Retaliation Claims, Arising From Complaints of Race Discrimination Against Colleague, Survive Summary Judgment Against IBM

In Temidis v. Intern. Business Machines Corp., No. 156289/2018, 2022 WL 4790484, 2022 N.Y. Slip Op. 33326(U)(N.Y. Sup Ct, New York County Oct. 03, 2022), the court, inter alia, denied defendant’s motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s retaliation claims asserted under the New York State and City Human Rights Laws.

The court summarized the facts as follows:

This action stems from plaintiff’s termination as an employee of defendant IBM. Plaintiff claims he was terminated in retaliation for complaints he made as to his belief that a colleague was denied full commission because he was black. Plaintiff made the complaints to his direct supervisor because another colleague, who was white, had earned a full commission on a similar type of sale. Shortly after the complaint was made, IBM fired plaintiff, his direct supervisor, and another executive. IBM claims it never knew of plaintiff’s discussions with his supervisor.

As to plaintiff’s retaliation claim under the NYC Human Rights Law, the court explained:

The Court finds there are issues of material fact with respect to plaintiff’s retaliation claims against IBM. Defendant contends that plaintiff did not engage in protected activity, and if he did, that activity was not known to defendant. Plaintiff testified that he discussed details of Mr. Donato’s and Mr. Beard’s sales and commissions with Mr. Kingston, his direct supervisor (NYSCEF Doc. 216 at 18).

Both Mr. Kingston [plaintiff’s direct supervisor] and plaintiff agreed they were suspicious of discriminatory behavior by IBM. Plaintiff did not escalate his concerns to a formal complaint because his direct supervisor advised he would relay both his and plaintiff’s concerns to executives (NYSCEF Doc. 216 at 18). Mr. Kingston then reported those details to the very executives who would go on to recommend firing Mr. Kingston, plaintiff and one other IBM executive. Because Mr. Kingston was relaying details about Mr. Donato’s commission in comparison to Mr. Beard’s, a factfinder could conclude that IBM executives were aware of plaintiff’s discussions with Mr. Kingston because plaintiff was Mr. Donato’s direct supervisor, not Mr. Kingston. The fact finder will decide whether IBM decisionmakers believed Mr. Kingston knew the transaction details of plaintiff’s sales team without having spoken directly to plaintiff.

The court reached a similar conclusion as to plaintiff’s claim under state law, observing that “[a] reasonable jury might (or might not) conclude those executives were aware of the conversations taking place between Mr. Kingston and plaintiff because Mr. Kingston relayed details about Mr. Donato’s commission that he would not otherwise know without plaintiff’s assistance.”

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