Race-Based Failure-to-Hire Discrimination Claim Will Proceed Against Oscar De La Renta

In Harris v. Oscar De La Renta, LLC, 2022 WL 540659 (SDNY Feb. 22, 2022), the court, inter alia, denied defendant’s motion to dismiss plaintiff’s race-based failure-to-hire claim asserted under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

From the decision:

In this case, the plaintiff states a claim for failure to hire. The defendant does not dispute that the plaintiff is a member of a protected class, that she was qualified to be a patternmaker, or that the plaintiff was rejected for a position with ODLR. Instead, the defendant argues that the plaintiff’s claim should be dismissed because (1) the plaintiff fails to allege that she applied for any open positions or that she was promised a position with ODLR, and (2) the plaintiff fails to demonstrate that she was denied employment in circumstances giving rise to an inference of discrimination. Construing the facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, however, the plaintiff has adequately pleaded both elements.

First, the plaintiff has adequately pleaded that the defendant “openly entertained” her expressions of interest in a full-time patternmaker role, and “induced her into believing that she had a realistic chance of obtaining the position, despite never formally posting it,” and this is sufficient to satisfy the “application for an open position” prong. See Hughes v. Twenty-First Century Fox, Inc., 304 F. Supp. 3d 429, 446 (S.D.N.Y. 2018). Indeed, the plaintiff claims that she accepted a two-week employment with ODLR after being told by Cerise, the hiring manager, that the plaintiff would be hired to fill a patternmaker role once those two weeks elapsed. Her allegations suggest that, while the plaintiff may not have submitted a formal application for an open position, the plaintiff attempted to apply for a role through informal channels, and the defendant “induced [the plaintiff] into believing that she had a realistic chance of obtaining the position.” Id. This is sufficient, especially where, as here, the defendant-employer appears to have “used the lure of a full-time [position] as a carrot and a stick to secure” something that they want from the plaintiff – here, the plaintiff’s aid in advance of the fashion show. See id. In such a situation, it would be unreasonable to allow the defendant to end-run the plaintiff’s failure-to-hire claim by claiming that no formal application was made. See id.

Second, the plaintiff has sufficiently alleged that her denial of employment occurred in circumstances that raise a minimal inference of discrimination. The plaintiff claims that Mr. Garcia, a person with supervisory duties in the company and over the plaintiff, told the hiring manager that the hiring manager could not hire the plaintiff because Mr. Garcia does not like African Americans. The plaintiff also alleges that she was the only African American patternmaker at the company and that the company did not hire African Americans. These allegations – together with the plaintiff’s other, time-barred claims of discrimination, which “shed[ ] light on [the defendant’s] motivation and thus bolster [the plaintiff’s] claim that [the defendant] treated [her] differently because of [her] ethnicity,” see Vega, 801 F.3d at 88 – suffice to raise a minimal inference of discrimination, see Leibowitz v. Cornell Univ., 584 F.3d 487, 502 (2d Cir. 2009) (noting that an inference of discrimination may arise from such circumstances as “invidious comments about others in the employee’s protected group; or the more favorable treatment of employees not in the protected group; or the sequence of events leading to the plaintiff’s discharge”).

Based on this, the court denied defendant’s motion to dismiss.

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