FMLA Retaliation Claim, and NYC Human Rights Law Disability Discrimination Claim, Sufficiently Alleged

In Padilla v. Yeshiva Univ., No. 16-4086-CV, 2017 WL 2347567 (2d Cir. June 2, 2017), the Second Circuit vacated the district court’s judgment that plaintiff failed to plausibly allege (1) retaliation under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and (2) disability discrimination under the New York City Human Rights Law.

Initially, the court summarized the relevant pleading standards:

To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). A claim has “facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937. In particular, a plaintiff alleging retaliation or discrimination does not need to state a prima facie case to survive a motion to dismiss so long as they plausibly allege facts that give rise to an inference of retaliation or discrimination.

Applying the law to the facts, the court explained:

First, we hold that the district court erred in concluding that Plaintiffs failed to plausibly allege a claim for retaliation under the FMLA. Specifically, the district court held that they provide insufficient evidence of a link between their FMLA leave and their termination. We hold that at the pleading stage the inconsistent explanations for their termination, together with the other allegations in the complaint, including as to the timing and sequence of events and purported hostility with respect to Plaintiffs’ prior exercise of FMLA rights, are enough to support an inference of retaliation. Since “a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations,” a plaintiff need only allege enough facts “to raise a right to relief above the speculative level” and “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Starr v. Sony BMG Music Entm’t, 592 F.3d 314, 321 (2d Cir. 2010) (internal quotation marks omitted). While it is noteworthy, as the district court noted, that the Plaintiffs previously applied for FMLA leave without any adverse consequences, that fact does not defeat the plausibility of Plaintiffs’ claim. Accordingly, the district court erred in holding that Plaintiffs failed to plausibly state a claim for retaliation under the FMLA.

Second, we conclude that the district court erred in dismissing Plaintiffs’ disability discrimination claim under NYCHRL. Not only is the NYCHRL claim based on the same facts as the retaliation claim, the NYCHRL also provides a broader cause of action than many federal discrimination laws. See Mihalik v. Credit Agricole Cheuvreux N. Am., Inc., 715 F.3d 102, 109 (2d Cir. 2013). For the reasons above, Plaintiffs met their burden of plausibly alleging that their termination was caused “at least in part by discriminatory or retaliatory motives.” Mihalik, 715 F.3d at 113. The district court thus erred in dismissing Plaintiffs’ disability discrimination claim under the NYCHRL at the pleading stage.

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