Discrimination Evidence Ruled Admissible on the Issue of Retaliation

In McPartlan-Hurson v. Westchester Community College, 13-CV-2467, 2018 WL 5801057 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 5, 2018), the court held that evidence pertaining to plaintiff’s (dismissed) discrimination claims was relevant, and admissible, on her retaliation claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The law, as summarized by the court:

To make out a claim of retaliation under Title VII, a Plaintiff must show: 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. Jute v. Hamilton Sundstrand Corp., 420 F.3d 166, 173 (2d Cir. 2005).

Although Plaintiff is correct that she needs to establish “participation in a protected activity” to make a prima facie claim for retaliation, she overemphasizes the extent to which she needs evidence of the underlying alleged acts of discrimination to demonstrate that she had a “good faith reasonable belief” that Defendants violated Title VII. The Second Circuit has repeatedly explained that “the plaintiff’s burden of proof as to this first step [is] ‘minimal’ and ‘de minimis.’ ” Zann Kwan v. Andalex Grp. LLC, 737 F.3d 834, 844 (2d Cir. 2013); Jute v. Hamilton, 420 F.3d at 17; Gorzynski v. JetBlue Airways Corp., 596 F.3d 93, 111 (2d Cir. 2010) (“An employee ‘need not establish that the conduct she opposed was in fact a violation of Title VII, but rather, only that she had a good faith, reasonable belief that the underlying employment practice was unlawful.’ ”) (emphasis added).

That said, Plaintiff needs to be able to offer some subjective and objective proof to show that under the totality of circumstances, it was reasonable for her to believe that Defendants violated Title VII. …

Applying the law, the court held that plaintiff would be entitled to offer proof that, e.g., she applied for the position in question, she was denied the position, and she complained about being denied the position due to racial discrimination.

While the court permitted such “background evidence,” it held that she would not be entitled to offer additional exhibits (regarding the defendant’s internal operations, policies, etc.), “particularly when she did not herself have access to such information at the time she made her complaints that she was discriminated against.”

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