Gender, Race Discrimination Claims Dismissed; Business Slowdown Justified Layoffs, Court Holds

In Lewis v. Anron Air Systems, Inc., No. 503355/2019, 2021 WL 2916973 (N.Y. Sup Ct, Kings County July 12, 2021), the court, inter alia, granted defendant’s motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s race and gender discrimination claims.

From the decision:

Here, the defendant demonstrated as a matter of law that plaintiff’s termination from her position as an A-Mechanic in defendant’s sheet metal shop did not occur under circumstances giving rise to an inference of discrimination. The defendant provided a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for her termination and demonstrated the absence of a material issue of fact as to whether these reasons was merely pretextual.

The defendant submitted admissible proof that plaintiff was terminated, not because of her gender or race, but because there was significant slowdown in defendant’s business which necessitated major layoffs. Defendant demonstrated that when plaintiff’s employment ended on December 28, 2016, a little over two months after she was hired, the fabrication work that she was hired to perform in defendant’s sheet metal shop was no longer needed. All the installation jobs that the defendant had been working on that required the fabrication of sheet metal by the A-Mechanics employed in the sheet metal shop were nearing conclusion and since no further installation jobs were lined up, no fabrication work was needed. Indeed, the plaintiff was one of four A-Mechanics employed in the sheet metal shop who were laid off at the same time. Notably, the decision to layoff these individuals had been made prior to the incident of December 22, 2016, when plaintiff claims her co-employees made the sexually disparaging remarks. These individuals were not, however, informed of their termination until December 28, 2016, because it was defendant’s policy not to fire employees prior to the Holidays.

The only A-Mechanics that worked in the sheet metal shop that were not laid off on December 28, 2016 were Mr. Gerace, the Shop Forman, Mr. Figeroux, the Shop Steward and Mr. Holzhauser. Mr. Gerace and Mr. Figeroux could not be laid off due to union rules and simply because Mr. Holzhause is a male white and the plaintiff is female black is an insufficient basis to infer discrimination.

It is also noteworthy that at the time plaintiff was laid off, the defendant did not hire anyone to replace the A-Mechanics who had been working in the sheet metal shop because there was no fabrication work that needed to be performed at the time. The court further notes that as the installation work concluded, employees in the Field were let go as well. Five field employees were let go on January 6, 2017 (just over a week after the terminations in the sheet metal shop) and four more were laid off on February 8, 2017. Thus, in a period of approximately six weeks, the defendant terminated thirteen (13) employees – nine in the Field, and four in the sheet metal shop, representing almost thirty (30%) percent of the defendant’s headcount. Eight of these individuals were white, four were black and one was Hispanic.

The court concluded that this “demonstrated the absence of a triable issue of fact as to whether defendants proffered reason for terminating the plaintiff’s employment was false or unworthy of belief, or was a pretext for discrimination.”

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