Religious Discrimination Claims Dismissed Against the NYC Department of Education

In Blumstein-Torrella v. New York City Department of Education et al, 19-cv-3492 (ALC), 2023 WL 5097873 (S.D.N.Y. August 9, 2023), the court, inter alia, dismissed plaintiff’s claims for religious discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the New York State Human Rights Law, and the New York City Human Rights Law.

Here is the court’s application of the law pertaining to Title VII:

The Amended Complaint does not include sufficient facts to support a claim of religious discrimination. Plaintiff alleges that Bellafatto told Plaintiff that she should attend church in the evening like Bellafatto did (Am. Compl., ECF No. 12 ¶ 15), and interrogated Plaintiff about her religious beliefs by questioning Plaintiff about her surname (id. ¶ 16). In October 2017, Bellafatto told Plaintiff that she had not submitted the necessary paperwork for her to take off All Saints Day, when in fact Plaintiff avers that she submitted the paperwork weeks before the holiday. (Id. ¶ 16.) Plaintiff also alleges that another employee—Ms. Sefcik—was allowed to take a day off for Ascension Thursday in May 2018, while Plaintiff never received a response to her same request. (Id. ¶ 18.) Plaintiff alleges that Plaintiff received “disciplinary notices” for absences that were due, in part, to religious observance for Catholic holidays. (Id. ¶¶ 13, 23.) Plaintiff argues that “[a]ll of this evidence bespeaks disparate treatment based on religion and failure to accommodate her religious leave requests that warrants further factual development and denial of Defendants’ motion to dismiss.” (ECF No. 19 at 13.)

These allegations do not support an inference that Plaintiff was discriminated against because of her religion. Essentially, Plaintiff alleges that she was not allowed to take days off for religious observance for All Saints Day in 2017 and Ascension Thursday in May 2018. It is unclear from the pleadings whether Plaintiff took these days off anyway, or whether she was unable to observe these holidays. Moreover, the allegations do not give rise to an inference of a discriminatory animus on the part of Bellafatto or the NYC DOE. The fact that other Catholic employees requested and received permission to observe these holidays suggests that Plaintiff’s requests were not ignored because of her religion, but may have been overlooked or ignored for some other reason, such as administrative incompetence or personal animus. Plaintiff does not allege that her “performance [was criticized] in [religiously] degrading terms” or that “invidious comments” were made “about others in [her] protected group.” D’Cunha v. Northwell Health Sys., No. 1:22-CV-0988 (MKV), 2023 WL 2266520, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 28, 2023) (quoting Littlejohn v. City of New York, 795 F.3d 297, 312 (2d Cir. 2015)). “Nor does she allege ‘more favorable treatment of employees not in [her] protected group.’ ” Id. Thus, Plaintiff has not adequately pled a discriminatory animus on the part of Defendants.

The court further held that plaintiff’s claims were likewise deficient under the more lenient standard of the New York City Human Rights Law, noting that the city law, like Title VII, “is not a general civility code.”

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