Teacher’s Race Discrimination Claim May Proceed

In Carter v. Syracuse City School District et al, 2021 WL 912523 (2d Cir. March 10, 2021) (Summary Order), the Second Circuit held that plaintiff indeed adduced enough facts to reach a jury on her race discrimination claims.

From the Order:

The district court held that Carter did not establish a prima facie case because she failed to adduce sufficient evidence that she suffered an adverse employment action. We disagree and further conclude that Carter’s evidence, if credited, would permit a reasonable jury to find that she was discriminated against.

A plaintiff sustains an adverse employment action if he or she endures a materially adverse change in the terms and conditions of employment. A rational juror could find that a Carter, who claims she was (1) subject to a negative evaluation carried out under irregular circumstances, (2) placed on an improvement plan, (3) reassigned from classroom teaching to teaching from a cart, (4) excluded from a master teacher program, (5) removed as chair of the English Department, (6) assigned to teach tenth grade while her cohorts advanced to eleventh grade, and (7) passed over for assignment to teach Advanced English, has adduced enough evidence to demonstrate at least one adverse employment action. Whether her exclusion from the master teacher program is likened to a failure to promote, a demotion, or simply removal from eligibility for a prestigious position, a jury reasonably could conclude it was an adverse employment action. Next, a jury could reasonably conclude that Carter’s removal as chair of the English Department was a demotion evidenced by a less distinguished title and so an adverse employment action. A jury could also reasonably find that Carter being assigned to teach from a cart, staffed to the tenth grade, and passed over for an Advanced English class were adverse employment actions. Although these were arguably nonactionable alteration[s] of job responsibilities, a jury could credit Carter’s testimony that Defendants-Appellees singled her out, demeaned her, and materially altered her teaching responsibilities for the worse. Finally, while a negative evaluation without more may not be an adverse employment action, Carter has put forward enough evidence for a jury to find that her negative evaluation and placement on an improvement plan contributed to the other actions she claims Defendants-Appellees took against her.

Carter has also adduced enough evidence for a jury to infer that any adverse employment action was motivated by racial animus. When Carter complained to Principal Dittman that her colleagues were mistreating her, he agreed that they were intimidated by her because she was a Black woman and stated that he was also intimidated by her. Later, after being put on an improvement plan and experiencing professional fallout, Carter asked Vice Principal Frazier, “Why are they doing this to me?” He responded, “You’re a well educated Black woman. They’re intimidated by you.” These comments by senior school officials attributed Carter’s professional setbacks to prejudice against Black women. They are thus enough not only to surmount Carter’s minimal burden of making a prima facie case but also to permit a finding that the neutral reasons the School District gave for its actions were pretext for racial discrimination.

[Citations and internal quotation marks omitted; cleaned up]

Share This: