What You Do (and Don't) Need in Your Complaint to Avoid Having Your Discrimination Case Dismissed Before Trial

For many workers who are the victims of discrimination, one central goal is to have their "day in court." Doing that means overcoming pretrial obstacles like a motion to dismiss or a motion for summary judgment. What a lot of workers may not know, though, is that the law in New York creates a very liberal standard for what constitutes adequately pleading a claim of discrimination. This means that the hurdle of overcoming a defense motion to dismiss or a motion for summary judgment is lower than you might have previously believed. To ensure you're getting the knowledge you need about how the law applies to your specific circumstance, be sure to talk to an experienced New York employment discrimination lawyer.

A recent sex discrimination case from here in Manhattan provides a real-life example of this concept in action.

The employee, R.S., was a male employee in the Department of Financial Services's Mortgage Banking Division. His supervisor was a woman. During his seven months of employment with the DFS, R.S. was the target of multiple disciplinary actions.

The man sued, alleging that the employer's disciplinary actions against him were the result of discrimination based on sex, as well as retaliation for his complaints about sex discrimination.

His discrimination case centered on how he was treated more poorly than his female colleagues (which discrimination law calls "disparate treatment".) He laid out the ways that "he was subjected to different policies than his female coworkers," asserting that "he was instructed to speak with a supervisor in order to call in sick, he was monitored by a supervisor when he was at his desk, and he witnessed female employees arriving late who were not directed to charge late arrivals" (as he was.)

The employer contended that the disciplinary actions were perfectly legal and the result of the man's history of poor attendance and timekeeping.

The trial judge sided with the employer, throwing out the man's case. The employee, the court concluded, failed "to explain how defendants' actions were based on plaintiff's sex, and not his lengthy history of poor timekeeping and low attendance at work."

What 'Liberal Construction' Really Means

The Appellate Division court revived the man's case, though. In doing so, it shed some very useful light on an important concept. When an employer makes a motion asking the trial court to dismiss a worker's discrimination case before trial, the law demands that the worker's allegations "should be afforded a liberal construction." That means the trial court must deem the worker's allegations to be true, and give the worker the benefit of "every possible favorable inference." That means the judge must "determine only whether the facts as alleged fit within any cognizable legal theory." If they do, the court must reject the motion to dismiss.

The trial court didn't do that in R.S.'s case. When the judge sided with the employer because the plaintiff didn't provide "sufficient evidence" to show that the motivation for the adverse actions was discrimination rather than reasonable and appropriate workplace policies, and didn't offer a "causal connection" between the man's protected actions and the employer's retaliation, it imposed a stricter standard than what the liberal pleading standard calls for.

The employee asserted that he was treated more adversely than his female colleagues, and detailed ways in which that disparate treatment happened, such as two different standards for handling absences and late arrivals -- one for R.S. and one for his female coworkers. Under the liberal pleading standard, that was enough.

The man also alleged that he engaged in protected activity and that his employer knew about that activity. Again, under the liberal pleading standard, that's enough. Specifically, the appeals court pointed out that, to "satisfy the knowledge requirement on a retaliation claim, nothing more is necessary than general corporate knowledge that the plaintiff has engaged in a protected activity."

One of the key things to take away from this court case is: don't be intimidated or misled into thinking that your case could never make it to trial simply because you don't yet have every detail and element completely ironed out. That's not the way the law works. To get the experience-driven advice you need about how the law applies to what you've experienced, talk to the helpful New York sex discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates. You can reach us online or by calling (833) 529-3476 to set up a free and confidential consultation.

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