NYPD Officer’s Race & Age Discrimination Claims Survive Summary Judgment

In Muniz v. The City of New York, 20 Civ. 9223 (JPC), 2023 WL 6294169 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 27, 2023), the court, inter alia, denied defendant’s motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s claims of discrimination based on race, ethnicity, and age.

The court evaluated plaintiff’s federal claims (asserted under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act) by applying the well-established three-step burden-shifting framework set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973).

It initially found that a reasonable jury could conclude that plaintiff presented a prima facie case of discrimination and that defendant presented a “legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason” for its actions. (I have, for conciseness, truncated the court’s extensive analysis of these elements.)

Turning to the third – and often determinative – step of the analysis (“pretext”), the court explained:

The burden then shifts back to Muniz to “come forward with evidence that the defendant’s proffered, non-discriminatory reason is a mere pretext for actual discrimination.” Weinstock, 224 F.3d at 42. Muniz may satisfy this burden “by demonstrating weaknesses, implausibilities, inconsistencies, or contradictions in the employer’s proffered legitimate … reasons for its actions.” Zann Kwan v. Andalex Grp. LLC, 737 F.3d 834, 846 (2d Cir. 2013). Muniz does present such evidence. Mastronardi praised Muniz’s performance on his shots fired reports on multiple occasions. Muniz Decl. ¶¶ 25-26; Muniz Dep. Tr. at 81:2-25, 84:19-85:5; Mastronardi Dep. Tr. at 106:18-20. Moreover, from 2012 through 2019, Muniz received generally high performance scores in his evaluations. See Dkts. 65-10 at 9-12; 65-13. In particular, in 2019, Muniz received “exceptional” or “exceeds standards” in every applicable metric on his evaluation. Dkt. 65-10 at 9-10. His “rater,” Sergeant Drescher, commented that Muniz “is vital to the success of the unit” and “completes any tasks asked of him with great accuracy and without hesitation.” Dkt. 65-10 at 12. His “reviewer,” Lieutenant Ashford, commented, “I concur.” Id. This evidence would allow a reasonable jury to determine that Mastronardi’s stated issues with Muniz’s work were pretextual.15 Such evidence may then serve as additional circumstantial evidence probative of intentional discrimination. See Windham v. Time Warner, Inc., 275 F.3d 179, 188 (2d Cir. 2001) (“Showing the employer’s proffered legitimate explanation for termination is not worthy of belief is ‘one form of circumstantial evidence that is probative of intentional discrimination, and it may be quite persuasive.’ ” (quoting Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 147 (2000))); St. Mary’s Honor Center v. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502, 511 (1993) (“The factfinder’s disbelief of the reasons put forward by the defendant (particularly if disbelief is accompanied by a suspicion of mendacity) may, together with the elements of the prima facie case, suffice to show intentional discrimination.”). Generally, such a situation creates an issue of fact for the jury at trial. See Cronin v. Aetna Life Ins. Co., 46 F.3d 196, 203 (2d Cir. 1995) (“Thus, unless the employer has come forward with evidence of a dispositive nondiscriminatory reason as to which there is no genuine dispute and which no rational trier of fact could reject, the conflict between the plaintiff’s evidence establishing a prima facie case and the employer’s evidence of a nondiscriminatory reason reflects a question of fact to be resolved by the factfinder after trial.”).

In addition, as discussed at supra III.A.2 in the context of discriminatory intent for purposes of Muniz’s prima facie case, various other evidence lends additional force to the conclusion that a question a fact exists as to whether Defendants’ proffered nondiscriminatory reason is a pretext for discrimination. As explained above, Muniz has presented evidence that Mastronardi made multiple comments at him or directed toward him that related to his age, including criticizing “senior officers who think [they] are just going to sit around, wait to retire and not work,” followed by looking at Muniz, Pl. Counter 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 78; Muniz Dep. Tr. at 145:10-146:16, and commenting that Muniz had “been doing this for a long time” and might be “interested in doing something else,” Defts. 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 74-75; Muniz Dep. Tr. at 149:9-24.

Considered all together, Muniz’s evidence in support of his prima facie case combined with his evidence that Defendants’ reasons for his transfer were pretextual, there is a genuine dispute of fact as to whether Mastronardi acted against Muniz on the basis of his race or his age. Certainly, it may be that Mastronardi’s difficulties with Muniz were legitimate and entirely unrelated to Muniz’s age or race. But given the contradictory evidentiary record before the Court, it is the role of the jury to make that determination. The Court therefore denies Defendants’ motion for summary judgment as to Muniz’s ADEA and Title VII discrimination claims against the City.

Having determined that plaintiff’s claims survive under federal law, the court further held that plaintiff’s claims also survived under the comparatively lenient New York State and City Human Rights Laws.

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