Retaliation Claim Dismissed; “Adverse Action” Preceded “Protected Activity”

In Kao v. Onyx Renewable Partners L.P., No. 654411/2021, 2022 WL 705640 (N.Y. Sup Ct, New York County Mar. 08, 2022), the court dismissed plaintiff’s retaliation claims under the New York State and City Human Rights Laws. (The court also dismissed plaintiff’s gender discrimination claims, which I discussed here.)

The court summarized the black-letter law for such a claim as follows:

It is unlawful to retaliate against an employee for opposing discriminatory practices under both the NYSHRL and NYCHRL (Executive Law § 296[1][e]; Administrative Code of the City of NY § 8-107[7]). To make out a claim for retaliation, plaintiff must show that (1) she was engaged in a protected activity; (2) her employer was aware that she participated in that activity; (3) she suffered adverse employment action based on her activity; and (4) there is a causal connection between the protected activity and the adverse action (Forrest, 3 NY3d at 312-313) or an action that disadvantaged plaintiff (Harrington v City of New York, 157 AD3d 582, 585 [1st Dept 2018] [internal citations omitted]). “A prima facie case of retaliation requires evidence of a subjective retaliatory motive for the protected activity.” (Pace University v New York City Com’n on Human Rights, 85 NY2d 125, 128 [1995]).

Applying the law, the court explained:

Here, plaintiff’s discrimination and retaliation claims are based on her May 17, 2021 response to defendants’ April 30, 2021 Proposed Transition Agreement, and her April 23, 2021 resignation for good reason notice. The adverse employment action – the Proposed Transition Agreement which rejected her resignation for good reason – occurred on April 30, 2021, before her May 17, 2021 protected activity. In other words, the alleged retaliation occurred before and not because of her protected activity. Moreover, based on the allegations in the complaint, the April 23, 2021 notice of resignation did not complain of discrimination and thus does not constitute a “protected activity.

It concluded that, “in the absence of a causal connection between any protected activity and the asserted adverse action, the retaliation claim must be dismissed against defendant Maxwell.”

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