Race Discrimination Claim Sufficiently Alleged Against NYC Department of Education, Court Holds

In Everett v. New York City Department of Education et al, 21 Civ. 7043 (JPC), 2023 WL 5629295 (S.D.N.Y. August 31, 2023), the court, inter alia, denied defendant’s motion to dismiss plaintiff’s claim of race discrimination asserted under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

After summarizing the “black letter” law applicable to this claim, the court applied it to the facts:

At this motion to dismiss stage, the Court must assume Everett’s allegations to be true, and must credit all inferences from those allegations in her favor. While a close call, assuming the truth of Everett’s allegations and liberally construing her pro se Second Amended Complaint, and considering those allegations collectively under a “mosaic” view, Everett has sufficiently alleged circumstances at P.S. 63 that give rise to an inference of discriminatory intent. Everett alleges that Diaz-Lens ignored her immediately before greeting a white teacher, SAC Addendum ¶ 30; provided no feedback after observing one of Everett’s classes, instead rolling his eyes at her later in the day, yet provided positive feedback to a white teacher whose lesson Diaz-Lens also had observed, id. ¶ 31; and asked one of Everett’s kindergarten students whether he would prefer another, non-black teacher in front of Everett, id. ¶¶ 33-34. Diaz-Lens also allegedly told Denny, the only other black kindergarten teacher, that Denny was “not the right fit for this school” as he informed her that she was being terminated. Id. ¶ 54. In isolation, and without more context, this “not the right fit” statement may not reflect discriminatory animus. And ultimately (assuming it was in fact said), this statement may very well be determined by the fact-finder to be entirely race-neutral. But at this motion to dismiss stage, with all inferences concerning that statement drawn in Everett’s favor and without any discovery shedding light to the context or meaning of Diaz-Lens’s alleged statement to Denny, it adds to the “mosaic” of alleged discriminatory intent. See Abrams v. Dep’t of Pub. Safety, 764 F.3d 244, 253 (2d Cir. 2014) (discussing phrases like “better fit” and “fitting in” as potentially referring to race); Mauro v. N.Y.C. Dep’t of Educ., No. 21-2671, 2022 WL 17844438, at *2 (2d Cir. Dec. 22, 2022) (same). Further, the simultaneous discontinuance of both Everett and the only other black kindergarten teacher allegedly left only white kindergarten teachers for the 2022-2023 school year. SAC Addendum ¶ 55. And finally, another black employee of the school also allegedly told Everett that in the employee’s experience, Diaz-Lens treated white teachers more favorably than black teachers. Id. ¶ 32. The teacher’s underlying basis for this view—assuming it could be presented in a manner that avoids hearsay issues—may further establish discriminatory animus on the part of Diaz-Lens.

Based on this, the court held that, “[t]aken together, these allegations sufficiently nudge Everett’s pro se claims across the line from conceivable to plausible, the standard the Court must employ at this stage.”

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