Race Discrimination Claim Sufficiently Alleged; Discriminatory Motive Need Not Be Proven at the Pleading Stage

In Douglas v. Cruise Yacht Op. Co. Ltd. et al, 2022 WL 1719312 (S.D.Fla. May 27, 2022), the court, inter alia, held that plaintiff sufficiently alleged a disparate treatment race discrimination claim.

From the decision:

According to the United States Supreme Court, “ ‘[d]isparate treatment’…is the most easily understood type of discrimination. The employer simply treats some people less favorably than others because of their race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Proof of discriminatory motive is critical, although it can in some situations be inferred from the mere fact of differences in treatment.” Int’l Bhd. of Teamsters v. United States, 431 U.S. 324, 335 n.15 (1977). Liability in such cases “depends on whether the protected trait actually motivated the employer’s decision.’ ” Young v. United Parcel Serv., Inc., 135 S. Ct. 1338, 1345 (2015) (quoting Raytheon Co. v. Hernandez, 540 U.S. 44, 52 (2003)). “To make out a prima facie case of racial discrimination, a plaintiff must show (1) she belongs to a protected class; (2) she was qualified to do the job; (3) she was subjected to adverse employment action; and (4) her employer treated similarly situated employees outside her class more favorably.”) Crawford, 529 F.3d at 970 (citation omitted). A plaintiff can prove disparate treatment either (1) by direct evidence that a workplace policy, practice, or decision relies expressly on a protected characteristic, or (2) through circumstantial evidence using the burden-shifting framework set forth in McDonnell Douglas. Young, 135 S. Ct. at 1345. Under the McDonnell Douglas framework, “[a] plaintiff establishes a prima facie case of disparate treatment by showing that she was a qualified member of a protected class and was subjected to an adverse employment action in contrast with similarly situated employees outside the protected class.” Wilson v. B/E Aerospace, Inc., 376 F.3d 1079, 1087 (11th Cir. 2004), abrogated on other grounds by Lewis v. City of Union City, 918 F.3d 1213, 1218 (11th Cir. 2019) (citations omitted). Although Plaintiffs are not required to establish a prima facie case at the pleading stage, these standards guide the Court’s review of the sufficiency of the facts alleged.5

Here, Douglas alleges that she is a black woman of Jamaican national origin, and that she was treated less favorably than other non-black/Jamaican employees beginning while she was still an applicant. ECF No. [16] ¶ 32. She alleges further that despite being the only applicant to achieve a perfect score, she was required to go through two interviews, while other non-black/Jamaican employees only had to go through one. Id. In addition, Douglas alleges that she never received a negative performance review and was one of RCYC’s top salespeople at the time she was terminated, id. ¶¶ 46, 187, 197, 206. Despite those facts, Defendants treated Douglas less favorably than Navarro, even though Douglas outperformed Navarro and Navarro had previously resigned for mishandling client accounts. Id. ¶¶ 41, 43, 89. Finally, Douglas alleges that Angela Composto, RCYC’s Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing, told her that she had been fired because she was black. Id. ¶¶ 66, 91.

The court concluded by noting that, contrary to defendants’ arguments, plaintiff need not prove defendants’ discriminatory motive at the motion to dismiss stage, and held that the foregoing allegations were sufficient.

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