Gender Discrimination (Termination) and Retaliation Claims Survive Summary Judgment, Continue Against East Hampton Union Free School District

In Lopez v. East Hampton Union Free School District, No. 14-cv-1999, 2017 WL 2242874 (E.D.N.Y. May 20, 2017), the court, inter alia, denied defendant school district’s motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s claims of gender discrimination and retaliation.

As to her gender discrimination claim, the court held:

Defendant has not met its burden in demonstrating that no issue of material fact exists as to whether the Plaintiff was terminated under circumstances giving rise to an inference of discrimination. As stated above, a plaintiff can show that a termination occurred under circumstances giving rose to an inference of discrimination by showing that similarly situated individuals outside of the plaintiff’s protected class were treated differently. There is evidence that male custodians were not terminated. There are no facts before the Court as to whether these male custodians were similarly situated. Although it is the Plaintiff’s burden to prove a prima facie case, it is the Defendant’s burden here to show that there is no issue of material fact as to whether they were similarly situated. As the Court cannot say that there is no issue of material fact, the Court denies the Defendant’s motion on that basis.

The Defendant argues that the gender discrimination allegations should be disregarded nevertheless because the District had legitimate non-discriminatory reasons for terminating the Plaintiff—namely, that the Dist[]rict had to make up for a budget shortfall. Assuming that the District had to make up the difference in the budget shortfall, the Court is unable to conduct any analysis about the terminations. The Defendant does not provide evidence as to how many custodians had been on the staff prior to the reduction in force; how many were terminated; and whether those who were terminated were similarly situated in all material aspects.

Accordingly, the Defendant’s motion for summary judgment on the Plaintiff’s gender discrimination claim as it relates to her termination is denied.

The court also denied defendant’s motion on plaintiff’s retaliation claim, pointing to direct evidence of retaliation:

[T]he Defendant ignores direct proof of retaliatory animus. After the Plaintiff was terminated, the District sent a letter to the New York EEOC office stating that the Plaintiff could return to the District in a full-time position if she withdrew her EEOC complaint. While the letter did not make it an explicit requirement, it did say that if the Plaintiff received a job, the District expected that the EEOC complaint would be withdrawn. Conversely, the letter stated that if the resolution was not satisfactory to the Plaintiff, “the pending matter will, of course, survive.” In the Court’s view, this communicated to the Plaintiff and any other employees seeking to file EEOC complaints that filing such complaints would jeopardize their positions, and withdrawing such complaints would be rewarded. The Court finds that this is sufficient evidence of retaliation for a jury to consider. The fact that the Plaintiff received a job after she filed her EEOC complaint does not defeat the Plaintiff’s Title VII retaliation claim as a matter of law. The fact that the District fired her and then offered her a new job with the expectation that the complaint would be withdrawn makes this an unclear issue.

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