Gender-Based Pay Discrimination Claims Continue Against CUNY – Part Two (Title VII etc)

In Xanthakos v. City University of New York et al, 17-cv-9829, 2020 WL 5026930 (S.D.N.Y. August 24, 2020), the court, inter alia, denied defendants’ motion to dismiss plaintiff’s gender-based pay discrimination claims under the Equal Pay Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 1983, and the New York State and City Human Rights Laws.

After determining that plaintiff sufficiently alleged her claim under the Equal Pay Act (see my blog post about that aspect of the case here), the court proceeded to evaluate plaintiff’s claims under the other statutes. This case illustrates that a plaintiff suffering gender-based pay discrimination has a number of weapons in their statutory arsenal to remedy that injustice.

The court summarized the law relating to plaintiff’s Title VII claim:

Title VII makes it unlawful for an employer to “discriminate against any individual with respect to [her] compensation … because of such individual’s … sex.”6 Lenzi v. Systemax, Inc., 944 F.3d 97, 108 (2d Cir. 2019) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1)). To plead a gender discrimination claim under Title VII, a plaintiff must plead facts that plausibly show that: (1) the employer discriminated against her and (2) the discrimination was due to her sex. Vega v. Hempstead Union Free Sch. Dist., 801 F.3d 72, 85 (2d Cir. 2015).
A plaintiff may establish discrimination by alleging that she was paid less than her male colleagues for doing equal work.7 See Lenzi, 944 F.3d at 110 (“[O]ne way an employer might discriminate against an employee because of her sex is to pay her less than her male peers who perform equal work.”); Gibson v. Jacob K. Javits Convention Ctr. of N.Y., No. 95-CV-9728, 1998 WL 132796, at *4 n.54 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 23, 1998) (“If the jobs in question are substantially similar, a plaintiff may of course advance a Title VII wage discrimination claim based on allegations that she was paid lower wages than a male counterpart who performed substantially similar work.”). To establish that sex was a motivating factor of the alleged discrimination, a plaintiff need only “allege facts that provide at least minimal support for the proposition that the employer was motivated by discriminatory intent.” Vega, 801 F.3d at 84–87 (quotations omitted). A plaintiff 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.”

Initially, the court noted its conclusion (with respect to its evaluation of plaintiff’s EPA claim) that she plausibly alleged that she was paid less than her similarly situated male colleagues.

It continued:

Plaintiff has also adequately alleged that her gender was a motivating factor in the pay disparity. At the outset, Plaintiff’s allegations that her male colleagues were paid higher salaries permit an inference of gender-based discrimination. See Barrett v. Forest Labs, 39 F. Supp. 3d 407, 435 (S.D.N.Y. 2014) (“It is well-established that a showing that female employees were treated ‘less favorably’ than ‘similarly situated’ male employees gives rise to an inference of discrimination.” (quoting Brown v. Daikin Am. Inc., 756 F.3d 219, 229–30 (2d Cir. 2014))). Moreover, Plaintiff’s credentials, including her advanced degrees, certifications, experience, and over twenty years of service at CUNY, suggest that her male colleagues’ higher salaries were not “based on seniority, merit, quantity or quality of production, or any other factor other than sex.” Lenzi, 944 F.3d at 111 (quoting Washington Cty. v. Gunther, 452 U.S. 161, 168 (1981)).

Plaintiff alleges specific instances of differential treatment by Lemieux and Vedavarz to support the inference that the alleged pay disparity was motivated by gender. For example, Plaintiff claims Lemieux did not invite her to monthly staff meetings to which the male directors and assistant directors were invited. Am. Compl. ¶ 63. At a meeting with DDCM management at which Plaintiff was the only woman present, Lemieux introduced all of the male employees but did not introduce her. Id. ¶¶ 63–64. Lemieux “made disparaging comments” about a former female director but never made disparaging comments about former male employees. Id. ¶ 35. Vedavarz invited her male colleagues to a holiday luncheon but did not invite her.8 Id. ¶ 67. Vedavarz reassigned some of her projects to a male project manager and became hostile when she inquired about his differential treatment of her. Id. ¶¶ 66, 68. At the pleading stage, these instances of differential treatment are adequate to support the inference that Plaintiff’s sex was a motivating factor of the alleged pay inequity. See Vega, 801 F.3d at 88 (noting that the plaintiff’s burden at the pleading stage to demonstrate that sex was a motivating factor is “minimal” and even if her other allegations of discrimination do not independently constitute adverse actions, they shed light on defendants’ motivation and bolster her claim that she was treated differently because of her gender); Garnett-Bishop v. N.Y. Cmty. Bancorp, Inc., No. 12-CV-2285, 2014 WL 5822628, at *30-31 (E.D.N.Y. Nov. 6, 2014) (denying a motion to dismiss plaintiffs’ NYSHRL gender discrimination claim because plaintiffs sufficiently alleged that they “were paid less than their male counterparts with equal seniority” and alleged “circumstantial evidence of disparate treatment”).

Finally, Plaintiff repeatedly raised the issue of pay inequity and asserted a claim for pay discrimination with CUNY’s General Counsel but “no action was taken to address [Plaintiff’s] complaint.” Id. ¶¶ 45, 50, 56–57, 59–60. At the pleading stage, “allegations that the company repeatedly ignored complaints of [ ] discrimination, permits at least a plausible inference that the disparities in base pay occurred as the result of intentional discrimination.”

Based on this, the court denied defendants’ motion to dismiss plaintiff’s claims under Title VII, Section 1983, the New York State Human Rights Law, and the New York City Human Rights Law.

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