Retaliation Claim Sufficiently Alleged: Pittman v. Yantiss et al

In Pittman v. Yantiss et al, No. 151274/2020, 2022 WL 2238886 (N.Y. Sup Ct, New York County June 15, 2022), the court, inter alia, denied defendants’ motion to dismiss her claims of retaliation in violation of the New York State and City Human Rights Laws. (I addressed the court’s decision denying defendants’ motion to dismiss plaintiff’s claims of sex/gender, pregnancy, and familial/caregiver status discrimination here.)

Plaintiff’s retaliation claim arose from her filing of a complaint with the New York State Public Health and Health Planning Council (the PHHPC), in which she alleged that defendants barred her from work in retaliation for commencing this action and had violated Public Health Law § 2801-b. She alleged that three weeks later (on March 12, 2020), defendants terminated plaintiff’s access to her work email and ordered her to return her staff badge and keys , and that on April 23, 2020, she received a letter dated April 20, 2020 stating that her Contract had not been renewed and would end on April 19, 2021.

In determining that plaintiff sufficiently alleged a claim for retaliation based on the filing of her complaint, the court explained:

The WCM Defendants do not address plaintiff’s claims of retaliation except to express that they could not have retaliated against plaintiff for filing the PHHPC complaint because she had been told the Contract would not be renewed before she filed that complaint (NYSCEF Doc No. 65, WCM Defendants’ mem of law at 4 n 3). Thus, the court will limit its discussion to the PHHPC complaint.

To state a cause of action for retaliation under the State HRL, the plaintiff must allege that “(1) she has engaged in protected activity, (2) her employer was aware that she participated in such activity, (3) she suffered an adverse employment action based upon her activity, and (4) there is a causal connection between the protected activity and the adverse action” (Forrest, 3 NY3d at 313). The City HRL imposes slightly different requirements for a retaliation claim and requires the plaintiff to show that “(1) [she] participated in a protected activity known to defendants; (2) defendants took an action that disadvantaged [her]; and (3) a causal connection exists between the protected activity and the adverse action” (Fletcher v Dakota, Inc., 99 AD3d 43, 51-52 [1st Dept 2012]).

Filing a complaint about discrimination constitutes a protected activity (Alshami v City Univ. of N.Y., 203 AD3d 592 [1st Dept 2022]), and here, the SAC alleges that after plaintiff filed the PHHPC complaint, the WCM Defendants retaliated by terminating her work email access, requesting that she surrender her staff badge and office keys and barring her from working without further instruction. Furthermore, counter to the WCM Defendants’ contention, the SAC alleges that plaintiff filed the PHHPC complaint two months before she was told the Contract would not be renewed. These actions, which took place in close temporal proximity to the protected activity, disadvantaged plaintiff (see Noho Star Inc. v New York State Div. of Human Rights, 72 AD3d 448, 449 [1st Dept 2010] [stating that a causal connection may be inferred when the protected activity plaintiff had engaged in is followed closely by discriminatory treatment]). As such, the allegations adequately plead a plausible claim for retaliation in violation of the State and City HRLs based on the filing of the PHHPC complaint. Therefore, to the extent the moving papers can be construed to seek dismissal of so much of the first and second causes of action for retaliation based on the filing of the PHHPC complaint, the motion is denied.

The court further held that plaintiff sufficiently alleged her claims against New Yok Presbyterian Hospital – notwithstanding its claim that defendant  Weill Medical College of Cornell University was plaintiff’s “exclusive employer” – under the “joint employer” doctrine as well as under an “aiding and abetting” theory.

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