White Baruch College Professor’s Race Discrimination Claims Survive Motion to Dismiss

In Root v. City University of New York, No. 157151/2020, 2021 WL 4352697 (N.Y. Sup Ct, N.Y. Cty. Sept. 24, 2021) (Amended Sept. 27, 2021), the court held that plaintiff, a white/Caucasian Baruch College professor, sufficiently alleged race discrimination under the New York State and City Human Rights Laws.

Plaintiff’s allegations concern a document called the “Report of the Faculty of Color Caucus” (the “Report”) which, among other things (as alleged by plaintiff) “suggested that the white faculty have the burden of learning about and undoing white normativity, and that these faculty should be required to read a book titled White Fragility.”

After summarizing the “black letter law” applicable to plaintiff’s claims, the court explained:

[T]he Report, issued by minority faculty members, expressed a “concern with department level recognition of [minority faculty’s] research, teaching, and invisible labor.” Plaintiff states that neither she nor any other faculty member had any control over the recognition of research. The Report stated that the white faculty members had “the burden of learning about and undoing white normativity,” and that they would be expected to read books and attend meetings. The “faculty of color” were allegedly exempt from participating in the discussions “in order to avoid burdening faculty of color with invisible labor.” In sum, according to plaintiff, although she herself had never been accused of participating in any discriminatory conduct, her employer asked her, solely on the basis of her race, to read extra books, attend extra meetings, and reflect and address her privilege to the satisfaction of her employer. Accordingly, in light of amended standards of the NYSHRL and guidance from the NYCHRL, plaintiff has sufficiently pled that she was subjected to “inferior terms, conditions or privileges of employment” because of her race.

CUNY posits that encouraging the white faculty to read White Fragility, considering that millions of people have read it, cannot be considered an inferior term of employment. It argues that this request was not predicated on any discriminatory animus, nor was it more than a trivial inconvenience.

However, at this early stage of the litigation the complaint sufficiently pleads that CUNY subjected plaintiff to “inferior terms, conditions or privileges of employment” because of her race since it alleges that plaintiff was singled out based on her race, and that the additional requirements imposed on her had nothing to do with her job functions.

[Cleaned up; citations omitted.]

The court was careful to underscore, however, that it was not assessing the substantive merits of plaintiff’s claims, and that “[a]s the litigation progresses defendants will have an opportunity to attempt to rebut the presumption of discrimination arising from plaintiff’s prima facie case by setting forth, through the introduction of admissible evidence, legitimate, independent, and nondiscriminatory reasons to support their employment decision”.

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