Title VII Plaintiff Survives Summary Judgment on National Origin Discrimination Claim

In Altman v. New Rochelle Pub. Sch. Dist., No. 13-CV-3253 (NSR), 2016 WL 3181153 (S.D.N.Y. June 2, 2016), the court denied defendant’s motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s national origin discrimination claim.

“In order to establish a prima facie case of discriminatory termination of employment [under Title VII], the plaintiff must show that she belongs to a protected class, that she was performing her duties satisfactorily, and that she was discharged under circumstances giving rise to an inference of discrimination on the basis of her membership in the protected class.”

As for the “inference of discrimination” element, the court explained that there were genuine questions of fact with respect to the timing of the decision to recommend plaintiff’s termination and discriminatory statements allegedly made regarding plaintiff’s national origin (specifically, that she should work in Chinatown and that it might be better that she work for her own people).

The court pointed to evidence that the persons who allegedly made the discriminatory comments “were a part of the decision making process concerning the termination of Plaintiff’s employment”, and noted a prior determination “that the temporal proximity between the ‘Chinatown’ comments and Plaintiff’s notification of her termination provided an inference by which a rational fact finder could conclude that the comments were related to or informative of the decisional process which resulted in Plaintiff’s termination.”

As to pretext, the court explained:

The District also argues that collateral estoppel bars reconsideration of the issue of pretext because a jury in Plaintiff’s state court defamation case determined that the stated reason for her termination – poor teaching performance – was not false. The District’s argument glosses over the fact that Plaintiff may prove her Title VII claim by demonstrating that the “impermissible factor was a motivating factor, without proving that the employer’s proffered explanation was not some part of the employer’s motivation.” Holcomb, 521 F.3d at 142 (citing Fields v. N.Y. State Office of Mental Retardation & Developmental Disabilities, 115 F.3d 116, 120 (2d Cir. 1997)). See also Gordon v. New York City Bd. of Educ., 232 F.3d 111, 117 (2d Cir. 2000) (“It is therefore now settled that a plaintiff in a Title VII action need not disprove a defendant’s proffered rationale for its adverse actions in order to prevail.”) In other words, the state court jury did not conclude that Plaintiff’s poor performance was the only reason for her termination, therefore permitting Plaintiff to pursue her Title VII claim in this action.

In short, Plaintiff may prevail on her Title VII claim by proving that the decision to terminate her was based in part on her national origin. Although there is sufficient evidence for a jury to conclude that the District terminated Plaintiff solely based on her performance, there is enough evidence to the contrary that the Court cannot remove this case from the jury and decide it as a matter of law. Based on the evidence presented in this motion, a rational fact finder could conclude that: 1) Organisciak and Kolahifar made discriminatory statements to Plaintiff; 2) Organisciak and Kolahifar played a meaningful role in the decision to terminate Plaintiff; and 3) based on the proximity of the discriminatory statements to Plaintiff’s termination, Plaintiff’s national origin was a motivating factor in the District’s termination decision. The District’s motion for summary judgment is therefore denied.

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