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September 16, 2016

Disparate treatment on the basis of a foreign accent is evidence of discrimination based on race or national origin

Disparate treatment on the basis of a foreign accent is evidence of discrimination based on race or national origin
Jeudy v City of New York, 2016 NY Slip Op 06045, Appellate Division, First Department

St. Jean Jeudy, born in Haiti, emigrated to the United States in 1994 and received a bachelor's degree in forensic science in 2003. Employed as a Criminalist I-B at New York City’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner [OCME], in 2007 he applied for promotion to Criminalist II in early 2007 and was rejected.

By late 2010, Jeudy had been by employed by OCME for more than six years, but was still in an entry-level Criminalist I-B position. In contrast, a number of "non-black, American-accented" criminalists who were junior to him were promoted to Criminalist II and III.

Jeudy continued applying for promotion, and continued to be rejected. In March 2011, at his 2010 year-end review meeting, his supervisor told him that he was not being promoted because of his foreign accent. According to Jeudy, management had a standing practice of not promoting foreign-accented criminalists to Criminalist II, the level at which criminalists would be expected to testify in court, because management did not believe that foreign-accented criminalists could testify effectively.

The Appellate Division’s decision reports that:

1. A “Criminalist III told Jeudy that, as a result of his persistence and repeated complaints about not being promoted, management was 'out to get him'.”

2. “Thereafter, managers, including the heads of the Homicide and Sex Crimes Group to which Jeudy was assigned, embarked on a campaign to write [him] up for minor errors and give him unfavorable year-end reviews.”

3. Jeudy was served with “disciplinary charges and a suspension, which were resolved by a probationary retraining period.”

4. Jeudy “was given an unfavorable "Conditional" final performance rating, which was inconsistent with the favorable preliminary review he had been given only a month earlier.”

5. These actions resulted in Jeudy’s termination effective February 12, 2014.

In May Jeudy filed an Article 78 petition in Supreme Court asserting causes of action for racial and national origin discrimination and retaliation in violation of the New York State and New York City Human Rights Laws [HRL].

Supreme Court granted the City motion to dismiss Jeudy’s complaint on the grounds that they were [1] time-barred and that [2] he failed to state a cause of action. Jeudy appealed.

With respect to the question of timeliness, the Appellate Division said that the statute of limitations under the State and City HRLs is three years. Thus, said the court, as Jeudy filed his complaint in this action on May 23, 2014, allegedly discriminatory acts committed before May 23, 2011 are facially untimely. However, said the court, his claims under the New York State HRL for failure to promote after May 23, 2011 are timely as Jeudy had alleged sufficient facts to meet his pleading burden for purposes of defeating the City’s motion to dismiss.

Further, said the court, his claims for failure to promote under the City HRL were also timely as Jeudy has adequately alleged "a single continuing pattern of unlawful conduct [starting from his first promotion rejection in 2007] extending into the [limitations] period immediately preceding the filing of the complaint” which permits consideration under the City HRL of all actions relevant to that claim, including those that would otherwise be time-barred.*

In the words of the Appellate Division, “it is undisputed that [Jeudy] made out the first three elements of his claim of invidious employment discrimination under the State and City HRLs. We find that he also made out the fourth element, that he was adversely or differently treated because of his race or national origin ... by alleging that management had a standing practice of refusing to promote foreign-accented criminalists, invoked this practice against him, and ultimately suspended and then terminated him when he persisted in seeking promotion and complaining about his rejections."

The court said that notwithstanding the City’s contentions to the contrary, “disparate treatment on the basis of a foreign accent is evidence of discrimination based on race or national origin.”

In addition, the court noted that Jeudy’s complaint also state a cause of action for retaliation under both the State and City HRLs, rejecting the City’s argument that  Jeudy had not been engaged in a protected activity. The Appellate Division explained that as Jeudy’s complaint was that he was not being promoted on account of his accent and a “plaintiff's foreign accent is inextricably linked with his national origin.”

The Appellate Division also rejected the City’s arguments that Jeudy failed to show a causal relationship between his complaints and his suspension and termination and the allegations in his complaint establish that the City's concerted campaign of excessive scrutiny following Jeudy's persistent applications for promotion and complaints about continual rejection was calculated to, and did, lead directly to his suspension and termination.

* The Appellate Division also noted that “… while, as plaintiff concedes, the continuing violations doctrine only applies to his claims of failure to promote under the City HRL [citations omitted], even under the State HRL, he ‘is not precluded from using the prior acts as background evidence in support of a timely claim.’”

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

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