Second Circuit Revives Discrimination Claims; “Mosaic” of Allegations Sufficient

In Buon v. Spindler, 2023 WL 2903401 (2d Cir. April 12, 2023), the court vacated the lower court’s order dismissing plaintiff’s discrimination claim.

From the decision:

Here, Buon has met her minimal burden by alleging facts that give rise to a plausible inference of discrimination with respect to the denial of her application to administer the RISE program, the denial of her application to administer the summer-school program, and the termination of her position as SMS principal.

With regard to each of the three positions at issue, Buon alleges that she “was qualified for the position she sought or held and was either denied appointment or replaced by a person of another racial and/or ethnic group who lacked her qualifications.” Joint App’x at 23. For example, as to the RISE program, Buon alleges that, although she held the position previously, it was given in January 2019 to an individual who “was neither African American nor West Indian.” Id. at 17; see, e.g., Littlejohn, 795 F.3d at 313 (“The fact that a plaintiff was replaced by someone outside the protected class will ordinarily suffice for the required inference of discrimination at the initial prima facie stage of the Title VII analysis, including at the pleading stage.”). Buon further alleged that the individual who secured the position was a less qualified and newly hired administrator who did not hold a school-based job. See Littlejohn, 795 F.3d at 313 (holding that inference of discrimination was further supported by plaintiff’s allegations that her replacement was not only outside her protected class but also less qualified for the position due to lack of relevant work experience). Similarly, as to the summer-school position, Buon contends that, even though she had participated in the summer program for at least the “five prior years,” Joint App’x at 13, and that she “was better qualified” for the role, id. at 20, “defendants Padilla and the district chose much less experienced persons to administrate the district’s summer[-]school program,” id. In addition, “[o]f the five persons chosen [for the position], four were Caucasian, one was Latino, and none were African American or West Indian.”

Furthermore, Buon listed a series of instances of disparate treatment in the workplace where she was allegedly subjected to job requirements and to discipline that was different than employees outside her protected class. See id. at 54–55 (discussing allegations that, unlike employees who were not African American or West Indian, Buon was, inter alia: (1) “required to make phone calls to students to inform them they could not wear Halloween costumes”; (2) “required to provide timely responses to meeting invitations”; (3) “not allowed to institute certain programs at her school”; (4) “disciplined for being late”; and (5) subjected to a “negative performance review, disciplinary meetings, and other forms of criticism”). Although these alleged other instances of disparate treatment may not separately rise to the level of adverse employment actions, Buon is permitted to “[c]reat[e] a mosaic with the bits and pieces of available evidence” that, taken together, support a plausible inference of intentional discrimination with respect to the decisions to deny her application to be the RISE administrator, deny her application to work summer school, and terminate her position as SMS principal. Gallagher v. Delaney, 139 F.3d 338, 342 (2d Cir. 1998), abrogated in part on other grounds by Ellerth, 524 U.S. 742, 118 S.Ct. 2257; see also Vega, 801 F.3d at 88 (explaining that “[plaintiff’s] other allegations of discrimination, even if they do not independently constitute adverse employment actions, provide relevant background evidence by shedding light on Defendant[s’] motivation and thus bolster [her] claim that Defendants treated [her] differently because of [her] ethnicity” (internal quotation marks and citations omitted)); Norville v. Staten Island Univ. Hosp., 196 F.3d 89, 95 (2d Cir. 1999) (explaining that “[a] plaintiff may support an inference of race discrimination by demonstrating that similarly situated employees of a different race were treated more favorably”); Stratton v. Dep’t for the Aging for the City of N.Y., 132 F.3d 869, 879 n.6 (2d Cir. 1997) (“Actions taken by an employer that disadvantage an employee for no logical reason constitute strong evidence of intent to discriminate.”).

Based on this, the court concluded that the allegations in plaintiff’s complaint were sufficient to plausibly support an inference of unlawful discrimination.

Share This: