in the State's Court of Claims seeking to recover damages for her allegedly suffering a “retaliatory discharge” in violation of Executive Law §296. Court of Claims Judge Lupez-Summa dismissed Adeniran’s complaint and she appealed.

The Appellate Division sustained Judge Lupez-Summa’s determination, explaining that Adeniran failed to make a prima facieshowing of retaliation under Executive Law §296.

In order to make a prima facie showing of retaliation, a claimant is required to ldemonstrate the following four elements:

a. That he or she was engaged in protected activity;

b. That his or her employer was aware that he or she participated in such activity;

c. That he or she suffered an adverse employment action based upon his or her activity; and

d. That there was a causal connection between the protected activity and the adverse action alleged.

Once such a prima facie case is made, the burden shifts to the employer to present legitimate, independent, and nondiscriminatory reasons to support its action or decision.

Assuming that the employer meets this burden, the claimant would then have the obligation of showing that the reasons advanced by the employer “were merely a pretext” in an effort to excuse its unlawful action or activity.

Adeniran was employed as a registered nurse at the Pilgrim State Psychiatric Center. She alleged that she was harassed and intimidated by the staff of Pilgrim's mental health department and that her employment was terminated in retaliation because she complained to her supervisors.

The Appellate Division said that the employer had rebutted Adeniran prima facie case alleging retaliation by showing that the complaints made by Adeniran to her supervisors did not relate to statutorily forbidden discriminatory practices. Thus, said the court, Adeniran had not demonstrated "the fourth element" required to establish her prima facie case-- that she had engaged in protected activity within the meaning of Executive Law §296 and had suffered an adverse personnel action as a result.

As the employer had rebutted Adeniran’s prima faciecase and Adeniran had failed to show that the employer's rebuttal was “mere pretext,” the Appellate Division said that the State was entitled to summary judgment dismissing Adeniran’s complaint alleging unlawful harassment, explaining that “New York does not recognize a common-law cause of action to recover damages for harassment."

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2013/2013_03441.htm

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