Race Discrimination, Hostile Work Environment, Retaliation Claims Resurrected From Summary Judgment Dismissal Against Montefiore Medical Center

In Bateman v. Montefiore Med. Ctr., 2020 NY Slip Op 02969 (App. Div. 1st Dept. May 21, 2020), the court unanimously modified a lower court Order so as to deny defendants’ motion for summary judgment dismissing plaintiff’s claims for employment discrimination, hostile work environment, and retaliation under the New York State and City Human Rights Laws.

From the decision:

There is no dispute that plaintiff met the first three elements, under both statutes, for a prima facie claim of employment discrimination, in that she was a black woman, was qualified for her position, and was subjected to an adverse employment action by being terminated. She also showed that she met the alternative element, under the City Human Rights Law, of showing that she was disadvantaged. The dispute turns on whether defendants terminated plaintiff for discriminatory reasons (see Harrington v City of New York, 157 AD3d 582, 584 [1st Dept 2018]).

Plaintiff points to evidence that Dr. Reznik regularly favored white employees over black employees, by giving white employees better assignments while giving black employees undesirable assignments supposedly more consistent with their ethnicity. Plaintiff also alleges that Dr. Reznik regularly referred to black employees, collectively, in a critical manner clear from context, as “you people” or “those people.” Plaintiff also testified that she heard Dr. Reznik mutter, in a critical manner, “black people,” when chastising plaintiff. This evidence raises issues of fact as to whether defendants terminated plaintiff for invidious reasons.

Defendants responded by proffering a facially legitimate reason for terminating plaintiff, namely, that she failed in many, if not most, of her job requirements, and failed to improve after being given a warning and final chance (see Bennett v Health Mgt. Sys., Inc., 92 AD3d 29 [1st Dept 2011], lv denied 18 NY3d 811 [2012]). Viewed as a whole, however, we find that issues of fact exist as to whether the proffered reason was pretextual (cf. Uwoghiren v City of New York, 148 AD3d 457, 458 [1st Dept 2017]), and thus, defendants’ motion should be denied to the extent it seeks dismissal of plaintiff’s claims for race-based employment discrimination. …

There are also issues of fact as to whether plaintiff was disparaged and treated unfairly for months, including being repeatedly subjected to remarks, thinly-veiled and on one occasion express, which slighted black people as a group. This evidence, if credited, supports a hostile work environment claim under the State and City HRLs.

The court did, however, hold that the lower court properly dismissed plaintiff’s claims for national origin discrimination, concluding (without elaboration) that such claims were without evidentiary support in the record.