Race Discrimination Case Survives Summary Judgment; Jury Question Existed as to Whether Allegedly Biased Supervisor Played “Meaningful Role” in Plaintiff’s Termination

In Brown v. Montefiore Medical Center et al, 15-cv-724, 2019 WL 4738911 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 29, 2019) – a race discrimination case – the court, inter alia, denied defendant’s motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s race discrimination claim asserted under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In sum, plaintiff, a nursing attendant who is black and of Jamaican national origin, alleged that she was terminated (at least in part) due to her race and national origin.

The court applied the three-step “McDonnell Douglas” burden-shifting framework to plaintiff’s claims. In doing so, it rejected defendant’s argument that it could not be held liable because the people who actually made the decision to terminate plaintiff’s employment did not themselves have the requisite discriminatory animus.

From the decision:

Defendant argues that Plaintiff fails to establish a prima facie case of employment discrimination because there is no evidence of discriminatory intent by the people who made the ultimate decision to terminate her employment—Ms. Reyes, Ms. Madhoo-Chin, and Mr. O’Connell. (See Def.’s Mem. 11–12.) According to Defendant, Plaintiff identifies Ms. Dyer-Crewe as the only person at Montefiore who harbored prejudice against her, and because Ms. Dyer-Crewe was not a final decision-maker and “never sought Plaintiff’s termination or any other specific form of discipline[,]” there can be no inference of discrimination. (See id.) This argument misconstrues the relevant legal standard. “The Second Circuit has concluded … that even when the ultimate decisionmaker has no record of discriminatory animus, a plaintiff may prove discrimination based on evidence that an ‘individual shown to have [an] impermissible bias played a meaningful role in the … process.’ ” Kenchi v. Hanesbrands Inc., No. 10 Civ. 1662(PKC), 2011 WL 4343418, at *5 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 12, 2011) (quoting Bickerstaff v. Vassar Coll., 196 F.3d 435, 450 (2d Cir. 1999)); see also Bickerstaff, 196 F.3d at 450 (noting that “the impermissible bias of a single individual at any stage of [an employment] process may taint the ultimate employment decision in violation of Title VII”); Edrisse v. Marriott Int’l, Inc., 757 F. Supp. 2d 381, 389–90 (S.D.N.Y. 2010) (“Unlawful discriminatory bias on the part of anyone meaningfully involved in the process leading to an adverse employment action suffices to support an inference of discriminatory intent.”).

As an initial matter, Plaintiff sufficiently establishes discriminatory animus on the part of Ms. Dyer-Crewe through Plaintiff’s testimony that Ms. Crewe referred to her as an “ugly black woman from Jamaica,” (Pl. Dep. 21:11-15.), and her testimony that she delivered a letter to Ms. Reyes informing her that Ms. Dyer-Crewe told Plaintiff that “you black women from Jamaica, all you do is run down money,” (Def.’s 56.1 ¶ 41), and “all you black people from Jamaica have [a] big mouth,” (id. ¶ 45). Defendant does not attempt to rebut Plaintiff’s testimony or to demonstrate that there is no issue of triable fact as to whether Ms. Dyer-Crewe made statements to Plaintiff demonstrating discriminatory animus.15 (See generally Def.’s 56.1.)

With regard to Ms. Dyer-Crewe’s role in the process that led to the termination of Plaintiff’s employment, Defendant admits that Ms. Dyer-Crewe: (1) was the first person to report Plaintiff’s alleged misconduct on December 5 and 6, 2013 to Ms. Madhoo-Chin, (id. ¶ 65); (2) initially informed Plaintiff that she was suspended, (id. ¶ 61); (3) conducted the meeting with Plaintiff and her union representative, among others, to investigate the matter that led to Plaintiff’s suspension, (id. ¶ 71); (4) prepared a summary of the meeting and provided it to Ms. Reyes, who reviewed the summary as part of her investigation, (id. ¶ 73); (5) participated in a follow-up meeting with Ms. Reyes to review the facts; (6) prepared the draft notice of termination; (7) delivered the final notice of termination to Plaintiff, (id. ¶ 84); and (8) participated in the grievance hearing at which Plaintiff’s termination was upheld, (id. ¶¶ 85–88). For purposes of establishing a prima facie case of discrimination, this evidence is sufficient to raise an inference of discrimination because it establishes that Dyer-Crewe displayed discriminatory animus and played a meaningful role in the process that led to the adverse employment action against Plaintiff.

It proceeded to explain that even though defendant proffered two allegedly non-discriminatory reasons for plaintiff’s termination, defendant was not entitled to summary judgment since there was enough evidence in the record to permit a reasonable jury to conclude that those reasons were pretext for unlawful discrimination.