Race Discrimination Claim Dismissed Against Emblem Health, Notwithstanding Alleged Use of “Racially Coded” Language

In Cook v. Emblem Health Services Co., LLC,2018 NY Slip Op 30460(U), 2018 WL 1399351 (N.Y.Sup. Ct. March 16, 2018), the court, inter alia, dismissed plaintiff’s race discrimination claim. In reaching this conclusion, it addressed the use of so-called “racially coded” language – i.e., language that is facially benign but that may actually have a discriminatory meaning.

From the Decision and Order:

Here, Nodar’s [plaintiff’s supervisor] use of the facially non-discriminatory terms “very authoritarian,” “critical,” and “aggressive” and the context in which they were used provide no basis for finding the terms racially-coded, nor do they constitute evidence of discrimination. [Citing cases] … That plaintiff interpreted Nodar’s language as being racially charged does not satisfy his burden. … Moreover, the tone of Nodar’s evaluation is positive, and while he describes plaintiff’s leadership style as “very authoritarian,” he also praises his communication. Nodar also gave plaintiff a satisfactory ranking in three of the five categories, and expressed his belief that plaintiff had “great potential” in developing into a leader at Emblemhealth. …

While the court dismissed plaintiff’s discrimination claim, it denied defendants’ motion for summary judgment as to plaintiff’s claim of retaliation under the NYC Human Rights Law and as to individual liability against plaintiff’s supervisor.

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