2d Circuit Affirms Dismissal of Teacher’s Title VII Retaliation Claim

In Agosto v. New York City Department of Education et al, 2020 WL 7086060 (2d Cir. Dec. 4, 2020), the court, inter alia, affirmed the dismissal of plaintiff high school teacher’s retaliation claim asserted under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The court summarized the elements of such a claim:

To establish a prima facie case of Title VII retaliation by a non-federal employer, an employee must show that

(1) “he was engaged in protected activity,”

(2) “the employer was aware of that activity,”

(3) the employee suffered “a materially adverse action,” and

(4) there was “a causal connection between the protected activity and that adverse action.”

[Paragraphing altered]

Applying the law to the facts, the court explained:

We agree with the district court that Agosto failed to demonstrate an adequate causal link between his protected activity and allegedly adverse actions, and accordingly we do not address the other prima facie elements. In support of causation, Agosto relies solely on temporal proximity, and the closest chronological gap was the 3.5-month period between the EEOC complaint he filed on March 16, 2017, and the “letter to file” Ureña issued on June 27, 2017. This court has not imposed a strict time limitation when a retaliation claim relies exclusively on temporal proximity, see Burkybile v. Bd. of Educ. of Hastings-on-Hudson Union Free Sch. Dist., 411 F.3d 306, 314 (2d Cir. 2005), but even Agosto acknowledges that a gap of “more than several months” is typically too long by itself to survive summary judgment. Appellant’s Br. 40. Even assuming some weak causal inference from the 3.5-month gap, that inference is fatally undermined by the fact that the June 2017 letter to file was triggered by an independent actor—the Parent Chairperson of the School Leadership Team who complained to the Manhattan Superintendent, accusing Agosto of making a threat after a meeting—indicating that Ureña’s subsequent letter to file was not a contrived excuse to penalize Agosto for prior protected activity. Agosto’s other alleged acts of retaliation are even more remote in terms of chronological proximity and therefore do not present triable issues.

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