Retaliation Claim Dismissed; Assistance With Another’s Hostile Work Environment Claim Did Not Qualify as “Protected Activity”

In Gonzalez v. NYU Langone Medical Center, No. 156647/2017, 2019 WL 1975543 (N.Y. Sup Ct, New York County Apr. 29, 2019), the court granted defendant’s CPLR 3211(a)(7) motion to dismiss, for failure to state a claim, plaintiff’s retaliation claims under the New York State and City Human Rights Laws.

The court summarized the law as follows:

To make out a prima facie claim of retaliation under both the NYCHRL and NYSHRL, a plaintiff must show that (1) she has engaged in a protected activity, (2) her employer was aware of such activity, (3) she suffered an adverse employment action based upon her activity, and (4) there is a causal connection between the protected activity and the adverse action … . Protected activity is defined as conduct opposing or complaining about unlawful discrimination … . General grievances of harassment or disrespect do not concern unlawful discrimination and are therefore not protected activities[.]

Applying the law – through the lens of the CPLR 3211 dismissal standard – the court held:

[P]laintiff has not sufficiently plead a protected activity. Plaintiff alleges that she served as a translator for her co-worker Aura Troche (Troche) when Troche met with defendant’s Human Resources department to register a hostile work environment complaint. Additionally, plaintiff alleges that she accompanied Troche to meet with an attorney because Troche intended to file a lawsuit against defendant based on those complaints. These allegations do not concern complaints of the plaintiff herself, but rather her assistance of Troche with hers and, therefore, do not constitute a protected activity. Even if they did, plaintiff has not sufficiently alleged that the subject of the complaints concerned an act of discrimination. The letter of complaint submitted to defendant regarding the hostile work environment made no mention of any discrimination based on membership in a statutorily protected class, nor did the meeting[.]

Having concluded that plaintiff did not satisfy the first prong of the retaliation claim – “protected activity” – the court determined that it was not required to reach a determination as to the remaining elements.