Disability Discrimination, Hostile Work Environment, Retaliation Claims Survive Against Metro-North

In Ramos v. Metro-North Commuter Railroad et al, 2021 WL 1740644 (N.Y.A.D. 1 Dept., May 04, 2021), the court held that plaintiff presented enough evidence to defeat defendants’ motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s claims of discriminatory termination, failure to accommodate, hostile work environment, and retaliation.

As to plaintiff’s wrongful termination claim, the court held that while “defendants established prima facie entitlement to summary judgment by proffering a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for terminating plaintiff’s employment, as she had violated Metro–North’s policy by failing to report her use of a muscle relaxant for her back condition,” in response,

plaintiff raised a triable issue of fact as to whether discrimination was one motivating factor behind her termination, sufficient to support her [New York City Human Rights Law] claim. Plaintiff’s submissions show that she was placed on a performance improvement plan for conduct that her colleagues, who are not in her protected class, also engaged in; her prior FMLA applications documented her need for prescription medication; and she satisfactorily worked for Metro–North for nearly 10 years before being terminated. [Citation omitted; cleaned up.]

Furthermore, it held that “[t]he evidence also raises a material issue of fact as to whether defendants engaged in an interactive process and reasonable accommodation analysis prior to terminating plaintiff’s employment”, further noting that “[a]lthough an in-person meeting to discuss any accommodation was not necessary, plaintiff demonstrated that she proposed reasonable accommodations that defendants failed to make.”

As to plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim, the court explained:

Defendants also failed to demonstrate entitlement to summary judgment on plaintiff’s claim of hostile work environment under the City HRL. In support of her hostile work environment claim, plaintiff alleged that she was denied training opportunities given to her colleagues, she was left out of meetings, and she was reprimanded for failing to use the company car, despite being in the process of seeking a reasonable accommodation to avoid having to do so (see Suri v. Grey Global Group, Inc., 164 AD3d 108 [1st Dept 2018], appeal dismissed 32 NY3d 1138 [2019] ). Defendants did not show that the conduct complained of constituted nothing more than petty slights and trivial inconveniences to establish entitlement to summary judgment.

Finally, as to plaintiff’s retaliation claim, the court held that defendants failed to establish a prima facie entitlement to summary judgment, noting that “[t]he temporal proximity between plaintiff’s EEOC complaint and the incident leading up to her termination, and her termination raise an issue of fact as to a causal connection, as these events occurred within weeks of each other.”

It further rejected defendants’ argument “that plaintiff’s violation of the prescription drug report policy is an intervening terminable offense,” reasoning that “there is a question of fact as to whether plaintiff’s termination was motivated, in part, by discrimination.”

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