Retaliation Claim Properly Dismissed; Sixteen Months Was Too Long to Establish “Temporal Proximity”

In Riddle v. Citigroup, 15-233-cv, a Second Circuit Summary Order issued today, the court held that the district court properly dismissed plaintiff’s retaliation claim for failure to state a claim.

This Order is instructive on how courts evaluate a retaliation claim based on so-called “temporal proximity” between the alleged protected activity, on the one hand, and the alleged adverse employment action, on the other.

The court explained:

Here, Riddleʹs allegations do not support a claim of retaliation. While she alleged that she was retaliated against for filing a previous employment discrimination lawsuit and EEOC charge, she alleged no facts to support a causal connection between Citigroupʹs failure to hire her and her prior complaints other than temporal proximity. Although temporal proximity between protected activity and adverse employment action can support an inference of discriminatory intent, see Gorman‐Bakos v. Cornell Coop. Extension of Schenectady Cty., 252 F.3d 545, 554 (2d Cir. 2001), the Supreme Court has suggested that ʺthe temporal proximity must be ʹvery close,ʹʺ Clark Cty. Sch. Dist. v. Breeden, 532 U.S. 268, 273 (2001). See Vega, 801 F.3d at 90 (retaliatory purpose can be shown indirectly by timing of protected activity if activity was ʺfollowed closely in time by adverse employment actionʺ (citing Cifra v. Gen. Elec. Co., 252 F.3d 205, 217 (2d Cir. 2001)). Here, Riddle filed her EEOC charge in April 2008 and her first discrimination lawsuit in June 2009; she submitted online job applications to Citigroup starting in October 2010. This gap of some sixteen months is too long to support a retaliation claim based solely on temporal connection. Compare Littlejohn v. City of N.Y., 795 F.3d 297, 319‐20 (2d Cir. 2015) (ʺLittlejohnʹs allegations that the demotion occurred within days after her complaints of discrimination are sufficient to plausibly support an indirect inference of causation.ʺ), with Hollander v. Am. Cyanamid Co., 895 F.2d 80, 86 (2d Cir. 1990) (holding that the ʺlack of evidence demonstrating a causal nexus between [plaintiffʹs] age discrimination complaint and any subsequent action taken towards himʺ precluded his claim where the only evidence of causation was a three‐and‐a‐half‐month lapse between complaint and adverse action). (Emphasis added.)

It also reasoned that plaintiff “provided no context for her retaliation claim other than the fact that she applied for and was rejected for jobs after suing CItigroup” and despite being advised of this pleading deficiency and being granted leave to amend her complaint, she failed to do so.

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