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Race Discrimination Plausibly Alleged Against Winthrop University Hospital; Complaint Referred to Use of the Word “Nigger” and “Coded” Racial Language

by mjpospis on June 14, 2017

in Employment Discrimination, Employment Law, Hostile Work Environment, Pleading, Race/Color Discrimination, Retaliation

In Wooding v. Winthrop University Hospital et al, No. 16-cv-4477, 2017 WL 2559942 (E.D.N.Y. June 12, 2017) (J. Spatt), the court granted in part and denied in part defendants’ motion to dismiss plaintiff’s claims under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).

It held that plaintiff plausibly alleged various claims, including race discrimination, retaliation, and hostile work environment claims pursuant to Section 1981, Title VII, and the NYSHRL against the hospital; the NYLL section 740 and 741 retaliation claims against the hospital; and the discrimination and hostile work environment claims pursuant to Section 1981 and the NYSHRL against three individual defendants.

In this post I will address the court’s evaluation of plaintiff’s race discrimination claims.

As to those claims, this decision is instructive because it concerns the use of not only the word “nigger” – which clearly and directly evidences racial animus – but also so-called “coded” racist language.

From the decision:

[T]he Plaintiff’s allegations regarding the Defendants’ alleged invidious comments about the Plaintiff’s race and/or color are sufficient to withstand the Plaintiff’s motion to dismiss the Title VII discrimination claim against Winthrop. [N]o single act can more quickly alter the conditions of employment and create an abusive working environment than the use of an unambiguously racial epithet such as ‘nigger’ by a supervisor in the presence of subordinates. []

While the Defendants urge the Court to disregard the Plaintiff’s allegations that his superiors used the word “nigger” to refer to him because the allegations are hearsay, the Court cannot do that. The Court does not consider whether the Plaintiff’s allegations are admissible at this juncture; it instead must accept them as true. [] While the Defendants are correct that mere allegations based on hearsay alone would not withstand a motion for summary judgment, … the same is not true here.

Similarly, the Plaintiff alleges that three of the individual Defendants, in refusing to listen to the Plaintiff’s complaints and disciplining him, used code words for racial discrimination in saying that he was “disrespectful” and “overbearing.” While these words are typically used in an innocent fashion, certain facially non-discriminatory terms can invoke racist concepts that are already planted in the public consciousness. [] Whether remarks by defendants or [other] employees support an inference of discrimination depends, however, on the context in which they were made and whether, fairly considered, they themselves reveal discrimination or tend [ ] to show that the decision-maker was motivated by assumptions or attitudes relating to the protected class.

The court concluded that “[i]t is plausible that a reasonable juror could find that the individual Defendants were motivated by racial animus when they stated that the Plaintiff was disrespectful and overbearing” and that “[i]t will depend on the context in which the statements were made, which will be revealed in discovery.”

Categories: Employment Discrimination, Employment Law, Hostile Work Environment, Pleading, Race/Color Discrimination, Retaliation

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