Court Dismisses Disability Discrimination Claim, Rejecting “Smoking Gun” Email

In Casablanca v New York Times Co., 47 Misc 3d 1215(A), 2015 NY Slip Op 50629(U) (N.Y. Sup. Ct. N.Y. Cty. April 17, 2015), the court granted defendant’s motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s employment discrimination claims.

This case underscores the necessity in an employment discrimination case of establishing a link between a protected characteristic and an adverse employment action.

It also illustrates that legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for the alleged adverse action(s), as well as concessions that the employer’s actions were not unlawful, can doom a discrimination case.

After explaining the relevant legal standards, the court held:

Applying these principles to the case at hand, the NY Times is entitled to summary judgment. Plaintiff’s only remaining claim is one for discrimination based on alleged disabilities, however, the record is devoid of any evidence which supports a claim of disability discrimination. Defendant submitted undisputed evidence of nondiscriminatory motivations for its actions, specifically, credible evidence that plaintiff had repeatedly violated one or more of its pressroom policies, including: putting the wrong plate on the press and denying having done so when questioned about the misplate; improperly setting the registration; repeated absences without any notice; reading a newspaper while on duty instead of checking the newspaper and making adjustments; talking on the job instead of working; leaving the work area without obtaining permission first; repeatedly affixing the wrong plate on the press; failing to tighten a bolt on the press; and failing to affix plates to their proper position on the press. Moreover, plaintiff himself admitted at his deposition that all of the disciplinary actions taken against him were either warranted or were taken for some reason other than his alleged disability, as he admittedly never communicated his alleged disabilities to anyone in management at the NY Times.

The court also rejected plaintiff’s reliance on an email – which plaintiff’s counsel described as a “smoking gun” – in which defendant apparently referred to plaintiff as a “cancer” who should be removed from his position, explaining:

By referencing an email, plaintiff attempts to use a mixed- motive analysis to claim that there was an inference of discrimination against him. Counsel suggests that plaintiff was referred to as a cancer that should be eliminated from his position. However, a look at the email, which was set forth in the facts, confirms that this email had nothing to do with plaintiff’s alleged disability but, rather, was referring to plaintiff’s blatant disregard of his supervisor’s instructions. The email was presented by counsel out of context and does not reference any medical conditions. In actuality, the email reaffirms the reasons plaintiff was disciplined; poor job performance and insubordination. The court also notes that plaintiff continues to work for the NY Times.

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