“Same Actor Inference” Held Inapplicable, Yet Race Discrimination Claims Dismissed Against NYU Langone

In a recent case, Pitter-Green v. NYU Langone Medical Center, No. 155386/2021, 2022 WL 17751149, 2022 N.Y. Slip Op. 34276(U) (N.Y. Sup Ct, New York County Dec. 16, 2022), the court granted defendant’s motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s race-based discriminatory discharge claims.

It did, however, reject defendant’s attempt to invoke the so-called “same-actor inference” and, specifically, that under the circumstances here, it did not negate negate an inference of discrimination.

From the decision:

It is undisputed that plaintiff, a black woman over 40 years of age, is a member of a protected class, is qualified to hold her position, and was terminated from her employment. The sole issue is whether the termination took place giving rise to an inference of discrimination.

Addressing defendant’s contentions, while the fact that the same people hired, promoted, and then fired plaintiff may negate an inference of discrimination in certain circumstances, plaintiff was hired in 1987 and fired in 2010, which is too long a time span to negate the inference (See Tirschwell v TCW Group, Inc., 94 AD3d 665 [1st Dept 2021] [“same actor” inference unavailing as one and half years passed between hiring and firing]; Dickerson v Health Mgt. Corp. of Am., 21 AD3d 326 [1st Dept 2005] [“in cases where the hirer and firer are the same individual and the termination of employment occurs within a relatively short time span **6 following the hiring, a strong inference exists that discrimination was not a determining factor for the adverse action taken by the employer”]).

As to differential treatment, the court found that “defendant establishes legitimate, independent, and nondiscriminatory reasons for its discipline of plaintiff.”

While plaintiff “points to one race-related remark made by her non-black male supervisor as evidence of discriminatory intent” she did “not relate it to the issues defendant had with her work or its decision to terminate her.”

The court thus concluded that defendant was entitled to summary judgment on plaintiff’s discriminatory-discharge claim asserted under the New York State Human Rights Law.

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