Second Circuit Affirms Dismissal of Title VII Sex Discrimination Claim Against Port Authority

In Howard v. Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, 2019 WL 2910684 (2d Cir. July 8, 2019) (Summary Order), the court affirmed the dismissal of plaintiff’s sex discrimination claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The court provides an instructive overview of what a plaintiff must demonstrate in order to survive summary judgment on a claim of intentional discrimination under a “pretext” theory.

In this case, plaintiff

argues that she was illegally fired from her position as a probationary police officer (“PPO”) in the Port Authority Police Department because she is a woman. She primarily substantiates her sex discrimination claim by arguing that, although she informed police investigators that she could not recall answers to their questions and was fired, her similarly situated male colleagues lied to police investigators and were not fired. She also argues that the Port Authority’s proffered reason for her termination is false.

The court summarized the applicable law:

In reviewing Howard’s claims, we apply the burden-shifting framework set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973). Under the McDonnell Douglas framework, a plaintiff must first establish a prima facie case of discrimination, which then shifts the burden to the employer to come forward with a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse employment action. See Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 142, 120 S.Ct. 2097, 147 L.Ed.2d 105 (2000). At the summary judgment stage, once the employer comes forward with a permissible reason for the adverse employment action, the plaintiff must present evidence from which a reasonable jury could find that the employer’s justification is a pretext for intentional discrimination.

After assuming that plaintiff satisfied her “‘minimal’ burden to establish that she was ‘similarly situated in all material respects’ to fellow [male employees], who were not terminated despite engaging in conduct materially similar to Howard’s conduct”, the court “turn[ed] to the question of whether Howard has presented evidence from which a reasonable jury could find that she was the victim of intentional sex discrimination.”

The court explained:

Under [SCOTUS’s decision in Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133 (2000)], it is our task “to examine the entire record” and “make [a] case-specific assessment as to whether a finding of discrimination may reasonably be made.” Zimmermann v. Assocs. First Capital Corp., 251 F.3d 376, 382 (2d Cir. 2001). Where, as here, an employment discrimination plaintiff relies exclusively on a prima face case of discrimination and a showing that an employer’s legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for firing the plaintiff is pretextual, “the plaintiff may attempt to establish that he was the victim of intentional discrimination by showing that the employer’s proffered explanation is unworthy of credence.” Reeves, 530 U.S. at 143, 120 S.Ct. 2097 (internal quotation marks omitted). We are cognizant that a jury may “consider the evidence establishing the plaintiff’s prima facie case and inferences properly drawn therefrom on the issue of whether the defendant’s explanation is pretextual.”

Applying the law, the court held that plaintiff did not carry her burden, since “[t]he evidence does not support an inference that ‘the most likely alternative explanation’ for her termination was sex discrimination.”