“You People” Remark Insufficient to Support Race Discrimination Claim

In Atkins v. Pitney Bowes Management Services et al., decided Jan. 12, 2015, Southern District of New York Judge Koeltl granted defendant’s motion for summary judgment on pro se plaintiff’s Title VII race and religious discrimination and retaliation claims.

The court held that defendants proffered a non-discriminatory reason for plaintiff’s termination – namely, plaintiff’s failure to complete a required training course – and that plaintiff failed to provide “evidence from which a rational jury could find that this reason was false and merely a pretext for discrimination.”

Judge Koeltl was unpersuaded that plaintiff’s evidence of discrimination was enough to carry the day:

As to the racial discrimination claim, the only such evidence identified by Atkins is Medina’s alleged statement that “[y]ou people [are] always looking for somebody to give you something.” Although racially charged remarks can support a claim of discrimination, courts within and outside this Circuit have held that the use of the phrase “you people” is not sufficient to show racial discrimination, without contextual evidence suggesting that the speaker was referring to the plaintiff’s race. Atkins has provided no such evidence.

Whatever the meaning of Medina’s comment, it was unrelated to Atkins’s failure to take the required training, and it was made ten months before Atkins was terminated. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals has explained that the more remote and oblique the remarks are in relation to the employer’s adverse action, the less they prove that the action was motivated by discrimination. The gap between Medina’s remark and Atkins’s termination is too long rebut the defendants’ explanation for firing Atkins. … And no reasonable trier of fact could find that the defendants used the training courses as a pretext to fire Atkins when Medina-among others-asked the plaintiff multiple times to complete the courses.

The court also rejected plaintiff’s disparate treatment claim, noting that plaintiff, who was African American, “failed to show that any non-African Americans were excused from completing the training on account of their race” and that “[e]very active employee at the White and Case New York office-save Atkins-completed the training.”

Plaintiff’s religion-based discrimination claim also failed. Plaintiff alleged that his supervisor engaged in religiously-offensive conduct, such as by stating his belief that Jesus Christ was gay. However, the statement was made over a year before plaintiff was terminated, which, in the court’s view, was too remote to be actionable.


For an example of a case involving the use of the phrase “you people” that came out the other way (i.e., in plaintiff’s favor), see Battle v. Carroll, 11-CV-624S, which I wrote about here.

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