Court Dismisses Contract Law Firm Partner’s Religious & Age Discrimination Claims

In Jacobs v. Tannenbaum Helpern Syracuse & Hirschrit, 15-cv-10100, 2017 WL 432803 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 30, 2017), the court dismissed plaintiff’s employment discrimination action.

Plaintiff, a 72 year-old Episcopalian contract law partner, alleged that he was treated unfairly (i.e. subject to unlawful discrimination) based on his religion (under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964) and age (under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967).

Beginning with plaintiff’s Title VII claim, the court summarized the legal framework:

A plaintiff asserting a Title VII discrimination claim must allege two elements: (1) the employer discriminated against him (2) because of his race, color religion, sex, or national origin. The first prong requires the plaintiff to show an adverse employment action, which includes any materially adverse change in the terms and conditions of employment. To satisfy the second element, the plaintiff must allege that the adverse employment action was a substantial or motivating factor contributing to the employer’s decision to take the action.

While the court found that the defendant’s refusal to give him origination credit he otherwise deserved met the first prong, plaintiff “pleads no facts suggesting that his religion was a motivating factor behind any of the Firm’s actions.”

Plaintiff alleged:

On information and belief, I believe that was because I was not Jewish and [the Firm’s managing partner took the origination even though I had to convince [the client] to use me and I personally did all the work. … In addition to age discrimination the firm is Jewish and I am Episcopalian. So there may be religious discrimination involved here too. He refused to give me origination credit. On information and belief it was certainly age discrimination and perhaps religious discrimination too. … In addition to age discrimination the firm is Jewish and I am Episcopalian.

Applying the law, the court held that “[t]hese allegations are plainly (at times literally) speculative” and that “[m]erely attaching the phrase ‘on information and belief’ and pointing out that he is Episcopalian is insufficient to nudge[ ] the[ ] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible.”

The court likewise dismissed plaintiff’s age discrimination claim. Unlike under Title VII, in order to plead a claim under the ADEA, a plaintiff “must prove by a preponderance of the evidence (which may be direct or circumstantial), that age was the but-for’ cause of the challenged employer decision.”

Plaintiff could did not do so:

Here, not only does the Complaint fail to allege that Jacobs’ age was the “but-for” cause of the Firm’s alleged discriminatory actions, but it also suggests alternative nondiscriminatory reasons. In the midst of discussing the unfair allocation of fees between Jacobs and the Firm, the Complaint notes that “[a]ttorneys with the firm longer were given preference over newer attorneys of which [Jacobs] was one.” (Compl. ¶ 8.) Thus it is possible that the Firm’s treatment of Jacobs was a result of his lack of tenure rather than his advanced age. In sum, Jacobs’ age-discrimination allegations are entirely conclusory and are not supported by any factual substantiation.