Retaliation Claim, Based on Termination in Response to Sexual Harassment Complaints, May Proceed

In Catapano-Fox v. City of New York, No. 14 CIV. 8036 KPF, 2015 WL 3630725 (S.D.N.Y. June 11, 2015), the Southern District of New York denied defendants’ motion to dismiss plaintiff’s claim that she was fired in retaliation for complaining about sexual harassment.

This decision provides a good overview of the legal principles governing the proper pleading of an employment discrimination claim in federal court.

The court explained:

While the Court notes that even the NYCHRL is not a general civility code, it must also bear in mind the Supreme Court’s holding in Swierkiewicz that a Title VII complaint (and by extension certainly an NYSHRL or NYCHRL complaint) need not contain specific facts establishing a prima facie case of discrimination under the framework set forth … in McDonnell Douglas. Accordingly, with respect to Plaintiff’s claims against Taylor for retaliation under the NYSHRL and the NYCHRL, the Plaintiff alleges nonconclusory factual matter sufficient to nudge her claims across the line from conceivable to plausible with regard to both retaliatory action and causal nexus.

Plaintiff’s firing by the CCRB (allegedly orchestrated by Emery), conceded to be sufficiently retaliatory to invoke the protections of Title VII, the NYSHRL, and the NYCHRL, also demonstrates a sufficient causal nexus to survive a motion to dismiss. Defendants point to the four-month gap between Plaintiff’s May 2014 forwarding of an inappropriate email and Emery’s September 9, 2014 demand for her resignation. It is true that when temporal proximity, standing alone, is used to establish a causal connection, that temporal proximity must be “very close.” Clark Cnty. Sch. Dist. v. Breeden, 532 U.S. 268, 273, 121 S.Ct. 1508, 149 L.Ed.2d 509 (2001). The Second Circuit, however, has repeatedly found intervals of four months and longer sufficient to support a causal connection. See Summa v. Hofstra Univ., 708 F.3d 115, 127–28 (2d Cir.2013) (finding that a four-month “temporal connection is enough, in and of itself, in this instance to permit a reasonable jury to find causation,” and collecting cases finding the casual connection established with three-, four-, six-, and eight-month gaps). Moreover, such cases have found four months to be sufficient temporal proximity to establish a prima facie case under McDonnell Douglas at summary judgment; under Swierkiewicz, at the pleading stage Plaintiff need not meet even that standard. While further discovery may establish that Plaintiff’s termination was due to her complaints of racial discrimination, her policy disagreements with Emery, or even poor performance, the Complaint sufficiently alleges that Plaintiff was terminated in retaliation for her complaints about Taylor’s sexual harassment, which is protected activity under Title VII, the NYSHRL, and the NYCHRL.

Share This: