Female Corrections Officer Sufficiently Alleges Retaliation Against the State of New York

In Rock v. Blaine, 2015 WL 3795886 (NDNY June 17, 2015), the court denied defendant State of New York’s motion to dismiss plaintiff’s retaliation claim against it.

Plaintiff, a corrections officer, sued the State of New York and three individuals under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, alleging retaliation for making a formal complaint of gender discrimination.

Among the facts alleged by plaintiff were that following plaintiff’s complaint about an altercation she had with another corrections officer, defendant Blaine (plaintiff’s supervisor) – who allegedly had “a known and documented history of … disdain for women who work in correctional facilities” – retaliated against plaintiff by, for example, pressuring plaintiff to request a work assignment at a different location.

The court summarized the law:

Title VII provides that it is “an unlawful employment practice for an employer … to discriminate against any individual with respect to [his or her] compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or natural origin.” Meritor Sav. Bank, FSB v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57, 63 (1986) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 2000e–3(a)). Title VII does not limit employers’ liability to only “economic” or “tangible” damages resulting from such discrimination, but also allows for psychological damages. Title VII further makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee “because [he or she] has made a charge, testified, assisted, or participated in any manner in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing”.

Furthermore, violation of Title VII occurs when a retaliatory motive plays a part in adverse employment action toward an employee, whether or not it was the sole cause. [A] plaintiff may establish a violation of Title VII by proving that discrimination based on sex has created a hostile or abusive work environment. Without question, when a supervisor sexually harasses a subordinate because of the subordinate’s sex, that supervisor discriminates on the basis of sex.

Applying the law, the court held that plaintiff sufficiently pleaded allegations of discriminatory conduct by Blaine “that, if proven, could allow the Court to determine that adverse action was taken against Plaintiff in retaliation for filing the complaints.” In addition, the court cited plaintiff’s “allegations that Defendant Blaine induced Plaintiff’s immediate superior to include a negative comment on Plaintiff’s evaluation and attempted to change Plaintiff’s job description to include more duties.”

The court also held that plaintiff sufficiently alleged facts on the issue of whether liability may be imputed to the State of New York. The court explained:

Plaintiff has alleged in her amended complaint that
both the State of New York and DOCCS retaliated against
her by failing to take corrective action in response to
her complaints; in effect condoning the discrimination
against her by her supervisor for which liability may be
imputed to her employer. Defendant Blaine’s supervisory status is not contested by the State. Furthermore, Plaintiff alleges that both entities bear responsibility as her joint employers because various supervisory responsibilities and policy decisions regarding Plaintiff’s employment are divided between DOCCS as an agency, and the State of New York directly. Plaintiff finally contends that these failures were effectuated recklessly by both DOCCS and the State. In light of these allegations and the fact intensive inquiry necessary to determine the extent of the State’s involvement in relevant DOCCS’ activities and policies, the Court finds that factual discovery is appropriate under Vance prior to any conclusive finding of liability.

Accepted as true and construed in Plaintiff’s favor, these facts indeed allow the Court to draw the reasonable inference that the State is Plaintiff’s employer and is therefore potentially liable under Title VII.

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