Court Dismisses Race Discrimination, Hostile Work Environment Claims Against Zara

In Brailsford v. Zara USA, Inc., No. 14 CIV. 6999 (LGS), 2016 WL 626560 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 16, 2016), the court granted defendant’s motion for summary judgment dismissing plaintiff’s employment (race) discrimination claims, asserted under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, against Zara.

In sum, plaintiff alleges that while working at Zara’s Soho store, his supervisor discriminated against him in favor of employees who were non-African American and of Hispanic descent.

As to plaintiff’s membership in a protected class, the court noted

Plaintiff is a member of a protected class as an African American, but not as a non-Spanish speaker. Plaintiff alleges that he was discriminated against because he does not speak Spanish. However, [l]anguage, by itself, does not identify members of a suspect class.

In addition, plaintiff failed to demonstrate the existence of an adverse employment action. “To qualify as an adverse employment action, the employer’s action toward the plaintiff must be materially adverse with respect to the terms and conditions of employment [and] must be more disruptive than a mere inconvenience or an alteration of job responsibilities.”

Applying the law to the facts, the court held:

Here, Plaintiff did not experience any qualifying adverse employment actions. In his 56.1 statement, he lists as adverse employment actions that his manager (1) conducted meetings exclusively in Spanish; (2) excluded him from obligatory meetings by assigning him menial tasks during the meetings; (3) had a sales associate give him directions instead of the manager herself; (4) assigned Plaintiff duties that alienated him from his co-workers and subordinates; (5) assigned Plaintiff less favorable tasks and shifts, with less assistance, than his colleagues, and that he was left to finish the work of his Hispanic counterparts; (6) disproportionately disciplined and criticized Plaintiff compared to Medina and Rodriguez; and (7) falsely verbally accused Plaintiff of having performance deficiencies, specifically that his leadership and organization skills were deficient and that he did not process shipments correctly. While these actions by Porras might be considered exclusionary and rude, none of them resulted in a materially adverse change with respect to Plaintiff’s terms or conditions of employment.

The court also dismissed plaintiff’s claims of a racially hostile work environment, finding that “Defendant’s conduct does not rise to a level where the workplace can be considered to be so severely permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult that the terms and conditions of [Plaintiff’s] employment were thereby altered.”

It reasoned:

The bulk of Plaintiff’s complaints amount to feeling excluded by his colleagues and demeaned by his supervisor because he did not speak Spanish. Two employees made discriminatory comments to Plaintiff — a sales associate told Plaintiff that “Zara is a Spanish-owned company so you should learn Spanish,” and Plaintiff’s co-supervisor once jokingly referred to Plaintiff as an “800” which is the stockroom color code for “black.” These two isolated comments are “stray” remarks and do not show that Defendant Zara was motivated by discrimination.