Citing the “Stray Remarks” Doctrine, Court Dismisses Plaintiff’s Age and Race Discrimination Claims

In Martin v. City University of New York, 2018 WL 6510805 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 11, 2018), the court, inter alia, dismissed plaintiff’s age and race discrimination claims. In doing so, the court cited and applied the so-called “stray remarks” doctrine.

In support of the “inference of discrimination” element of plaintiff’s prima facie case, plaintiff advanced the following four remarks that were allegedly related to his race or age:

(i) In September 2014, Mr. Bowen told Plaintiff, “I will destroy you. You took my job.” (Am. Compl. ¶ 6). He often said to Plaintiff, “the only reason you got the job is because you are white.” (Id.).

(ii) In September 2014, Director Contreras, Mr. Bowen, and Mr. Caze often said, “those Irish guys are always up to something.” (Am. Compl. ¶ 6).

(iii) In December 2014, Mr. Bowen told Plaintiff that the KCC program would be better off with an all-black crew. (Am. Compl. ¶ 8).

(iv) In August 2015, in response to Plaintiff presenting at a graduation ceremony, Mr. Caze told Plaintiff, “Don’t worry, we will tell them you are just old and forgot.”

Here is the relevant law, as summarized by the court (paragraphing modified):

As a general matter, verbal comments may raise an inference of discrimination, but not where they lack a causal nexus to the termination decision.” Luka v. Bard Coll., 263 F. Supp. 3d 478, 487 (S.D.N.Y. 2017) (internal quotation omitted). The Second Circuit has established a four-factor test to determine whether alleged offensive remarks suggest discriminatory bias or are merely “stray remarks,” the latter of which generally “do not constitute sufficient evidence to support a case of employment discrimination.” Danzer v. Norden Sys., Inc., 151 F.3d 50, 56 (2d Cir. 1998). The test considers: [i] who made the remark (i.e., a decision-maker, a supervisor, or a low-level co-worker); [ii] when the remark was made in relation to the employment decision at issue; [iii] the content of the remark (i.e., whether a reasonable juror could view the remark as discriminatory); and [iv] the context in which the remark was made (i.e., whether it was related to the decision-making process).

Applying these factors, the court identified “at least three problems with relying on these remarks to support Plaintiff’s race and age discrimination claims.”