2d Circuit Affirms Dismissal of White Plaintiff’s Title VII Race Discrimination Claim

In Zoll v. Northwell Health, Inc., 19-2716, 2020 WL 3493498 (2d Cir. June 29, 2020), the Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal, on summary judgment, of plaintiff’s race discrimination claim asserted under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Plaintiff, who is white, asserted that she suffered two adverse actions on the basis of her race: the extension of her probationary employment assessment period and the termination of her employment.

From the Order:

For substantially the same reasons as those set out in the district court’s thorough and well-reasoned opinions, we conclude that the district court correctly granted summary judgment to Northwell Health. Turning first to the claims stemming from her termination, Zoll offers no basis in the record to disturb the district court’s conclusion that Northwell Health relied on the letter (the “Complaint Letter”) of a patient’s family member reporting unprofessional conduct by a staff member at the Freeport Center in deciding to terminate Zoll’s employment. In light of the ample evidence that employees of Northwell Health took the Complaint Letter’s allegations seriously and reasonably attributed the misconduct described therein to Zoll, we conclude that Zoll did not carry her burden to show that a rational factfinder would conclude that the Complaint Letter was a pretextual justification for her termination.

We further agree with the district court that, even if a reasonable jury might conclude that Zoll’s failure to schedule outreach presentations was a pretextual justification for her termination, Zoll failed to meet her “ultimate burden of persuading the trier of fact” that Northwell Health intentionally discriminated against her because she is white. Abdu-Brisson, 239 F.3d at 470 (internal quotation marks omitted). Zoll herself conceded at her deposition that she never heard any employee at Northwell Health make comments about her race. While “employment discrimination plaintiffs are entitled to rely on circumstantial evidence” of discrimination, Holcomb v. Iona Coll., 521 F.3d 130, 141 (2d Cir. 2008), we agree with the district court that the circumstantial evidence Zoll relies on falls short of what Zoll must show to meet her burden of persuasion. Although Zoll alleges anti-white discrimination, much of the evidence she cites is conclusory or inadmissible. Further, the record indicates that a white employee replaced Zoll for the first six months following her termination, and Evgenia Mayvoldov and Patricia DeFlorio—both white employees whom Zoll contends left Northwell Health’s Transplant Center because of racial discrimination—did not support Zoll’s claim of such discrimination. In fact, Mayvoldov expressly stated that she had not seen any discrimination at the Transplant Center.

The court found it unnecessary to decide whether the district court erred in concluding that the extension of plaintiff’s probationary employment did not constitute an “adverse employment action.”

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