Complaint About “You’re So Street” Comment Was Not “Protected Activity”; Retaliation Claim Properly Dismissed

In Sosa v. Local Staff LLC (14-3704-cv), a Summary Order issued by the Second Circuit on Oct. 9, 2015, the court discussed what constitutes “protected activity” for purposes of asserting a retaliation claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the NYC Human Rights Law (NYCHRL).

In this employment discrimination case, plaintiff asserted claims of race discrimination, hostile work environment, and retaliation. This appeal concerns plaintiff’s internal complaint regarding a comment made by his supervisor in which she told plaintiff “You’re so street.” The Second Circuit agreed with the district court that his complaints did not constitute “protected activity” necessary to his retaliation claims.

As to his Title VII retaliation claim, the court explained:

To bring a Title VII retaliation claim based on a complaint of unlawful activity, a plaintiff must demonstrate a good faith, reasonable belief that the underlying challenged actions of the employer violated the law. The objective reasonableness of an employee’s belief that the employer has violated Title VII must be measured against existing substantive law, because a failure to do so would eviscerate the objective component of our reasonableness inquiry. Because [plaintiff’s supervisor]’s comment to [plaintiff] was at worst an isolated incident that cannot remotely be considered extremely serious, as Title VII requires, [plaintiff]’s belief that it was unlawful was not objectively reasonable. (Emphasis added.)

The court also concluded that plaintiff could not establish a retaliation claim under the NYCHRL, and agreed with the district court that the comment in question was “nothing more than what a reasonable victim of discrimination would consider petty slights and trivial inconveniences.”

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