Retaliation Claims Sufficiently Stated; Termination Followed Sexual Harassment Complaint

In Scott v. YSB Services Inc., 21-CV-7711 (VSB), 2024 WL 1330043 (S.D.N.Y. March 28, 2024), the court, inter alia, denied defendant’s motion to dismiss plaintiff’s claim of retaliation asserted 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.

After summarizing the black-letter law, the court applied it to the facts as follows:

Defendant argues that I should dismiss Plaintiff’s claims because she “has not plausibly alleged that Defendant’s subjected her to any adverse employment action because she participated in any statutorily protected activity.” (Doc. 41 at 14.) I disagree. Plaintiff engaged in a protected activity by complaining about Samuels’ sexual harassment.

Defendant also argues that Plaintiff did not “identify[ ] when or who engaged in the retaliation” or “which decision makers at YSB were aware of Plaintiff’s protected activity.” (Doc. 41 at 16.) This is also incorrect. Plaintiff alleges that she made her complaints directly to agents of YSB, including Pope and YSB’s owner. (SAC ¶¶ 29, 37, 32, 37.) These complaints are sufficient to notify Defendant of the complained-of conduct. It is not required that Plaintiff file a formal “complaint to YSB’s Human Resources department,” as Defendant argues. (Doc. 41 at 17.) “The law protects employees in the filing of formal charges of discrimination as well as in the making of informal protests of discrimination, including complaints to management.” La Grande v. DeCrescente Dist. Co., 370 Fed. App’x 206, 212 (2d Cir. 2010).

Defendant claims that Plaintiff does not allege that the termination of her employment was “taken because of her sex or gender.” (Doc. 41 at 7.) Defendant ignores the facts alleged in the Second Amended Complaint and the logical inferences those facts suggest. As an initial matter, Plaintiff adequately pleads (and Defendant does not dispute) that Plaintiff’s employment was terminated on July 2, 2021 during a meeting with Pope. (SAC ¶ 39.) Termination from employment is the prototypical adverse employment action. See Joseph v. Leavitt, 465 F.3d 87, 90 (2d Cir. 2006); Guzman v. News Corp., No. 09-CV-09323, 2013 WL 5807058, at *21 n.7 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 28, 2013) (recognizing that termination “indisputably constitutes an adverse employment action” (internal quotation marks omitted)). Plaintiff’s employment was terminated within a week of her informing the owner of YSB of Samuels’ inappropriate workplace behavior, and his statement to Plaintiff that Pope would “deal with these problems.” (SAC ¶¶ 29–31.)

Finally, Plaintiff alleges that her employment was terminated at the very meeting that she believed had been scheduled to further discuss the sexual harassment she was experiencing. (SAC ¶¶ 37–39.) As detailed above, the Second Amended Complaint alleges that Samuels was hired in May 2021, the sexual harassment began almost immediately, the sexual harassment continued unabated on almost a daily basis, Plaintiff reported the sexual harassment on June 26, 2021, and Plaintiff’s employment was terminated at a July 2, 2021 meeting with Pope with Samuels within earshot of the conversation. I find that Plaintiff plausibly alleges facts to support a causal connection between her complaints and the termination of her employment. See Lindner v. Int’l Bus. Machs. Corp., No. 06-CV-4751 (RJS), 2008 WL 2461934, at *7 (S.D.N.Y. June 18, 2008) (“[R]etaliation claims are rarely dismissed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) where the plaintiff has alleged a time period of less than one year between the protected activity and the alleged retaliatory conduct.”).

Because Plaintiff’s federal and state retaliation claims survive, so does her NYCHRL retaliation claim. See Pardovani v. Crown Bldg. Maint. Co., No. 15-CV-9065 (JPO), 2020 WL 2555280, at *5 (S.D.N.Y. May 20, 2020) (concluding that if federal retaliation and hostile work environment claims survive, NYCHRL claims also survive); Gonzalez v. City of New York, 377 F. Supp. 3d 273, 299 (S.D.N.Y. 2019) (observing that federal and state statutes are a “floor below which the City’s Human Rights law cannot fall”) By complaining about Samuels’ sexual harassment, Plaintiff took action to oppose conduct made unlawful by the NCHRL and the subsequent termination of Plaintiff’s employment is reasonably likely to deter such action.

Based on this, the court held that the denial of defendant’s motion was warranted.

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