Court Dismisses Professor’s Retaliation Claim Based on Complaints About Another Professor’s Sexual Harassment of Students

In Saliba v Five Towns College, the Eastern District of New York held that plaintiff, an assistant professor, failed to state a claim for retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Plaintiff alleged that she was terminated

solely because she had voiced her concerns regarding rampant corruption in the administration of FTC …, as well as concerning the safety and well-being of members of the student body, who were either being sexually harassed by another professor, or who were participating in the use and distribution of illegal drugs, with members of campus security personnel employed by FTC

First, the court dismissed plaintiff’s federal retaliation claim.  The law:

To state a claim for retaliation, a plaintiff must plead facts showing [1] participation in a protected activity known to the defendant; [2] an employment action disadvantaging the plaintiff; and [3] a causal connection between the protected activity and the adverse employment action. To satisfy the first requirement, the plaintiff need only show a good faith, reasonable belief that the underlying challenged actions of the employer violated the law.

The court held that plaintiff failed to state a claim for retaliation:

As FTC argues, to the extent that Saliba maintains that she was retaliated against for reporting sexual harassment of a student by a faculty member, the Complaint fails to state a claim for retaliation. Saliba’s claim of retaliation for opposing discrimination by a co-employee against a non-employee is not cognizable under Title VII; such activity does not constitute “protected activity,” as Saliba could not reasonably believe that she was opposing racial discrimination in an employment practice.

It also dismissed her claim of retaliation for her alleged opposition to racial discrimination, since her complaint “does not allege that Saliba’s complaints of racially discriminatory practices were a but-for cause of her termination” as required by Univ. of SW Tex Med. Ctr. v. Nassar.

In addition, since her EEOC charge did not raise a retaliation claim based on complaints of race discrimination, and such claim was not “reasonably related” to the claims she did raise, that claim was also subject to dismissal for failure to exhaust administrative remedies.

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