Teacher Plausibly Alleges Age Discrimination, Court Holds

In Rosen v. N.Y.C. Dept. of Education, 2019 WL 4039958 (S.D.N.Y., 2019), the court, inter alia, held that plaintiff – a teacher – sufficiently alleged age discrimination under theories of “constructive discharge” and “hostile work environment.”

In order to make out a prima facie case under the ADEA, the court explained, a plaintiff must show four things: (1) she is a member of a protected class; (2) she was qualified for her position; (3) she suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) the adverse employment action occurred under circumstances giving rise to an inference of discrimination. However, it continued, at the motion to dismiss stage, a plaintiff need not demonstrate every element, but rather “must plausibly plead … that the circumstances surrounding an adverse employment action give rise to an inference of age discrimination.”

Plaintiff did so here. She satisfied the first element (since she was in her late 60s when the alleged discrimination occurred), and she sufficiently alleged that she was qualified for the position.

In order to demonstrate an “adverse employment action”, plaintiff asserted that she was subjected to a constructive discharge, and a hostile work environment.

As to constructive discharge:

Here, Plaintiff adequately alleges that a series of actions taken by Defendants made her employment intolerable, e.g., Compl. ¶ 94 (allegations that Individual Defendants began “threatening termination”), ¶¶ 228–232 (additional, burdensome tasks), ¶ 206 (Plaintiff was escorted from her office by security guards on three occasions), and she asserts that she was constructively discharged because of her age, ¶ 237; id. at 43 (EEOC Charge), Pl. Opp. at 7 (alleging comments from Hernandez that suggested Plaintiff should retire); id. at 17–18 (alleging a pattern of behavior toward older teachers).8 Walsh, 375 F. Supp. 3d at 485 (detailing similar allegations sufficient to state a constructive discharge claim). Additionally, many allegations discussed below under hostile work environment lend support to Plaintiff’s constructive discharge claim. Plaintiff plausibly alleges constructive discharge, which constitutes an adverse employment action.

As to the hostile work environment aspect:

Plaintiff alleges a series of significant, changed responsibilities that suggest a demotion. For instance, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants increasingly denied her access to the information, files, and responsibilities she needed to carry out the job of an IEP teacher. See Compl. ¶¶ 178–204. Plaintiff alleges Hernandez and Velazquez “stripped [Plaintiff] of all [her] duties in a purposeful public forum.” Id. ¶ 226; see also id. ¶¶ 183, 186, 190. During Plaintiff’s second year teaching at P.S. 123 and despite a “satisfactory” rating for the first year, a younger teacher replaced Plaintiff in the school’s “[o]rganization [s]heet” as the IEP teacher. Id. ¶ 234; see also id. ¶ 179; Pl. Opp. at 5–7. Furthermore, Plaintiff states that she was “screamed” at by Hernandez and singled out in public and verbal announcements to the school staff. Id. ¶¶ 77, 211–214. Hernandez asked Plaintiff to return to classroom teaching, a functional demotion. Id. ¶¶ 68–70. Along with allegations considered under constructive discharge, the Court finds that Plaintiff adequately alleges hostile work environment. Plaintiff describes the kind of harassment “of such quality or quantity that a reasonable employee would find the conditions of her employment altered for the worse.” Terry, 336 F.3d at 148 (internal citation omitted).

Having adequately alleged constructive discharge and hostile work environment, the court turned to the fourth factor, namely, the “inference of discrimination.”

In particular:

Plaintiff can demonstrate circumstances giving rise to an inference of age discrimination in a “variety of ways.” Del Valle v. City of New York, No. 11 Civ. 8148, 2013 WL 444763, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 6, 2013). These include ageist comments or remarks, evidence that “similarly situated younger employees are treated more favorably than older ones,” or statistical evidence demonstrating a pattern of adverse employment actions against other employees. Id. (citing cases); see also Gorzynski v. JetBlue Airways Corp., 596 F.3d 93, 108 (2d Cir. 2010) (holding that “the fact that other younger employees were not disciplined for violating numerous policies is … prima facie evidence of discrimination”). Moreover, Plaintiff need not show that age was the only factor herein, but that age was a determinative factor.

Applying the law to the facts, the court explained:

Plaintiff alleges that younger teachers were offered paid sessions to finish their IEPs while she was not. Compl. ¶¶ 55–56, 257. She claims that her IEP duties and job title were transferred to a younger teacher. Id. ¶¶ 175, 183–187, 234. She alleges that, at least on one occasion, Hernandez praised a younger teacher for work that Plaintiff did. Id. ¶ 217. She claims that Defendants laid the school’s IEP non-compliance at her feet, effectively “scapegoat[ing]” her instead of disciplining the younger teachers, even though Plaintiff asserts that the school had been out of compliance on IEPs before she arrived and remained so despite her extensive efforts. E.g., id. ¶¶ 11, 17–19, 130. Plaintiff further states that other elder teachers experienced similar treatment by Defendants, and that Hernandez commented on Plaintiff’s age directly and indirectly, Pl. Opp. at 7, 17–18. Plaintiff contends that these actions suggest age discrimination because she was otherwise the most experienced and knowledgeable staff member at P.S. 123 in special education and in IEP compliance, and, indeed, the reason the school had hired her. Compl. ¶¶ 6, 42, 227. Defendants’ argument that Plaintiff offers her “own speculation as to the school administration’s motives,” Def. Mem. at 16, notwithstanding, the Court must draw all reasonable inferences in Plaintiff’s favor at this stage. And “in light of the not ‘heavy’ burden of establishing a prima facie case,” Phillips v. Orleans Cty., No. 18 Civ. 752, 2019 WL 3088051, at *13 (W.D.N.Y. July 15, 2019) (quoting Carlton v. Mystic Transp., Inc., 202 F.3d 129, 134 (2d Cir. 2000)), Plaintiff’s ample and detailed allegations support an inference of age discrimination.

Based on this, the court denied defendants’ motion to dismiss plaintiff’s ADEA claim under the constructive discharge and hostile work environment theories.