Gender Discrimination Claim Against Merrill Lynch Dismissed

In Hudson v. Merrill Lynch & Co., No. 156706/13, 2016 WL 1453976 (N.Y. App. Div. 1st Dept. Apr. 14, 2016), the court affirmed the dismissal of plaintiffs’ gender discrimination claims, under the NYC Human Rights Law, against Merrill Lynch.

The court summarized the law:

A motion for summary judgment dismissing a City Human Rights Law claim can be granted only if the defendant demonstrates that it is entitled to summary judgment under both [the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework and the ‘mixed-motive’ framework]. Under the McDonnell Douglas framework, a plaintiff asserting a claim of employment discrimination bears the initial burden of establishing a prima facie case, by showing that she is a member of a protected class, she was qualified to hold the position, and that she suffered adverse employment action under circumstances giving rise to an inference of discrimination. If the plaintiff makes such a showing, the burden shifts to the employer to show a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the employment decision. If the employer succeeds in doing so, the burden then shifts back to the plaintiff to prove that the reason proffered by the employer was merely a pretext for discrimination. Under the “mixed-motive” framework, the question on summary judgment is whether there exist triable issues of fact that discrimination was one of the motivating factors for the defendant’s conduct. Thus, under this analysis, the employer’s production of evidence of a legitimate reason for the challenged action shifts to the plaintiff the lesser burden of raising an issue as to whether the [adverse employment] action was motivated at least in part by … discrimination.

Applying the law, the court held:

Even when analyzed under the more liberal City Human Rights Law, no reasonable jury could conclude that defendants’ nondiscriminatory reasons for laying off plaintiffs were pretextual, or that gender discrimination played any role in those decisions. Plaintiffs argue that gender played a factor in the layoff decisions because they performed better than similarly situated male trainees who were not laid off. Collateral estoppel precludes this claim. The federal court specifically found that there was no evidence of male comparators to Hudson being treated differently, that [n]o other … trainees [within the same length of service group] had nearly as poor performance data as Hudson,” and that [Hudson’s] performance metrics were a far cry from those of any trainee who ultimately survived the [layoffs]. …

Plaintiffs complain that the methodology used … to decide who would be let go shows pretext because it did not precisely follow corporate management’s directives. Regardless of whether a different termination sequence might have made better business sense, there is no basis to conclude that gender played any role in the methodology employed. Nor can gender bias be inferred by the decision not to terminate three male trainees[.] … These trainees were spared, after consultation with Human Resources personnel, due to extenuating circumstances. … Neither [female plaintiff] had circumstances even remotely comparable to these, and no reasonable jury could conclude that these men were spared, and plaintiffs were terminated, on the basis of gender.

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