Court Dismisses MTA Police Officer’s Gender & National Origin Discrimination Claims as Insufficiently Pleaded

The court in Feliz v. Metropolitan Transportation Authority, 2017 WL 5593517 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 17, 2017) dismissed plaintiff’s employment discrimination (failure-to-promote) case.

In sum, the plaintiff (a Hispanic male Police Officer employed by the MTA Police Department) argued that he applied for, and was denied, an internal promotion as a result of discrimination on the basis of his national origin and gender, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The court gives us a summary of the applicable law:

To survive a motion to dismiss under Title VII, “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.” Littlejohn, 795 F.3d at 311; see also DeVore v. Neighborhood Hous. Servs. of Jamaica Inc., No. 15 Civ. 6218 (PKC), 2017 WL 1034787, at *4 (E.D.N.Y. Mar. 16, 2017) (“At the pleading stage, a plaintiff does not need to prove discrimination, or even allege facts establishing every element of the McDonnell Douglas prima facie case, but the facts alleged must give plausible support to the reduced requirements of the prima facie case.”) (citing Littlejohn, 795 F.3d at 311) (internal quotation marks omitted). Courts making the plausibility determination should do so “mindful of the elusive nature of intentional discrimination” and the frequency by which plaintiffs must “rely on bits and pieces of information to support an inference of discrimination, i.e., a mosaic of intentional discrimination.”

Defendant argued that  (1) Plaintiff has not pled facts sufficient to establish his qualifications and (2) Plaintiff’s allegations do not give rise to a plausible inference of discrimination. While the court agreed with plaintiff on the first issue, it sided with defendant on the second.

The court explained:

In the absence of an express discriminatory statement, a plaintiff may support an inference of discrimination by demonstrating that similarly situated employees outside of plaintiff’s protected class were treated more favorably. Norville v. Staten Island Univ. Hosp., 196 F.3d 89, 95 (2d Cir. 1999). Importantly, “[t]o support such an inference, a complaint ‘must compare’ the plaintiff to employees who are ‘similarly situated in all material respects[.]

Plaintiff did not meet this standard:

Plaintiff does not allege facts sufficient to nudge his discrimination claim over the line from “conceivable” to “plausible.” Marcus v. Leviton Mfg. Co., Inc., 661 Fed.Appx. 29, 32 (2d Cir. 2016). He does not plead “sufficient factual circumstances” regarding his skill or experience as compared to the successful applicants “from which a gender [and national origin] based discrimination can be inferred.

In addition, while plaintiff offered statistical evidence in support of his claims – namely, the relatively small number of Hispanic male detectives in the MTA Police Department and that defendant has not selected a Hispanic male to the position of Detective in several years – this was not enough: “While statistics can be helpful in establishing an inference of discrimination, they do not obviate the requirement that Plaintiff’s complaint allege that he is similarly situated in all material respects to the individuals who were ultimately chosen.”

It concluded:

Taking Plaintiff’s allegations as true as required at this stage of litigation, that he was qualified for the detective position tells us nothing of the other candidates’ relative qualifications. The Court therefore finds that Plaintiff has not pled sufficient facts to support a plausible inference of a discriminatory motive. Although the burden on a plaintiff to show an inference of discrimination is minimal at this stage of litigation, for the aforementioned reasons Plaintiff does not plead sufficient facts to meet even this low burden. Accordingly, Plaintiff’s Title VII claims are dismissed, without prejudice to file an amended complaint addressing these deficiencies.