In Parker v. Workmen’s Circle Ctr. of the Bronx, Inc., No. 14CV5327-LTS, 2015 WL 5710511 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 29, 2015), the Southern District of New York held that plaintiff sufficiently alleged her gender discrimination, sexual harassment, and hostile work environment claims.
The court summarized plaintiff’s allegations, as set forth in her federal complaint, as follows:
On or about May 1, 2013, Plaintiff began working for Defendants as a Certified Clinical Hemodialysis Technician. Shortly thereafter, Plaintiff’s male supervisor, Nikata Mclean (“Mclean”) began sexually harassing her. Over the course of several months, Mclean asked Plaintiff out on multiple dates and regularly scheduled Plaintiff to work the night shift so that she would be forced to stay late with him. On an almost daily basis, Mclean brushed up against her and made sexual noises, and asked Plaintiff for naked pictures of herself.
On or about September 16, 2013, Plaintiff went to the Human Resources department to complain about Mclean’s behavior. While Plaintiff was at the Human Resources department, Mclean called her cellular phone in an attempt to locate her. Upon learning that she was at Human Resources, he stated, “if you don’t get back here it’s not going to be good for you.” Plaintiff, however, remained at the Human Resources office and followed through with her complaint about Mclean.
Following the filing of her complaint with Human Resources, Defendants’ Vice President of Operations Matthew Varghese (“Varghese”) directed Plaintiff to go home, telling her that she would be paid for the day. Varghese further stated that he would let Plaintiff know “when it was safe for her to return to work.” The following day, Varghese called Plaintiff and told her that an investigation into her allegations was being opened, and that she would be able to return to work the following week. On or about September 20, 2013, an individual who worked with Varghese called Plaintiff and told her that the investigation had found no evidence supporting her allegations. Plaintiff was then informed that her employment was being terminated.
As to her retaliation claims, the court noted the “well established” Second Circuit law “that temporal proximity is indicative of a causal relationship between a protected activity and an adverse employment action.” Plaintiff sufficiently pleaded the element of causation by alleging that she was terminated only four days after her complaint to HR.
As to her disparate treatment/gender discrimination claim, the court rejected defendants’ argument that plaintiff failed to allege that she was fired “because of her sex”, holding that she “plainly alleged that her interactions with Mclean were permeated with sex-based harassment, requests and innuendo.”
The court also rejected defendants’ argument that there was a legitimate basis for plaintiff’s termination – namely, that she “failed to perform her job” and “engaged in multiple acts of ‘insubordination’ relative to her supervisor, Mclean, that were documented in negative performance reports.”
Not so, held the court:
Presumably such reports were created, at least in part, by the supervisor whose sexual advances Plaintiff repeatedly rebuffed, i.e., Mclean. (See Compl. ¶¶ 29, 35.) In her briefing, Plaintiff vociferously disputes the veracity of these reports. (See Plaintiff’s Memorandum of Law in Opposition to Defendants’ Rule 12 Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff’s Complaint (“Plaintiff Memo”) at pp. 9–10.) The Court thus finds that Plaintiff’s allegation that she consistently rebuffed Mclean’s sexual advances provides minimal support for the proposition that her termination was motivated by discriminatory intent, as it raises the inference that the negative performance reports were generated as a result of Plaintiff’s reaction to Mclean’s unwelcome advances. (See Plaintiff Memo at pp. 11–12.). Had there been no (allegedly false) reports placed in Plaintiff’s file—reports presumably issued on the basis of Plaintiff’s negative reaction to Mclean’s gender-based discrimination against her—Defendants would have had no allegedly legitimate nondiscriminatory basis for her termination. Thus, the Court finds that Plaintiff has pleaded facts sufficient to frame the requisite minimal inference of discriminatory intent required at the pleading stage by the Second Circuit in Littlejohn. The Court therefore denies Defendants’ motion insofar as it seeks dismissal of Plaintiff’s Title VII and NYSHRL gender-based disparate treatment claims.
Hostile Work Environment
Finally, the court held that plaintiff sufficiently alleged a hostile work environment.
A plaintiff asserting a Title VII hostile work environment claim “must plead facts that would tend to show that the complained of conduct: (1) is objectively severe or pervasive—that is, … [it] creates an environment that a reasonable person would find hostile or abusive; (2) creates an environment that the plaintiff subjectively perceives as hostile or abusive; and (3) creates such an environment because of the plaintiff’s sex.
Plaintiff “clearly satisfied” the elements of such a claim by alleging
that, “on an almost daily basis, Mclean … brush [ed] against Plaintiff and [made] sexual noises.” (Compl.¶ 22.) She also claims that “on an almost daily basis,” Mclean requested that Plaintiff send him naked photographs of herself (id. ¶ 25) and that Mclean regularly scheduled Plaintiff to work night shifts with him. (Id. ¶ 23.) Plaintiff further alleges that, in the aggregate, Mclean’s inappropriate behavior caused her to feel “extremely humiliated, degraded, violated, embarrassed and emotionally distressed” (id. ¶ 37), and that the harassment that created a hostile work environment would not have existed but for her sex.