Retaliation Claim Based on Sexual Harassment Complaints Dismissed; Court Cites Intervening Causes, Severing the Chain of Causation

In Garcia v. Yonkers Board of Education, 2018 WL 4007648 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 21, 2018), the court, inter alia, dismissed plaintiff’s retaliation complaint. Plaintiff alleged that she was terminated in retaliation for her complaints of sexual harassment.

Applying the McDonnell-Douglas burden-shifting framework, the court held that plaintiff could not establish a prima facie case, and even if she could, she could not show that the employer’s proffered legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for terminating her were a “pretext” for discrimination.

Initially, the court found that the three months between plaintiff’s “protected activity” (harassment complaints) and the “adverse action” (charges resulting in termination) was arguably sufficient:

Here, the Defendant acknowledges that it was on notice of Plaintiff’s complaints of sexual harassment by March 14, 2013. (See Plf. Resp. ¶ 15.) Charges were preferred against Plaintiff and a recommendation made that she be terminated for, inter alia, insubordination and dereliction of duty, on June 19, 2013. (Id. ¶ 21.) Consequently, the time between the Defendant’s notice of the alleged sexual harassment and the adverse employment action was just over three months. This, standing alone is likely sufficient. Though many courts in this district have found two to three months to be insufficient to “allow for an inference of causation”, see Duarte v. St. Barnabas Hosp., 265 F. Supp. 3d 325, 353 (S.D.N.Y. 2017); Murray v. Visiting Nurse Srvs. of N.Y., 528 F. Supp. 2d 257, 275 (S.D.N.Y. 2007) (collecting cases); Brown v. City of New York, No. 11-CV-2915(PAE), 2013 WL 3789091, at *17 (S.D.N.Y. Jul. 19, 2013) (same), many others have reiterated the Second Circuit’s refusal to create a bright-line rule, allowing courts to focus on “the context of each individual case”, thereby holding periods as long as seven or eight months close enough for a causal connection, Guzman v. News Corp., No. 09-CV-9323(LGS), 2013 WL 5807058, at *20 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 28, 2013) (seven months sufficienct); see Lewis v. Roosevelt Island Operating Corp., 246 F. Supp. 3d 979, 992 (S.D.N.Y. 2017) (citing cases holding three and four months sufficient); Mattera v JPMorgan Chase Corp., 740 F. Supp. 2d 561, 581 (S.D.N.Y. 2010) (citing Gorzynski v. JetBlue Airways Corp., 596 F.3d 93 (2d Cir. 2010) for proposition that four months is sufficiently short). The three month period between Defendant’s receipt of Plaintiff’s police report and the adverse employment action would, alone, be enough to meet a causal connection.

However, plaintiff’s claim still failed, noting that the remainder of the record undermined plaintiff’s attempts “to draw a causal connection based on temporal proximity alone.” In particular, the court pointed to intervening events – namely, plaintiff’s withdrawal of her grievance regarding her transfer and her subsequent refusal to return to work despite the withdrawal – that defeated causation.

Share This: