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Retaliation Claim Proceeds Based on Temporal Proximity Between Lawyer’s Demand Letter and Adverse Action

by mjpospis on May 18, 2017

in Employment Discrimination, Employment Law, National Origin Discrimination, Retaliation

In Hruska v. Bohemian Citizens’ Benevolent Socy. of Astoria, Inc., 2017 NY Slip Op 30423(U) (NY Sup. Ct. NY Cty. 158593/2014 March 2, 2017) – a national origin discrimination and retaliation case – the court granted plaintiff’s motion for leave to reargue (under CPLR 2221(d)(2)) the court dismissal of plaintiff’s retaliation claim under the New York State and City Human Rights Laws.

Plaintiff (a Czech man) worked as a maintenance employee for defendant, an organization that promotes Czech and Slovak culture. At one point, plaintiff’s counsel sent a letter to defendant’s president stating that plaintiff had retained her to represent him with respect to his claims of employment discrimination, harassment and retaliation based on his national origin. Approximately 7 days later, defendant terminated plaintiff. Plaintiff sued.

The court initially dismissed plaintiff’s retaliatory discharge claim, holding “that, although plaintiff had established a prima facie case for retaliation based on the termination of his employment, defendant had articulated legitimate, non-retaliatory reasons for its decision to terminate plaintiff’s employment”.

Plaintiff moved to reargue the court’s decision under CPLR 2221(d)(2), on the ground that the court overlooked or misapprehended matters of fact or law. The court agreed.

From the decision:

[P]laintiff has established that he is entitled to reargument of the court’s prior decision as he has shown that the court overlooked or misapprehended matters of fact or law. Specifically, the court finds that it failed to properly consider whether the strong temporal correlation between plaintiff’s protected activity, namely plaintiff’s counsel’s letter informing defendant that plaintiff would be bringing claims for discrimination, harassment and retaliation, and defendant’s adverse action, namely the termination of plaintiff’s employment, is sufficient to raise an issue of fact as to whether the reasons put forth by defendant for the termination of plaintiff’s employment were merely a pretext.

Upon reargument, the court finds that its determination that defendant was entitled to summary judgment dismissing plaintiff’s causes of action for retaliation based on the termination of his employment was erroneous as the strong temporal correlation between the protected activity and the adverse action raises an issue of fact as to whether the reasons put forth by defendant for the termination of plaintiff’s employment were merely a pretext. On a motion for summary judgment to dismiss a complaint alleging retaliation, the court is required to conduct a specific burden shifting analysis. To make out a prima facie case of retaliation under the NYSHRL or NYCHRL, the plaintiff must show that (1) he engaged in a “protected activity” known to defendant, (2) defendant took an adverse employment action and (3) there is a causal connection between the protected activity and the adverse employment action. If the plaintiff makes out a prima face case of retaliation, the burden then shifts to defendant to show that it had legitimate, non-retaliatory reasons for the adverse employment action. The burden then shifts back to the plaintiff to show that the non-retaliatory reasons were merely a pretext. A “strong temporal correlation” between the plaintiff’s protected activity and the defendant’s adverse employment action alone is sufficient to raise an issue of fact as to whether the employer’s non-retaliatory reasons for the adverse action were merely a pretext. …

In the present case[], the court finds that the strong temporal correlation between the protected activity and the adverse action raises an issue of fact as to whether the non-retaliatory reasons for the termination put forth by defendant were merely a pretext. Defendant terminated plaintiff’s employment only one week after plaintiff’s counsel sent defendant a letter regarding plaintiff’s intention to bring discrimination, harassment and retaliation claims, which the court finds to be a strong temporal correlation.

Accordingly, plaintiff’s motion for leave to reargue the portion of the court’s prior decision dismissing plaintiff’s causes of action for retaliation in violation of the New York State Human Rights Law and the New York City Human Rights Law based on defendant’s termination of plaintiff’s employment is granted. Upon reargument, the court denies defendant’s prior cross-motion for summary judgment dismissing plaintiff’s causes of action for retaliation based on defendant’s termination of plaintiff’s employment and hereby reinstates these causes of action.

Categories: Employment Discrimination, Employment Law, National Origin Discrimination, Retaliation

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