NYC Teacher’s Race Discrimination Claims Sufficiently Alleged

In Christian v. The Dept. of Educ. of the City of New York, No. 158793/2021, 2022 WL 17177577 (N.Y. Sup Ct, New York County Nov. 23, 2022), the court denied defendant’s motion to dismiss plaintiff’s race discrimination claims under the New York State and City Human Rights Laws.

From the decision:

That branch of defendants’ motion seeking to dismiss plaintiff’s employment discrimination claim is denied. To establish a prima facie case of discrimination under the NYSHRL, plaintiff must demonstrate that: (1) she is a member of a protected class; (2) she was qualified to hold the position; (3) she suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) the adverse action occurred under circumstances giving rise to an inference of discrimination (Ellison v Chartis Claims, Inc., 178 AD3d 665, 667 [2d Dept 2019] [internal citations omitted]). The elements of a discrimination claim under the NYCHRL largely mirror the foregoing, except that a plaintiff need not plead that she suffered an “adverse employment action” but only that she was adversely or differently treated based on her disability in a way that disadvantaged her (See e.g., Hosking v Mem. Sloan-Kettering Cancer Ctr., 186 AD3d 58, 62 [1st Dept 2020]; see also Harrington v City of New York, 157 AD3d 582 [1st Dept 2018]).

Defendants do not dispute that plaintiff, as an African American, is a member of a protected class and that her termination constitutes an adverse action under the NYSHRL and disadvantageous treatment under the NYCHRL. They instead argue that this claim must be dismissed because plaintiff has not alleged facts permitting an inference of discriminatory intent on the part of defendants. The Court disagrees. Allegations that the plaintiff was treated less favorably than similarly situated employees outside the protected group are sufficient to give rise to an inference of discrimination (See Harrington v City of New York, 157 AD3d 582, 585 [1st Dept 2018]) and plaintiff has satisfied this standard through allegations that: her requested teaching assignments were given to Caucasian teachers less-qualified for those assignments; she was repeatedly denied tenure granted to these Caucasian teachers; and she received little or no pedological support compared to these Caucasian teachers. To the extent that these events took place after the statute of limitations elapsed, “a plaintiff may rely on events prior [to the] … statute of limitations [expiration] to provide background evidence of defendants’ unlawful motives and intent” in asserting a retaliation claim.

The Court does not credit defendants’ argument that plaintiff has not alleged that her Caucasian colleagues were similarly situated to her in all material respects such that an inference of discrimination may be permitted. “Similarly situated in all material respects does not mean all respects generally, but rather sufficiently similar to support at least a minimal inference that the difference of treatment may be attributable to discrimination … What constitutes all material respects varies from case to case, but must be judged based on whether the plaintiff and those he maintains were similarly situated were subject to the same workplace standards … [i.e] holding the same positions of roughly the same rank, and being subject to the same performance review and disciplinary standards”. Plaintiff has satisfied this standard through allegations the Caucasian teachers were teaching similar classes at the same school. Accordingly, defendants’ motion to dismiss plaintiff’s discrimination claim is denied.

[Cleaned up.]

The court did, however, dismiss plaintiff’s retaliation claim, since plaintiff failed to allege a causal connection between her protected activity (filing an EEOC charge) and her termination.

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