Race-Based Discrimination (Demotion Only) Claims Survive Summary Judgment

In Moody, Amanda v. Empire Hotel Development, Inc., et al, No. 20-CV-02203 (PMH), 2023 WL 5480729 (S.D.N.Y. August 24, 2023), the court, inter alia, denied defendants’ motion for summary judgment as to plaintiff’s race-based discrimination (demotion) claim.

From the decision:

Moody also contends that she was demoted in mid-July 2019. Moody testified that a few weeks after Trinidad quit mid-shift in the beginning of July 2019, Moody was promoted to kitchen manager. (Moody Tr. at 180:11-22; 184:12- 317:2-318:9). However, the day after Moody took one day off in mid-July, Trinidad was rehired as kitchen manager and Moody was demoted to cook. (Id. at 326:14-20). Moody did not receive a pay cut or any change in job responsibilities; indeed, she had the same responsibilities before the promotion to kitchen manager and after, but Moody did not return to work after the demotion, so there is no evidence of a change in job responsibilities following the demotion. (Id. at 327:8-9, 344:3-16). These facts are sufficient to at least raise an issue that Moody’s demotion was an adverse employment action because, although her pay was not cut and there is no evidence that her responsibilities changed, the title of her position had diminished prestige. Further, that her managerial title was assumed by a newly rehired individual who was not African American could give rise to the inference of discrimination. Williams v. All. Nat. Inc., 24 F. App’x 50, 53 (2d Cir. 2001). Empire does not offer any reason for the demotion, let alone a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason. Empire argues only that the change in title from kitchen manager to cook was unaccompanied by a reduction in pay or change in responsibilities, and therefore does not constitute a demotion. (Def. Br. at 21-22; Reply Br. at 6). The Court disagrees. Empire has not met its burden to establish a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for Moody’s demotion and therefore summary judgment must be denied.

The court did, however, dismiss plaintiff’s claims of hostile work environment and constructive discharge, finding that the alleged actions cited by plaintiff – having to wear a uniform, not getting her preferred scheduling or days off, having a harder workload than the other two kitchen employees, her demotion, and alleged racial epithets – did not meet the demanding standard for those legal claims.

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