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New York Court Explains Elements of a Retaliation Claim

There are numerous classes that are protected from discrimination under both state and federal law. Moreover, in addition to prohibiting discrimination, employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees for reporting discriminatory behavior. Similar to other employment discrimination claims, though, a plaintiff alleging retaliation must meet a high standard to prove the employer’s acts were the result of retaliation and not another non-discriminatory purpose. Recently, the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York explained the elements of a retaliation claim, in a case in which the plaintiff alleged disability and gender discrimination claims. If you experienced workplace discrimination or retaliation for reporting discrimination, it is advisable to speak with a New York employment discrimination attorney regarding your potential claims.

Facts of the Case

Allegedly, the plaintiff worked for the defendant as a part-time teaching assistant. She suffered from Hashimoto’s disease and advised her employer that she had the disease on numerous occasions. She testified the disease often causes muscle pain, exhaustion, and back and neck pain. The plaintiff reported to her supervisor that she felt uncomfortable with two of the students she was assigned to work with, due to the fact that one of them sent her notes of a sexual nature and because they both made inappropriate comments towards her. She was advised to avoid being around them and to limit her interactions with them.

Reportedly, the plaintiff was ultimately advised that the students’ behavior was addressed with the students and that she would be re-assigned to a new classroom. She became upset and resisted the transfer, suggesting she was not actually uncomfortable with their interactions. She became extremely upset and was advised not to return to the classroom, but did regardless. Later that day, her supervisor stated he was concerned that she was not maintaining appropriate boundaries and was undermining the social workers and failing to manage her classroom. The decision was made to terminate her employment, after which she provided the defendant with a note stating she was taking medical leave. She was terminated one day later. She filed a lawsuit alleging several claims against the defendant, including retaliation. The defendant moved for summary judgment, and the court granted the defendant’s motion.

Elements of a Retaliation Claim

The plaintiff argued, in part, that her termination was in retaliation for taking medical leave. The court explained that retaliation claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act are analyzed under the burden-shifting framework of McDonnell Douglas. In other words, the plaintiff must set forth a prima face case, which requires him or her to show that he or she engaged in an activity that was protected and of which the defendant was aware, an adverse employment action, and a connection between the protected activity and the action.

If the plaintiff establishes a prima facie case, the defendant must then set forth a non-retaliatory, legitimate reason for the adverse action. The burden then shifts to the plaintiff to demonstrate that the defendant’s reason is mere pretext for retaliation. In the subject case, the court explained that while the plaintiff set forth a prima facie case, the defendant also established a legitimate reason for terminating the plaintiff, namely her inappropriate interactions with students. As the plaintiff failed to show that the reason was pretext, the court granted the defendant’s motion, dismissing the plaintiff’s claims.

Speak with an Experienced Employment Attorney

If your employer retaliated against you for reporting discriminatory acts, it is in your best interest to speak with an experienced New York employment discrimination attorney to discuss what damages you may be able to pursue. At Gerstman Schwartz LLP, our zealous attorneys have the knowledge and experience to assist you in seeking the best outcome available under the facts of your case. You can contact us through our online form or by calling us at our Manhattan office at (212) 227-7070 or at our Garden City office at (516) 880-8170 to set up a confidential and free meeting.

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