February 09, 2021

Court holds plaintiff's failure to adequately allege race or national origin a motivating factor in the employer's employment decision a fatal omission

A federal district court dismissed Plaintiff's claims alleging unlawful discrimination, a hostile work environment, and retaliation as underlying her removal from her position at a component unit of the City University of New York [CUNY]. The court held that Plaintiff's allegations did not raise a plausible inference of discrimination or rise to the level of pervasive and severe conduct that altered the conditions of her employment. The district court then granted CUNY summary judgment on Plaintiff's retaliation claim, holding CUNY had articulated a legitimate reason for Plaintiff's removal, and that Plaintiff had failed to show that CUNY’s proffered reason was a pretext for retaliation. Plaintiff appealed. 

The Circuit Court of Appeals, Second Circuit, reviewed the lower court's rulings de novo, indicating that it “accept[ed] all factual claims in the complaint as true and draw[ing] all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff’s favor.” Noting that in reviewing a grant of summary judgment, the court it must “construe the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party” and find that “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”

Affirming the district court’s dismissal of Plaintiff’s discrimination and hostile work environment claims, the Circuit Court explained that Plaintiff's discrimination claim fails because Plaintiff did not adequately allege that her race or national origin was a motivating factor in CUNY’s decision to remove her from her positions with the facility.

In the words of the court, Plaintiff's "complaint does not identify the 'bits and pieces of information necessary 'to support an inference of discrimination, i.e., a mosaic of intentional discrimination' in relation to the adverse employment action at issue."

Similarly, said the court, Plaintiff's "hostile work environment claim fails because the alleged incidents are too mild and 'episodic' to support her claim," noting that many of the alleged incidents lack any racial overtone and, in general, the alleged incidents “were too few, too separate in time, and too mild . . . to create an abusive working environment.”

Affirming the district court’s decision granting CUNY summary judgment on Plaintiff’s retaliation claim, the court explained that under McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 , "a plaintiff must first establish a prima faciecase of retaliation; then the defendant must offer a non-retaliatory reason for the employment action; and then the plaintiff must show that the retaliatory reason is a “but-for cause of [the] adverse employment action,” which may be done by "for example [by] demonstrating that the non-retaliatory reason is pretextual."

The Circuit Court concluded by stating that Plaintiff "has not met her burden of producing 'sufficient evidence to demonstrate that' [she] would not have been removed [from her positions] from the graduate advisor and fellowship coordinator positions 'in the absence of the retaliatory motive.”

Click HERE to access the Circuit Court's decision.

 

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