Race Discrimination Dismissal Vacated; Court Cites Allegedly False Reasons For Termination

In Sapio v. Selux Corporation et al, 2021 WL 1568819 (2d Cir. April 22, 2021) (Summary Order), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit vacated the lower court’s dismissal of plaintiff’s race discrimination claim asserted under 42 USC § 1981.

From the Order:

The District Court dismissed Sapio’s Section 1981 claim on the ground that the Complaint failed to plausibly allege that circumstances surrounding her termination from Selux raised an inference of race discrimination. The District Court held that Sapio’s general and conclusory allegations of discriminatory animus—e.g., that her termination “was motivated by [Sapio’s] race” or occurred “because [Sapio] was Asian” or because Defendants “wanted to replace [Sapio] with a Caucasian employee”—did not suffice to raise an inference of discriminatory animus. The District Court rejected Sapio’s argument that her alleged replacement by a Caucasian employee created a presumption of racial discrimination. Having dismissed Sapio’s only federal claim, the District Court declined to exercise jurisdiction over Sapio’s state-law claims and dismissed the Complaint in its entirety. The District Court did not reach the issue of whether, as Defendants contend, Sapio released her claims pursuant to a waiver provision in her separation agreement with Selux.

We review de novo a District Court’s dismissal of a complaint under Rule 12(b)(6). It is settled that an employment discrimination plaintiff will ordinarily satisfy her “minimal” burden to allege facts supporting an inference of discrimination by alleging her replacement by someone outside her protected class. Sapio has made this allegation here. Moreover, Sapio has alleged an additional basis to infer discrimination—i.e., that Selux gave her false, pretextual reasons for her termination. The District Court therefore erred in holding that Sapio’s Complaint failed to raise an inference of discriminatory animus and we accordingly vacate the judgment of May 6, 2020 and remand the case to the District Court for further proceedings. Defendants are free on remand to renew their contention that Sapio has released her claims. [Footnotes omitted.]

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