2d Circuit Affirms Dismissal of Retaliation Claim Against Rochester University

In Canady v. Univ. of Rochester, et al (2d Cir. 17-1952 May 30, 2018) (Summary Order), the Second Circuit affirmed the dismissal of plaintiff’s retaliation claim against Rochester University.

Here is the relevant law, as summarized by the court:

To state a prima facie case for Title VII retaliation a plaintiff must show: “(1) participation in a protected activity; (2) that the defendant knew of the protected activity; (3) an adverse employment action; and (4) a causal connection between the protected activity and the adverse employment action.” Hick v. Baines, 593 F.3d 159, 164 (2d Cir. 2010). Retaliation claims are analyzed under the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework, which requires defendants to respond to a plaintiff’s prima facie case by providing a “legitimate, non-retaliatory reason for the adverse employment action.” Jute v. Hamilton Sundstrand Corp., 420 F.3d 166, 173 (2d Cir. 2005). A plaintiff must then show that the employer’s retaliatory motive was a but-for cause of the adverse action “by demonstrating weaknesses, implausibilities, inconsistencies, or contradictions in the employer’s proffered legitimate, nonretaliatory reasons for its action.”

Applying the law, the court initially held that he did not suffer an “adverse employment action:”

On appeal, Canady argues that, after he sued the University for racial discrimination and filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charge in 2013, the University retaliated against him in two ways. First, he contends that it wrote a “negative reference letter” about him. Pl.-Appellant Br. 18. The University counters that this letter did not amount to an adverse employment action. An employment action is adverse if “it well might have ‘dissuaded a reasonable worker from making or supporting a charge of discrimination.’ ” Burlington N. & Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. White, 548 U.S. 53, 68 (2006) (quoting Rochon v. Gonzales, 438 F.3d 1211, 1219 (D.C. Cir. 2006) ). Canady seems to be referring to the University’s June 2013 Letter of Expectations. The University wrote this letter after Canady was suspended for five days for allegedly subjecting a coworker to repeated unwanted advances. Canady challenged his suspension, and the University scheduled a hearing. A union organizer then negotiated with the University to reduce Canady’s punishment from a suspension to a Letter of Expectations. The letter ended Canady’s suspension, awarded him one day of back pay, and stated that, going forward, Canady should “conduct himself in a professional and respectful manner at all times.” Because the letter helped Canady by reducing his punishment, there is no reasonable question of fact that it would not deter a reasonable person from making a charge of discrimination.

Next, held the court, plaintiff failed to overcome the legitimate, non-retaliatory reasons for his termination. Specifically, plaintiff “purportedly had loud verbal altercations with and made unwanted advances towards several coworkers.” The court found that “[a]part from conclusorily saying that these allegations were false, Canady did not make any showing that these non-retaliatory reasons were implausible, inconsistent, or contradictory.”

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