What You Do (and Don’t) Need to Defeat Your Employer’s Motion to Dismiss in Your New York Race Discrimination Case

If you’ve endured race-based discrimination at your job, you likely have many questions, like “can I sue?” and “if I sue, what proof and/or allegations do I need to make a case?” In answering these and other critical questions about your race discrimination case, be sure you’re getting the answers you need. To do that, retain an experienced New York City race discrimination lawyer with the knowledge necessary to give you the advice you need.

In many cases, a vital early hurdle is defeating your employer’s motion to dismiss or motion for summary judgment. Keep in mind, though, that you usually do not need as much to defeat one of these motions as you’ll ultimately need at trial.

The race discrimination case of D.W. was a good example. She was a Black woman who worked as an administrative assistant for an employer in Westchester County and was someone who allegedly suffered extensive discrimination.

In one instance, her supervisor excluded her from the company’s holiday lunch, according to her lawsuit. Two coworkers allegedly told her that the supervisor excluded her because of her race. The following summer, the supervisor allegedly told another employee, as part of denying that other employee a promotion, that as long as she was friends with D.W., “she would not get anywhere” with the employer.

D.W. allegedly continued to be the target of race-based harassment until December 2019, when the employer fired her. The employer asserted that it fired her as a result of “budget cuts.” The employer, however, allegedly hired a white woman to replace her.

The fired employee subsequently launched a race discrimination lawsuit under Title VII and the New York State Human Rights Law. She also asserted a retaliation claim. The employer attacked the woman’s lawsuit, filing a motion to dismiss. The employer contended that D.W. had no case because she never put forth any adverse employment actions except for her termination. D.W. also never advanced facts tying the firing to her race, according to the employer. (Both Title VII and the NYSHRL require a worker to advance factual assertions that “allow the court to draw the reasonable inference that” the employer engaged in illegal discrimination.)

The court, however, rejected these arguments. First, the judge flatly cast aside the employer’s argument that termination was not a valid adverse employment action under the law, pointing out that being fired qualified under both Title VII and the NYSHRL.

That’s been true for several decades. Back in 2001, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, whose decisions control federal cases in New York, Vermont, and Connecticut, specifically stated that “the mere fact that a plaintiff was replaced by someone outside the protected class will suffice for the required inference of discrimination at the prima facie stage of the Title VII analysis.”

Termination and a Replacement from Outside the Protected Class

D.W.’s case is a useful reminder that, at the motion-to-dismiss stage of a lawsuit, a worker doesn’t need detailed, in-depth allegations. The standard at this juncture is something the law calls “de minimis.”

In D.W.’s circumstance, she alleged that her employer fired her and also asserted that the employer subsequently hired a white person to replace her. At this phase, that’s enough to clear the de minimis hurdle.

A Promotion Denied Because of Her Complaints About Discriminatory Management

D.W.’s retaliation claim also survived. When a worker pursues a retaliation claim, she needs to present to the court four things: (1) that she engaged in a “protected activity,” (2) that her employer knew about the activity, (3) that she was the target of an adverse employment action, and (4) that the employee’s protected activity caused the adverse action.

One common form of protected activity is complaining about discrimination. Be aware that this complaint need not be a formal one; it can be as simple as a verbal comment to a coworker. In D.W.’s case, she complained to a white coworker that their supervisor treated the white woman more favorably because of race. In March 2019, the supervisor denied D.W. a promotion and allegedly stated that one of the reasons was D.W.’s complaints to the white coworker about the supervisor’s discriminatory treatment of her.

That was enough. The allegation established that D.W. complained about race-based disparate treatment and the supervisor denied her a promotion because of that complaint. That satisfied all of the essential prongs of a retaliation claim.

A successful discrimination lawsuit often is a matter of multiple successful battles, each of which must be won to get to the next. At every step of the process, make sure you have the skillful legal representation you need. The diligent New York race discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates are here to provide our clients with the helpful advice and effective advocacy their cases deserve. To find out more, contact us online or at (866) 530-4330 to set up a free and confidential consultation today.

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