This plaintiff has been in litigation against her employer for over a decade. That litigation will continue, thanks to the Court of Appeals, which finds her second lawsuit against the City of Syracuse states a plausible claim for discrimination.
The case is Dotson v. City of Syracuse, a summary order decided on April 24. Dotson is a Community Service Worker who originally sued her employer in 2004, alleging discrimination and retaliation. In 2011, a jury awarded her $225,000 in damages, finding that she suffered retaliation for complaining about pornography in the workplace.
The second lawsuit -- and the subject of this appeal -- was filed in connection with things that happened after the first lawsuit was filed. She claims her suspended in 2012 was discriminatory. The district court rejected that claim from the outset, but the Court of Appeals (Wesley, Kearse and Livingston) reinstates it. The Court of Appeals reminds us that "when evaluating pretext [under Title VII], a court must consider the plaintiff's evidence as a whole, including evidence evidence of discriminatory or disparaging language." The cases in support of these propositions are Walsh v. NYC Housing Authority,. 828 F.3d 70 (2d Cir. 2016), and Danzer v. Norden Systems, 151 F.3d 50 (2d Cir. 1998). Under this standard, plaintiff has a case. The two people who played a role in plaintiff's discipline in 2008 both made stupid comments that reflected hostility toward women. One said that "broads can't work together" because "they'll just be calling for back up all the time." The other said "he could not take hiring another woman" because "he was tired of dealing with their problems." Statements like this will give you a case, and the City of Syracuse now has to either get around these admissions or show that plaintiff can't win her case for other reasons.
But you can't win them all. Plaintiff also says she was suspended in 2012 for complaining about pornography in 2003. That's a nine-year gap. Courts will usually find a nine-month gap too long for retaliation cases. Plaintiff tries to get around this by arguing that the jury verdict in her first lawsuit happened in November 2011 and the discipline took place in February 2012. That certainly narrows the gap, but the Court of Appeals says the verdict is not "protected activity" under Title VII (although it probably threw the City into a rage and gave them an incentive to take it out against plaintiff). The Second Circuit says "the more relevant starting point is the time of the employee's protected activity -- here, the filing of the lawsuit, not its ultimate resolution." That eight-year gap will not cut it, so the retaliation claim is gone.
I can see a jury accepting the timeline proposed by plaintiff. The jury verdict is not protected activity, but it's a major event in the first lawsuit. It is probably enough to trigger a retaliatory impulse, since the City probably thinks it should won the case. But Title VII does not say verdicts constitute protected activity. A loophole that, I'm sure, the drafters of Title VII never thought about.