Court Dismisses “Interracial Association” Race Discrimination Case

In Wellington v. Spencer-Edwards et al, 2019 WL 2764078 (S.D.N.Y. July 1, 2019), the court, inter alia, dismissed plaintiff’s race-based employment discrimination claim.

Plaintiff, who identifies as Black and Hispanic, asserts that she was fired by defendant Spencer-Edwards (who is Black and of Jamaican descent) “because she was friendly with white teachers and staff at the school, which Spencer-Edwards disapproved of.”

The court cited Second Circuit precedent – Holcomb v. Iona Coll., 521 F.3d 130, 139 (2d Cir. 2008) – for the proposition that “where an employee is subjected to adverse action because an employer disapproves of interracial association, the employee suffers discrimination because of the employee’s own race.”

However, plaintiff’s evidence in this case did not carry the day. From the decision:

The most direct evidence Plaintiff offers in support of her theory is her testimony that when she spoke with white staff, Spencer-Edwards “would give [her] a look” and “stare deeply” at her. Wellington Dep. 89:22–90:6, ECF No. 112-4. In addition, another teacher at P.S. 202 testified that Spencer-Edwards would send his assistant into Plaintiff’s classroom to “find many things in the room and write [Plaintiff] up” and “target” her so as to create “[l]etters to the file.” Salahuddin Dep. 146:6–147:6, ECF No. 120-8. However, this is insufficient to raise an inference of discrimination. See Taylor v. Potter, No. 99 Civ. 4941, 2004 WL 1811423, at *16 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 16, 2004) (“[D]erogatory comments (or being ‘very mean’) made without distinction to employees’ race are not actionable.”);3 see also Wang v. N.Y. City Dep’t of Fin., No. 96 Civ. 5170, 1999 WL 529550, at *22 (E.D.N.Y. July 21, 1999) (“ ‘[D]irty looks’ do not give rise to an inference of discrimination.”). Nor does testimony that Plaintiff’s replacement was “doing whatever she could for [Spencer-Edwards],” Parker Dep. 61:23–62:6, ECF No. 120-6, raise an inference of racial discrimination in Spencer-Edwards’s decision to fire Plaintiff.

Plaintiff also cites conclusory testimony from other teachers stating that Spencer-Edwards favored black teachers and disfavored white teachers, but the testimony is not specifically tied to Plaintiff. See, e.g., Chabus Dep. 44:2–11, ECF No. 120-4 (“I feel like because I was white and because I don’t—I wasn’t part of the elite crowd that is the reason why I did not get one of my choices [of classes to teach].”). In addition, Plaintiff cites testimony from other teachers claiming that when Spencer-Edwards became principal, the school became more racially divided. Pl. Opp. at 14–15; see, e.g., Chabus Dep. 51:5–12 (“A. And when Edwards took over I felt that there was a huge—all of a sudden down the line black teachers weren’t talking to white teachers and people were losing positions they had for many years and other teachers weren’t. And so there was a huge change in the system.”); id. 54:13–19 (“Q. And you mentioned that a segregation formed after Edwards became principal? A. That’s my feeling. Q. That’s a racial segregation, just to clarify? A. Yes, racial segregation.”). This does not raise an issue of fact as to whether Plaintiff’s termination occurred in circumstances giving rise to an inference of race discrimination. See Johnson v. N.Y. City Dep’t of Educ., 39 F. Supp. 3d 314, 324–26 (E.D.N.Y. 2014) (rejecting plaintiff’s “attempt to convert [a public school’s] history of racial tensions into evidence of discriminatory animus on the part of” a school official who denied him tenure, and granting summary judgment for defendants because plaintiff “failed to produce evidence that would lead a reasonable fact-finder to conclude that his termination occurred because of his race or that his race was a consideration in the decision to deny him tenure”), aff’d, 633 F. App’x 42 (2d Cir. 2016); see also Grant v. Cornell Univ., 87 F. Supp. 2d 153, 159–60 (N.D.N.Y. 2000) (granting summary judgment for defendants in part because three letters that plaintiff submitted “from other African Americans who also complain, anecdotally, of racial tensions within the [workplace]” are “of insufficient nature and extent to make out an issue of fact as to whether plaintiff was denied tenure under circumstances giving rise to an inference of discrimination”).

*3 Plaintiff also cites inadmissible hearsay. See, e.g., Chabus Dep. 123:15–24 (nonparty teacher testifying that “Ms. Wellington had a very tough class and they definitely asked for help and never received it”); Parker Dep. 54:9–18 (nonparty teacher testifying that after class trips had been scheduled, “a teacher who [Spencer-Edwards was close with] told him that she didn’t want the teachers [to go]. So the white teachers were told to stay behind.”). Plaintiff also cites an anonymous complaint made to the DOE about Spencer-Edwards, Pl. Opp. at 6–7, but the complaint is also inadmissible hearsay.

In light of this, the court concluded that plaintiff did not “proffer evidence from which a reasonable jury could conclude that race discrimination played a role in Spencer-Edwards’s decision to terminate her.”