Gender Discrimination Claim Against Weill Cornell Medical College Survives Summary Judgment

In Espinosa v. Weill Cornell Medical College, 18 Civ. 11665, 2021 WL 1062592 (S.D.N.Y. March 19, 2021), the court, inter alia, denied defendants’ motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s gender discrimination claim.

From the decision:

Espinosa adduces sufficient facts upon which the trier of fact may reasonably base an inference of gender discrimination. Direct evidence of discrimination is rare, and Espinosa need only show facts giving rise to an inference that her gender “played a motivating role in, or contributed to, the employer’s decision.” Renz v. Grey Advert., Inc., 135 F.3d 217, 222 (2d Cir. 1997). She states that Huntley “add[ed] very racey videos to the end of his meetings,” Espinosa Aff. ¶ 5, and that when she approached human resources, she was told that “what [she] was experiencing was not discrimination,” despite not having mentioned a discrimination claim, id. ¶ 19; Ex. M at 2:16–19. She submitted text messages with a co-worker who states that “[Huntley] seems to be ok w/ the blondes,” which the co-worker “noticed [ ] immediately.” ECF No. 59-2 at 5. Espinosa further testified that Huntley hired women with a particular appearance. Espinosa Tr. at 322:21–24. These instances could support the inference that Huntley’s ostensibly gender-neutral conduct was gender-based. See Marks v. Nat’l Commc’ns Ass’n, Inc., 72 F. Supp. 2d 322, 329 (S.D.N.Y. 1999) (“Undue preoccupation with what female employees look like is not permissible under anti-discrimination laws if the same kind of attention is not paid to male employees.” (quoting Drinkwater v. Union Carbide Corp., 904 F.2d 853, 862–63 (3d Cir. 1990)).

*7 Defendant asserts that hiring a woman to replace Espinosa precludes an inference of gender discrimination. Def. 56.1 ¶¶ 132, 154; Def. Mem. at 12. This is not so. See Dais v. Lane Bryant, Inc., No. 97 Civ. 2011, 2000 WL 145755, at *2 n.4 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 8, 2000) (“Likewise, the fact that an employer hired someone of the same gender as the plaintiff does not itself defeat an otherwise legitimate inference of gender discrimination.”). Defendant also argues that Huntley’s promoting multiple female employees and treating them more favorably than Espinosa further diminishes her claims. Def. Mem. at 12. The Court disagrees. Brown v. Henderson, 257 F.3d 246, 252 (2d Cir. 2001) (“[D]iscrimination against one employee cannot be cured, or disproven, solely by favorable, or equitable, treatment of other employees of the same race or sex.”). Defendant is also misguided in its assertion that Espinosa cannot show gender discrimination without identifying similarly-situated comparators. Def. Mem. at 10–12; Brown, 257 F.3d at 253 (“[T]hough it is helpful in proving sex discrimination, we have held that it is not strictly necessary for a plaintiff to identify an employee who was treated more favorably than the plaintiff and who was similarly situated to the plaintiff, except for being of the opposite sex.”).

Accordingly, Espinosa has established a prima facie case of discrimination regarding her termination.

Although Defendant asserts that Espinosa’s job performance was the reason for her termination, Def. 56.1 ¶¶ 140–42, her evaluation history could itself support an inference that this reason is pretextual. After receiving a negative review in 2015, her 2016 and 2017 evaluations ranked her highly: she was “fully competent,” ECF No. 53-12 at 17–19, and between “fully competent” and “expert/role model” in a majority of the skills categories, id. at 19–22; ECF No. 53-11 at 2–9.

Based on this, the court held that there was a triable issue of fact as to whether plaintiff was subject to gender discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the New York State Human Rights Law (and, therefore and necessarily, under the comparatively broader New York City Human Rights Law).

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