Court Dismisses Race Discrimination Case Because Plaintiff Didn’t Sufficiently Allege That He Was Employed by Defendant

In Knight v. State University of New York at Stony Brook, the Eastern District of New York recently dismissed plaintiff’s race discrimination and retaliation claims, on the ground that plaintiff did not sufficiently allege that he was employed by the defendant.

Plaintiff alleged that he worked as an electrician at a construction project for defendant in the capacity of a “special funds estimate” employee and that he worked on defendant’s property and under the direction and control of defendant’s employees.

His discrimination claims arise from his alleged discovery of the phrase “remember you are still a nigger” in a portable construction toilet.  He believed that this was directed to him, since he was the “only Black working in the area.”

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it unlawful for an employer

to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

For purposes of Title VII, an employee is “an individual employed by an employer.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(f).  “In parsing out this rather elliptical statutory definition, the first inquiry is whether the plaintiff has received some form of remuneration from the defendant. The second step of the inquiry is to consider the thirteen factors articulated in Community for Creative Non–Violence v. Reid, 490 U.S. 730, 751, 109 S.Ct. 2166, 104 L.Ed.2d 811 (1989).”

The court dismissed plaintiff’s complaint due to his failure to sufficiently allege that he was defendant’s “employee”:  

Other than Plaintiff’s single, conclusory allegation that he ‘became employed by defendant,’ the Complaint is devoid of any allegations pertaining to remuneration from Defendant. Rather, Plaintiff’s allegations pertain to the Reid factors.

It declined plaintiff’s invitation to consider plaintiff’s pay stub (which was attached as an exhibit to his counsel’s declaration submitted in opposition to defendant’s motion), since defendant “moved to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), and the Court generally may not look beyond the pleadings.”

It did, however, grant plaintiff leave to re-plead his claims, reasoning that since “the parties’ arguments hinge on Plaintiff’s employment status vis-a-vis Defendant, amendment [of the complaint] would not necessarily be futile.”

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