Replacement By Men, Sexist Comments, Etc. Among Facts That Plausibly Alleged Gender Discrimination

In Conforti v. Sunbelt Rentals, Inc., No. 15-cv-5045, 2016 WL 4288699 (E.D.N.Y. Aug. 15, 2016), the court held  that the Plaintiff “satisfied the minimal showing required at this motion to dismiss stage to plausibly allege that the Defendant’s decision to terminate her employment … was motivated at least in part by a discriminatory reason.”

Judge Spatt wrote:

[W]hen pieced together … the allegations in the PAC [proposed amended complaint] create a “mosaic” of facts, which if true, give rise to a plausible inference that the Defendants were motivated by gender bias. …

In particular, the PAC alleges that from May to June 2014, four of the six female employees working within PC 104, the Plaintiff’s department, were terminated and replaced with men, at least one of whom, Joesph Domaratius, had less seniority and was paid less than Rosemary Maiello, the woman who he replaced. Furthermore, allegedly no men were fired during this same period. Subsequently, on June 20, 2014, Mike French informed the Plaintiff that her employment would be terminated, effective July 18, 2014. Thus, from May 2014 to June 2014, Defendants allegedly terminated five of the six women in the Plaintiff’s department and none of the men in that department.

The Second Circuit has stated that [t]he fact that a plaintiff was replaced by someone outside the protected class will ordinarily suffice for the required inference of discrimination at the initial prima facie stage of the Title VII analysis, including at the pleading stage. Thus, by themselves, these allegations could give rise an inference that the Plaintiff’s termination was motivated by gender bias. …

In addition, the PAC alleges that in May 2014, the Plaintiff met with Mike French and Patrick French, and during the meeting, they told the Plaintiff that the position of Assistant Manager was too powerful for women and suggested that she step down to an administrative position. In response to complaint from the Plaintiff about the meeting, Kyle Horgan allegedly told the Plaintiff that she was “being too aggressive and overacting” and suggested that the Plaintiff “should assume the submissive role expected of females and play nicely within the boys’ club.” Further, during a trade show at some point prior to her termination, Mike French allegedly told the Plaintiff that he was “disgust[ed] with the idea that one of [Sunbelt’s] clients could have a female top executive running the company.”

Thus, according to the PAC, in the weeks prior to June 20, 2014, when the Defendants gave the Plaintiff notice of her termination, at least three of the four executives at Sunbelt and On Site who were allegedly involved in the decision to terminate the Plaintiff’s employment, made comments to the Plaintiff that overtly suggested that they were biased against female employees. Here too, standing alone, courts have found these types of allegations sufficient to satisfy the minimal pleading burden for discrimination claims at the motion to dismiss stage. …

Clearly, then, when viewed together, the Plaintiff’s allegations of Sunbelt’s alleged disparate treatment of female employees in PC 104, and of the discriminatory comments made by three of the Plaintiff’s supervisors close-in-time to her termination, give rise to a plausible inference of gender discrimination on the part of the Corporate Defendants.

The court rejected defendants’ argument that, for example, plaintiff merely relied on her “subjective interpretations” of the defendants’ comments, noting that “[t]he comments by the Plaintiffs’ supervisors prior to her termination, objectively suggest gender bias because they explicitly refer to the supposed beliefs of Mike French, Patrick French, and Kyle Horgan that female employees were not qualified to be management employees because of their gender.”

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