Court Upholds Jury Verdict in Cuban Professor’s Favor on Employment Discrimination Claims

In Arcos v. New School University, 2017 WL 3868495, at *7 (S.D.N.Y., 2017), the court upheld a jury verdict that plaintiff was subjected to discrimination based on his race and national origin (Cuban/Hispanic) under Title VII, § 1981, the NYSHRL, and the NYCHRL.

In sum, plaintiff – a Cuban-born Hispanic man – was a faculty member at The New School University. He alleged that he was, for discriminatory reasons, prohibited from teaching a class.

After trial, a jury rendered a partial verdict, finding in plaintiff’s favor on his claims of discrimination under Title VII, 1981, the NYS Human Rights Law, and the NYC Human Rights Law. Defendant then moved for relief under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(b).

In ruling on defendant’s Rule 50(b) motion, the court summarized the issue (and its holding) as follows:

Drawing every inference against TNS, would “a reasonable juror … have been compelled to” conclude that Plaintiff failed to establish a prima facie case of discrimination under Title VII, § 1981, the NYSHRL, or the NYCHRL? Warren, 823 F.3d at 139 (emphasis added) (citation omitted). The answer, the Court is constrained to conclude, is “no.” And in particular, the evidence concerning Plaintiff’s failed attempts to teach PSAM 1028 gave the jury adequate grounds to answer that question in Plaintiff’s favor

The court explained the four elements that plaintiff was required to satisfy to make out a prima facie case:

To review, a prima facie case of discrimination under Title VII, § 1981, and the NYSHRL has four prongs. A plaintiff must establish: [i] that he belonged to a protected class; [ii] that he was qualified for the position he sought; [iii] that he suffered an adverse employment action; and [iv] that the adverse employment action occurred under circumstances giving rise to an inference of discriminatory intent.

It held that the evidence at trial was sufficient to establish all four prongs.

The court explained the “inference of discriminatory intent” element as follows:

A showing that an employer treated [a] plaintiff less favorably than a similarly situated employee’ outside of [that plaintiff’s] protected class is a ‘recognized method of raising an inference of discrimination for the purposes of making out a prima facie case.’ ” Medcalf v. Thompson Hine LLP, 84 F. Supp. 3d 313, 327 (S.D.N.Y. 2015) (quoting Abdul-Hakeem v. Parkinson, 523 Fed.Appx. 19, 20-21 (2d Cir. 2013) (summary order)). “To establish an inference of discrimination,” on this basis, “a plaintiff must allege that ‘[he] was similarly situated in all material respects to the individuals with whom [he] seeks to compare [him]self.’ ” Brown v. Daikin Am. Inc., 756 F.3d 219, 230 (2d Cir. 2014) (quoting Graham v. Long Island R.R., 230 F.3d 34, 39 (2d Cir. 2000)). “What will constitute ‘all material respects’ will vary from case to case, of course.” Id. But it is well settled that a plaintiff does not need to show that he is “identical” to a co-worker in order to satisfy this final prong of a prima facie discrimination case. Ruiz v. Cty. of Rockland, 609 F.3d 486, 494 (2d Cir. 2010) (internal quotation mark omitted) (quoting Graham, 230 F.3d at 40). Instead, “the judgment rests on ‘whether the plaintiff and those he maintains were similarly situated were subject to the same workplace standards,’ ” such that “[t]he plaintiff’s and comparator’s circumstances … bear a ‘reasonably close resemblance.’

Applying the law, the court held that plaintiff met this standard:

Plaintiff made this showing. Finkel, who is white, taught PSAM 1028 in Fall 2012. (Pl. Ex. 6; Def. Ex. TT).6 And the evidence at trial established that Plaintiff and Finkel were similarly situated. By the time Plaintiff brought suit, both Plaintiff and Finkel had worked for TNS for roughly a decade—though of note, Finkel was less senior than Plaintiff. (Tr. 73, 142, 294; Pl. Ex. 6). The two shared similar educational and professional backgrounds: Both held Masters of Fine Arts degrees from TNS, and both had working experience in web design. (Pl. Ex. 38; Pl. Ex. 64). And critically, as part-time faculty members, Plaintiff and Finkel were both granted base loads (see Def. Ex. TT), and TNS had an obligation to attempt to meet their base loads pursuant to the two-step process the Court discussed supra (see Tr. 537). For these reasons, Plaintiff and Finkel were similarly situated for purposes of Title VII, § 1981, and the NYSHRL.

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