Age Discrimination Claims Properly Dismissed, Notwithstanding “Troubling” Conduct

In Pfizenmayer v. Hicksville Public Schools et al, 2017 WL 4994482, 17-0568-cv (2d Cir. Nov. 2, 2017) (Summary Order), the Second Circuit affirmed the dismissal – for failure to state a claim under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) – of plaintiff’s employment discrimination, hostile work environment, and retaliation claims under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).

As to her discrimination claim the court explained:

A plaintiff asserting an employment discrimination claim under the ADEA must plausibly allege that her employer took adverse action against her and that her age was the “but-for” cause of the adverse action. See Vega v. Hempstead Union Free Sch. Dist., 801 F.3d 72, 86–87 (2d Cir. 2015). “A plaintiff sustains an adverse employment action if he or she endures a ‘materially adverse change’ in the terms and conditions of employment. To be ‘materially adverse’ a change in working conditions must be ‘more disruptive than a mere inconvenience or an alteration of job responsibilities.’ ” Kassner v. 2nd Ave. Delicatessen Inc., 496 F.3d 229, 238 (2d Cir. 2007) (quoting Galabya v. N.Y.C. Bd. of Educ., 202 F.3d 636, 640 (2d Cir. 2000)). Here, the district court correctly determined that the conduct described in Pfizenmayer’s complaint either could not form the basis for a timely claim or did not rise to the level of an adverse employment action. Further, Pfizenmayer has not plausibly alleged, for the purposes of a constructive discharge claim, that the defendants discriminated against her “to the point such that [her] ‘working conditions bec[a]me so intolerable that a reasonable person in [her] position would have felt compelled to resign.’ ”

As to plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim, the court held:

An actionable discrimination claim based on hostile work environment under the ADEA is one for which ‘the workplace is permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult that is sufficiently pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment ….’ ” Kassner, 496 F.3d at 240 (quoting Brennan v. Metro. Opera Ass’n, 192 F.3d 310, 318 (2d Cir. 1999)). Here, though certain aspects of Pfizenmayer’s claimed treatment are troubling, Pfizenmayer has not plausibly alleged that her “workplace [was] permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult” of a kind that “alter[ed] the conditions of [her] employment.”

As to plaintiff’s retaliation claim, the court explained:

Pfizenmayer has not plausibly alleged that she engaged in any protected activity of which the defendants were aware. See Kessler v. Westchester Cty. Dep’t of Soc. Servs., 461 F.3d 199, 205–06 (2d Cir. 2006). “[I]mplicit in the requirement that the employer have been aware of the protected activity is the requirement that it understood, or could reasonably have understood, that the plaintiff’s opposition was directed at conduct prohibited by” the ADEA. Galdieri-Ambrosini v. Nat’l Realty & Dev. Corp., 136 F.3d 276, 292 (2d Cir. 1998). Pfizenmayer did not plausibly allege that the defendants understood, or could reasonably have understood, that her objections to their actions constituted a challenge to age discrimination.

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