Spousal Jealousy, Not Gender, Was Basis for Termination; Court Dismisses NYC Human Rights Law Discrimination Complaint

In Barone v. Emmis Communications Corp., 2016 Slip Op 31049(U), Index 155032/12 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. June 7, 2016), the court, per Judge Hagler, granted summary judgment to defendants and dismissed plaintiff’s gender discrimination claim under the NYC Human Rights Law.

The decision summarizes the legal framework (the two methods, pretext and mixed-motive) for analyzing NYC Human Rights Law discrimination claims:

Under the McDonnell Douglas [McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 US 792] framework as applied to employment discrimination claims made under the NYCHRL, plaintiff has the initial burden to establish a prima facie case of discrimination by showing that ( 1) [she] is a member of a protected class; (2) [she] was qualified to hold the position; (3) [she] was terminated from employment or suffered another adverse employment action; and (4) the discharge or other adverse action occurred under circumstances giving rise to an inference of discrimination. If the plaintiff makes such a showing, the burden then shifts to the employer to rebut the presumption of discrimination by showing a legitimate, independent, and nondiscriminatory reason to support its employment decision. If the employer succeeds in doing so, the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to prove that the legitimate reasons proffered by the defendant were 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 defendants’ 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 that plaintiff failed to raise an issue of fact under the “pretext” or “mixed motive” framework.

The court noted that plaintiff’s “allegations that she was terminated because of her gender is belied by the statements in her sworn Affidavit and at her deposition that attribute her termination to [her supervisor]’s jealousy rather than to [plaintiff]’s gender.” Specifically, plaintiff “admitted … that she was terminated not because of her gender but because she was involved in a relationship with a subordinate … who was the husband (although separated) of her direct supervisor”.

Judge Hagler noted that “[e]ven if [plaintiff] was terminated due to [her supervisor]’s jealousy, the Court is unable to find a case interpreting the NYCHRL which holds that a termination motivated by spousal jealousy alone[] constitutes gender or sex based discrimination.”

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