The Second Circuit Court of Appeals recently reinstated a lawsuit alleging a hostile work environment based on race, religion, and national origin under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. A federal district judge had granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment last year, finding that the plaintiff had shown “no reasonable basis” for her claims. Ahmed v. Astoria Bank, et al. (“Ahmed I”), No. 1:14-cv-04595, mem. order at 1 (E.D.N.Y., Mar. 31, 2016). On appeal, the defendants cited the “sham issue of fact” doctrine, which prohibits a party from using contradictory evidence to defeat a summary judgment motion. The Second Circuit vacated the district court’s decision and remanded the case, finding that the evidence was not actually contradictory. Ahmed v. Astoria Bank, et al. (“Ahmed II”), No. 16-1389-cv, slip op. (2d Cir., May 9, 2017).
Title VII prohibits discrimination on the basis of multiple factors, including race, national origin, and religion. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a). The plaintiff in an employment discrimination lawsuit has the burden of proving the allegedly unlawful conduct. A defendant can challenge the plaintiff’s claims before trial and even get some or all of them dismissed with a motion for summary judgment. The defendant must show that “no genuine dispute as to any material fact” exists and that it “is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). A plaintiff can defeat summary judgment by showing that a “genuine dispute” does exist.
The plaintiff filed suit against her former employer in 2014, alleging that she had been “subjected to discrimination and unlawful termination” in violation of Title VII and other federal and state laws “because she was a Muslim of Egyptian and Arabic heritage.” Ahmed I at 2. The district court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment. On the hostile work environment claim, the court held that she had “identified only a few incidents, primarily stray comments from two specific individuals,” in support of her claims. Id. at 23.