Race Discrimination Claim, Based on “Adverse Actions”, Sufficiently Alleged Against Target

In Avent v. Target Corporation et al, 19-1565, 2021 WL 3089120 (NDNY July 22, 2021), the court, inter alia, dismissed defendants’ motion to dismiss plaintiff’s race-based “adverse action” discrimination claims asserted under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. (I wrote about the court’s assessment of plaintiff’s race-based hostile work environment claims here.)

From the decision:

In general, to state a prima facie case of discrimination under Title VII, a complaint must allege that: 1) the plaintiff belongs to a protected class; 2) he or she is qualified for the position at issue; 3) his or her employment was terminated, or she suffered some other form of adverse employment action; and 4) the adverse action occurred under circumstances giving rise to an inference of discrimination. See Feingold v. New York, 366 F.3d 138, 152 (2d Cir. 2004).

Defendants argue that Plaintiff cannot establish the third and fourth elements of this claim: that Plaintiff suffered an adverse action, and that the adverse action occurred under circumstances giving rise to an inference of discrimination. (Dkt. No. 28-1, pp. 12–17). However, the Court has already recognized alleged facts which could rise to the level of an adverse action: being passed up for promotions, made to do worse and additional work, and being refused a valid transfer request. Any of these actions could, in theory, effect a materially adverse change in the terms and conditions of employment. Defendants’ argument is better suited to summary judgment when the Court would have the necessary facts to evaluate the existence and impact of each action. See Wanamaker v. Columbian Rope Co., 108 F.3d 462 (2d Cir. 1997) (“[B]ecause there are no bright-line rules, the court must make case specific findings to determine whether the challenged employment action reaches the level of ‘adverse.’ ”).

As to discriminatory intent, a plaintiff has a minimal burden at the pleading stage, merely needing to allege facts suggesting an inference of discriminatory motivation, for example more favorable treatment of employees not in the protected group. See Littlejohn v. City of New York, 795 F.3d 297, 311 (2d Cir. 2015). Here, Plaintiff alleges that, as a black employee, he did not receive equal work assignments or promotional opportunities despite being employed longer than white employees who regularly received promotions. (See Dkt. No. 1, at pp. 5–6). At this early stage, these allegations are sufficient to plausibly infer discriminatory intent.

Based on this, the court held that plaintiff may proceed with his Title VII discrimination claim against Target.

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