Friday, January 16, 2015

Speculative retaliation claim is dismissed

The Court of Appeals can open-minded about Title VII retaliation claims, where plaintiffs argue that they got shafted by management after they asserted their rights under the civil rights laws. Plaintiffs sometimes succeed in reversing summary judgment on appeal, but not every case is a winner. This case loses in the Second Circuit.

The case is Henderson v. Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., a summary order decided on January 7. This case applies the settled legal standard that cases will not go to a jury on the basis of speculation or conjecture or conclusory allegations. Plaintiff says he was denied a pay raise after he was promoted to a supervisory position in retaliation for previously complaining about discrimination.

That plaintiff can articulate a claim does not mean he has a claim. Management testified that the raises are discretionary for new supervisors. Two other supervisors also failed to get raises. And "the company's decision to deny Henderson a raise owed specifically to his poor job performance, including one evaluation ranking Henderson in the bottom ten percent of his peers. Indeed, Sikorksy asserts that Henderson’s disappointing performance discouraged the company from awarding him a supervisory position for several years, and that Henderson was offered the promotion in 2012 only because there were no other qualified applicants to fill an immediate vacancy."

At best, the Second Circuit (Lynch, Chin and Koeltl [D.J.]) says, plaintiff only speculates as to his belief that he was denied the raise because of his race. This will not do in the Court of Appeals (or the trial courts for that matter). While retaliation cases with a logical timeline can be winning cases for plaintiffs, this case is not one of them.

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