Monday, June 1, 2020

Pro se plaintiff wins Title VII retaliation appeal against JP Morgan

This pro se plaintiff wins in the Court of Appeals, which finds that the district court improperly dismissed his retaliation claim. But he cannot convince the Second Circuit that his hostile work environment has merit.

The case is Rivera v. JP Morgan Chase, a summary order issued on May 29. Let's start with the hostile work environment case. Plaintiff says in his complaint that he was subject to a "pattern and practice of overt ethnic discrimination" involving "verbal bullying and ethnic slurs." That's a good start; Title VII prohibits a severe or pervasive work environment on the basis of ethnicity/ But plaintiff did not provide any details about the harassment. Who did this to him? What did they say? There is not much case law in the Second Circuit on this precise issue: how much detail must the plaintiff provide in the complaint on a workplace harassment claim? This case does not clarify that answer, but we do know that plaintiff's allegations are not enough.

While the hostile work environment claim fails, the retaliation claim does not. Plaintiff says he complained to human resources in July 2010 that his supervisors were discriminating against him because of his national origin. A month later, management stripped him of his duties, diverted new clients to other bankers, suspended him, and terminated his employment. While the district court says plaintiff did not plausibly plead a causal connection between his complaints and the adverse actions. But that was wrong, the Second Circuit (Sack, Wesley and Chin) says. This is not a complex issue, actually. The retaliatory acts took place only a month after plaintiff complained. There is no bright-line rule on what constitutes a victorious timeline for retaliation claims, but one month is surely enough under the cases, like Abrams v. Dept. of Public Safety, 764 F.3d 244 (2d Cir. 2014), and Gorman-Bakos v. Cornell-Cooperative Extension, 252 F.3d 545 (2d Cir. 2001), which extend it out to five and four months, respectively.

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