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Citing “Monkey” Comment, SDNY Rules in Favor of Plaintiff in Race Discrimination & Hostile Work Environment Case Against Jacob & Co. Watches

by mjpospis on April 13, 2017

in EEOC Practice, Employment Discrimination, Employment Law, Hostile Work Environment, Pleading, Retaliation

In Green v. Jacob & Co. Watches, Inc., No. 15 CIV. 3611 (PAC), 2017 WL 1208596 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 31, 2017), the court held, inter alia, that plaintiff – an African American man who held the title of Director of Security for Jacob & Co. – plausibly alleged discrimination, hostile work environment, and retaliation claims under federal, state, and city law.[1]While I don’t discuss them here, the court also addressed issues of insufficient service of process, administrative exhaustion at the EEOC, and the “joint employment” doctrine.

As to plaintiff’s discriminatory termination claim, the court explained:

A Title VII employment discrimination claim is analyzed under the multi-stage, burden-shifting framework adopted in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). Under the McDonnell Douglas framework, the plaintiff must initially establish a prima facie case of discrimination by showing that (1) [he] is a member of a protected class; (2) [he] is qualified for [his] position; (3) [he] suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) the circumstances giving rise to an inference of discrimination. At the pleadings stage, however, a plaintiff is not required to plead a prima facie case of discrimination as contemplated by the McDonnell Douglas framework. Instead, absent direct evidence of discrimination, what must be plausibly supported by facts alleged in the complaint is that the plaintiff is a member of a protected class, was qualified, suffered an adverse employment action, and has at least minimal support for the proposition that the employer was motivated by discriminatory intent. … To satisfy the “minimal burden of showing facts suggesting an inference of discriminatory motivation, see Littlejohn, 795 F.3d at 311, a plaintiff must “allege two elements: (1) the employer discriminated against him (2) because of his race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” Vega, 801 F.3d at 85. “Nevertheless ‘a discrimination complaint … must … at a minimum assert nonconclusory factual matter sufficient to nudge its claims across the line from conceivable to plausible to proceed. … An inference of discrimination can arise from circumstances including … [the employer’s] invidious comments about others in the employee’s protected group,” the court held that .

The court held that plaintiff’s allegation that defendant’s employees statement (while referring to a dark-skinned black employee) that they “should not have monkeys up front” was sufficient to satisfy plaintiff’s “minimal burden of showing facts suggesting an inference of discriminatory motivation.”

In finding that plaintiff sufficiently alleged a hostile work environment claim under the New York State Human Rights Law and 42 U.S.C. 1981, the court explained:

Green alleges that there were “multiple comments” about employees “not ‘fitting the image of the store’ or referring to them as ‘monkeys,’ ” and provides the specifics for one occasion where he allegedly heard Arabo’s sister and wife discussing Dillard, and saying they “should not have monkeys up front.” Because the term “monkey” is a particularly demeaning and offensive slur, and because the term was allegedly repeated multiple times, the Court concludes that Green has plausibly alleged a hostile work environment claim under the NYSHRL and § 1981.

Plaintiff also plausibly alleged retaliation under federal and state law:

Green alleges that when Arabo directed him to terminate two employees, he objected that the terminations were improperly racially motivated and explained the reasons for his conclusion. He also alleges that Arabo directed Green’s termination at least within a month of raising objections to Arabo, and within several days of raising objections to Vadim [Jacob & Co’s general manager]. Green has therefore plausibly alleged retaliation.

Because plaintiff stated discrimination, hostile work environment, and retaliation under federal and state law, he necessarily stated those claims under the comparatively broader NYC Human Rights Law.

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1. While I don’t discuss them here, the court also addressed issues of insufficient service of process, administrative exhaustion at the EEOC, and the “joint employment” doctrine.

Categories: EEOC Practice, Employment Discrimination, Employment Law, Hostile Work Environment, Pleading, Retaliation

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