2d Circuit Vacates Title VII Race Discrimination Claim Dismissal

In Carris v. First Student, Inc., 15-3350 (2d Cir. March 8, 2017) (summary order), the Second Circuit vacated the dismissal of plaintiff’s Title VII race discrimination claim.

The law:

To survive a motion to dismiss, a Title VII plaintiff does not have to plead a full prima facie case pursuant to the first stage of the burden-shifting framework outlined in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973); she need only give plausible support to a minimal inference of discriminatory motivation. To support a minimal inference of discrimination, a plaintiff may allege disparate treatment by showing the more favorable treatment of employees not in the protected group, who are similarly situated in all material respects. Whether the plaintiff and these comparator employees are similarly situated in all material respects will vary from case to case, and while [t]he plaintiff’s and comparator’s circumstances must bear a reasonably close resemblance, they need not be identical. For a disparate treatment claim based on an employer’s imposition of lighter discipline for comparators’ misconduct, the determination whether the comparators’ offenses were of comparable seriousness requires – in addition to an examination of the acts – an examination of the context and surrounding circumstances in which those acts are evaluated. Ordinarily, [w]hether two employees are similarly situated … presents a question of fact, rather than a legal question to be resolved on a motion to dismiss.

Applying the law, the court held that plaintiff sufficiently alleged discrimination:

Here, Carris alleged facts that plausibly gave rise to an inference of discrimination: she claimed that she was terminated for violating a company policy concerning student confidentiality although three white bus drivers, who violated policies concerning student safety, were only placed on administrative leave. See Compl. ¶¶ 14-16. Depending on the results of discovery, “an examination of the context and surrounding circumstances in which [the employees’] acts are evaluated,” Graham, 230 F.3d at 40, could reasonably yield the conclusion that the three comparator bus drivers’ violations were comparably serious to that of Carris. See Graham, 230 F.3d at 39-40; see also Brown, 756 F.3d at 230-31. The comparators’ conduct, based on the allegations of the complaint, appeared to jeopardize student safety. Two of the white bus drivers left sleeping children on buses, and one of these drivers, upon realizing that the children were still on the bus, “rushed back into the driver seat and proceeded to exit the yard without reporting it to safety.” Compl. ¶¶ 15-16. The other comparator bus driver deposited a kindergarten student at an unauthorized stop in the dark, leaving the child at least six minutes away by foot from his home. See id. ¶ 14. According to the complaint, Carris’s violation of company policy arose when she visited a student’s home after the student hit and spit on other students on the bus, causing chaos while Carris was driving. See id. ¶¶ 11-12. Although Carris’s conduct was intentional rather than
negligent, this factor alone may not warrant the finding that the comparators were not similarly situated. Further factual development is needed to aid in the determination of whether Carris was similarly situated to white comparators who received more lenient punishments than she did. Consequently, we find that Carris has pleaded facts that give “plausible support to a minimal inference of discriminatory motivation,” Vega, 801 F.3d at 84 (citing Littlejohn, 795 F.3d at 311), and we decline to affirm the dismissal of Carris’s Title VII claim.

The court did, however, affirm the lower court’s dismissal of plaintiff’s New York State Human Rights Law claim on the ground of election of remedies, since plaintiff filed a complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights, which it dismissed for lack of probable cause. “A plaintiff cannot bring a claim in federal court under N.Y. Exec. Law § 296 if she has already pursued that claim with the New York State Division of Human Rights.”

Share This: