Title VII Pleading Standard Summarized

In Hernandez v. Harvard Maintenance, 20-CV-0083, 2020 WL 815721 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 19, 2020), the court summarized what a plaintiff must plead in order to state a claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The court wrote:

Title VII provides that “[i]t shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer … to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex or national origin.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a). These antidiscrimination provisions prohibit employers from mistreating an individual because of the individual’s protected characteristics, Patane v. Clark, 508 F.3d 106, 112 (2d Cir. 2007), or retaliating against an employee who has opposed any practice made unlawful by those statutes, see Crawford v. Metro. Gov’t, 555 U.S. 271, 276 (2009) (holding that conduct is protected when it “confront[s],” “resist[s],” or “withstand[s]” unlawful actions). Mistreatment at work that occurs for a reason other than an employee’s protected characteristic or opposition to unlawful conduct is not actionable under these federal antidiscrimination statutes. See Chukwuka v. City of New York, 513 F. App’x 34, 36 (2d Cir. 2013) (quoting Brown v. Henderson, 257 F.3d 246, 252 (2d Cir. 2001)).

At the pleading stage in an employment discrimination action, “a plaintiff must plausibly allege that (1) the employer took adverse employment action against him, and (2) his race, color, religion, sex, or national origin was a motivating factor in the employment decision.” Vega v. Hempstead Union Free Sch. Dist., 801 F.3d 72, 86 (2d Cir. 2015). The plaintiff “may do so by alleging facts that directly show discrimination or facts that indirectly show discrimination by giving rise to a plausible inference of discrimination.”

Here, the court found that the (pro se) plaintiff did not state the basis of the alleged discrimination, and did not allege any facts in the complaint. It granted leave to plaintiff to amend his complaint to supply the court with sufficient details.

It then proceeded to list the items that the amended complaint must (to the extent possible):

a) give the names and titles of all relevant persons;

b) describe all relevant events, stating the facts that support Plaintiff’s case including what each defendant did or failed to do;

c) give the dates and times of each relevant event or, if not known, the approximate date and time of each relevant event;

d) give the location where each relevant event occurred;

e) describe how each defendant’s acts or omissions violated Plaintiff’s rights and describe the injuries Plaintiff suffered; and

f) state what relief Plaintiff seeks from the Court, such as money damages, injunctive relief, or declaratory relief.

The court concluded, in sum, that the amended complaint must inform the court: “who violated his federally protected rights; what facts show that his federally protected rights were violated; when such violation occurred; where such violation occurred; and why Plaintiff is entitled to relief.”

This is instructive for pro se plaintiffs, as well as lawyers and represented plaintiffs, since it succinctly outlines what federal courts look for when evaluating the facial sufficiency of a complaint alleging Title VII employment discrimination claims.

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