Retaliation Claims Dismissed; Anonymous Complaint Insufficient

In Wilson v. Lenox Hill Hospital/Northwell Health, 2019 WL 6726304 (E.D.N.Y. Dec. 11, 2019), the court, inter alia, dismissed plaintiff’s retaliation claims asserted under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

The court summarized the law as follows (internal quotation marks and citations omitted; paragraphing altered):

Both Title VII and the ADEA contain similar anti-retaliation provisions. Under 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a), an employer cannot discriminate against an employee “because [s]he has made a charge” under Title VII. Likewise, an employer cannot discriminate against an employee because such individual…has made a charge under the ADEA. 29 U.S.C. § 623(d). To state a prima facie case of retaliation under Title VII or the ADEA, a plaintiff must demonstrate that “(1) she engaged in protected activity, (2) the employer was aware of that activity, (3) the employee suffered a materially adverse action, and (4) there was a causal connection between the protected activity and that adverse action. As with discrimination claims, at the pleading stage, the allegations need only give “plausible support” to the reduced prima facie requirements. A formal or informal complaint about discrimination qualifies as a protected activity for purposes of retaliation claims so long as the employee has a good faith, reasonable belief that the underlying challenged actions of the employer violated the law.  However, vague or ambiguous complaints are insufficient, and the employer should reasonably have understood that the plaintiff’s complaint was directed at conduct prohibited by Title VII. Mere complaints of unfair treatment are not protected under Title VII and the ADEA.

Notwithstanding the “reduced” burden borne by plaintiff at this stage, the court concluded that plaintiff could not make out a prima facie case.

For example, although plaintiff alleged that she filed a complaint with human resources that she was doing “out of title job duties” and “may have filed an anonymous complaint to a sexual harassment hotline”, she “has not alleged that these complaints were related to unlawful discrimination or unfair treatment due to her race, gender, or age.” In addition, even assuming that the anonymous sexual harassment complaint constituted protected activity, “it could not form the basis of a retaliation claim because her employer would not have known who made the complaint.”

Based on this, the court held that plaintiff’s amended complaint did not state a claim for retaliation under Title VII or the ADEA.

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