Federal Judge Denies “Patently Meritless Motion” to Dismiss Discrimination, Hostile Work Environment, and Retaliation Claims

In Muktadir v. Bevacco Inc., the Eastern District of New York recently denied defendants’ motion to dismiss in its entirety, holding that the plaintiff’ (who is represented by my colleague Bryan Arce) “easily satisf[ied]” the pleading standard for his race discrimination, national origin discrimination, religious discrimination, hostile work environment, retaliation, and individual liability claims.

As to the merits, therefore, this is an all-around win for the plaintiff (at least at the pleading stage).  But the real gem of this decision is its footnote 2:

Defendants are put on notice that subsequent patently meritless motions may subject them to Rule 11 sanctions.

It is refreshing to see a proactive judicial response to “patently meritless [defense] motions”, which invariably add to and compound the already-difficult uphill challenge faced by employment discrimination plaintiffs.

The court summarized plaintiff’s allegations as follows:

Muktadir alleges that he was discriminated against because he is Bangladeshi, which resulted in undesirable shift changes, reduced wages, and wrongful termination. … [H]e alleges that shortly after he started working as a food runner at Bevacco, his managers and co-workers began making daily comments calling him a “fucking Bangladeshi guy,” “smelly Bangladeshi bum,” “smelly bum from the jungle,” “fucking Bangladeshi,” and “jungle putana [a term that “roughly translates” to “prostitute”, “slut”, or “whore”].” They also sniffed him whenever he passed by, made retching noises, and asked aloud “How will people be able to eat when they smell this guy?” “Does he take a shower?” Muktadir complained to [defendant] Sclafani about this conduct, but he failed to respond or take steps to prevent and/or remedy the situation. Instead, Muktadir alleges, after he filed the first of five letter complaints, defendants changed his schedule to less busy shifts, reduced his tip earnings, issued him multiple Notices of Disciplinary Action (“NDAs”) falsely charging him with “disrupting … management … and [other] employees,” and terminated him.

Plaintiff also met his pleading burden regarding his religious discrimination (failure to accommodate) claims:

According to the terms of their employment, Bevacco provided its workers with an employee meal during their shifts. Muktadir states that he specifically informed defendants and Bevacco’s managers that he was a practicing Muslim and could not consume pork or items that had come into contact with pork. However, defendants refused to serve him employee meals conforming to his religious restrictions, and instead purposely provided him only with meals containing pork or meat that had been stored with pork. They likewise refused Muktadir’s repeated requests to either cook his own food or consume non Bevacco food obtained from outside the restaurant. Muktadir alleges that his non-compliance with defendants’ employee meal requirements resulted in undesirable changes to his schedule, a reduction in pay, and termination.

Plaintiff also adequately alleged a hostile work environment:

Muktadir’s hostile work environment claims are supported by the insulting remarks about his Bangladeshi descent, made on a daily basis by various Bevacco managers and co-workers. He asserts that these insults were accompanied by offensive physical actions including sniffing him and commenting that he smelled so that bad customers in the restaurant would be unable to eat. Muktadir also alleges that defendants created a hostile environment because of their conduct during employee meals, including making a point of serving him only pork-based foods and prohibiting him from preparing his own food or obtaining outside food. As previously discussed, he contends that despite defendants’ express knowledge of his Muslim dietary restrictions, he was required to choose between eating non-conforming foods or nothing at all.

Muktadir personally perceived the resulting environment as abusive, and the cumulative effect of his managers’ and co-workers’ comments and actions likewise created an objectively hostile work environment. Because a number of the individuals who engaged in this conduct maintained a supervisory position over Muktadir, such conduct may be properly imputed to defendants. Alternatively, Muktadir appropriately alleges that defendants knew of the harassment but took no action.

Likewise with respect to plaintiff’s retaliation claim:

For retaliation, a plaintiff must show: (1) that he participated in a protected activity known to defendants; (2) that he suffered an adverse employment action; and (3) that there was a causal connection between his engaging in the protected activity and the adverse employment action.

Muktadir’s allegations satisfy the first element, as he filed numerous internal complaints with Sclafani as well as an external charge of discrimination with the EEOC. Muktadir also meets the second element, alleging that he suffered from undesirable changes to his work schedule, reduced pay, issuance of non-meritorious NDAs, and termination. Finally, Muktadir establishes a causal connection by alleging that these adverse employment actions closely followed his internal and external complaints. Muktadir’s reduction in wages and receipt of the first NDA occurred less than a month after he filed both the EEOC charge and the second internal complaint; the shift change took place within weeks of his filing the third internal complaint; he received the second NDA two weeks after the fourth internal complaint; and he was terminated less than three months after filing the fifth and final internal complaint.

Finally, plaintiff sufficiently alleged that defendant Sclafani was individually liable under Title VII, Section 1981, the New York State Human Rights Law, and the New York City Human Rights Law:

Muktadir’s allegations are also sufficient to cast individual liability on Sclafani. The amended complaint clearly states that Sclafani is Bevacco’s owner, thus making him an “employer” for Title VII purposes. Muktadir further alleges that Sclafani directly participated in the discrimination and retaliation, and that he had supervisory control over Bevacco’s employees, knew of their offensive conduct, and failed to take appropriate action. Accordingly, Muktadir has sufficiently alleged that Sclafani had the type of “personal involvement” required for individual liability under § 1981 and the NYSHRL and NYCHRL.

The court therefore held that “[b]ecause Muktadir’s discrimination, hostile work environment, and retaliation claims withstand Rule 12(b)(6) scrutiny, defendants’ motion to dismiss the NYCHRL § 8–107(13) employer liability claim is denied.”

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