Discrimination, Hostile Work Environment, Retaliation Claims Dismissed Against NYC Health & Hospital Corporation

In Fields v. New York City Health and Hospital Corporation, 17-cv-6042, 2018 WL 3518506 (E.D.N.Y. July 20, 2018), the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, inter alia, dismissed plaintiff’s claims of race and national origin discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the New York City Human Rights Law.

Plaintiff – an African American – alleged, e.g., that her supervisor (who is of West Indian descent) asked about plaintiff’s nationality, told her that workplace was a “West Indian Hospital,” gave preferential treatment to plaintiff’s West Indian colleagues, and forced plaintiff to stay later and work longer hours than her West Indian colleagues. She also alleged that she was terminated in retaliation for her complaints.

First, the court addressed plaintiff’s discrimination claim. In order to state a cause of action under Title VII for discrimination, plaintiff was required to set forth facts demonstrating that

(1) she is a member of a protected class; (2) she satisfactorily performed her job; (3) she was subjected to adverse employment action; and (4) such action occurred under circumstances giving rise to an inference of discrimination based on her membership in the protected class.

Applying the law, the court held that plaintiff failed to meet this standard. For example, “[a]lthough Plaintiff claims that she was treated differently than her West Indian co-workers, her allegations are conclusory”; while “Plaintiff alleges that [her supervisor]’s statements made her feel that ‘being African American was not accepted’ and that she was ‘harassed[]’ … Plaintiff does not provide any details about how African-Americans like herself were excluded or the nature of the harassment that she experienced.”

As to the reference to defendant as a “West Indian Hospital” and the inquiry into plaintiff’s country of origin soon after plaintiff started working, the court concluded that “these scant, isolated references are not enough to allege discrimination under the fourth element of Title VII.”

Plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim fared no better. The court cited the well-known black-letter standard for such claims:

To establish a hostile work environment under Title VII, a plaintiff must show that ‘the workplace is permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment and create an abusive working environment.

In this case, plaintiff “merely alleges that [plaintiff’s supervisor] questioned her about other co-workers in a ‘hostile’ manner, in addition to the adverse actions addressed above[,] … [which] is not enough to show that Plaintiff was subjected to a hostile work environment on the basis of race or national origin.”

Finally, the court dismissed plaintiff’s retaliation claim. The law/legal standard:

To establish a prima facie retaliation claim under Title VII, a plaintiff must allege (1) participation in a protected activity, (2) the defendant’s knowledge of the protected activity, (3) an adverse employment action, and (4) a causal connection between the protected activity and the adverse employment action.

The court held that plaintiff did not satisfy the fourth element, because there was no causal connection between her alleged “protected activity” (her complaints to management) and the “adverse employment action” (her termination). Among other things, her November 2016 complaint “was too remote in time” from her termination in May 2017 to constitute retaliation. While temporal proximity between protected activity and the adverse action may provide evidence of causation, here six months was too long to qualify.

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