Retaliation Claims Against HSBC for Reporting Coworker Sexual Harassment Survive Summary Judgment

In Picarella v. HSBC Securities, 14-cv-4463 (Order filed April 5, 2016), Southern District of New York Judge Andrew Carter denied defendant’s motion for summary judgment on plaintiffs’ retaliation claims.¬†Plaintiffs Michael Picarella and James Rist asserted that HSBC retaliated against them after they reported the sexual harassment of a coworker. I previously wrote about this case here; plaintiff Michael Picarella’s Second Amended Complaint is here.

The court held that summary judgment was inappropriate, in light of several questions of fact with respect to various aspects of plaintiffs’ claims.

As to plaintiff Rist, the court noted the “close temporal proximity between the July 2012 sexual harassment complaint he claims he made to Human Resources [] representative Jennifer Whang and his subsequent July 2012 removal from weekly meetings and August 2012 downgraded performance review”, which was “sufficient to establish prima facie causation.” While Whang testified that in January 2013 she “had not heard anything about sexual harassment, her credibility on the issue is challenged by Rist’s testimony that he spoke of the sexual harassment with Whang in July 2012.” The court explained that “[i]t is for a jury to decide whose version of the events they believe[.]”

Plaintiff Picarella presented evidence of retaliatory animus in the form of comments by his supervisor Eileen Hedges in 2012 – his supervisor who allegedly exposed one of her breasts to both him and a coworker in 2011 – that he would not be employed by HSBC much longer. The court also cited evidence that challenged whether HSBC had legitimate reasons for terminating him, noting in particular a deposition admission that contrasted with his termination letter.

The court concluded by observing that both plaintiffs presented “evidence of retaliation for complaining of the same sexual harassment of the same coworker” which “in turn helps both make out their prima faci[e] cases and dispute HSBC’s legitimate reasons for engaging in adverse employment actions, because a rational juror could base a finding of discrimination in part on evidence of a similar pattern of discrimination against the other plaintiff.”

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