Actress Plausibly Alleges Race-Based Discriminatory Termination, Court Holds

In Moore, Kim v. Hadestown Broadway Limited Liability Company, No. 23-CV-4837 (LAP), 2024 WL 989843 (S.D.N.Y. March 7, 2024), the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York (in an opinion authored by Judge Preska), inter alia, denied defendant’s motion to dismiss plaintiff’s race-based discriminatory termination claims.

The court discussed, and applied, the law as follows:

On the face of the Amended Complaint alone, Plaintiff has plausibly alleged she suffered an adverse employment action through her termination on December 5, 2021. The Amended Complaint contains no mention of a pre-ordained expiration of her employment term with Defendant or that such employment was only for a temporary period. According to the Amended Complaint, Plaintiff was hired in January 2020 and Defendant did not end her employment until her firing on December 5, 2021. Accordingly, the Amended Complaint plausibly alleges that on December 5, 2021, Plaintiff was terminated, constituting an adverse employment action.

Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint also plausibly alleges that Defendant was at least partially motivated by discriminatory intent when it terminated Plaintiff’s employment. The Court may make an inference of discriminatory intent based on various circumstances as pleaded, including, but not limited to “the employer’s criticism of the plaintiff’s performance in ethnically degrading terms; or its invidious comments about others in the employee’s protected group; or the more favorable treatment of employees not in the protected group; or the sequence of events leading to the plaintiff’s discharge.” Littlejohn, 795 F.3d at 312 (internal quotations and citations omitted). The Court may also infer discrimination “when an employer replaces a terminated or demoted employee with an individual outside the employee’s protected class.”

The Amended Complaint contains enough plausible allegations for the Court to infer Hadestown was at least partially motivated by discrimination when it terminated Plaintiff. Most obviously, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant hired a white actress to replace Plaintiff—a black actress—as Worker #1 two days after it terminated Plaintiff. According to the Amended Complaint, this replacement occurred soon after Hadestown dance captain Timothy Reid and director Rachel Chavkin had separately indicated to staff members in the two weeks prior to Plaintiff’s termination that Defendant was seeking to hire a white actress to replace Plaintiff in the cast.

Plaintiff’s allegation of an immediate replacement in the cast by an actress not in her protected class suffices to allege plausibly Defendant’s discriminatory intent. The inference is buttressed by Plaintiff’s allegation that two authority figures in the Musical had already separately indicated that Defendant was seeking to replace Plaintiff with someone who was not in Plaintiff’s protected class.

Based on the same allegations, the sequence of events also leads the Court to infer that Defendant was at least partially motivated by discriminatory intent when it terminated Plaintiff. See id. at 312. Plaintiff alleges that Mr. Neumann apologized to the entire Hadestown cast on November 23, 2021, because the Musical was conveying a “white savior story” through an all-black Workers Chorus; that Mr. Reid told Plaintiff on November 24 that Defendant was seeking to hire a white actress to replace Plaintiff; that Mr. Neumann emailed the black cast members on November 28 to say Defendant was seeking to avoid an “all black” Workers Chorus; that on December 1, Chavkin indicated to her staff that Hadestown had hired a white woman to replace Plaintiff; that Defendant then terminated Plaintiff four days later; and Defendant finally replaced Plaintiff with a white actress on December 7.

Read together, these allegations create a plausible inference that after members of Defendant’s leadership became worried in late November 2021 that the all-black Workers Chorus was conveying a white savior message that they did not want the Musical to convey, Defendant sought to replace Plaintiff with a white actress to change composition of the Workers Chorus and end the unintended white savior message. Such a sequence implies that Plaintiff’s termination was based on her race and Defendant’s desire to replace her with a white actress. Accordingly, Plaintiff has sufficiently pleaded the minimal factual support necessary at this stage to allege that Defendant was motivated by discriminatory intent when it terminated her on December 5, 2021.

Because Plaintiff has pleaded sufficient facts to allege plausibly that she suffered an adverse employment action motivated by discriminatory intent, she has stated claims for disparate treatment under Title VII and § 1981.

Plaintiff has also pleaded sufficient facts to show that she was “treated less well” because of her race. As discussed above, Plaintiff has alleged that she lost her job and was replaced by a white actress because Defendant wanted to get rid of her as a black member of the Workers Chorus. Such allegations of race-based termination go beyond the mere inferior treatment needed to plead NYCHRL and NYSHRL claims. Plaintiff has thus pleaded facts sufficient to support her NYCHRL and NYSHRL discrimination claims.

[Citations omitted.]

The court also held that plaintiff adequately pleaded hostile work environment claims under the New York State and City Human Rights Laws (but not under Title VII).

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