Complaint Sufficiently Alleges Title VII and ADA Discrimination & Retaliation Claims, Court Finds

In Akinde v. NYC Health & Hospital Corp. et al, 16-cv-8882, 2019 WL 4392959 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 13, 2019), the court held, inter alia, that plaintiff sufficiently alleged discrimination and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Judge Woods summarized the relevant legal standard(s):[1]Paragraphing added.

To establish a prima facie case [of employment discrimination under Title VII and the ADA], a plaintiff must show that: (1) she was a member of a protected class; (2) she was competent to perform the job in question, or was performing the job duties satisfactorily; (3) she suffered a materially adverse employment action; and (4) the action occurred under circumstances that give rise to an inference of discrimination. … At the pleadings stage, then, a plaintiff must allege that the employer took adverse action against her at least in part for a discriminatory reason, and she may do so by alleging facts that directly show discrimination or facts that indirectly show discrimination by giving rise to a plausible inference of discrimination. …

To plausibly allege a Title VII or ADA retaliation claim, a plaintiff must plead facts to show that: (1) he was engaged in an activity protected [under the statute] …; (2) defendants were aware of his participation in the protected activity; (3) defendants took adverse action against him; and (4) a causal connection existed between the protected activity and the adverse action.

Applying the law to the facts, the court held:

Here, the Plaintiff has pleaded that he is an African American man who was perceived by his employer as suffering from various mental health issues. Plaintiff alleges that he was qualified for his job, both because of his credentials and because numerous doctors had cleared him to work in the years and months preceding the imposition of involuntary leave. He claims that his direct supervisor—who was involved in the incident that led to the imposition of Plaintiff’s involuntary leave—referred to him using various slurs “over a thousand times” during the two-and-a-half years preceding the imposition of Plaintiff’s involuntary leave, reflecting animus towards both his race and his perceived disability. He also claims that he was specifically told by Human Resources personnel that he would not be considered for any other positions because of his mental disability. And Plaintiff alleges that a mere six days after he met with the Regional Director of the NYC HHC Office of Equal Employment Opportunity to inform her of the discrimination and retaliation he had suffered as a result of his race and perceived disability, he was placed on involuntary medical leave. These allegations are clearly sufficient to meet Plaintiff’s “minimal burden to show discriminatory intent” in order to state a claim for race and perceived disability discrimination and retaliation.

The court rejected defendant’s argument that plaintiff’s claims should be dismissed because the New York state court previously dismissed plaintiff’s action, noting that “the core of Plaintiff’s complaint here is that he was discriminated and retaliated against as a result of his decision to file that action” (emphasis in original), and that it was “therefore not at all clear … how the dismissal of the [state court] action has any bearing on the claims at issue in this case, which are based entirely on events which took place after that action was filed.”

It also rejected defendant’s argument based on plaintiff’s having not filed an administrative (EEOC) charge, noting that, per Hardaway v. Hartford Pub. Works Dept., 879 F.3d 486 (2d Cir. 2018), “an employee is not required to plead that his claims of discrimination and retaliation have been administratively exhausted with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in order to state a claim.”

Finally, the court rejected defendant’s argument that HHC did not know of the alleged harassment and therefore liability cannot be imputed, noting that “Plaintiff need not plead additional facts to show that his employer was aware of the discrimination and retaliation he suffered because his claim is that such discrimination and retaliation were perpetrated by his direct manager.” (Emphasis in original.)

1 Paragraphing added.
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