Failure-to-Promote Claims Sufficiently Alleged Against MetLife

In Moazzaz v. MetLife, Inc. et al, 2021 WL 827648 (S.D.N.Y. March 4, 2021) (J. Oetken), the court, inter alia, denied defendants’ motion to dismiss plaintiff’s discriminatory failure-to-promote claims under the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) and the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL). (The court also held that plaintiff sufficiently alleged a gender-based hostile work environment, which I discussed in a separate blog post.)

After summarizing the relevant “black-letter” law, the court applied it to the facts, as follows:

Moazzaz plausibly alleges that her gender was a motivating factor in the decision to deny her a promotion. See Comcast Corp. v. Nat’l Ass’n of African Am.-Owned Media, 140 S. Ct. 1009, 1017 (2020) (“[A] Title VII plaintiff [and thus a NYSHRL and NYCHRL plaintiff] who shows that discrimination was even a motivating factor in the defendant’s challenged employment decision is entitled to … relief.”). Podlogar’s stated rationale for denying the promotion, that Moazzaz was “too mean, condescending and shouts,” stands at odds with Moazzaz’s high ranking in an employee engagement survey from the same year. The rationale also stands at odds with Moazzaz’s near-consistent receipt of the “highest possible performance ratings” (Dkt. No. 20 ¶ 3), which Podlogar downgraded that year by overriding an assessment from Moazzaz’s manager. Furthermore, Podlogar’s instruction that Moazzaz be “nicer” to obtain a promotion echoes comments made by her predecessor as Chief Human Resources Officer, Hijkoop. As discussed, the Complaint alleges numerous discriminatory statements made and viewpoints held by Hijkoop, who the Court reasonably infers influenced Podlogar’s approach to the Chief Human Resources Officer role.

*12 The Court might agree with Defendants that the rationale for denying the promotion regarded a gender-neutral personality conflict, were it not for Moazzaz’s allegations that leaders in Human Resources referred to her using gendered pejoratives; that those leaders — including Podlogar — declined to discipline each other for doing so; that those leaders subjected Moazzaz to back-to-back investigations over whether she was “too mean” or had the wrong “tone,” while simultaneously ignoring concrete grievances against male employees; and that those same leaders were responsible for employment actions. See Chambers, 43 F.3d at 37. But the Complaint supplies all this context. Accordingly, Moazzaz’s discriminatory failure to promote claim survives the motion to dismiss.

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