Race-Based Hostile Work Environment Survives Summary Judgment Against UPS

In Wilkins v. United Parcel Service, Inc. d/b/a UPS et al, 19-cv-8180, 2022 WL 597431 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 28, 2022), the court, inter alia, denied defendants’ motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s claim of a race-based hostile work environment asserted under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

This decision is a good example of how an employment discrimination plaintiff need not proffer “direct” evidence, but, with a sufficient factual basis, may prove their case through circumstantial evidence.

From the decision:

Here, although lacking any facially racist comments or other direct evidence of racism, plaintiff supplies sufficient circumstantial evidence that Valent targeted plaintiff and other minority package car drivers at UPS for discipline more frequently than he did similarly situated white drivers committing similar offenses. See Alfano v. Costello, 294 F.3d at 377. Specifically,

(i) Plaintiff identified through deposition and documentary evidence at least four instances in which he was disciplined for relatively mundane or commonplace infractions, and for which similarly situated white drivers either received less severe discipline than plaintiff or escaped discipline entirely.

(ii) Plaintiff introduced independent accounts from at least three other minority drivers at the New Windsor facility asserting a similar pattern of disparate treatment and discipline from Valent.

(iii) Plaintiff also showed deposition testimony from David Scala that, based on his observations as shop steward, plaintiff and other minority drivers were disciplined far more frequently than white drivers for substantially similar infractions.

The court concluded that “taken together and viewed in a light most favorable to plaintiff, plaintiff’s own accounts of disparate discipline by Valent, the independent accusations of disparate treatment against Valent by other minority drivers, and the corroboration by Scala based on his experience and observations as shop steward raise a triable issue of race-based animus.”

It further held that a triable issue of fact existed as to whether UPS may be held strictly liable for the underlying hostile work environment. It was undisputed that the alleged harasser, Valent, was a “supervisor” under Title VII, and therefore (under, e.g., Vance v. Ball State Univ., 570 U.S. 421, 424 (2013)), UPS could be held liable only if the alleged hostile work environment resulted in a “tangible employment action.”

Judge Briccetti concluded that plaintiff presented “sufficient evidence to raise a genuine issue of material fact as to whether plaintiff’s eight-week suspension following the June 17, 2016, ‘workplace violence’ incident was part and parcel of Valent’s harassment against plaintiff,” noting that “[a]n eight-week suspension without pay is plainly the type of ‘significant change in benefits’ that constitutes a ‘tangible employment action.'”

Furthermore, “plaintiff’s reinstatement with back pay does not cure the employment action, as it cannot erase ‘the loss of an expected steady income’ plaintiff endured for those eight weeks.”

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