Second Circuit Rules that Hostile Work Environment and Retaliation Claims can Proceed Against Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters

Case Name: Davis-Garett v. Urban Outfitters, Inc.

Date of Opinion: April 8, 2019

Opinion by: Judge Kearse

Summary:

Plaintiff Blair Davis-Garett brought an employment discrimination suit against her former employer, Anthropologie, Inc. and its parent company, Urban Outfitters, Inc., alleging that they discriminated against her on the basis of age and retaliated against her for bringing discrimination complaints. For example, she stated that when she worked at an Anthropologie store at the Roosevelt Field Mall in Long Island, the other sales associates got to rotate through various sections of the store, while she (at age 54) was assigned to spend most of her time staffing the fitting room. She further alleged that after that store closed, she was reassigned to the Anthropologie store in White Plains and told that she had been placed there because of the “demographics in White Plains,” i.e., that the “people that shopped in the store were older.” She alleged that there, she once again received less favorable assignments than her younger colleagues. After complaining, she was transferred to the Greenwich store, and was later terminated after an incident where she called the police on someone whom she believed was shoplifting. Ultimately, the District Court for the Southern District of New York granted summary judgment to the defendants, holding that Plaintiff had failed to present sufficient evidence of age-related abuse and adverse employment action to support her claims.

The Plaintiff appealed, and the Second Circuit vacated the judgment and remanded the Plaintiff’s federal and state claims back to the district court. It found that the district court erred in finding that pre-February 16, 2013 events were time barred in connection with Plaintiff’s claims since they occurred before the permissible 300-day filing period under 29 U.S.C. § 626(d)(1)(B). The Second Circuit held that since hostile work environment claims involve repeated conduct and are based on the cumulative effects of individual acts, a claim will not be time-barred as long as all acts that constitute the claim are “part of the same unlawful employment practice and at least one act falls within the time period.” In addition, the time bar does not prevent a plaintiff from using prior acts that fall outside of the scope of the permissible time period as background evidence in support of a timely-filed retaliation claim.

Moreover, the Second Circuit found that the district court failed to apply the correct legal standard laid out by the Supreme Court in Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railway Company v. White to Plaintiff’s retaliation claims. It held that a plaintiff may show retaliation by demonstrating that a reasonable employee would have viewed the action taken by the employer as materially adverse, which means that it might “dissuade a reasonable worker from making or supporting a charge of discrimination.” Instead the district court erroneously applied a pre-White substantive discrimination standard to Plaintiff’s retaliation claims, looking only at whether there had been discriminatory actions that affected “the terms and conditions of employment.”

Additionally, the Second Circuit discouraged piecemeal review of the record before it and held that the district court was required to accept all sworn statements by the Plaintiff that involved matters on which she was competent to testify, and to draw all reasonable inferences from the evidence in Plaintiff’s favor. After reviewing the record, the Second Circuit found that the Plaintiff had presented sufficient evidence to create genuine issues of material facts for her claims and that they should proceed to trial. Holding that the district court applied the same erroneous legal analysis to Plaintiff’s state claims, the Second Circuit also vacated the dismissal of those claims.

Summary by: Matla Garcia Chavolla

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