Friday, October 2, 2015

More guidance from the Second Circuit on how to plead a discrimination case

Over the past few months, the Court of Appeals has issued two important decisions on what it takes to plead a pluasible prima facie case of discrimination under the civil rights laws. Here's another one, though it is an unpublished summary order. Still, worth a read if you do this for a living.

The case is Dawson v. New York City Transit Authority, decided on September 16. The Court reminds us the standard articulated in Littlejohn v. City of New York, decided on August 3:

“what must be plausibly supported by facts alleged in the complaint is that the plaintiff is a member of a protected class, was qualified, suffered an adverse employment action, and has at least minimal support for the proposition that the employer was motivated by discriminatory intent.” The allegations “must give plausible support to the reduced requirements that arise under McDonnell Douglas in the initial phase of a Title VII litigation.” They need not, however, give “plausible support to the ultimate question of whether the adverse employment action was attributable to discrimination.”
This case was dismissed by the district court under Rule 12, but the Second Circuit (Leval, Lohier and Droney) reinstates it. The district court said plaintiff in this disabilities discrimination case did not plead any adverse action because it said plaintiff was really challenging defendant's refusal to reinstate him, which made this case nothing more than a collateral attack on a prior adverse decision, his termination. But that was not plaintiff's case.

He does not contest the validity of his medically indicated reclassification from train operator to station agent in 2005, a reclassification to which he consented. Rather, Plaintiff challenges Defendant NYCTA’s refusal to consider subsequent developments in his medical condition that could make him newly eligible for classification as a train operator. ... Plaintiff is not in fact disputing the unfairness of his original discharge; nor is it the case that 'only if the original discharge was discriminatory is he entitled to be reinstated.' ... Just as Plaintiff was reclassified in 2005 "because he was not medically able to safely perform the functions of a train operator," Plaintiff now seeks a reclassification because he has allegedly become 'medically able to safely perform the functions' of a train operator.
The district court also tossed the case because it said plaintiff blew the statute of limitations in filing his EEOC charge more than 300 days after he sought the position. The Second Circuit says that analysis is wrong because the adverse decision was made within the 300-day period. By the way, it looks like the Transit Authority admits plaintiff was denied the position because of his history of epilepsy, so he may have a case.

The district court also said the complaint did not allege that plaintiff was ill-treated under circumstances creating an inference of discrimination, another element of the prima facie case. But the Court of Appeals says, "At the pleading stage, district courts would do well to remember this exceedingly low burden that discrimination plaintiffs face even after they have survived a motion to dismiss." Since the City admitted that its refusal to grant Plaintiff's request for reclassification is premised on his disability, he satisfies this standard.   

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