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Schwartz & Perry Wins Motion in Racial Discrimination Case

In almost every case in which an employee is terminated and then brings a lawsuit alleging that the firing was discriminatory, the employer will try to defend itself by showing that the employee was let go for some non-discriminatory reason. On Wednesday, Schwartz and Perry won a summary judgment motion on behalf of a client in a national origin discrimination case whose former employer was attempting just such a defense. (Alexandra Sanchez v. Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP, New York Supreme Court, County of New York, Index No. 104344/11)

Our client, Alexandra Sanchez, who is of Ecuadorian Hispanic descent, worked at the New York office of the Canadian law firm Osler, Hoskin, & Harcourt as a legal secretarial assistant. In January 2009 Sanchez began reporting to a manager who allegedly demonstrated a discriminatory bias against Hispanic employees by depriving them of the opportunity to work overtime, while assigning overtime exclusively to Caucasian employees. The manager also allegedly forced Hispanic employees to resign and replaced them with Caucasians.

Sanchez complained about the discriminatory actions, but no investigation was undertaken. After the complaint, she alleged that her manager's hostile treatment toward her intensified and that she was ostracized. On October 29, 2010, she was fired. She came to us, and we filed a lawsuit alleging unlawful national origin discrimination and retaliation.

The law firm filed a motion for summary judgment to dismiss the case, claiming that the Sanchez was terminated because one of the attorneys she was supporting left the firm, and as a result, there was not enough work for her to do. It also claimed that the need for secretarial support was declining because attorneys were typing much of their own work. They denied that discrimination had anything to do with the decision.

The New York Supreme Court refused to dismiss the case. It relied on the precedent that as to an employer's motivations, the court must use a "mixed motive analysis". To infer discrimination, the plaintiff must point to some facts that suggest the actions taken were motivated, at least in part, by racial animus, such as racist remarks or preferential treatment given to employees outside the protected class. The court found that there was enough evidence to meet that burden of proof and there were enough triable issues of fact under the New York City Human Rights Law to proceed to trial.

The takeaway: If you are terminated from your job due to discrimination, you don't need to show that such discrimination was the only reason for your termination; rather, it only needs to be a contributing factor.

If you feel you have been subject to discrimination at your workplace in New York, contact the attorneys at Schwartz Perry & Heller LLP. We can help you enforce your rights under the law.

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