828 F.3d 70 (2nd Cir. 2016), 14-181-cv, Walsh v. New York City Housing Authority

Docket Nº:14-181-cv
Citation:828 F.3d 70
Opinion Judge:Hall, Circuit Judge :
Party Name:RITA WALSH, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. NEW YORK CITY HOUSING AUTHORITY, Defendant-Appellee
Attorney:LAURA SAGER, Washington Square Legal Services, New York, NY, for Plaintiff-Appellant. DONNA MARIE MURPHY, New York City Housing Authority, New York, NY, for Defendant-Appellee.
Judge Panel:Before: CALABRESI, HALL, and LIVINGSTON, Circuit Judges. Judge Livingston dissents in a separate opinion. Debra Ann Livingston, Circuit Judge, dissenting:
Case Date:July 07, 2016
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
 
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828 F.3d 70 (2nd Cir. 2016)

RITA WALSH, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

NEW YORK CITY HOUSING AUTHORITY, Defendant-Appellee

14-181-cv

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

July 7, 2016

Argued March 2, 2015

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Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Buchwald, J.) granting summary judgment in favor of defendant New York City Housing Authority (" NYCHA" ) on plaintiff Rita Walsh's claims of sex-based discrimination in violation of Title VII and the New York Human Rights Law. The district court concluded that NYCHA proffered a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its refusal to hire Walsh as a bricklayer, and that Walsh did not produce sufficient evidence from which a reasonable jury could conclude that the NYCHA's action was motivated in part by sex-based discrimination. We hold that the district court erred by evaluating each piece of Walsh's evidence in isolation, rather than viewing that evidence as a whole. We conclude that because Walsh has proffered sufficient evidence to create a question of material fact as to whether the NYCHA's refusal to hire her was motivated in part by the fact that she is female, summary judgment is inappropriate.

VACATED and REMANDED.

LAURA SAGER, Washington Square Legal Services, New York, NY, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

DONNA MARIE MURPHY, New York City Housing Authority, New York, NY, for Defendant-Appellee.

Before: CALABRESI, HALL, and LIVINGSTON, Circuit Judges. Judge Livingston dissents in a separate opinion.

OPINION

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Hall, Circuit Judge :

Plaintiff-appellant Rita Walsh brought this action claiming that defendant-appellee New York City Housing Authority's (" NYCHA" ) decision not to hire her as a bricklayer was sex-based and thus violated Title VII, the New York State Human Rights Law (" NYSHRL" ), and the New York City Human Rights Law (" NYCHRL" ). The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Buchwald, J. ) granted NYCHA's motion for summary judgment as to the Title VII and NYSHRL claims after concluding

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that no reasonable jury could find, based on the admissible evidence, that NYCHA declined to hire Walsh because she is female. The court declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the NYCHRL claim and dismissed it without prejudice. For the reasons set forth below, we vacate the district court's grant of summary judgment and remand this case for continued proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Background

On February 24, 2010, the NYCHA interviewed Rita Walsh and five male candidates for five open bricklayer positions, two in Manhattan and three in Brooklyn.1 A group of four NYCHA employees conducted the interviews: Fred Singer and Wanda Gilliam, the Manhattan and Brooklyn Administrators for Skilled Trades, respectively; James Lollo, Technical Advisor to the NYCHA's Technical Services Department (" TSD" ); and Charles Pawson, Deputy Director of the TSD. Singer, Gilliam, and Pawson deferred to Lollo's extensive bricklaying knowledge and experience. Lollo asked most of the questions during the interviews, including all of the technical questions related to the tasks bricklayers are expected to perform. Lollo's objective was to determine if the candidate being interviewed had sufficient knowledge of bricklaying and the masonry trades. Each interview lasted from ten to thirty minutes and was immediately followed by a discussion among the interviewers of the candidate they had just interviewed. The interviewers made their hiring decisions collectively. At the time of the interviews there were no female bricklayers employed by the NYCHA, and the interviewers were not aware of any woman who had held that position in the past.

NYCHA human resources representative Osagie Akugbe oversaw the interview process. Akugbe explained the process to the candidates when they first arrived. He informed them that one candidate would not be hired, and that after the interviews he would tell them who had been selected. Akugbe also met with the interviewers to discuss, among other things, the types of questions they should avoid asking. Akugbe sat in on each interview, in part so that he would be able to report to his supervisor the reason that any candidate was not hired. Akugbe had no input in the hiring decisions, however.

Walsh was the fifth candidate interviewed. Her resume stated that since May 1995, she had been a tile mechanic with Local 7 Tile, Marble & Terrazo, a division of the Bricklayers and Allied Crafts Union. The interviewers asked Walsh about her experience working with brick and block. She informed them that she had once constructed a glass block shower at a Home Depot Expo, and that she had done " little things on her own." J.A. 361. At their depositions, Lollo and Pawson expressed that they had been surprised that Walsh had so little experience with brick and block, and that she disclosed that fact so readily. According to Walsh, the interviewers did not ask about her experience with tile, and Lollo asked her only one technical question: how to make a mortar mix.2 One

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of the interviewers remarked that some people have family obligations that interfere with their ability to work overtime, and asked Walsh if she was in that situation. Walsh replied that she had no such restrictions. Physical strength did not come up during Walsh's interview.

The interviewers unanimously decided not to hire Walsh and to hire the five other candidates. Walsh testified that after all interviews had concluded, Akugbe took her aside to tell her that she did not get the job, and stated that the interviewers wanted somebody stronger.3 That evening, upon advice she received from Legal Momentum,4 Walsh wrote a short note about the interview in which she stated, " I was told I was not strong enough." J.A. at 689. Walsh produced the note as part of the record below. NYCHA represents that Walsh was not hired due to her lack of experience with brick and block, and that her sex played no part in its decision.

Walsh brought this discrimination action against NYCHA in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, claiming that she was denied the bricklayer position because of her sex in violation of Title VII, the New York Human Rights Law (" NYHRL" ), and the New York City Human Rights Law (" NYCHRL" ). In December 2013, the district court entered a Memorandum and Order granting NYCHA's motion for summary judgment as to Walsh's Title VII and NYHRL claims, and dismissing Walsh's NYCHRL claim after declining to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the same. This appeal followed.

Discussion

We review de novo a district court's grant of a motion for summary judgment. Aulicino v. N.Y.C. Dept. of Homeless Servs., 580 F.3d 73, 79 (2d Cir. 2009). Summary judgment is appropriate " if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A genuine dispute exists " where the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could decide in the non-movant's favor." Delaney v. Bank of Am. Corp., 766 F.3d 163, 167 (2d Cir. 2014). We must " construe the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and must resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences against the movant." Aulicino, 580 F.3d at 79-80. This Court has long recognized " the need for caution about granting summary judgment to an employer in a discrimination case where, as here, the merits turn on a dispute as to the employer's intent." Gorzynski v. JetBlue Airways Corp., 596 F.3d 93, 101 (2d Cir. 2010) (internal quotation marks omitted).

Title VII makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against any individual based on that person's sex. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). Claims of sex-based discrimination under Title VII and the NYHRL are analyzed using the familiar

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burden-shifting framework established in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973). See Pucino v. Verizon Wireless Commc'ns, Inc., 618 F.3d 112, 117 n.2 (2d Cir. 2010) (" We review discrimination claims brought under the NYSHRL according to the same standards that we apply to Title VII discrimination claims." ). First, plaintiff must establish a prima facie case of sex discrimination by demonstrating that " (1) she was within the protected class; (2) she was qualified for the position; (3) she was subject to an adverse employment action; and (4) the adverse action occurred under circumstances giving rise to an inference of discrimination." Leibowitz v. Cornell Univ., 584 F.3d 487, 498 (2d Cir. 2009). " The burden of establishing a prima facie case is not onerous, and has been frequently described as minimal." Norton v. Sam's Club, 145...

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