A NYC Teacher — Whose Principal Allegedly Perceived Him to Be Gay and Fired Him — Defeats His Employer’s Motion to Dismiss… After Several Roadblocks

A well-worn aphorism posits that “just because you can doesn’t mean that you should.” This truth applies to lots of areas of life, including legal matters. In this country, the law allows you to pursue your civil case without an attorney. However, entrusting your workplace discrimination case to someone who’s not familiar with the law and the rules of court procedure (which includes most victims of discrimination) can often be costly. It may cost time, it may cost money, or it may cost you your entire case. Rather than incurring these risks, entrusting your case to an experienced New York City employment discrimination lawyer may be the wisest investment you ever make.

As an example, there’s the case of T.S., an elementary teacher in New York City’s public schools. While T.S.’s lack of attorney didn’t destroy his entire sexual orientation discrimination case, it arguably did cost him in terms of securing success more completely and efficiently.

For three years, the teacher earned evaluations of “effective” and “highly effective.” Then, in the fall of 2019, one of the teacher’s fourth-grade students allegedly engaged in inappropriate comments like threatening to “slap the gay out of” him. According to the teacher, he reported each instance but the principal never corrected the student and never disciplined him.

In February 2020, the school pursued potential disciplinary action against the teacher for allegedly shoving and verbally abusing the same student. Despite T.S.’s assertions that the claims were false, the school put him on an “improvement plan.”

T.S., who was a probationary teacher, was terminated in April 2020. At least three other probationary teachers, none of whom were perceived as gay, were not terminated.

These allegations were enough to state a viable claim, according to a federal district court in Manhattan. The judge, in an early January ruling, pointed out that the teacher “indisputably” met the first three requirements of a successful Title VII, New York State Human Rights Law, or New York City Human Rights Law discrimination claim. Namely, those are: membership in a protected class, being qualified for the job in question, and enduring an adverse employment action.

With regard to the first criterion, it is useful to keep in mind that members can be achieved if you were in the protected group or if you were just perceived to be. Regardless of T.S.’s sexual orientation, his allegation that his principal perceived him to be gay was enough.

The teacher’s allegations in relation to the timeline of events were enough to satisfy the fourth criterion. Specifically, the student began engaging in anti-gay harassment in the fall of 2019. The principal allegedly told two parents in January or February of 2020 that she disliked T.S. “because [he is] gay,” the school began a disciplinary investigation into T.S. in February 2020, and the school fired the teacher in April 2020. This sequence of events, when taken as a whole, was sufficient to allow “a reasonable factfinder [to] find that [the principal’s] actions — including terminating [T.S.] — were taken at least in part for a discriminatory reason.”

Pleading Defects Slowed the Teacher’s Pursuit of Justice

The teacher’s success in defeating the employer’s motion to dismiss isn’t the “whole story” of T.S.’s case, though. This teacher filed his complaint in early 2021. Throughout his case, he proceeded without an attorney. Originally, he sued the city’s Department of Education. The judge was forced to dismiss the claim against the department because the New York City Charter does not allow lawsuits against municipal agencies, only the city itself. (The court later substituted the city as the defendant.)

A year later, in February 2022, the court dismissed the teacher’s case because his allegations, even when viewed in the most favorable light, did not add up to a viable claim of discrimination under federal, state, or city law. T.S.’s claims did not assert that the principal held any discriminatory animus toward the teacher because of his perceived sexual orientation.

The teacher amended his lawsuit again. This time he added the allegation that the principal told two parents of her dislike of T.S. because she perceived him to be gay. This was the essential “missing piece” that took T.S.’s claims from insufficient to sufficient.

The teacher’s mistakes did not doom his case, but they did cost him valuable time, as it took him nearly an entire year (from February 2022 to January 2023) just to advance beyond the motion-to-dismiss phase.

When you’ve been harmed due to workplace discrimination — up to and including losing your job — your civil court case is far too important to subject to needless risk. You’re doubtlessly a skilled professional in your line of work. Be sure your legal case is in the hands of a skilled legal pro. The knowledgeable New York sexual orientation discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates are here to help. We have the skills and the experience to be the effective advocate your case deserves. To find out more about how we can help you, contact us online or at (866) 229-9441 to set up a free and confidential consultation today.

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