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December 12, 2023

Plaintiff's claims of unlawful discrimination on the basis of race, gender, and national origin evaluated by the 2nd Court of Appeals and held to be without merit

Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, sued the New York State Division of Human Rights [Division] alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for discriminating against him on the basis of race, sex, and national origin; creating a hostile work environment; and retaliating against him when he complained about unfair treatment. In addition, Plaintiff also brought a variety of state-law claims against the Division, his supervisors, and certain coworkers.

The United Stated District Court granted summary judgment to Division on all of Plaintiff’s federal claims. The court then determined that the Eleventh Amendment barred his state-law claims brought against individual named Defendants in their both their official capacity and in their personal capacities, explaining "individual supervisors and coworkers (other than the Plaintiff’s actual employers) are not subject to liability under Title VII."

The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Second Circuit, said Plaintiff’s claims of discrimination and retaliation under Title VII are evaluated "under the familiar McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework, citing Vega v Hempstead Union Free Sch. Dist., 801 F.3d 72, (discrimination) and Gorzynski v. JetBlue Airways Corp., 596 F.3d 93 (retaliation). The Circuit Court said that under this framework, "a plaintiff must demonstrate a prima facie case of discrimination or retaliation, after which the employer must point to a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the challenged conduct; if the employer does so, the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to prove that “discrimination was the real reason for the employment action.”

Agreeing with the district court that Plaintiff failed to make a prima facie showing of discrimination, i.e. as relevant here, “circumstances [that] give rise to an inference of discrimination.” As relevant here, “similarly situated” coworkers of a different race, sex, or national origin Plaintiff contended were subject to more favorable treatment, the court noted that such comparators must be similarly situated “in all material respects”—they must be “subject to the same performance evaluation and discipline standards” as Plaintiff and must have engaged in “comparable conduct.” The Circuit Court opined that while Plaintiff "identifies a handful of coworkers who, he claims, completed fewer than 108 cases a year while on probation, that similarity alone is insufficient, as there is no evidence by which a reasonable jury could find that those coworkers shared [Plaintiff] issues with work quality and insubordination. Lacking a similarly situated comparator, the court explained Plaintiff "cannot show circumstances that give rise to an inference of discrimination and so cannot prove his prima facie case.

As to Plaintiff's reliance "on comparisons to nonprobationary employees," the court said they are not subject to the same performance evaluation and discipline standards and thus are not similarly situated.

Further, agreeing with the district court, the Circuit Court said "even assuming [Plaintiff] proved his prima facie case, he failed to demonstrate that the nondiscriminatory reasons proffered by the Division for extending his probation and then terminating his employment were a pretext for unlawful discrimination.

Plaintiff contended that the Division’s assertions that he was fired due to poor work performance and insubordination were pretextual because those charges were false. In particular, Plaintiff pointed to perceived irregularities in his performance evaluations, which he argues contained false information and unexpectedly turned overly critical at the time his supervisors extended his probation and terminated him. 

Significantly, the Circuit Court said that "Even if [Plaintiff] could refute the charges of inadequate performance, that would not demonstrate that his supervisors did not believe what they asserted, let alone that the actual reason for extending his probation or terminating his employment was animus based on a protected characteristic."

Accordingly, the court concluded that Plaintiff was "unable to demonstrate pretext for discrimination."

Addressing Plaintiff's retaliation claim, the Circuit Court concluded "[on] this record, no reasonable jury could find that Plaintiff engaged in protected activity." Although Plaintiff "complained to his supervisors about unfair treatment generally, there is no indication that those complaints were premised on or related to discrimination based on his protected status."

The Circuit Court then indicated that summary judgment was also warranted on Plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim as he failed to establish the alleged harassment was “sufficiently continuous and concerted” to create an objectively hostile work environment “so severely permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult that the terms and conditions” of [Plaintiff's] employment were altered.

Considering Plaintiff's "State-Law Claims", the court held that Plaintiff had abandoned any challenge to the dismissal of his official-capacity claims by failing to raise the issue in his brief. The Circuit Court noted that it has consistently held that, “[i]n general, where the federal claims are dismissed before trial, the state claims should be dismissed as well,” citing N.Y. Mercantile Exch., Inc. v. Intercontinental Exch., Inc., 497 F.3d 109.

After considering Plaintiff's remaining arguments, the Circuit Court said it found them "to be without merit" and affirmed the judgment of the district court.

Click HERE to access the Circuit Court's decision posted on the Internet.

 

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