Gender Discrimination Claims Against Equinox Dismissed

In Vitale v. Equinox Holdings, Inc., 2019 WL 2024504 (SDNY May 7, 2019), the court, inter alia, dismissed plaintiff’s claim of gender discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Initially, the court held that certain remarks were too remote in time to be probative of discrimination:

[C]omments that the plaintiff was “too emotional” or reference to her as “young lady” made almost two years before her termination are insufficient to establish an inference of gender discrimination. “Verbal comments constitute evidence of discriminatory motivation when a plaintiff demonstrates that a nexus exists between the allegedly discriminatory statements and a defendant’s decision to discharge the plaintiff.” Rajaravivarma v. Bd. of Trustees for Conn. State Univ. Sys., 8 62 F. Supp. 2d 127, 152 (D. Conn. 2012) (quotation marks omitted). In determining whether a remark is probative of discriminatory intent, courts have considered four factors:

*7 (1) who made the remark (i.e., a decision-maker, a supervisor, or a low-level coworker); (2) when the remark was made in relation to the employment decision at issue; (3.) the content of the remark (i.e., whether a reasonable juror could view the remark as discriminatory); and (4) the context in which the remark was made (i.e., whether it was related to the decision-making process).

Henry v. Wyeth Pharm., Inc., 616 F.3d 134, 149 (2d Cir. 2010).

In this case, although Hellstrand was the plaintiff’s supervisor, the alleged remarks — even assuming they were made — are not remarks that a jury could view as evidence of discrimination. Weinstock v. Columbia Univ., 224 F.3d 33, 44 (2d Cir. 2000) (“nice” and “nurturing” comments did not indicate gender stereotyping); Mazzone-Trani v. Donohue Cecere Funeral Home, No. 08cv0060, 2010 WL 3282616, at *5 (E.D.N.Y. Aug. 13, 2010) (holding that calling the plaintiff “mother hen” and stating “women get more emotional” did not preclude summary judgment). These comments are alleged to have been made in 2014, nearly two years before the plaintiff was fired, and there is no evidence that they were repeated by Hellstrand or any of the other supervisors at Equinox. The isolated nature of the comments and the time that elapsed before the plaintiff’s termination undermine any causal nexus.

The court also rejected plaintiff’s argument that defendant had a “sexist culture.” Plaintiff submitted proof “that she heard sales teams routinely went to strip clubs and charged the costs to Equinox, that Equinox’s chairman once asked a manager to collect the phone numbers of certain attractive females, that an employee was once given a birthday cake in the shape of a female buttocks, and that intraoffice dating was permitted.” The court explained:

The plaintiff does not attempt to draw any link between these events and her termination. She does not attribute this activity to the decision makers in her case. Moreover, the plaintiff only heard about these events, she did not witness them. Such rumors do not create an issue of fact at the summary judgment stage.

Finally, the court held that “plaintiff’s argument is further undermined by the fact that the person who was eventually hired to fill her position is a woman.”

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