Gender Discrimination Complaint Dismissed; Alleged Male Comparators Engaged in Less Serious Conduct

A recent decision, Moultrie v. NYS Dep’t of Corr. & Cmty. Supervision, No. 13-CV-5138 NSR, 2015 WL 2151827 (S.D.N.Y. May 7, 2015), elaborates on how to prove employment discrimination with so-called “comparator” evidence.

In this case, plaintiff, a Corrections Officer trainee at Sing Sing prison, was fired for, among other things, bringing a SIM card into the prison. She alleged gender discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the New York State Human Rights Law following her termination, on the theory that “her termination was motivated by gender because male employees who engaged in purportedly similar conduct received more favorable treatment.”

Here is the relevant law:

To establish a prima facie case of discrimination, a plaintiff must establish that: … [an] adverse employment action occurred under circumstances giving rise to an inference of discrimination. …

To survive a motion to dismiss, plaintiff must set forth factual circumstances from which discriminatory motivation can be inferred, which may include facts suggesting preferential treatment given to similarly situated individuals, or remarks that convey discriminatory animus. …

A plaintiff attempting to raise an inference of discrimination through comparator employees must show that those employees are similarly situated in all material respects, meaning that they (1) were subject to the same workplace standards and (2) engaged in conduct of comparable seriousness. The standard requires ‘a reasonably close resemblance of facts and circumstances and there must be an objectively identifiable basis for comparability. Less severe punishment for objectively less serious or qualitatively different misconduct does not raise an inference of discrimination.

Upon analyzing the circumstances of plaintiff’s proposed comparators, the court determined that none of them “engaged in misconduct of comparable seriousness” to the infractions that led to plaintiff’s termination. Therefore, “the fact that these male employees were treated more favorably raises no inference that gender played a role in Plaintiff’s termination.”

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