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Labor & Employment Law

: New York Public Personnel Law

Tests used by courts to determine a prima facie case of unlawful discrimination

By Harvey Randall, Esq.


Tests used by courts to determine a prima facie case of unlawful discrimination
Daljit Singh v State of New York Off. of Real Prop. Servs., 40 A.D.3d 1354, Appellate Division, Third Department

The Singh case sets out the tests used by courts in considering allegations of unlawful discrimination in employment.

Daljit Singh, who is originally from India, was hired by the New York State Office of Real Property Services [ORPS]. Ultimately Singh was terminated for failing to satisfactorily complete her probationary period.

Singh appealed her termination to the Civil Service Commission, which found that ORPS had complied with the relevant procedural requirements. She also filed a complaint with the State Division of Human Rights, which found insufficient evidence to support her allegations and found no probable cause to believe that defendant engaged in an unlawful discriminatory practice. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission adopted the Division?s findings of ?no probably cause? and issued Singh a right-to-sue letter.

In response to Singh?s lawsuit alleging ORPS discriminated against her in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 USC Section 2000e et seq.) and retaliated against her for engaging in acts protected under Title VII, the Appellate Division set out the following tests to be considered in such cases:

Where an individual alleges employment discrimination based on national origin and color, the individual must first present a prima facie case of discrimination by showing that:

1. The individual is a member of a protected class;

2. The individual was qualified to hold the position;

3. The individual was terminated from employment or suffered another adverse employment action; and

4. The discharge or other adverse action occurred under circumstances giving rise to an inference of discrimination.?

Once, said the court, this ?low threshold is met, the burden shifts to the employer to rebut the presumption of discrimination by setting forth admissible evidence of legitimate and nondiscriminatory reasons for the termination.?

In the event the employer ?sufficiently proffers such reasons,? the individual can avoid summary judgment in favor of the employer by proving that the employer?s stated reasons ?were merely a pretext for discrimination by demonstrating both that the stated reasons were false and that discrimination was the real reason.?

As to the merits of Singh?s allegations, the Appellate Division noted that ORPS concedes that the first three elements are present here. However, said the court, although it was ?not entirely satisfied that the fourth element has been met, even if we assume that the initial burden was overcome, [Singh] still cannot prevail.?

The reason given by the court: ORPS established, through Singh?s performance evaluations and deposition testimony of her supervisors, that it legitimately terminated her due to her unsatisfactory job performance. Although Singh disagreed with her supervisors? evaluations, she was unable to provide any proof that discrimination was the real reason for her termination.

In addition, the Appellate Division said that ?considering that the supervisors who terminated her were also responsible for hiring her a little more than a year earlier, when she interviewed for the position against two Caucasian candidates, a strong inference exists that no discrimination was involved in the termination decision.?

Accordingly, said the court, ORPS was entitled to summary judgment on Singh?s Title VII discrimination cause of action. As to Singh?s claim of retaliation, the court said ?There is simply no proof to support [Singh?s] retaliation claim, making summary judgment appropriate.?

Full post as published by New York Public Personnel Law on March 20, 2008 (boomark / email).

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