Go West, Ms. Plaintiff: Manhattan Federal Court Explains Decision to Transfer Discrimination Case to the Western District of New York

In Fullwood v. SDH Servs. W., LLC, No. 16-CV-1 (RA), 2016 WL 3951186 (S.D.N.Y. July 20, 2016), an employment discrimination/hostile work environment/sexual harassment case, the court granted defendants’ motion to change venue from the Southern District of New York to the Western District of New York.

In this case, plaintiff

contends that over the course of her employment, she was subjected to a hostile work environment, racial discrimination, sexual harassment, retaliation, and constructive discharge because of her race (African American) and gender (female). Among other things, Plaintiff alleges that on various occasions her supervisors inappropriately touched her, called her derogatory names, threatened her, complained that she was “too [b]lack,” and physically abused her. Plaintiff also alleges that after she lodged formal complaints of racial discrimination and sexual harassment, she was wrongfully suspended for approximately two months. Plaintiff contends that “[a]round August 14, 2015,” Defendants constructively discharged her “by making her conditions at work so unbearable that no woman in [her] shoes should be expected to tolerate” them.

Plaintiff resides in the state of North Carolina, and performed all work for defendants in Buffalo, New York.

As to her Title VII claims, the court cited and applied Title VII’s venue provision, codified at 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(3). That statute provides that Title VII claims may be brought

[1] in any judicial district in the State in which the unlawful employment practice is alleged to have been committed, [2] in the judicial district in which the employment records relevant to such practice are maintained and administered, or [3] in the judicial district in which the aggrieved person would have worked but for the alleged unlawful employment practice.

Applying the law, the court concluded:

Based on this clear language, the Southern District of New York is an improper venue for Plaintiff’s Title VII claims. First, the allegedly unlawful employment practices were not committed in this district. All of the alleged acts of employment discrimination occurred in Buffalo, which is in the Western District of New York. Second, it is undisputed that the employment records relevant to this action are also in Buffalo. … Third, this is not the district in which Plaintiff would have been working but for the allegedly unlawful employment practices given that she was hired to work at [Defendants’] facility at the University of Buffalo.

The court then turned to plaintiff’s non-Title VII claims (those brought under 42 USC § 1981 and the NYS Human Rights Law), and analyzed defendants’ motion to change venue under the federal transfer rule, 28 USC § 1404(a).

That rule provides that “[f]or the convenience of parties and witnesses, in the interest of justice, a district court may transfer any civil action to any other district or division where it might have been brought or to any district or division to which all parties have consented.”

Courts consider the following factors when determining whether transfer is in the interest of justice and convenience of the parties and witnesses:

(1) the plaintiff’s choice of forum, (2) the convenience of witnesses, (3) the location of relevant documents and relative ease of access to sources of proof, (4) the convenience of parties, (5) the locus of operative facts, (6) the availability of process to compel the attendance of unwilling witnesses, and (7) the relative means of the parties.

Upon considering these factors, the court held that “the convenience of witnesses and locus of operative facts decidedly support transfer, whereas the factor most strongly supporting litigation in this district—Plaintiff’s choice of forum—is entitled to little weight in these circumstances.”

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