Age Discrimination Claims Dismissed Against SUNY Downstate Medical Center

In Sedhom v. SUNY Downstate Medical Center, et al., No. 15080, 1555837/17, 2020-04443, 2022 N.Y. Slip Op. 00292, 2022 WL 150794 (N.Y.A.D. 1 Dept., Jan. 18, 2022), the court unanimously affirmed the dismissal of plaintiff’s age-based discrimination and hostile work environment claims.

In sum, plaintiff contends that defendants discriminated against her and terminated her employment on the basis of her age. She alleged, among other things, that defendant Maria Silas demanded that plaintiff disclose her age and made remarks suggesting that plaintiff was too old to continue working at defendant. She also alleged that defendants created a hostile work environment when defendant Daisy Cruz-Richman, among other things, shouted at plaintiff in front of her subordinates, instructed SUNY faculty not to contact her while she was on sick leave, and disparaged her to her students.

From the decision:

Defendants met their prima facie burden of showing that there are no triable issues of fact that would support a claim for age discrimination under the New York City Human Rights Law or the New York State Human Rights Law, since there is no indication that defendants’ actions concerning plaintiff’s employment at SUNY Downstate were motivated by plaintiff’s age. Defendants proffered a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for terminating plaintiff’s employment – namely, that they had instituted a policy discouraging the retention of temporary employees, that a new dean was hired on the same month plaintiff was terminated, and that plaintiff’s role was eliminated and consolidated with an existing role to create a new position. In response, plaintiff failed to raise a triable issue of fact. Although plaintiff disputes defendants’ categorization of her as a temporary employee, SUNY’s records show that she was, and she does not dispute that the new policy would apply to her in that case. Nor does she argue that the policy itself or the restructuring of the administration were pretextual.

Furthermore, even assuming particular comments allegedly made to plaintiff were discriminatory, they were merely “stray remarks” that do not, without more, constitute evidence of discrimination. The evidence also does not demonstrate that Cruz–Richman’s conduct toward plaintiff stemmed from discriminatory animus based on plaintiff’s age, as Cruz–Richman is nearly the same age as plaintiff and made the decision to both hire her and fire her.

[Cleaned up.]

Turning to plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim, the court held that “[t]he remarks underlying those causes of action were not sufficiently severe or pervasive as to permeate the workplace and alter the conditions of plaintiff’s employment”, that those remarks could be, at most, characterized as “pety slights or trivial inconveniences,” and that there was no indication that any of the “purportedly hostile conduct toward plaintiff had anything to do with plaintiff’s age, nor, indeed, does plaintiff allege that it did.”

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